Results tagged ‘ Brian McCann ’

Chavez and Dunn intensify bullpen battle

As the rain started to pelt Roger Dean Stadium this afternoon, Braves manager Bobby Cox gained the sense the game might be called after five or six innings.  Fortunately for Jesse Chavez and left-hander Mike Dunn, the entire game was played, allowing them a chance to improve their places in the battle for the final available bullpen spots.  

After his team’s 4-2 win over the Marlins, Cox said that he had just seen Dunn and Chavez provide their strongest efforts so far during the exhibition season. 

Dunn, who has allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings,  recorded a strikeout in a scoreless ninth inning.  During his perfect eighth inning, Chavez showed that he is able to command his fastball better than he had during his four previous outings.

“Chavez was better,” Cox said.  “He kept the ball down better.  He gave up two long flies, but at least he kept the ball down…He’s not wild, wild. He just gets it up.” 

While Chavez has now provided three consecutive scoreless appearances, it’s apparent that he isn’t producing the same kind of optimism that he did after the bullpen sessions he completed during the early days of camp.  It also doesn’t help that he allowed seven earned runs in the first 2 2/3 innings he worked this year. 

As mentioned earlier today, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters have pushed themselves to the front of the pack in the battle to gain the final available bullpen spots.  They’ll both be available to pitch on Thursday afternoon against the Cardinals.

While visiting his former manager before today’s game, Marlins utility man Wes Helms had nothing but praiseworthy things to say about Kimbrel and Venters, who he had seen for the first time on Tuesday afternoon at Disney.  

NOTES:  Brian McCann kept his hot bat alive on Wednesday afternoon with a third-inning single that plated three runs.  But while going just 1-for-3 against the Marlins, the All-Star catcher saw his batting average dip to .500 (9-for-18).

“Mac is ready, I don’t know what to do with him the rest of the spring,” Cox jokingly said.

Speaking of batting average, Nate McLouth went hitless in his three at-bats and is now hitting .036 (1-for-28).  But if you’re once again stretching for the positives, you can take note of the fact that he hasn’t struck out in either of the past two games. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Jason Heyward singled in the sixth inning and went 1-for-3 to lower his batting average to .440 (11-for-25).  More importantly, the 20-year-old right fielder has now reached safely in each of the 11 games he has played this year.

“You’re never going to shut him down,” Cox said. “He’s either going to walk get a hit or do something.”  

  

Kawakami pleased with performance on split-squad Sunday

While working primarily on the two-seamer that has drawn his primary focus throughout Spring Training, Kenshin Kawakami was cruising along before experiencing a misfortune-filled fourth inning that forced him to stare at a rather ugly line on Sunday afternoon. 

Kawakami’s line read:  3.2 IP, 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 earned runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts.  But what Braves manager Bobby Cox saw was a successful tuneup for the regular season.

“For me, he had one of his best days ever,” Cox said.  “I don’t know how you explain errors, broken bats and groundball base hits.  There was one hard-hit ball and that was a groundball.  I thought he had a great day.” 

While Cox has been known to attempt to cover bad performances by feeding the media with surprise of a complimentary evaluation, there certainly wasn’t any reason for him to be too concerned about this outing. 

A pair of two-out doubles by Kaz Matsui and Carlos Lee led to a pair of Astros runs in the third inning.  The six-run fourth inning produced by Houston started with Braves third baseman Donell Linares allowing Pedro Feliz’s grounder to slip under his glove. 

Linares’ error was compounded when Tommy Manzella followed with a bunt single.  Another single loaded the bases before Michael Bourn delivered a two-run single.  Kawakami then uncorked a wild pitch that set the stage for his day to end with an RBI groundout off Matsui’s bat.  

“The results weren’t good, but I thought I pitched well,” said Kawakami, who has allowed 13 hits and five earned runs in the 8 2/3 innings he has pitched during the Grapefruit League season.

