Results tagged ‘ Frank Wren ’

Wren believes he can strengthen his outfield internally

Some within the Braves organization believe one of Nate McLouth’s best at-bats of the season occurred with the bases loaded during the 11th inning of  Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Marlins.  For those of you who are masochists, I’ll remind you that this at-bat concluded with Hanley Ramirez fielding a sharply-hit grounder and then turning an inning-ending double play. 

When a player has hit just .168 through the season’s first 97 games, there is reason to stretch for the positive and take into account the fact that he has played just five games since missing six weeks because of a concussion.  <p>

But when this same player has hit .204 with a .639 OPS since the 2009 season’s All-Star break, there is reason to acknowledge the fact that he has to be on a very short leash. 

As the Braves attempt to stay ahead of the red-hot Phillies, who have moved within 4 1/2 games of the top spot in the National League East standings, they realize they can’t remain patient with McLouth too much longer. 

But with limited attractive options available on the trade market, it appears Braves GM Frank Wren believes the best way to strengthen his center field position is to utilize players that are already within the organization.

“I think we’re still looking internally at the pieces that we have,” Wren said early Monday evening.  “Right now, I’d have to say that’s the way that we’re leaning.”  <p>  

If McLouth continues to struggle, Melky Cabrera and possibly Gregor Blanco will likely see a majority of the playing time in center field.  Cabrera has hit .298 while the Braves have gone a Major League-best 44-23 since the start of play on May 10. 

While McLouth was on the disabled list, the Braves center fielders hit .318 with a .776 OPS.   It’s troubling to see that this stretch didn’t include any homers.  But with Jason Heyward providing instant optimism and Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske showing recent reason to believe they can prove productive in a left field platoon, the Braves could get away with sticking either Cabrera or Blanco in the eighth hole.

As mentioned last week, the Braves never really showed much interest in Florida’s Cody Ross, who will be a non-tender candidate when he becomes eligible to gain a $6 million-plus salary via arbitration this winter. 

Likewise, their interest in Corey Hart was minimal even before he injured his right wrist last week.  The Giants have shown much more interest in Hart and may be willing to provide the return the Brewers are seeking. 

If the Braves make a move before Saturday’s trade deadline, they will likely add a reliever.  But Wren believes he has the internal pieces necessary to further strengthen his bullpen. 

Within the next couple of weeks, Eric O’Flaherty should be able to regain the strength he has lost while battling a viral infection.   The Braves may also soon be persuaded to add Craig Kimbrel or Stephen Marek, who has posted a .065 ERA in the 42 combined appearances he has made with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this year. 

Kimbrel has posted a 1.89 ERA and limited opponents to a .163 batting average in the 38 innings he has completed for Gwinnett.  But while issuing 14 walks in 12 innings this month, the 22-year-old right-hander has given the Braves reason to allow him to gain more Minor League seasoning. 

I was thinking the Braves might also be able to improve their relief corps by sending Kris Medlen back to the bullpen and promoting Mike Minor to serve as Atlanta’s fifth starter.  But this doesn’t appear to be a one of the club’s primary options.    

Will the starting rotation live up to expectations?

After suffering his Major League-high fifth loss on Tuesday night, the still-winless Kenshin Kawakami actually used the word pathetic (or that was at least what was interpreted) while describing how he has pitched this season.
 
If you agree that the tough-luck Kawakami has been “pathetic” this season, then how would you describe the path that Derek Lowe has traveled on the way to winning four of his first 6 decisions?
   
Lowe   4-2,  5.18 ERA   .264 BA .350 OBP  .774 OPS  33 IP, 33 hits and 17 BBs
Kawakami  0-5, 5.47 ERA  .298 BA .342 OBP .852 OPS   26 1/3 IP  31 hits and 8 BBs

Lowe has been opposed by six pitchers who have combined to go 10-12 with a 5.74 ERA this year.   The five pitchers who have served as Kawakami’s mound opposition have gone 18-3 with a 1.94 ERA.

Even though he has been awarded more than a third of the 11 wins the Braves have recorded this season, should we say that Lowe been “slightly less-than-pathetic?”

Or should we simply look at the big picture and realize that the early-season offseason woes have overshadowed the possibility that this Atlanta rotation might not be as strong as we projected entering the season? 

Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson, who will combine to start the final two games of the current three-game series against the Nationals, have provided indication that they are capable of being the ace-like pitchers the Braves believed they would be.  

