Like many clubs, the Braves are still hoping to strengthen their bullpen before next week’s Trade Deadline. But while they are evaluating a number of relievers, it does not appear they currently have a specific target.
The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers seems to believe the Braves are the favorites to land Jesse Crain from the White Sox if the All-Star reliever comes off the disabled list within the next week and provides indication that his right shoulder is healthy. Rogers expressed this sentiment early Tuesday morning while on The Mully And Hanley Show on Chicago’s 670 The Score.
If he is healthy, Crain would arguably be the best reliever available and there is no doubt the Braves have definite interest in the 32-year-old reliever, who is in the final year of a three-year contract. He has posted a 0.74 ERA and limited opponents to a .287 on-base percentage in 38 appearances. But there is certainly reason to be cautious with any pitcher dealing with a shoulder ailment.
The Braves are still hoping left-hander Alex Wood proves effective enough to remain in the starting rotation throughout the remainder of this season. Brandon Beachy is also expected to rejoin Atlanta’s rotation next week. The expected additions of Wood and Beachy continue to fuel the belief that Kris Medlen could be moved to the bullpen within the next week.
With Medlen and Jordan Walden, the Braves would have two right-handed relievers who can neutralize left-handed hitters with their changeup. But there still seems to be a desire to add a left-handed reliever.
The Angels’ Scott Downs, the Cubs’ James Russell and the Brewers’ Mike Gonzalez are among the left-handed relievers who have all drawn some form of interest from Atlanta’s brass.
But it appears Downs, who is in the final year of his three-year contract, and Russell, who is in the midst of his first arbitration-eligible season, rank above Gonzalez on the Braves’ wish list.
Last week, there was some speculation that Alex Wood could move into Kris Medlen’s rotation spot as early as Tuesday, when Medlen is scheduled to start against the Mets. But that plan has seemingly been altered by the uncertainty surrounding Paul Maholm’s injured left pitching wrist.
Maholm visited Dr. Gary Lourie in Atlanta this morning and the specific details of his injury will be announced later this afternoon. There is a chance he suffered a small fracture that was not visible on the initial X-ray performed once he left his start against the White Sox on Saturday. Or there’s a chance the veteran left-hander could be dealing with some kind of strain. We’ll find out soon enough.
Whatever the case, the current indications are that he is dealing with an ailment that should force him to miss at least one start – he is scheduled to oppose the Mets on Thursday. Even if Maholm says he can pitch through the discomfort, the Braves will likely take the cautious route.
The two obvious candidates to pitch in Maholm’s place would be Wood or Brandon Beachy, who has made three starts since beginning a second Minor League rehab stint earlier this month. While Wood would be pitching on two extra days of rest, Beachy would enter the start with just one extra day.
After throwing 70 pitches in five innings against Indianapolis on Friday, Beachy threw an additional 15 pitches in the bullpen. While he is seemingly conditioned to attempt to pitch past the fifth, you have to wonder if it would be wise for the Braves to simply allow Beachy to make one more rehab start before making his return from Tommy John surgery.
This decision regarding Beachy could be influenced by the fact that right elbow inflammation prevented him from making his return after he made what was supposed to be the final start of his first Minor League rehab stint last month. But the situation seems completely different this time. Beachy has since admitted that he was feeling elbow discomfort during each of the three rehab starts he made in June.
Wood has made just one start since the Braves sent him down to Triple-A Gwinnnett last week to prepare to join Atlanta’s rotation within the next week or two. The rookie southpaw threw 71 pitches in the five innings he completed on Thursday night against Indianapolis. He also threw 57 pitches while completing 3 2/3 innings in relief of Medlen during a July 12 loss against Cincinnati.
After Medlen allowed four earned runs and nine hits in just four innings against the Reds that night, multiple sources indicated they would not be surprised if Wood assumed Medlen’s spot in the rotation as early as tomorrow. While that could still happen, it would seem more sensible to rush just one of the two starters – Beachy or Wood – into the Atlanta rotation this week.
So if Wood is going to make a start this week for Atlanta, it seems more likely that he will get the call on Thursday. This also would provide Medlen another chance to give the club a chance to prove he can still be just as valuable in the rotation as he would be in the bullpen.