Manny Acosta couldn’t share this same sense of optimism.  By the time he had thrown his sixth pitch of the fourth inning, the right-handed reliever had surrendered a two-run homer to Hunter Pence and a Carlos Lee solo shot that might have traveled a mile had it not been hit into the wind. 

While this group of Braves were suffering an 8-5 loss to the Astros, the Jason Heyward Braves were constructing an 8-5 win over the Blue Jays in Dunedin. 

Heyward began his two-double performance by drilling the first pitch he saw from Brandon Morrow into the right-center field gap.  The 20-year-old outfielder, who had recorded just one unofficial at-bat (during Friday’s rainout against the Pirates) since Tuesday night, is hitting .444 (8-for-18) with a .600 on-base percentage that has been aided by the six walks he’s drawn in 25 plate appearances. 

Before Sunday’s game, Chipper Jones mentioned that Freddie Freeman was swinging the bat better than his stats might indicate.  A short time later across the state, Freeman completed a three-hit performance that improved his batting average to .350 (7-for-20).

Roster battle: Brooks Conrad improved his odds of earning the final available roster spot for a position player by going 1-for-2 against the Astros and producing his third spectacular defensive play of the week behind the second base bag.  His chief competition Joe Thurston went 1-for-4 with a homer in the game against the Blue Jays. 

McCann’s blasts: Brian McCann began the 2009 season by homering in his first at-bat against Brett Myers, who was then with the Phillies.  The Braves catcher again victimized Myers on Sunday by sending his first homer of this exhibition season over the right center field wall. 

As impressive as McCann’s second-inning shot was, it paled in comparison to the one he hit in the fifth inning against Astros right-hander Tim Byrdak.  This no-doubt blast found its way into the small pond located beyond the right field wall at Osceola County Stadium.

Notes: Nate McLouth struck out in his last two at-bats against the Astros and is now hitting .045 (1-for-22) with 10 strikeouts… With starters (all but Jair Jurrjens) now scheduled to work at least four innings, there are a limited number of innings available for all of the pitchers in camp.  So expect to see a number of young pitchers included in the first round of cuts that will be announced on Monday…James Parr surrendered five runs during his first inning against the Blue Jays and then found himself credited with a win after holding them scoreless during his next two innings…Omar Infante’s three-hit game against the Astros improved his batting average to .250 (5-for-20). 

The Waiting Game

As we wait to see how this offseason’s chess match will unfold, let’s go back to this time last year, when you were exhausting your refresh buttons with the hope of learning that the Braves had acquired Jake Peavy.  

One year later, many, if not all, of you are rejoicing that fact that Peavy didn’t feel that the future was very bright in Atlanta.   Had the Alabama native chosen to waive his no-trade clause to play closer to home, the Braves would have lost Yunel Escobar and likely the comfort to once again dig into their organizational depth to acquire Javier Vazquez in early December.

This topic has been debated many times and I present it only to set up the consequences of the waiting game that clubs experience during these early days and weeks of the offseason.  

While waiting to see if Peavy would provide the Padres the OK to attempt to send him to Atlanta, the Braves held off on their attempt to obtain Nick Swisher from the White Sox.   The Yankees acquired Swisher on Nov. 13 and 24 hours later, Braves GM Frank Wren revealed that he was no longer actively pursuing Peavy.  

As the Braves saw their left fielders combine to hit .270 with 17 homers, 70 RBIs and a .725 OPS this year, Swisher was hitting .249 with 29 homers, 82 RBIs and an .869 OPS for the world champions.   

(I used the left fielders as the comparative point because I would assume that Swisher would have started the season there while Jeff Francoeur maintained his position in right field).  

Had the Braves been able to get Swisher in the same deal that brought Vazquez to Atlanta, there’s no guarantee that the Braves would have improved their fate.  But they wouldn’t currently find themselves potentially looking for an outfielder during a second consecutive offseason.  