But entering Wednesday night’s game, the Braves starters ranked eighth in the National League with a 4.28 ERA and 13th with just 143 2/3 innings completed through the season’s first 26 games.   An Atlanta pitcher has completed seven innings just three times this season with Hanson, Hudson and Jair Jurrjens accounting for those outings.

In comparison, the Phillies have seen their starting pitchers complete at least seven innings nine times already.  Yes, Roy Halladay has accounted for six of these outings.  But with Cole Hamels going eight innings in two of his past four outings, can the Braves still confidently say that their starting rotation is better than that injury-depleted one that supports the lethal offense that exists in Philadelphia? 

While Joe Blanton made his return to the Phillies rotation on Monday, the Braves currently don’t know who will be starting the final two games of this weekend’s series in Philadelphia.   Jurrjens doesn’t believe his strained hamstring will allow him to pitch on Saturday and Kawakami is at least questionable for Sunday’s start because of the blister that formed on his right foot during Tuesday night’s fourth inning.

Less than a week removed from a nine-game losing streak the Braves now find themselves battling a lack of depth in the starting pitching department.  James Parr could make Saturday’s start.  But if he does can the Braves be confident that he would eat enough innings for them to not have to call upon either Kris Medlen or Jonny Venters, the relievers who could be asked to make a spot start on Saturday. 

The Braves knew they couldn’t complete an entire season with all of their starting pitchers healthy and at this point, they can at least take solace in the fact that neither Jurrjens or Kawakami will miss any significant time. 

But as fate would have it, the Braves find themselves battling this potential dilemma during a weekend that could provide them a chance to remain within striking distance of the Phillies. 

Still I guess things could certainly be worse for the Braves.  I mean it’s lot like they suffered a 43-point loss during the first game of a conference semifinal last night.  

Speaking of yesterday, a loyal Braves fan, James Reese, snapped this picture of Tom Glavine, Frank Wren and  Dr. Joe Chandler watching Class A Rome’s home game on Tuesday.

glavwren.jpg 

Just like with his previous trip to Rome, Glavine returned to Atlanta having not allowed a run. But this time, it appears that he will incur a different fate. 

As of 2:07 p.m. ET on Wednesday, there was no indication that the former hurler has since been told that he has been released from his duties as a broadcaster and special assistant to the president. 

Sorry Frank, it was too easy.

Wren and Glavine are spending some time in Rome this week evaluating some of the club’s young prospects and Jordan Schafer, who has gone 2-for-7 in his first two Minor League rehab games.  The young center fielder will continue to strengthen his surgically-repaired left hand before joining Triple-A Gwinnett’s roster.  

The big league Braves will have the benefit of sending Hanson to the mound tonight to oppose Luis Atilano, who has gone 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his first three career starts.   The Braves selected Atilano with their first pick (35th overall) in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft and then traded him to the Nationals on Aug. 31, 2006 for pinch-hitter Daryle Ward.

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Nats 5/5/2010

McLouth, 8
Prado, 4
Chipper, 5
McCann, 2
Glaus, 3
Heyward, 9
Diaz, 7
Infante, 6
Hanson, 1

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

  

Braves still not actively pursuing Damon

Well it looks like National Signing Day will conclude without Johnny Damon knowing where he’s going to be playing this year.  But it still certainly appears that Atlanta isn’t in his immediate future. 

Instead of taking the negligent route of saying there is absolutely no way the Braves eventually sign Damon, I will acknowledge that this landscape could be quickly altered if one of Atlanta’s outfielders were to suffer an injury during the early days or weeks of camp.

Or maybe there will come a time when Damon would be willing to accept the $1-2 million the Braves might be willing to offer. But this seems doubtful given the likelihood that the Blue Jays or Tigers would seemingly be willing to provide something greater.

After a brief exchange with a team source again this morning, it was evident that the Braves still aren’t actively pursuing Damon. 

Placed in the same situation two years ago, when the 36-year-old Damon still had the youthful legs that provided him great range in center and the ability to sweep bags with regularity, the Braves might have shown some interest. 

Of course the price tag wouldn’t have been the same either. 

At the end of the day, the only reason the Braves would have interest in Damon is to allow him to serve as the leadoff hitter that they lack.  But while hitting .284 with a .349 on-base percentage and .446 slugging percentage on the road last year, did he really provide the confidence that he will be productive in this role. 