Over the past couple months, it has been apparent the Braves will attempt to gain bullpen depth before the July 31 Trade Deadline. But with all indications that Alex Wood will join Atlanta’s starting rotation before the end of the month, it now appears the team’s specific priority is to add a left-handed reliever.
The Cubs’ James Russell, the Brewers’ Mike Gonzalez and the Astros’ Wesley Wright are among the left-handed relievers on general manager Frank Wren’s wish list. While Wright is considered a candidate, it appears the Braves are more interested in the possibility of dealing for either Russell or Gonzalez.
With Wood currently preparing to make one or two Minor League starts before returning to the Majors, Luis Avilan stands as the only left-handed reliever in Atlanta’s bullpen. Avilan has proven himself as a valuable setup man. But the 24-year-old southpaw has already made a professional-high 43 appearances and his 3.38 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is not nearly as comforting as his 1.40 ERA.
There is reason to believe Wood could replace Kris Medlen in the rotation and if this proves to be true, Medlen would likely be moved back to a relief role. Like Jordan Walden, Medlen would serve as a right-handed relief option, whose changeup has provided him success against left-handed hitters.
Still the Braves would like to add a left-handed presence to their bullpen. Russell, who is currently in his first arbitration-eligible season, has limited left-handed hitters to a .189 batting average and .218 on-base percentage. Right-handed hitters have hit .316 and compiled a .400 on-base percentage against him.
Gonzalez, who served formerly served as a closer in Atlanta, has proven to be more versatile. Right-handed hitters have hit .233 with a .361 on-base percentage against him. Left-handed hitters have batted .257 with a .325 on-base percentage against him. The 35-year-old veteran would be a free agent at the end of this season.
The Braves are also looking for a backup infielder to fill the void created when switch-hitter Ramiro Pena was forced to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery last month. Paul Janish is more than capable of providing solid defense in this role. But the club would like to find a better offensive option, preferably one that can hit from the left side of the plate.
Braves catcher Brian McCann received a nice surprise late Sunday afternoon when Major League Baseball announced he would replace his teammate Freddie Freeman on this year’s National League All-Star roster.
This is the seventh career All-Star selection for McCann, who entered Sunday hitting .291 with 12 home runs and a .910 OPS. His addition to the NL roster came when Freeman was deemed unavailable because of a left thumb injury he suffered in the first inning of Saturday’s game against the Reds.
When given a chance to replace Freeman, NL manager Bruce Bochy chose McCann because he wanted to carry a third catcher on his roster. Buster Posey will start the game and Yadier Molina were the only two catchers originally selected. Molina has recently been bothered by inflammation in his right knee.
After the Braves lost yet another road game to conclude this past weekend’s three-game series against the Phillies on Sunday, I asked Fredi Gonzalez and some of his players if they had a theory to explain why they have produced such contrasting results at home and on the road for most of this season.
“I’ve got my own ideas and theories,” Kris Medlen said. “It’s just one of those things. It’s baseball.”
Maybe Medlen will eventually elaborate on these “ideas” and “theories” he has developed. But for now, it seems like most of us are baffled by this trend that has truly become one of those oddities often encountered during a long baseball season.
Since winning each of their first seven road games this year, the Braves have lost 25 of the 39 that have followed. During this same stretch that dates back to an April 19 loss in Pittsburgh, they have won 23 of the 34 games played at Turner Field.
“I don’t have any theory on it other than you hit first on the road and wear a different color uniform,” Gonzalez said. “Other than that, maybe it’s just one of those things. When you look at the stats packs and sometimes on Wednesdays we don’t play well or on Wednesdays or that kind of stuff. Maybe the second half of the season we’ll start playing better. To win divisions and to win championships, championship teams have to play well both at home and on the road.”
Considering how bad they have been on the road for more than two months, the Braves are quite fortunate to still have a four-game lead over the second-place Nationals in the National League East race. Their first-place status has come as a result of the fact that they have won 21 of the 29 games played in Atlanta dating back to May 5. During this same stretch, they have lost 18 of 30 on the road.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” Brian McCann said. “We’ve played really good baseball at home and obviously we need to start playing better on the road. But I don’t think there is one thing I can point to.”
