Results tagged ‘ Kelly Johnson ’

Tough to guess who the Braves might select

Welcome to Phoenix, where the temperatures are actually a little hotter than the Braves have been over the past month and where Kelly Johnson is awaiting the opportunity to see his former teammates for the second time in less than a month.  

Ten years ago, the Braves used a sandwich selection (compensatory picks made between the first two rounds) to take Johnson with the 38th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft.  Tonight, when they make their first pick with the 35th overall selection, they can only hope to land a prospect that proves as valuable as Johnson did during his time in Atlanta.  

Yes, Johnson had his share of struggles over the course of the past two years and was non-tendered in December.  But it’s safe to say he certainly provided more dividends than some of the other gambles the Braves have taken on sandwich round selections.  

In fact if recent history holds true, there’s a good chance that the Braves will end up trading whoever they take with their only selection during today’s portion of this year’s Draft.

Dating back to the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, the Braves have made 11 sandwich round selections.  Kelly Johnson and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are the only members of this group who made their Major League debuts with Atlanta.  Saltalamacchia is also one of the six members of this group to be traded by the Braves.  

Heading into this evening’s Draft, the Braves are hoping to utilize their first selection to find an everyday player who can enhance the limited power potential that currently exists in the lower end of their Minor League system.  

But it’s obvious that they are among the many clubs just hoping to find some serviceable talent after Bryce Harper and some of the other less-risky players are selected.  In other words, Braves director of scouting Tony DeMacio and his 29 other counterparts are entering the next three days just hoping to make some sense out of what is truly an inexact science.  

The Braves took Johnson with the 38th overall selection and Aaron Herr with the 40th overall selection in the 2000 Draft.  While Johnson was enjoying his status as one of Atlanta’s Baby Braves in 2005, Herr was finding it difficult to find employment in the baseball world.  

When the Braves took Richard Lewis with the 40th overall selection in the 2001 Draft, they didn’t know that his greatest contribution would be to serve as a trade piece that brought Juan Cruz to Atlanta’s bullpen.   The same could be said regarding Dan Meyer, who was taken with the 34th selection in 2002 and then used as the marquee piece that brought Tim Hudson to Atlanta before the start of the 2005 season.  

The last time the Braves owned the Draft’s 35th overall selection was 2004, when they used to take Luis Atilano, who would undergo Tommy John surgery and  later be traded to the Nationals in exchange for Daryle Ward.  

Saltalamacchia was chosen directly behind Atilano with the 36th overall selection in 2004. 
One year later the Braves would take Beau Jones with the 41st overall selection.   Both of these players were part of the blockbuster trade that brought Mark Teixeira to Atlanta in 2007.  
Jon Gilmore, taken with the 33rd overall selection in 2007, was part of the package the Braves provided the White Sox in exchange for Javier Vazquez.

While many of these sandwich selections taken over the course of the past 10 Drafts never
made it to Atlanta, the Braves at least used almost all of them to produce some kind of value. 

The only definite  bust among was this group was Steven Evarts, the 43rd overall selection in 2006.  Evarts’ off-the-field behavior ruined what had the makings to be a promising career.   

It’s hard to project who the Braves might take with tonight’s 35th overall selection.  With the likelihood that East Tennessee State’s Bryce Bentz will likely be long gone, they could choose to take a chance on Clemson’s Kyle Parker, whose signability is clouded by the fact that he has three years of eligibility remaining to serve as the school’s starting quarterback.  

But having already signed Dominican shortstop Edward Salcedo to a $1.6 million deal in March, the Braves likely aren’t going to take a gamble on somebody like Parker, who will be looking for a signing bonus higher than Major League Baseball’s recommendation.   

The Braves could select West Virginia shortstop Jedd Gyorko, who will likely end up as a second baseman, or Texas high school star Matt Lipka.   Both of these signable talents could also still be around when the Braves make the 53rd and 69th overall selections.  

A couple of local talents drawing interest from the Braves are Mill Creek High School right-hander Matt Grimes, who has committed to Georgia Tech, and South Forsyth High School infielder Zach Alvord

I’m heading down to the ballpark.  Stay tuned for updates throughout the evening.

Tonight’s lineup:
Prado 4
Infante 5
Heyward 9
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Hinske 7
Escobar 6
McLouth 8
Lowe 1

 
Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman.

Chavez provides depth to Braves pen

With the medical reviews completed on Friday, the Braves were able to officially announce that they have traded Rafael Soriano to the Rays in exchange for right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez. 