If Swisher had joined the Braves, it’s hard to tell how the rest of the offseason might have unfolded.  Along those lines, maybe his presence would have prevented the Braves from making the Nate McLouth midseason acquisition that still has a chance to prove very profitable.

While we don’t know this for sure, we certainly realize that everything that occurs in November and December has an effect on what transpires between the first weeks of April and November.  And with that one sentence we’ve once again proven that instead of referring to this current period as “the offseason” it would be more appropriately be called “the non-playing season”.

We’ve long known that the Braves are going to end up trading either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez.  Based on what happens to John Lackey, we’ll gain a better sense about where the Braves might send either of these two right-handers.  

As the top available free-agent starting pitcher Lackey will command interest from those same clubs that would be financially-capable and willing to assume the $45 million cost that Lowe will bring over the course of the next three seasons.  

Early indications are the Braves believe that the Yankees or Angels might be willing to deal for Lowe.  Before doing this, the Yankees will make a run for the younger Lackey, whose financial demands will determine whether the Angels attempt to bring him back to continue his role as their ace.  

If Lackey does exit Southern California, there is a belief that the Angels would then attempt to work a trade for the Blue Jays to acquire Roy Halladay, who will cost just $750,000 more than Lowe next year.   

This obviously could further complicate things for the Braves, who are looking to move one of these starters to create the financial flexibility to take care of some of their other roster needs   —   first baseman, closer and outfielder.  

So while the Braves would like the opportunity to keep Vazquez, they may find that they have to deal him before paying the consequences of the waiting game that will transpire as they wait to see whether there will be a team that is willing to trade for Lowe.  

If the Braves are able to deal Lowe, then they are expected to begin seriously discussing the possibility of offering Vazquez an extension that would keep him in Atlanta beyond the 2010 season.
 
Vazquez found a comfort zone in Atlanta and he has made it known multiple times that he doesn’t want to be traded.  But for now, like the rest of us, he finds himself simply playing the waiting game.

Hudson update:  Speaking of waiting games, it looks like the Braves will finally be able to announce Tim Hudson’s three-year extension before Thursday concludes.  Just to play it safe, let’s just assume that I meant tomorrow or any other remaining Thursday during this calendar year.  

McDowell has high praise for Wallace:   As you likely read yesterday, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell is a big fan of Dave Wallace, who was recently hired as the club’s Minor League pitching coordinator.  McDowell met Wallace during the early 1990s and has the highly-respected pitching guru for giving him his first shot at being a pitching coach at the professional level.
 
You can’t discount the fact that McDowell and Wallace share a history and more importantly many of the same beliefs about pitching.   Too many young pitchers have recently arrived in Atlanta and shown that they haven’t yet received the proper development at the Minor League level.   

This should change under the leadership of Wallace, who will be able to provide the Braves young pitchers with many of the same beliefs and philosophies that he’s shared and gathered during his many conversations with his close friend Sandy Koufax.  

“We have a history and I think for a lack of a better word he’s ‘the best’,” McDowell said on Tuesday “He’ll make the kids better and I think he’ll make the coaches better.  The body of work that he’s had under him speaks for itself.  Dave is as quality as you get.” 
 
McCann’s event:  If you want to do something other than watch West Virginia beat Cincinnati on Friday night, you should head down to Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium to see Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Tim Hudson, Kelly Johnson and Leo Mazzone participate in the inaugural Brian McCann Rally Softball Game.  

With the help of Delta Air Lines, McCann has been able to organize this event which aids the Rally Foundation in its fight to find better cures and treatments for children battling cancer.   First pitch is set for 7:35 p.m. ET and a home run derby will begin at 7 p.m.   

Question to ponder:  As I was leaving Yankee Stadium after Game 6 of the World Series last week, a Japanese reporter approached me and told me how excited they were that Hideki Matsui had just been named the World Series MVP.
 