Another alarming stat comes from the fact that he attempted to steal just 12 bases last year. Over the course of the previous three seasons, he had averaged 34 attempts.  Was this a sign of age or just a product of the fact that he had been dropped down one spot, out of the leadoff role in a Yankees lineup that had plenty of middle-of-the-lineup power? 

While hitting in the leadoff spot last year, Nate McLouth hit .260 with a .354 OBP and .426 SLG.  In his 82 plate appearances as hit team’s first batter, McLouth hit .173 with a .244 OBP and .320 SLG.  In 183 PAs leading off an inning, he hit .204/.273/.365.  

These numbers don’t provide reason to believe McLouth is capable of serving as a consistently reliable table setter.  But the gritty outfielder serves as the club’s best source of speed.  Without the hamstring problems he battled during the final two months of the season, he would have likely swiped more than 25 bags. 

Because of his speed, it makes sense to keep McLouth in the leadoff spot.  Likewise, because of his ability to hit in clutch situations, it makes sense to continue providing Yunel Escobar an opportunity to hit in the fifth or sixth spots of the order.

But I think you can also argue that it makes the most sense to put Escobar in the leadoff role. Remember this argument proved futile over the course of the past two years, when Kelly Johnson’s name was being placed in the leadoff role. 

In 75 career starts as a leadoff hitter, Escobar has batted .309 with a .371 OBP and .428 SLG.  In the 75 PAs he’s totaled as his club’s first batter of the game, these stats are .411/.427/ .616.   In 360 PAs leading off an inning, these numbers are .312/.364/.423. 

Given that Escobar has hit .337 in his career with runners in scoring position, it would be tough to put him in a spot where he’d often come to the plate with the bases empty.  But at the same time, he provides reason to wonder if he would be the club’s best catalyst at the top of the lineup.

My Projected Lineup w/ Escobar in the leadoff spot:

Escobar
McLouth
Chipper
Glaus
McCann
Prado
Diaz/Cabrera 
Heyward

Separated at birth?
  A few years ago, I asked Frank Wren if anybody had ever told him he looked and sounded like ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.   At that time, he told me they both sent their kids to suburban Atlanta’s Landmark Christian Academy.

Wren.jpg 

Since then, I’ve seen fewer physical resemblences.  But when I awoke this morning with the television on, I could have sworn I heard Frank talking to me about something that Peyton Manning or Drew Brees was going to do this weekend. 

chris Mortensen.jpg

Listen to Mort as this week progresses and tell me if I need to get my ears checked.  Here’s a clip of  Frank’s voice.

 

Busy holiday season for Wren and the Braves

After making my 11-hour journey back home for the holidays yesterday, I learned that that yesterday’s trade of Javier Vazquez had made many of you just as sick as my three female passengers, who had never previously been introduced to the twists and turns on West Virginia’s mountainous turnpike. 

But after looking at this trade and getting a feel for what the Braves learned while navigating this year’s trade market, I’d have to say the only reason that I currently dislike Braves GM Frank Wren stems from the fact that he made a point this morning to point out that the Mexican beaches he is enjoying lack the snow and cold temperatures that exist here in Wheeling, WV.   <p>

Before getting into this trade, let’s touch on Troy Glaus, who will seemingly become the Braves new first baseman once he’s able to get to Atlanta to undergo a physical.  Weather conditions in the northeast part of the country  imited hindered his immediate travel plans. 

So with some of the Braves doctors already beginning their vacations, it will likely be after the holiday break before Glaus could be introduced as the newest member of the Braves roster. 

Now back to the pitching front, where the Braves committed to trading either Vazquez or Derek Lowe once they gained the belief that Tim Hudson actually provided more certainty than either of these other two veteran right-handers. 

It’s no secret that the Braves pushed hard in an attempt to find a suitor for Lowe.  But in the process, they found just a couple of potential suitors and each of these clubs wanted them to eat about half of the $45 million the veteran sinkerballer is owed over the next three years. 

Given that Vazquez finished fourth in this year’s balloting for the National League Cy Young Award, there was reason to believe the Braves would have a much easier time moving him. 

But as time passed, it became apparent that among the clubs looking to acquire a starting pitcher via trade, the Yankees stood as the only potential suitor willing to spend as much as $10 million. 

