Will the limping Braves get right against the Nationals?
Braves fans likely would not have been concerned had they entered this season with the guarantee that their team would be in its current position — 1 1/2 games out of first place entering this week’s series against the Nationals.
That is unless this guarantee came with the revelation that Washington would could currently sit atop the National League East standings despite the fact that Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez would have all missed at least one month’s worth of action because of injuries.
While the Nationals have persevered through these injuries and won 12 of their past 18 games, the Braves limp into D.C. knowing they squandered a prime opportunity to to distances themselves while their division rivals were down.
When the Braves won 17 of their first 24 games, they held a season-best 3 1/2-game lead in the NL East and owned Major League Baseball’s second-best winning percentage . In the process of shaking hands at the conclusion of just 19 of the 48 games that have followed, they have compiled a winning percentage (.404) that has been better than just the Rays (.354), Mets (.383) and Padres (.391) dating back to April 28.
The Braves have generated a couple glimmers of hope — a three-game sweep in Miami and a 5-2 homestand against Milwaukee and Colorado. But for the most part they have played rather uninspired ball for the past two months.
As bad as the first half of May was, the Braves still held a three-game division lead when they completed that sweep against the Marlins on June 1. But as they’ve lost 10 of the 15 games that have followed, the Nationals have won 10 of 15.
Thus, here we are D.C. ready to see if the Braves can jump back into first place by extending a dominant stretch during which they have won 18 of 25 against the Nationals dating back to the start of the 2013 season.
But regardless of what transpires over the next four days, the Braves will continue to evaluate the potential adjustments that could be made in attempt to avoid the inconsistencies that have plagued them the past two months.
BETHANCOURT COMING? Since it created a stir earlier this week, let’s revisit those preliminary discussions the Braves have had about promoting Christian Bethancourt, the talented catcher, who has finally provided some indication he might be adequate with the bat at the big league level. This move would improve the Braves defensively behind the plate and weaken them in left field, where Evan Gattis would once again get a chance to roam.
It must also be remembered that B.J. Upton’s struggles at the plate and in the field significantly influenced these discussions. As the dominoes would fall with this potential decision, Jason Heyward would replace B.J. in center field. But it’s still a little too early to say whether any of this will happen.
Yeah, the Braves had reason to be upset when Upton botched a routine fly ball on Friday and then made a costly error on Saturday. But he also made a sensational diving catch on Sunday and more importantly is nearing the halway point of year two of a five-year, $75.25 million contract.
Exactly one month ago, Upton arrived at Turner Field and told hitting coach Greg Walker he had figured out how to control the pre-swing bat waggle.
In the 15 games played from May 19-June 3, Upton his .268 with a .782 OPS and 5.9 plate appearance/strikeout ratio. In his past 13 games, the Braves center fielder has hit .182 with a .546 OPS and 3.3 plate appearance/strikeout ratio. All told, in the 25 games played since telling Walker he was confident he had made the right adjustment, Upton has batted .225 with a .668 OPS. <p>
Upton has obviously been much more productive than he was last year and the .630 OPS he has produced thus far is not necessarily eons away from the .670 OPS he compiled at this same point (67 games) of the 2012 season, during which he proved impressive enough for the Braves to give him a franchise-record deal at the time.
So for now, it seems it would be wise for the Braves to remain patient a little longer with B.J. But it never hurts to at least be looking at potential moves that could be made over the next few weeks.
When Alex Wood was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett to stretch out as a starter, it was always known that he would return to at least start one of the games played during next Saturday’s doubleheader in Philadelphia. But it was also not necessarily a coincidence that he was lined up to be pitching on the same days as Aaron Harang.
As Harang was allowing 13 hits and eight earned runs in just five innings against the Phillies on Wednesday, Wood was limiting Indianapolis to one earned runs over five innings.
Wood will likely make one more start for Gwinnett and then rejoin the Braves rotation. Even before Harang faltered yesterday, it seemed the Braves were still leaning him to be the odd man out when Wood returns. It will now be interesting to see what Harang might warrant on the trade market.