Fortunately the baseball world allows us a chance to attempt to explain the unexplainable through numbers. But as you will see, a look at the splits produced since the 13-2 start are as contrasting as the team’s record.
Since the road woes began on April 19, the Braves have produced a slash line of .240/.310/.392 (batting average/ on-base percentage/slugging percentage) and averaged 3.9 runs per game. Their pitchers have compiled a 4.46 ERA during this 39-game stretch.
During the home games played in this same span, the Braves have produced a slash line of .262/.342/.413 and averaged 4.6 runs per game. Their pitchers have compiled a 2.26 ERA during this 34-game stretch.
It is interesting to look at the difference in the home/road OPS numbers produced by Braves players over the course of the past 73 games (dating back to April 19):
Freddie Freeman .974
Brian McCann .930
Chris Johnson .821
Jason Heyward .727
B.J. Upton .700
Andrelton Simmons .669
Dan Uggla .630
Justin Upton .523
Justin Upton .816
Chris Johnson .782
B.J. Upton .450
So Uggla and Justin Upton rank as the least productive offensive contributors at home and the two most productive contributors on the road during this span. McCann is has been consistently great both at home and on the road. The splits produced by Heyward, Johnson and Simmons are also pretty consistent.
These split contrasts are not restricted to the offensive end. Here is a look at the home/road ERAs produced by the starting pitchers during this same span.
Julio Teheran 1.79
Paul Maholm 2.20
Tim Hudson 2.52
Mike Minor 4.30
Minor will look to extend his road success when the Braves open a three-game series tonight at Marlins Park, which is where the Braves claimed the first of those seven straight road wins to open the season.
If this week’s return to Miami allows the Braves to end their frustrating road woes, maybe Medlen will be willing to expound on his theories. But for now, we’re all left to attempt to explain the unexplainable.
Tim Hudson will have to wait one additional day to attempt to end a winless streak that dates back to May 10.
Hudson was scheduled to start Friday night’s series opener against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. But approximately four hours before the start of the game, the Braves announced Paul Maholm would start in his place. Hudson will now start Saturday night’s game.
While Maholm will be making his start on regular rest, Hudson will have two extra days of rest heading into Saturday’s start.
Hudson threw 100 pitches while completing 5 2/3 innings against the D-backs on Saturday. All indications are that this decision was simply made to provide the veteran right-hander a chance to get one extra day of rest.
Hudson expressed his displeasure when he was pulled last Saturday after surrendering a game-tying home run to the D-backs’ A.J. Pollock with two outs in the sixth inning. He felt he should have been given a chance to record the final out and remain in line for a potential win.
The frustration was influenced by the fact Hudson has gone 0-6 with a 4.50 ERA in the 10 starts he has made since last earning a win on May 5. He compiled a 2.45 ERA in his six June starts.
Joey Terdoslavich received a nice surprise late Wednesday night, when the Braves informed him he would be making the rise to the Major League level.
The Braves purchased Terdoslavich’s contract from Triple-A Gwinnett after placing Jordan Schafer on the disabled list with a right ankle contusion on Thursday morning.
Terdoslavich, who has never previously been called to the big leagues, is expected to be in uniform for Thursday night’s scheduled game against the Marlins at Turner Field.
Schafer has had limited mobility since fouling a pitch off his ankle last week on June 26 in Kansas City. The versatile outfielder has favored his right leg while running to first base during the two pinch hit plate appearances he has made the past two nights. Swelling around his Achilles has prevented him from being available to play the field.
Terdoslavich has the ability to play both corner outfield positions and his presence as a switch hitter strengthens Atlanta’s bench. The 24-year-old prospect has opened some eyes while hitting .318 with 18 home runs and a .926 OPS in 85 games with Triple-A Gwinnett.
The Braves have been working with a weakened bench since Evan Gattis was placed on the disabled list with an oblique strain on June 18. Terdoslavich could provide some of the power that has been absent while Gattis has continued to deal with this injury.
The Braves will need to create a spot on their 40-man roster for Terdoslavich.
Terdoslavich was one of the two Braves’ prospects selected to participate in this year’s Futures Game, which will be held at Citi Field on July 14. But he will obviously not compete if he is still at the Major League level when the game is played next weekend.