With this in mind, the Braves were thrilled when the Yankees were interested enough in Vazquez to highlight this five-player trade with the inclusion of Arodys Vizcaino,  a 19-year-old right-hander who was rated by Baseball America  as the third-best prospect in the Yankees organization. 

The Braves view Vizcaino as being just as promising as Julio Teheran, a soon-to-be 19-year-old right-hander who was tabbed their third-best prospect by BA.

While making his frustrations known last week, Lowe playfully talked about reports that indicated the Braves were now just looking to get prospects for him.  This led the witty right-hander to ask, “What’s next?  You think they’ll be able to get an “L” screen for me?”

With Vizcaino, Mike Dunn and Melky Cabrera, the Braves got much more than they would have received in return for the salary dump they would have made by trading Lowe. 

Obviously to find value in this trade you have to look far beyond Cabrera, who will serve as a cheap versatile outfielder who can play each of the three outfield positions.  When the Braves are facing a tough right-handed pitcher, he could spell Matt Diaz in left field.  When they are facing a tough lefty, he could spell Jason Heyward in right field. 

Or maybe he just assumes an everyday role in right field until Heyward is deemed Major League ready.  Whatever the case, the Braves certainly didn’t view him as the centerpiece of this deal. 

There’s no doubt that it’s tough to see Vazquez depart after just one year in an environment where he proved to be so comfortable.  He’s a true professional who had a positive impact on Yunel Escobar, Jair Jurrjens and many of the other players in the clubhouse. 

But when it came time to make projections, the Braves certainly couldn’t assume that Vazquez would definitely match the career-best season he enjoyed this past season.  In fact, there were some members of the organization, who felt it was much smarter to sell high on him and avoid having to sell low on Lowe. 

Even with Lowe coming off a career-worst season and Vazquez coming off a career-best season, recent history indicates you could place them in the same category. 

Durign the past three seasons, Lowe went 41-35 with a 3.91 ERA and 605 innings pitched. Vazquez went 42-34 with a 3.74 ERA and 644 1/3 innings pitched during this span. 

Given that Vazquez spent two of those seasons in the American League and is three years younger, you could certainly argue that he was the guy to keep.  But at the same time, the Braves also came to the realization that he was the only member of this duo who was going to provide any kind of return. 

Thus while exercising your right to voice your opinion about this trade, keep in mind that it was one that was necessitated once the Braves made the decision to provide Hudson with his three-year contract extension. 

If you weren’t in favor of bringing Hudson back, then you certainly have reason to be upset about the fact that Vazquez’s time in Atlanta was limited to just one season.  But while kicking and screaming about this, keep in mind there was no guarantee that the Vazquez that appeared last year was going to materialize yet again in 2010. 

Before saying happy holidays to all you loyal bloggers, I’d like to add that Wren left Lowe a lengthy message after the pitcher voiced his displeasures to me about the fact that it seemed like the club was giving up on him after just one year. 

A few hours later, Lowe sent Wren a text message that essentially said there were no hard feelings. 

OK, time for me to send Wren my own holiday wishes. I’m thinking it will consist of a reminder that stepping on seashells will prove much more painful than walking through this snow. 

  

Cox and Wren have formed strong working relationship

Bobby Cox and Frank Wren aren’t unlike any other general manager-manager combos in professional sports.  Just like the key decision makers in any corporation, they are bound to encounter internal conflicts.

During one of the early days of Spring Training this season, Cox seemingly reached his boiling point after exiting a meeting with Wren and his coaches.

Reacting to a tone that he felt was condescending toward his coaches, the long-time Braves manager contemplated immediate retirement.  

After a few hours of contemplation, Cox opted to stick around.

Cox’s respect for Wren has led him to deny that this event occurred.  But those of us that have been around the team throughout this season, can’t deny the fact that the working relationship shared by Cox and Wren was definitely strengthened in the days, weeks and months following this event. 

No later than Monday, Cox will likely confirm that he’s returning to manage at least one more season.  If he truly felt that he couldn’t continue to work with Wren, the 68-year-old skipper would have already provided more indication that he’s currently spending his final days on the bench.

Like Cox’s successor will have big shoes to fill, Wren didn’t exactly encounter an enviable situation when he assumed the role that John Schuerholz had mastered for so many years.

To simply refer to Schuerholz as a great baseball man would be an insult.  His greatness was gained through the great leadership that he continues to provide the Braves organization as its president. 