In fact, he said that he and many of the other members of the Japanese  felt that this honor was bigger than the accomplishment that Ichiro Suzuki achieved in 2004, when he recorded a record 262 hits.
 
Needless to say, I’m going to have to say I view Ichiro’s season-long accomplishment to be a bigger deal.  What is your view? 

McCann undergoing Lasik surgery again

Tired of the prescription glasses that he wore this year, Brian McCann has decided to undergo Lasik surgery again. 

Dr. Alan Kozarsky was scheduled to perform this surgical procedure at 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday in Atlanta.  Kozarsky also performed this surgery on McCann after the conclusion of the 2007 season. 

McCann, who has made four consecutive All-Star appearances, had to wear the glasses this year because his vision had changed since intiailly undergoing this procedure at the age of 23.

“It’s going to be like night and day for me,” said McCann, who hit .289
with 19 homers in the 125 games that he played after returning to the
Braves on May 8 with the glasses.

McCann said that he had been given no reason to be concerned about undergoing this surgery twice in the span of two years.  Based on what the Braves have said in the past, the fear would be that his vision could change again.

 

 

Shorthanded lineup going for sweep

While trying to complete a three-game sweep against Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon, the Braves utilized a lineup that was absent both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann.

A couple of days ago when neither of these guys were providing any offense in the middle of the lineup, this might have provided the opportunity to playfully say that this was a wise strategical move.

But whenever going up against Carpenter, who is 11-0 with a 1.97 ERA, in his past 13 starts, there’s never much reason to laugh about the fact that you’re going into the game shorthanded. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox stuck with his plan to give McCann a day off and Jones was forced out of the lineup because of a strained left groin that he suffered while quickly stopping at third base during the ninth inning of Saturday afternoon’s win. 

Jones is hopeful that he will return to the lineup on Tuesday.   When asked if this groin has bothered him at any point this year, the veteran third baseman said,  “there hasn’t been much that hasn’t bothered me this year.”

Carpenter is 2-0 with a 2.62 ERA in the four starts he’s made against the Braves dating back to the start of the 2005 season. 

Jones has three hits, including a double, in six career at-bats against Carpenter and McCann has gone 2-for-7 with a homer against the right-hander.  

With eight hits in his past 13 at-bats, McCann has at least interrupted the maddening funk that has followed him most of the past three months.

If the Braves were still in legitimate postseason contention, McCann might have found his way into the lineup, especially after Jones was deemed unavailable.  But the All-Star catcher has been fatigued by this mentally-trying season and definitely could benefit from the opportunity to have two days off before the Mets come to Atlanta on Tuesday to begin a three-game series. 

 

Cox rests McCann and McLouth against Kershaw

When he arrived at Dodger Stadium on Saturday afternoon to prepare to face the potent Dodgers lineup, Kenshin Kawakami could have taken one look at his lineup and wondered if he was back at Spring Training. 

Already without Chipper Jones, who will need at least a few more days to allow his strained left oblique muscle to heal, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to give both Brian McCann and Nate McLouth a chance to rest on a night when Clayton Kershaw could have put their left-handed swings to sleep. 

Heading into Saturday night’s start agaisnt the Braves, Kershaw had limited left-handed batters to a .174 batting average and .252 on-base percentage.  Thus manager Bobby Cox opted to fill his lineup with as many right-handed hitters as possible and put both McCann and McLouth in position to bring their left-handed bats off the bench. 

Filling in for McLouth, Ryan Church was given his first opportunity to start in center field for the Braves.   McCann was obviously replaced with his dependable backup David Ross, who has actually hit right-handed pitchers better (.311 batting averge in 61 at-bats) than he has left-handers  (.229 in 35 at-bats).

Entering this season, McCann had hit .282 in 465 career at-bats against left-handed pitchers and .303 in 1,167 at-bats against right-handers.   This year there has been a much greater discrpency between this splits for the All-Star catcher. 