My expectation was to return to Atlanta on Thursday night and learn that the deal had been completed.  Instead once I got to baggage claim, I needed to send an updated version of the story while perching my laptop on one of the AJC’s newspaper boxes.  (Just further proof that newspaper industry does indeed still provide benefits). 

Anyhow, Braves general manager Frank Wren seemed encouraged that he was able to gain Chavez’s power arm in exchange for Soriano.  Sure it would have been nice to gain the two draft picks that would have been secured had Soriano declined his arbitration offer. 

But Chavez stands as a tangible return who has the potential to provide an immediate benefit.  Given how quickly Wren was able to make this deal, I don’t think there should be any further debate that he was wise to take the calculated gamble of offering arbitration to Soriano.

“In some regards, this is better than having a draft pick from our point of view,” Wren said.  <p>

With an above-average fastball that helped him find consistent success until he seemingly battled some fatigue toward the end of this year’s rookie season, Chavez provides further bullpen depth, which could prove very beneficial as the Braves attempt to keep their top three relievers Peter Moylan, Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito fresh throughout the season. 

Since the season concluded, I’ve been somewhat shocked when multiple team officials have talked about how excited they are about Boone Logan’s potential.  This isn’t a knock against Logan.  There’s no doubt that his talented left arm could prove to be an asset.

Instead, I just can’t understand why they are so optimistic about a reliever that was provided just three more opportunities to pitch after Aug. 26 this past season.  And one of those appearances occurred in the 15th inning of the Oct. 4 season finale.

As things currently stand it appears the Braves will begin the 2010 season with a bullpen that includes, Wagner, Saito, Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, Chavez, Logan and Kris Medlen. 

Chavez is certainly an upgrade over Manny Acosta, who will either provide organizational depth or stand as a potential trade piece.  But if the Braves are going to move one of their Minor League relievers, Luis Valdez certainly would provide the greater return. 

As the Braves continue to indicate Medlen will begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen, I’m left to wonder what happens if one of their starters goes down in May and he’s not stretched out enough to adequately fill that spot in the rotation. 

This question could be answered over the next few days and weeks as teams evaluate those players who are non-tendered before Saturday’s deadline. 

The Braves have made numerous attempts to move Kelly Johnson and there are a number of teams that have shown interest.  But as we move closer to tomorrow’s deadline, there’s more reason to wonder if he’ll be among the many players who will draw greater attention as non-tenders.  

Let the Hot Stove season begin

When I arrive at Citizens Bank Park for this afternoon’s  Division Series workout,  I’m going to present Ryan Howard with the First Annual White Flag  —  an award that will be presented to the player that proves to be the most destructive to the Braves over the course of the regular season.

Howard won this year’s award in a close battle against Dan Uggla and Jeff Bennett, who  will receive an autographed picture of Kevin Brown to recognize that he was  unanimously chosen as the Braves player who was most destructive against clubhouse property this year.

When the Braves won seven of the first nine games they played against the Phillies this year, Howard hit .250 with two RBIs, seven strikeouts and a .659 OPS.  The powerful first baseman didn’t homer or walk during this span

While dropping six of the final nine games played against the defending world champs, the Braves saw Howard hit .438 with eight homers, 14 RBIs, eight strikeouts, two walks (one intentional) and a 1.776 OPS.

Despite his early struggles, Howard still hit more homers (8) and  collected more RBIs (16) than any other player against the Braves this year.  Among those who registered at least 20 plate appearances, his .794 slugging percentage ranked fourth behind Jay Bruce (1.000), Ryan Braun (.833) and Andre Ethier (.800).

During their final six wins against the Braves this year, the Phillies totaled 27 runs.  Howard drove in 11 of those runs and each of these RBIs came courtesy of the longball.

When Tommy Hanson took the mound during home games this year, he was serenaded by Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy.”

My suggestion would be for the Braves to provide a friendly reminder to their pitchers by playing this song whenever Howard strolls to the plate at Turner Field in the future.  Or maybe they should just cut to the chase and play Aerosmith/Run DMC’s  “Walk This Way”.  

Before flying to Philadelphia last night, I went to Turner Field to talk to Bobby Cox and Frank Wren.  Here are some of their interesting thoughts that weren’t included in the story I wrote for MLB.com and  braves.com.

At the All-Star break, I chose Yunel Escobar as the team’s first-half MVP and I think I’d have to say he deserves he still deserves this distinction when evaluating the entire season.   (We’ll debate that in a blog I’ll post later this week).

Anyhow, those mental mistakes that tarnished Escobar’s tremendous talents during the first half were basically non-existent during the second half.  He committed just two errors in his last 75 games and continued to take advantage of a healthy percentage of the opportunities he was provided to drive in runs.