Still during the 17 years that Cox and Schuerholz shared a manager-GM relationship, they had their differences.  But over time, they developed a working relationship that drew envy from the peers that shared their positions throughout the Majors.        
  
Wren has done an excellent job ushering the Braves away from holding on to tightly to their successful past.  While saying goodbye to the likes of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, he’s ushered the club toward what he foresees as a bright future.

At the same time, Wren has also shown the willingness to make the adaptations necessary to build the strong working relationship that has given Cox even more reason to stick around a little longer to be part of this future. 

Braves may have made all their significant moves

Braves general manager Frank Wren has never been accused of being a procrastinator and with the trade deadline resting a little more than a week away, there’s a chance that he’s already made all of his significant deals.
 
This line of thinking could be altered if the Braves were to struggle during this week’s four-game series against the Giants.  But at the same time, this belief could be strengthened if they were to claim at least three of these four games against the National League Wild Card leaders.
 
Having won 12 of their past 18 games, the Braves entered Monday night’s series opener trailing the Giants by 4 games.   Seeing how the Phillies have become immune to losing since they were swept out of Turner Field earlier this month, the Wild Card race has become much more intriguing from a Braves perspective.
 
There’s no doubt that the Braves could benefit from another power bat and another veteran reliever.  But as the season’s second half enters its first full week, it’s apparent that the makeup of their roster is much stronger than it was a month ago.

“We like our club the way that we’re situated right now,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “We like the balance we have in our lineup.  We’ve liked our pitching really from the beginning.  I think we’re observing and if there are ways to improve, I think we’ll at least look at them.  But right now we like our club.” 

Wren improved two of his three outfield spots with the trades that brought Nate McLouth and Ryan Church to Atlanta.  The left field position has been improved as Garret Anderson has provided the offensive consistency that negates some of the defensive deficiencies that come courtesy of his suspect range.

This month, the Braves lead the National League with a .292 batting average and rank second in both on-base percentage (.366) and runs (84). 

Yes, the Braves are just five of 16 NL teams to have played 16 games so far. But the 5.25 runs they’ve score per game this month, look a whole lot better than the 3.57 runs per game that they scored in June.   In April they scored an average of 4.04 runs per game and in May they improved that mark to 4.66. 

“Up and down our lineup, I think we’re getting more quality at-bats, which we think will translate into more runs and more wins,” Wren said. “(Offense)  has been the area that has held us back.”

If the Braves truly believe they are in the thick of the postseason race, they’ll likely look to keep Javier Vazquez, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.  As Type A free agents, Soriano and Gonzalez will only be moved for a significant return. 

Of course if they were to fall out of the race, the Braves could utilize each of these hurlers to help them begin building for the 2010 season and beyond. 

While Vazquez could be moved to provide the financial flexibility to gain another bat for the season’s final two months, the Braves are providing more indication that they’d like to keep the impressive right-hander around throughout the remainder of this season and possibly beyond. 

But  it doesn’t appear that they will have the financial resources that would allow them to keep both Vazquez and Tim Hudson around for the 2010 season.  Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Hudson won’t rejoin the Atlanta rotation before Aug. 25.  

If the Braves continue to win, the most likely candidate that they’d move before the trade deadline would be Kelly Johnson.  But as they found while attempting to deal Jeff Francoeur, there aren’t a lot of clubs lining up to acquire Johnson’s services.  

Johnson’s Minor League rehab assignment expires on Saturday.  So sometime within the next week, the Braves will have to trade him, place him back on the big league roster, or activate him from the disabled list with the intention of optioning him back to Triple-A Gwinnett’s roster. 

With Martin Prado manning the everyday role at second base and Omar Infante just a couple weeks away from being activated from the disabled list, there is limited need for Johnson in Atlanta.
  
Since becoming an everyday member of the lineup on June 30, Prado has hit .400 with two homers, a .458 on-base percentage and a .759 slugging percentage.  The Braves have won 11 of the 17 games played during that span.

“There’s a certain chemistry and feeling that every team has and when you feel like you’ve reached that right balance, you are a little hesitant to make a change,” Wren said.  “I know the guys on this club feel good about this team right now and that’s a positive.  That doesn’t stop you from inquiring and seeing if there are other things that you can do.  But we’ve done quite a bit already.”  