McCann has hit .336 with 11 homers and a 1.020 OPS in 214 at-bats against right-handed pitchers this year.  But in 106 at-bats against left-handers, he has hit .189 with one homer and a .511 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). 

Jones, who strained his left oblique muscle during Friday’s batting practice, said that he didn’t feel any discomfort while simply walking around on Saturday.  But the ailment is still bothering whenever he attempts to move side-to-side.

While there’s still a chance the Jones might return to the lineup on Tuesday, he likely won’t truly know his status until he arrives at Turner Field that day to prepare for the series opener against the Nationals.     

McCann expects to enter in the sixth inning

Brian McCann told me that he doesn’t want to walk off the field as an All-Star Game loser for the fourth consecutive season.  As you might remember, he entered last year’s Midsummer Classic in the bottom of the 15th inning, just in time to make unsuccessful attempt to prevent Justin Morneau from scoring the game-ending run.

McCann won’t have to wait around as long this year to enter the game.  The 25-year-old catcher is  expecting to enter in the sixth inning which means we’ll likely get to see him get at least one at-bat.  He is hitless in his two career All-Star Game at-bats. 

It’s been obvious that McCann is much more relaxed than he was during his three previous trips to the All-Star Game.  Before batting practice today, he was cutting up with David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman in the same manner that he has over the past few years with so many Braves.

A few weeks ago in Cincinnati, when the Braves were trying to snap a four-game losing streak during the series finale with McCann getting a rest, Chipper Jones exited the clubhouse’s batting cage and found McCann talking to some of his teammates around his locker.

Here’s how the comical exchange developed from there:

Chipper:  You’ve been summoned to the batting cage.
McCann: What do you need? All I’m going to do is go in there and make fun of people.
Chipper:  In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve lost four straight and we need you in there to get the guys loose.

With that, McCann immediately walked toward the batting cage and seemingly helped to lighten the mood.  The Braves responded with a 7-0 win that afternoon.

I went into the stands to talk to McCann’s parents this evening and it’s definitely great to see how much they enjoy sharing in the All-Star experience with their son. 

“The parade is still the best for me,” Howie McCann said.  “To see him out there with (Derek) Jeter and Mariano (Rivera) and all of those guys is just great.”

Some of you have asked about Omar Infante.  He was hoping to being his Minor League rehab assignment within the next week.  We’ll learn more about his status on Thursday.

   

Will Wren be a buyer or seller?

With the three-game losing streak they carried into Tuesday, the Braves found themselves in the same position they were when they began their five-game winning streak on June 28.  Still the five-game division deficit they now face seems much more daunting than it did just a week ago, when the fumbling Phillies were coming to Turner Field.
 
While the first-place Phillies have won four straight since being swept out of Atlanta last week, the Braves have destroyed all of the positive energy they’d created before saying goodbye to their season-best five-game winning streak during the eighth inning of Saturday’s game in Washington D.C. 

Since being six outs away from recording a sixth straight win, the Braves have completed 20 consecutive innings without a lead and provided even more reason to believe that even with their strong starting rotation, they are destined for prolonged mediocrity.
 
Braves general manager Frank Wren finds himself essentially in the same position he was on this date last year, when his club was six games back.  At the time, he said he was going to continue monitoring the pulse of the club before determining whether he was going to move Mark Teixeira.
 
Wren remained patient until the Braves blew five-run leads on consecutive days in Philadelphia (July 26 and 27) and then opted to deal Teixeira with the handicap of having to find a trade partner that could provide a first baseman in return.

With Javier Vazquez, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, Wren possesses three pitchers, who could each individually provide a greater return than Teixeira, who was traded to the Angels in exchange for Casey Kotchman and Steven Marek.

Affordable relievers who have the ability to close and durable starters prove to be in more demand than first basemen, who could prove to be just a two-month rental.

 But while still waiting for his team to experience its first string of prolonged success,  Wren really doesn’t know whether he’ll be a buyer or a top seller when this year’s trade deadline arrives. 