When this year’s All-Star rosters are announced on Saturday, Craig Kimbrel will almost assuredly gain his third consecutive selection. But despite the success the Braves have had this year, one has to wonder if Kimbrel will be the club’s only selection.
Justin Upton will obviously be selected and be in the National League’s starting lineup if he holds one of the top three outfield spots in the fan balloting process that concludes on Thursday. First baseman Freddie Freeman certainly deserves consideration, but his candidacy is hindered by the fact he plays the same position as three other very deserving candidates — Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt and Allen Craig.
Despite missing the season’s first month recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Brian McCann has at least positioned himself for what would be his seventh and likely last All-Star selection while playing for the Braves. McCann ranks fourth in OPS among all NL catchers who have compiled at least 150 plate appearances. The top three players in this statistical category are Buster Posey, Evan Gattis and Yadier Molina.
Given Gattis’ oblique strain might sideline him until after the All-Star break, there is virtually no reason to believe he will gain a selection. But if he was healthy, it could be argued that he would be every bit as deserving as Dodgers rookie phenom Yasiel Puig.
Over the next few days we’ll hear plenty more debate about the the candidacy of Puig, who has hit .443 with eight home runs and a 1.218 OPS through the first 112 plate appearances of his career. If you believe he has done enough to earn a selection, you can’t discount what would have been the candidacy of Gattis, who has hit .252 with 14 home runs (most among NL catchers) and a .894 OPS through his first 183 plate appearances at the big league level.
Just for fun, maybe I should pop in the Phillies clubhouse on Friday to ask Jonathan Papelbon if he feels Gattis is more deserving of a selection than Puig.
Three weeks ago, it seemed a given that Mike Minor would be part of the NL’s pitching staff. But the Braves southpaw might have to make one last solid impression during tonight’s scheduled start against the Marlins.
While allowing 11 earned runs in the 18 innings compiled in his last three starts, Minor has seen his ERA rise from 2.44 to 2.98 – the 14th best mark among qualified NL pitchers. Even with his recent struggles, Minor has posted the game’s sixth-best ERA (2.67) dating back to July 5 of last year, when he began transforming himself into a legitimate front line starter.
Unfortunately all that Minor did during last year’s second half will not factor into his All-Star candidacy. At least I don’t think it does. But I’ll check with Papelbon for clarification.
ODDS AND ENDS
Along with notching a new season high with 16 hits and matching season-high in runs during Tuesday’s win over the Marlins, the Braves also set new season highs in hits with runners in scoring position (8) and at-bats with runners in scoring position (22).
There is no doubt that I have been as guilty as anybody when it comes to pointing out the struggles the Braves have had with runners in scoring position. They ranked last in the Majors three days ago and now rank 26th with a .232 mark. But you have to question the true significance of this stat when four teams (Rangers, Pirates, Braves and Yankees) that rank in the bottom 10 all have winning records.
But while we’re on the subject, Justin Upton has recorded five hits in his last nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. The only real significance to this comes from the fact that he had recorded just seven hits in the previous 46 at-bats he had recorded in these situations this year.
Yesterday we noted Upton has shown some recent signs of encouragement and then he provided some more as he notched his second three-hit game of this homestand last night. The Braves can only hope this is just the start of streak that rivals the one he produced during the season’s first three weeks.
Upton hit .328 with nine home runs and a 1.256 OPS in the 15 games he played through April 18. During the 51 games he played from April 19-June 19, he hit .213 with six home runs and a .675 OPS. In the eight games that have followed, he has hit .355 with no home runs and a .925 OPS.
“As of late, I’m putting the barrel on the ball,” Upton said. “I haven’t been able to do that for a while. That’s the goal every day. Whether you get four or five at-bats, you just want to be a tough out. I’ve been able to do that for the last week or so.”
Now that Upton, Heyward and Freddie Freeman are all hitting at the same time, the Braves could truly benefit from the presence of a legitimate catalyst at the top of their lineup. Like there is little doubt that Andrelton Simmons is the game’s best defensive shortstop, there is also no doubt that he has provided plenty of reason for the Braves to end the experiment of using him in the leadoff role.