Injury updates from Coors Field

Well there might not be any further reason to wonder whether the Braves will deal Javier Vazquez before the trade deadline.  

Instead it seems like all concerns regarding Vazquez should be centered on his ability to fight through his lower abdominal strain and prolong the success that he enjoyed during the season’s first half.
 
Vazquez’s impressive first half officially came to a close on Thursday evening when the Braves revealed that he’s going to miss Sunday’s scheduled start because of a strained lower abdominal muscle.    He’s been battling the ailment for a couple of weeks and aggravated it while completing  Tuesday night’s gem against the Cubs. 

After receiving the results of an MRI exam that was performed on Thursday in Atlanta, the Braves seem hopeful that Vazquez will be able to make his first turn after the All-Star break.  My guess is that they’ll hold him out until the July 20 game against the Giants.  

It was certainly surprising to hear the Braves say that Vazquez has been bothered by some discomfort for a couple of weeks.   The 32-year-old pitcher has gone 2-3 with a 1.96 ERA over his last eight starts.
 
The Braves said that Vazquez may have aggravated the injury during Tuesday’s sixth inning or while striking out during his seventh-inning at-bat.
 
Either way the Braves don’t seem overly concerned about the injury and they’re hoping they feel the same way next week.
 
Schafer update:   Braves general manager Frank Wren said that Dr. Gary Lourie has once again determined that Jordan Schafer’s left wrist discomfort is caused by a bone bruise.  This was the same diagnosis that was provided when Lourie examined the 22-year center fielder in early June.  <p>

Still it seems like the Braves understand there’s a chance that Schafer will miss the remainder of the season.  

“There’s a chance they may want to do additional therapies beyond what they did the last time, when they prescribed a couple weeks of rest,” Wren said.  <p>

Schafer, who has spent the past month with Triple-A Gwinnett, hasn’t played since aggravating the injury again last Friday night.   If he’s not able to play again the rest of this season, you at least have to wonder if he’ll need to begin the 2010 season in the Minors.  

While Schafer has downplayed the effect of his injury,  there’s no doubt in my mind that it has affected him.  He homered twice during the season’s first three games and then suddenly lost his ability to produce necessary bat speed after injuring the wrist during the season’s fourth game.

I understand Spring Training can fool you. But the guy that hit .204 and struck out 63 times in 50 games with Atlanta, wasn’t the same one that we saw impress on a daily basis in Florida.
 
Francoeur over Diaz:  Many of you have expressed your disbelief in Bobby Cox’s decision to give Jeff Francoeur a third consecutive start in right field on Thursday night.   Without mentioning any names, I’ll just say that you guys are sharing the same views as some of the members of the Braves clubhouse.
 
Look I know that the Braves lost the three games that Diaz started in right field.  And I realize that the Braves have won each of the past seven games that Francoeur has started.
 
But count me among those who can’t understand how you can put Diaz’s hot bat on the bench right now.
  
During his past six starts, Diaz has recorded 12 hits, four of which have gone for extra bases.   Entering Thursday, Francoeur had recorded 12 hits, four of which had gone for extra bases over the course of his previous 51 at-bats.

Back to life and back to reality

Nate McLouth provided an immediate upgrade and he’ll undoubtedly prove to be an asset to the Braves over the course of the next few years.  But as we’ve seen through the first week of his career in Atlanta, his five-tool talents aren’t great enough to serve as the solution to his new team’s offensive woes. 

When the Braves were shutout during the first two games of the McLouth era, they opted to move their new center fielder into the leadoff spot and magically they found themselves scoring 19 runs during a three-game span that began on Sunday.

But stealing a line from the old Soul II Soul song, the final two games of the Pirates series brought the Braves back to life and back to reality..
 
When the Braves prevented Tommy Hanson from losing his debut on Sunday, they (or Chipper Jones specifically) took advantage of Manny Parra, who has an 11.90 ERA in his past four starts,  and an over-taxed Brewers bullpen.
   
The majority of Monday’s seven-run uprising came at the expense of Zach Duke, who was charged with six runs and 11 hits in six innings.  But this was nothing new for the Braves.  Back in April, when Brian McCann couldn’t see, they actually pounded the left-hander with 12 hits and six runs in six innings.
 
Then Wednesday night, they botched the opportunity that was provided when Charlie Morton’s early exit prompted the impromptu entrance of Jeff Karstens, who had suffered the loss during  Monday’s 15-inning marathon with an 18-pitch outing.
 