Without the ability to add to his payroll, his position as a buyer in search of another bat will certainly be financially hindered.
  
But with these three pitchers, he could prove to be an attractive seller with the ability to start building for the future. 

Until they definitely fall out of the postseason picture, the Braves won’t even attempt to trade Vazquez.   Thoughts of moving him to gain funds to add a bat are erased by the reality that the Braves need him in a rotation that won’t include Tim Hudson until at least the final week of August.
 
And if Wren isn’t blown away with any offers for Vazquez, there isn’t any definite need to trade the 32-year-old right-hander, who is set to make $11.5 million during the final year of his contract next year.
 
Hudson, who is one year older and coming back from Tommy John surgery, has a $12 million option and $1 million buyout for the 2010 season.  Of course any concerns about his health could be trumped by the concerns created by the fact that Vazquez has proven to be one of those inconsistent pitchers, who encounters success on an every-other-year basis.

With both Gonzalez and Soriano being Type A free agents, the Braves are going to ask for significant returns if they reach a point where they decide to trade either or both of these closers. 
 
Instead of simply settling for the best available return like they did with Teixeira, they’ll be content to allow both Gonzalez and Soriano enter the free agent market, with the understanding that they’ll either bring one back or at least be compensated with the draft picks their departures would provide.  

There was very little chance that Teixeira was going to accept the arbitration offer that the Braves would have provided had they kept him through the remainder of the 2008 season, with the desire to at least receive draft pick compensation. 

Of course had Teixeira accepted an arb offer, the financial ramifications would have been much greater than those provided by the small risk the Braves would  take if they reach a point in December, where they have to offer arbitration to either Soriano or Gonzalez.  

Wren has already assumed the role of buyer once this year with his June 3 acquisition of Nate McLouth, who is a hitter that many offensively-needy teams would currently covet.
  
Still while McLouth has proven to be a definite upgrade, the Braves won just 13 of the 30 games they’ve played since he joined their lineup.   Of course four of those wins were notched last week, when McLouth was sidelined with a sore left hamstring.

There’s no doubt that McLouth is going to make an impact in Atlanta beyond this year.  He’s a legit five-tool player, whose presence in Atlanta would already been much more celebrated had he not arrived just in time to see both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann start to endure simultaneous struggles. 

Over his past 21 games, McCann has hit .250 with two homers and seven RBIs.  The always-dependable All-Star catcher also has just four hits in his last 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position. 

As for Jones, over the course of his past 25 games, he has hit .213 with one homer and nine RBIs. 

While winning just 10 of their past 25 games, the Braves have received a total of 19 RBIs from McCann and Jones.
  
There’s no doubt that McCann and Jones will turn things around.  But will they do so before Wren is forced to make the decision to enter the trade market as a seller? 

Where will this three-game winning streak lead?

Welcome back to Braves Mountain.  We once again ask you to keep your hands and feet inside the car as we continue this ride includes both quick ascents and frustrating descents.   And we are happy to announce that the early portion of this week’s journey has provided more reason to believe that the light at the end of the tunnel will still be lit after the All-Star break.
 
With last night’s win over the Phillies, the Braves once again matched a season-best three-game winning streak and if this year’s trend continues, you may want to put your hands in the air and at least attempt to enjoy the rush created by the descent that could follow. 

“We’ve proven both ways that momentum doesn’t help us or hurt us,” Matt Diaz said after highlighting his three-hit performance with a homer and two RBIs last night. 

After sweeping the Nationals (April 10-12) to move to 5-1 on the season, the Braves immediately followed with a five-game losing streak and an eight-game stretch that included just one win. 

When the Braves gained another three-game losing streak April 22-25, they soured those positive vibes by enduring a nine-game stretch that included just two wins. 

How about that inspiring three-game sweep of the then-American League East leading Blue Jays in May?  Well as you likely painfully remember, that was followed by an 11-game stretch that included just three wins. 