When I asked Cox if Escobar made some impressive strides this year, he chose not to address the improvement element.  But he does now share the opinion that Chipper Jones expressed last year, when Escobar’s name was being included in the Jake Peavy trade talks.  
“He’s the best shortstop in baseball right now,” Cox said.  “I can’t think of anybody better honestly.”

Another guy who would draw consideration as the club’s MVP this year is Martin Prado, whose value extended far beyond his .307 batting average.   He’s not  a Gold-Glove infielder, but he certainly enhanced the club’s defense after he was provided a chance to play second base on a regular basis.

When asked about Prado, Cox talked about what he’s heard about the defensive skills Prado has shown while playing the outfield in Venezuela.

“They say he’s a real good outfielder ,” Cox said. “That’s why we weren’t hesitant to put him out there  (on Sunday)) when we had to pinch-hit  (Brooks) Conrad to try to win the game.  He plays right field on a regular basis in Venezuela.  He has for the past couple of years.  So he’s a possible candidate.”  

Yes the Braves will be looking for a power-hitting, right-handed outfielder.  But I wouldn’t expect Prado to ultimately fill this need.  

Cox’s comment likely had something to do with the fact that the Braves don’t know what they’ll do with Kelly Johnson.  Despite his struggles this year, Johnson is still drawing attention from a number of clubs, who recognize his talents and believe he can still experience some of the success  that has been on display in the past.

So I would think they’ll be able to trade him before reaching a point where they may have to debate whether to tender him a contract.

“We just can’t give up on Kelly,” Cox said. “He had too solid of a season last year.  I think if he’d have gotten the at-bats, he’d have been close with all of those numbers (from 2008), except for the batting average maybe.  But the homers, doubles and triples, if you add another 250 at-bats would have probably been the same.

“I feel bad about Kelly Johnson, not being able to get him in there at all. After Prado got in there, you couldn’t take him out.  He was the hottest hitter we had.”

Next week, Jason Heyward will begin competing in the Arizona Fall League.  At the same time while the Braves are holding their planning meetings in Orlando, the 20-year old top prospect’s name will be a hot topic of discussion.  Or that’s at least Cox’s expectation.  

Heyward has just 173 at-bats above the Class A level.  This was Wren’s response when he was asked if the club could go into Spring Training with an open mind about the possibility of the young phenom starting the 2010 season in the Majors:  

“I think it’s premature to have any mindset about Jason,” Wren said. “We know that he’s an outstanding  young talent.  We just want him to go play in Arizona and get as much experience as possible.  We’ll see where that takes him.”  

I’ll be covering the Phillies-Rockies Division Series and the NLCS.  But obviously I’ll be keeping up with the Braves-related news and updating this blog frequently.    The Hot Stove season will allow us to keep this forum just as lively as it was during Spring Training and the regular season.  

Clutch hits have provided rotation more consistent support

While discussing the different feeling that has existed in the Braves clubhouse over the course of the past few weeks, Derek Lowe said, “We believe that we’re going to win every day instead of just hoping that we’re going to win.”  

During the first three months of this season, Lowe and the rest of the Braves rotation simply hoped that the offense could manufacture enough to support their efforts on the mound.  But over the course of the past month, they’ve had the opportunity to toe the rubber with the confidence that their efforts won’t be wasted by a slumbering offense.  

While there’s no disputing just how important it was for the Braves to take the three of four from the Dodgers this past weekend, it might be more appropriate to say that this season’s turning point actually occurred with the 2-1 win at Wrigley Field on July 7.
 
Coming off of three consecutive losses that had killed the momentum they’d gained by sweeping the Phillies the previous week, the Braves gained that one-run victory with a pair of RBIs from Brian McCann and Javier Vazquez’s ability to outduel Carlos Zambrano. 

Dating back to that July 7 game, the Braves have hit .277 with a .355 on-base percentage, a .440 slugging percentage and 34 homers (1.10 per game).   In the process of going 20-11 during this stretch, they have hit .302 with runners in scoring position.

In the 82 games they played leading up to that date, they’d hit .261 with a .331 on-base percentage, a .396 slugging percentage and 66 homers (.80 per game).    During this 39-43 stretch, they hit .266 with runners in scoring position.

Obviously the biggest difference in these stretches comes from the fact that they’re now generating homers and clutch hits with much more frequency. 

During those first 82 games, Yunel Escobar hit .408 (31-fo-76) with runners in scoring position and over the course of the past 31 games, the talented shortstop has hit .450 (9-for-20) in these situations.