With a quick rebound, Karstens allowed one run over 4 1/3 innings and set the stage for Paul Maholm, who allowed one unearned run over seven innings on Thursday afternoon.  Maholm till hasn’t surrendered an earned run in the 14 innings he’s tossed against Atlanta this year.
 
“I thought Maholm pitched another great game, but, we’re saying that too much in here,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. 

Chipper Jones said that Thursday was actually a day when the Braves justifiably had to tip their caps to Maholm.
 
While respecting Jones’ opinion, I’m sticking with Cox and holding the belief that Mike Hampton likely would have already damaged his wrist if he had to tip his hat as frequently as the Braves hitters have this year. 

While hitting .224 on this recently-completed nine-game homestand, the Braves were limited to two runs or fewer five times.  Making matters worse is that they went winless in the four games that their starters allowed two runs or fewer. 

Over the course of the past nine games, the Braves starters allowed 26 earned runs and posted a 3.90 ERA.  Take away Tommy Hanson’s debut and that ERA drops to 3.33. Regardless, either way you look at it, this span should have included more than four wins.

While the Braves were able to at least enhance their feeble outfield production with the acquisition of McLouth, they’ll need to do much more to make the necessary improvements to a lineup that still relies too heavily on the production of Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. 

” If (Brian McCann) isn’t playing and I go O-fer, we’re in trouble,” Jones said. “If I’m not playing and Mac goes O-fer, we’re in trouble.”  

While there was no doubt that this lineup would be centered around Jones and McCann, the Braves obviously were counting on more from Garret Anderson and Jeff Francoeur, whose fourth-inning single on Thursday provided him just his fourth hit in his past 31 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
 
Anderson is who he’s always been minus the power that he displayed during the early years of this decade.   When they signed him, the Braves knew about the fact that he’s a far from vibrant personality.  But it’s safe to say that they envisioned him hitting better than .254 with a .373 slugging percentage through his first 40 games.
 
Anderson’s struggles have only magnified those of Francoeur, whose .621 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) is actually 32 points lower than the mark he produced during last year’s disappointing campaign. 

Courtesy of the disappointing statistics he’s produced over the past two years, Francoeur has been forced to face the reality that he’s subject to regular criticism. 

While being one of the many who have been critical of his production, I would certainly never question Francoeur’s determination and passion for the game. He’s still the same great kid that arrived on the scene four years ago. But he’s currently not the same great player we had envisioned. 

As things currently stand, it’s tough to envision Francouer being back with the Braves beyond this season.  But at the same time, it’s not like Frank Wren is going to his team’s outfield woes by trading him.

While there’s still a chance that the Braves could deal Francoeur at some point this season, they certainly aren’t going to do so until they have somebody capable of filling the right field position.
 
Thoughts of Matt Diaz playing right field every day are erased by the reality that Anderson isn’t capable of playing left field on an everyday basis.  Plus with Jordan Schafer and Brandon Jones currently ailing, I don’t see any other internal options developing any time soon. 

So with limited available funds, the Braves will continue to evaluate the trade market with the hope that it produces a solution before it’s too late. 

To get the return that they are seeking, they will have to supply something significant.  While dealing Javier Vazquez would provide the opportunity to gain some financial breathing room, the Braves may be reluctant to deal him before having a better feel about what they could expect from Tim Hudson during the season’s final two months and next year. 

Without a suitable replacement, it’s also tough to envision trading Yunel Escobar.  But for every sensational contribution the shortstop provides, he seems to further bother his teammates by habitually committing mental mistakes and displaying the flashy personality that infuriates opponents and umpires.    

Wren’s task isn’t an easy one.  But as it becomes harder for him to watch his anemic offense there’s certainly reason to believe he’ll be further motivated to improve it.      