The .257 on-base percentage Simmons has recorded while manning the leadoff roleranks 45th among the 47 Major Leaguers who have recorded at least 100 plate appearances in the lineup’s top spot.
With the club’s only legitimate leadoff hitter Jordan Schafer bound to a backup role, the most likely candidates to replace Simmons in the leadoff spot are B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward.
I’m not sure what Papelbon thinks, but my suggestion would be to simply flip-flop Heyward and Simmons in the top two spots of the order. While Upton has more experience in the leadoff role, I would lean toward Heyward, who has compiled a .372 on-base percentage in his past 27 games.
While Simmons has struggled in the leadoff role, he has hit .313 (20-for-64) with a .328 on-base percentage in the 15 career games he has totaled while batting second. The talented shortstop has shown the ability to move runners over while consistently putting the ball in play.
Simmons ranks seventh in the Majors this year in two statistical categories that support this belief. They are fewest strikeouts per plate appearance (10.81) and percentage of swings put in play (55.3).
Beginning with tonight’s series opener at Turner Field, the Braves will play six of their next nine games against the Marlins. Just seven of the 26 games scheduled for this month will come against teams that currently have a winning record. And after quickly evaluating what this means, I have come up within nothing better to say than…So what?
Yeah, the Marlins are coming to town tonight with a National League-worst .370 winning percentage. But is it more relevant to point out that they lost 47 of the first 67 games they played or that they have won 10 of the 14 games that have followed. Not surprisingly, Miami’s surge has coincided with the recent returns of Giancarlo Stanton, who missed six weeks with a hamstring injury, and Logan Morrison, who missed last year’s final two months and this year’s first two months while recovering from knee surgery.
While compiling a 2.30 ERA in their past 14 games, the Marlins have benefited from the greatness of rookie phenom Jose Fernandez and the emergence of Jacob Turner. It appears the Braves will not have to face Fernandez this week or next week in Miami. But they’ll get two looks at Turner, who has posted a 1.76 ERA in the six starts he has made this season.
But before seeing Turner on Thursday, the Braves will open this week’s series against Tom Koehler, who has failed to complete five innings in two of his past three outings. Koehler surrendered nine eanred runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Cardinals on June 15 and then limited the Giants to one run in seven innings during his next outing. The 27-year-old right-hander issued four walks and needed 85 pitches to complete four innings in his most recent start against the Twins.
Speaking of walks, the Braves lead the NL with a walk in every 10.45 plate appearances. Since the beginning of June, the Braves lead the Majors with their 9.23 plate appearances per walk ratio. The next-best NL club during this span has been the D-backs (12.14).
The increased frequency of walks drawn by the Braves has been influenced by the fact teams have been unwilling to pitch to Freddie Freeman in certain situations. But the most encouraging development comes from the frequency in which Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton have walked over the past month.
Uggla leads the Majors with the 5.20 plate appearances per walk ratio he has compiled since the beginning of June. Upton ranks seventh with 6.06 ratio, a mark vastly different from the 11.25 ratio he had compiled through the end of May.
Jason Heyward made the most significant strides as he hit .312 with a team-leading .865 OPS and raised his batting average from .146 to .231 in June. Uggla
hit .250 in this past month to raise his batting average from .182 to .205. Now it is Upton’s turn to cross the Mendoza Line.
While hitting .238 with a respectable .359 on-base percentage and four home runs in June, Upton distanced himself from the frustration he felt as he hit .145 with a Major League-worst .476 OPS during the season’s first two months.
Upton struck out once every 4.12 plate appearance this past month. While that number might not look encouraging, it is when you consider he entered June having struck out once every 2.86 plate appearances.
Now that Heyward has provided the reminder that he is a difference maker and both Upton and Uggla are showing signs of encouragement, the Braves simply have to hope this month is one in which Justin Upton starts showing some signs of life. Since hitting .298 with 12 home runs in April, he has batted .218 with three home runs over his past 51 games.
But we have already seen some signs that this month could prove to be different for the younger of the two Upton brothers. He hit .296, compiled a .424 on-base percentage and struck out five times in his final 33 plate appearances in June.