But providing reason at least some reason for optimism is the 7-4 stretch that followed the three-game winning streak achieved (May 9-11) against the Mets and Phillies. 

“We’ve gotten excited before and then went on a losing streak,” Brian McCann said. “So we’ve just got to keep playing and see what happens.  We can’t worry about what we have or haven’t done.” 

While taking the first two games of this week’s three-game series against the front -running Phillies, the Braves are now just three games out of first place for the first time since May 27.  Considering that they’ve gone 14-17 since that date, they have to be greatly appreciative of the generosity provided by the Phillies and Mets.
  
Dating back to May 28, the Mets have gone 12-19 and the Phillies have gone 14-16. 

Regardless of what happens against the Phillies tonight, Braves fans should guard against saying anything like, “this is a great time to be playing the Nationals.”  This was a popular cry after the Braves lost of five of six to the Marlins and Pirates in April. 

Then we all watched as the Braves managed to lose two of three games in Washington D.C.  But this wasn’t anything new.  They’ve lost nine of the first 12 games they’ve played at Nationals Park and seven of the 12 games they’ve played against the Nationals since last year’s All-Star break.

Remember when the Braves lost 14 of the first 16 games they played against the Phillies last year?  Well, while winning six of the first eight games played against the defending world champions this year, they’ve moved to 10-16 against them since the start of the 2008 season.   During this same span, they’ve gone 10-14 against the Nationals.
 
All-Star stuff:  With All-Star voting set to close tonight at 11:59 p.m. ET, it would be nice to see Braves fans show some final-hour support by voting  for Brian McCann, who has seen Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina take a more commanding lead when results have been updated both of the past two weeks.

McCann leads all NL catchers in batting average (.310) and OPS (.906) and despite battling left-eye vision problems throughout the season’s first five weeks, he ranks second and both homers (8) and RBIs (33).  With 44 more at-bats, Molina has totaled five homers, tallied 24 RBIs and compiled a .728 OPS. 

While the St. Louis fans have taken advantage of the opportunity to see Molina behind the plate for the start of the July 14 All-Star Game at their own Busch Stadium, McCann seems to still be a lock to gain his fourth consecutive All-Star selection in what is his fourth full Major League season. 

Whether he’ll be joined by Javier Vazquez, Jurrjens and/or Rafael Soriano remains to be seen.  But all deserving pitchers were given more reason for hope on Wednesday, when Major League Baseball announced that the rosters would be expanded to 33 players to accommodate a manager’s selection for one extra pitcher.

Player balloting will determine eight reserve position player and eight pitchers (five starters and three relievers) for both rosters.  Eight more selections, including the extra pitcher, will be made by the managers, with input provided from league officials.

Soriano has actually produced the best credentials among Braves pitchers to pitch in this year’s Midsummer Classic.  
Along with being perfect in his six save opportunities, Soriano ranks third among NL relievers with a 1.23 ERA, third in OPS (.457) surrendered, fifth in both batting average allowed (.160) and slugging percentage allowed (.216),  and sixth with a 0.90 WHIP.  

Having watched Jurrjens limit his Phillies to a two-out, seventh-inning single on Wednesday night, NL manager Charlie Manuel might be further persuaded to include the 23-year-old right-hander, who ranks fifth in the NL with a 2.73 ERA. 
 
Jurrjens’ 6-6 record is a product of the same inconsistent support that has saddled the 5-7 Vazquez, who will get his own opportunity to audition in front of Manuel while attempting to retake the NL strikeouts lead during tonight’s series finale against the Phillies.
 
Along with currently being just seven strikeouts shy of the NL-leading mark posted by Tim Lincecum, Vazquez also ranks second in the NL with a 1.06 WHIP (walks plus hits/innings pitched).  His 3.03 ERA ranks eighth and with 11 quality starts, he’s and Jurrjens both rank eighth among the Senior Circuit hurlers.