Braves need to make changes to outfield mix

Braves general manager Frank Wren isn’t in a position where he can wait until the July 31 trade deadline to upgrade his powerless outfield mix.    There’s a need for immediate changes and also indication that we’ll begin to see it in the near future.  
But now that we’ve completed the easy part by stating the obvious, what is the best way for Wren to improve an outfield that ranks last in the National League in slugging percentage (.356), homers (7) and OPS (.674)?
In dire need to hear something positive?  Well there are three NL teams, whose outfield mixes have produced a worse batting average (.248) and on-base percentage (.318).
Given that he’s played just 12 games since returning from a disabled list stint that was preceded with long stretches of injury-related activity, maybe it’s unfair to already declare the Garret Anderson project to be a bust, unless of course you want to factor in the defensive element that is sorely affected by his limited range.
But is it unfair to ask for at least one home run through the 71 at-bats compiled by a left fielder that you solely acquired to add some pop to your lineup?  If so, then you’re probably arguing that you shouldn’t have expected to see longball regularity from a 36-year-old veteran who hadn’t hit more than 17 homers any of the previous five seasons.  
With this being said, is it unfair to at least expect more than two extra-base hits (two doubles) in the 46 at-bats that Anderson has totaled since returning from the DL?  In the 12 games that he’s played since being activated, he’s hit .283 with a .321 on-base percentage and .326 slugging percentage.  
Those are numbers that only look good when compared to the .197 batting average, .214 on-base percentage and .273 slugging percentage that Jeff Francoeur has compiled in the 66 at-bats that he’s tallied this month.  
While there are a number of players that are going to experience bad months, Francoeur isn’t in position where he can produce these kinds of numbers and expect to  remain in Atlanta much longer.  Earlier this week, I pointed out that the biggest difference between this year and last year for the 25-year-old outfielder is the $2.92 million raise that he gained while avoiding arbitration in February.
During his first three full Major League seasons, Francoeur has collected an average of 630 at-bats.    Using this as a variable, let’s look at the fact that he’s hit .235 with  11 homers, a .287 on-base percentage and  a .341 slugging percentage in his last 631 at-bats   — dating back to May 6, 2008.
Among every Major Leaguer player who has collected at least 500 plate appearances during this span,  Bobby Crosby, Michael Bourn, Willy Taveras,  Chone Figgins and Jason Kendall are the only ones who have compiled a lower slugging percentage.  
Francoeur’s .287 on-base percentage during this span ranks dead last, just ahead of the .288 mark compiled by Arizona’s Chris Young, whose contract calls for him to make $23.75 million from 2010-2012.
Using this as a comparison and blinding yourself from the fact that Young has recorded 15 more stolen bases than Francoeur’s zero during this span, maybe the Braves shouldn’t feel too bad about the fact that they’re paying Francoeur $3.325 million this year.  
At the ripe age of 25, Francoeur might one day regain the power that has been absent since his 29-homer, 2006 season.  But as they continue to patiently await the return of this power, the Braves find themselves in a position where they have to at least explore the option of trading him to a team that believes they can fix him.
Obviously, Francoeur enjoys working with Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.  So maybe Jaramillo could persuade Jon Daniels to roll the dice with another ex-Braves player.  Sill while the Andruw Jones project is currently working, Texas is loaded with outfielders and many other top prospects  who were once destined for Atlanta.
The Braves aren’t going to get much in return for Francoeur. But they need to at least explore the possibility of moving him before they reach a point during the offseason, when they might non-tender him and get absolutely nothing in return for a former top prospect, who was once-considered to be the next Chipper Jones.
In addition, while attempting to alter their outfield mix, the Braves to face the reality that Francoeur still might generate a greater return than Anderson would on the trade market.  
Jordan Schafer’s rookie struggles have played a part in the lack of offense the Braves outfield has generated this year.  But while playing the field this year, the  only Atlanta outfielder to better the .660 OPS generated by Schafer is Matt Diaz with a .766 mark.  
With Diaz and Brandon Jones, the Braves have a couple of internal pieces who could at least attempt to improve the corner outfield production.  But to truly make a difference Wren is going to have to look outside his organization and navigate a trade market with funds that were reduced by the questionable signings of Anderson and Kenshin Kawakami.
Kawakami’s three-year, $23 million contract will continue to haunt Wren through the end of the 2011 season. The immediate effects have already proven to be a hindrance.  
How nice would it have been to have had an extra $7 milllion to spend on an outfielder right now or back in February,  when the Angels  avoided re-signing Anderson and opted to give Bobby Abreu  one-year $5 million?
Without a homer in his first 140 at-bats this year, Abreu wasn’t going to bring the Braves the power that they need.  But his .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .364 slugging percentage certainly look much better than the marks compiled by Anderson or anybody else the Braves have utilized as an outfielder this year.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 41,586 other followers