Yeah, three of those five strikeouts were registered during Sunday’s series finale against the D-backs. But my hunch says that was simply a product of trying to do too much in what was the last scheduled game this year against his former club.
The trade market will obviously heat up over the next couple weeks as the Braves continue their search for at least one reliever and attempt to solidify their defense at third base. Read more about this and keep up with all of this buzz from around the Majors on MLB.com’s Trade Deadline blog.
Chipper Jones homered twice on the final bobblehead night of his playing career and Freddie Freeman homered on the first bobblehead night of his career. According to SB Nation’s Cee Angi’s entertaining article, Craig Kimbrel became the first pitcher to ever record four strikeouts in an inning on his bobblehead night.
So if you are playing MLB.com’s Beat The Streak, today would seemingly be a good time to go with B.J. Upton.
The first 20,000 fans in attendance for tonight’s series finale against the Mets will receive a B.J. Upton. This is a timely promotion given the fact that Upton has spent the past few weeks distancing himself from the horrific two-month stretch that began his career in Atlanta.
With his fourth two-hit game of this month on Wednesday night, Upton raised his batting average to a season-high .173 – a mark that is only encouraging when you remember that he entered June hitting .145 with four home runs, a .230 on-base percentage and a .245 slugging percentage. His .476 OPS through this season’s first two months ranked last among all qualifying Major Leaguers.
The Braves did not start Upton in five of May’s final seven games. This certainly wasn’t envisioned when he signed a franchise record five-year, $75.25 million contract in November. But the opportunity to clear his head and fix the mechanics of his swing appears to be just what this talented outfielder needed.
Three weeks after owning the worst OPS in the Majors, Upton finds himself with the best OPS (.897) compiled by a Braves player this month. He has hit .255 with a .369 on-base percentage and .527 slugging percentage through the first 18 games he has played in June. The four home runs he has hit in his past 51 at-bats matches the total he compiled in his first 163 at-bats of the season.
One of the keys to Upton’s recent success has been his ability to put the ball in play much more consistently. He had struck out once every 2.86 plate appearances through the end of May. The only Major Leaguers with a higher rate were Chris Carter (2.69) and Adam Dunn (2.83).
Upton has struck out once every 5.42 plate appearances in June. The only qualifying Braves player who has struck out less frequently this month is Andrelton Simmons.
In yesterday’s entry I once again listed Upton’s tremendous struggles in run-producing situations. A few hours later, I was writing about the RBI double he produced in Wednesday night’s 5-3 win over the Mets. The hit was the first he has recorded in 29 at-bats with two outs and runners in scoring position this season.
Some of the factors that could have influenced Upton’s early-season struggles include switching from the American to the National League and dealing with the pressure of his lucrative contract. There was also the fact that as he struggled through the first few weeks with his new team his younger brother (Justin Upton) was on his way to being named the NL’s Player of the Month in April.
While B.J. was no doubt proud of Justin, this certainly had to add to the pressure of performing in his new environment.
But now that B.J. has started to turn things around, the Braves have to hope Justin will soon do the same.
Justin is now hitting .239 with 15 home runs and a .807 OPS. This certainly was not envisioned when he exited April hitting .298 with 12 home runs and a 1.136 OPS. But his slide actually began during the final two weeks of the opening month.
In the 55 games Justin has played from April 19-June 19, he has hit .213 with six home runs, a .335 on-base percentage and .340 slugging percentage. His .675 OPS during this lengthy stretch has been just 29 points higher than Simmons’ (.646).
Since notching four hits, including a monstrous home run, during his first game back in Arizona on May 13, Justin has hit .183 with two home runs and a .543 OPS. His most concerning stretch during this span came when he batted .189, recorded two extra-base hits and struck out once every 2.87 plate appearances from May 14-June 6. Carter and Michael Saunders were the only Major Leaguers who struck out more frequently during this stretch.
But like his older brother, Justin has recently started to put the ball in play more frequently. He has struck out once every 4.23 plate appearances in his past 13 games.
Sitting atop the National League East standings with a seven-game lead, the Braves have been able to overcome the extended slumps the Uptons have endured. But they would certainly like to realize how much easier life could be if both brothers were hot at the same time.