Along with his losing record, Vazquez’s candidacy could be further burdened by the fact that he’s scheduled to start just two days before the All-Star Game.  Jurrjens is slated to go one day earlier. 

McCann deserves an All-Star start

As an objective journalist, I’m not supposed to serve as Brian McCann’s campaign manager.  But while presenting the facts, it seems like it would be pretty easy to persuade you to click here  and show McCann the final-week support he needs to earn the nod as the National League’s starting catcher during this year’s All-Star Game.
 
When the latest ballot results were released on Monday, it wasn’t too surprising to see that Yadier Molina was still leading the way among NL catchers.  St. Louis fans have always shown strong All-Star support to their favorite Cardinals.
 
But it didn’t make much sense to see that over the course of seven days, Molina had doubled his lead over McCann to 315,973 votes.
 
While hitting .279 with five homers and a .736 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), Molina is enjoying a solid season and if you want to bring defense into the equation, then maybe you can make a case for him pleasing the hometown fans with his presence in the starting lineup during this year’s All-Star Game, which will be played at Busch Stadium on July 14.
 
But even while accounting for their gloves can you truly say that Molina is more deserving than McCann, whose .318 batting average is 39 points higher than Molina’s mark, which ranks second among NL catchers? 

In addition, McCann’s .915 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage)  is 169 points better than any other NL catcher.
 
Having essentially missed the month of April while dealing with blurred vision, McCann doesn’t possess the same kind of power number that have helped him gain an All-Star selection during each of his first three full Major League seasons. 

But even with this long absence, McCann ranks second among NL catchers in homers (6) and third with 29  RBIs. 

With 52 fewer at-bats, McCann has tallied five more RBIs than Yadier Molina.  And in 63 fewer at-bats, he has moved to within 12 RBIs of the leading mark posted by San Francisco’s Bengie Molina, who also paces the NL catchers with 10 homers. 

Dating back to the start of the 2006 season, McCann leads all Major League catchers in doubles, homers, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.   

While these marks shouldn’t necessarily affect this year’s voting, they do serve as further proof that McCann and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer have undoubtedly established themselves as the game’s top offensive catchers. 

With this in mind, there’s little doubt that McCann will gain a fourth consecutive All-Star appearance.  But while he’ll never admit it, the satisfaction of this latest selection would be accompanied with the disappointment that will be felt if he doesn’t get the starting nod that he seemingly deserves. 

Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times with the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites until July 2 at 11:59 p.m. ET. 

The Yankees are here:
   When the Yankees last visited Turner Field in 2000, the opener of that three-game series pitted Greg Maddux against Roger Clemens.    During this battle between eventual 300-game winners, Maddux allowed seven earned runs and 13 hits in 5 2/3 innings.  But with Clemens allowing six runs  — four earned —  in five innings, the Braves claimed an 11-7 win that was aided by Brian Jordan’s  four-RBI performance.
 
With Tommy Hanson slated to start against Chien-Ming Wang tonight, this week’s series opener doesn’t provide the same kind of epic pitching matchup.  But it’s going to be fun to see how Hanson handles himself while staring at the Yankee pinstripes during what will be just his fourth Major League start.
  
When asked yesterday about the potential anxiety he might experience while pitching to Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez, Hanson said, “They’re hitters, so if I make my pitches, I feel like I’m going to be alright.”
 
If asked to compare Hanson to former Braves, I’d have to say he possesses Kevin Millwood’s quiet confidence and John Smoltz’s dominant arsenal.  The kid is going to be special and his celebrity will instantaneously grow if he produces a gem in front of the New York media tonight.
 
Heyward update:  Jason Heyward missed three weeks with a strained right oblique.  Since returning to the Class A Myrtle Beach lineup last week, he has four hits in 17 at-bats.   The rosters for this year’s Futures Game will be announced later this week and there’s obviously a chance that Heyward will be among those invited to participate. 

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