That rough early stretch was hindered by the fact that Kelly Johnson hit just .188 (9-for-48) with runners in scoring position before experiencing his Minor League stint.    Since unseating Johnson at second base and becoming an everyday member of the lineup, Martin Prado has hit .370 (17-for-46) with runners in scoring position.

Jordan Schafer also obviously hindered the offense during the first two months in numerous ways, including the fact that he recorded just five hits in his 46 at-bats with runners in scoring position. 

Jeff Francoeur actually hit .250 with runners in scoring position during the season’s first 82 games.  Still while that stat looks good compared to the .192 mark he compiled last year, it’s not the one you want to see generated from a guy who had 12 more at-bats in that situation than any of your other players during that span.

Since joining the Mets, Francoeur has hit .314 with runners in scoring position.  But this is just one of the many of his statistics that look better than the ones he compiled in Atlanta. 
 
In his first 33 games with the Mets, Francouer has hit .303 with five homers  (equal to the mark he compiled in 82 games with the Braves) 20 RBIs and a .820 OPS  (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).

Still like Francoeur has proven to be better off away from the undue stress he placed upon himself in Atlanta, the Braves are certainly better in right field without his presence. 

In the 85 games they played with Francoeur primarily in the lineup on a daily basis, the Braves saw their right fielders hit .255 with a .286 on-base percentage, a .355 slugging percentage, five homers and 37 RBIs. 

In the 28 games that Matt Diaz and Ryan Church have shared the position, the Braves right fielders  have hit .257 with a .348 on-base percentage, a .396 slugging percentage, three homers and 15 RBIs. 

There’s not a drastic difference in these numbers.  But the improved on-base percentage has provided a greater flow to a lineup that has obviously been upgraded since those days when Schafer and Johnson were providing daily frustration.  

McLouth update:  Nate McLouth felt better while chasing down some fly balls during Wednesday’s batting practice and vowed that he’ll definitely be in the lineup for Friday night’s series opener against the Phillies.

McLouth was excited to tell me that he got a shipment of Michigan gear today and that Derek Lowe, another Wolverines fan, immediately dug into the box and dressed himself from head to toe in maize and blue.  

It’s certainly nice to talk to somebody else that’s excited about the start of the college football season.  But I guess McLouth forgot my feelings about Rich Rodriguez are on par with the way many of you feel about Bill Hohn.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

Church 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Garret 7
Yunel 6
LaRoche 3
Diaz 9
Lowe 1

 

Johnson activated and Conrad optioned to Gwinnett

Kelly Johnson regained his swing with Triple-A Gwinnett and he returned to Turner Field on Thursday morning wearing the smile that had been absent at the beginning of this month.  

The Braves have activated Johnson from the 15-day disabled list and optioned Brooks Conrad to Triple-A Gwinnett.  

Johnson, who has been on the disabled list since July 3, is looking forward to serving as a role player for the Braves.  He knows that there will be some days when he’s given an opportunity to spell Martin Prado at second base.

And to prove he’s regained his sense of humor, Johnson said there may
be some days when he chooses to insert some eye drops in Prado’s
coffee  —  Wedding Crashers-style.

“I’m not worried about getting at-bats,” Johnson said. “Playing for Bobby Cox that’s something you never have to worry about.” 

Johnson, who had hit .191 in his previous 39 game before being placed on the disabled list, hit .308 and collected 16 RBIs in 12 games with Gwinnett.  

 

There are potential benefits to moving Vazquez

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has posed the question, “why would the Braves trade Javier Vazquez?”

While understanding all of the points that Rosenthal made, I still think the Braves will at least explore the possibility of moving Vazquez if they fall out of contention.   But if they are stay alive, they won’t look to move the right-hander simply to free up money to acquire a big bat.  

Now while saying there’s a possibility the Braves will attempt to move Vazquez, I’ll also add that they’ll be looking  for a hefty return package that at least mirrors the one the Indians received when they sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers last year.

Because he was four years younger and obviously had a greater upside, you could argue that Sabathia definitely should have garnered a greater return than Vazquez.  But while doing so, you’re ignoring the fact that the Brewers basically knew they were parting ways with Matt LaPorta and three other prospects in exchange for just four months of Sabathia’s services.  

When Sabathia was traded last year, he’d made 18 starts for the Indians.  During that span, he went 6-8, worked 122 1/3 innings, posted a 3.83 ERA, registered 123 strikeouts and issued 34 walks.  Opponents hit .252 against him and produced a .306 on-base percentage.  

Through his first 18 starts this year, Vazquez has bettered those numbers.  While going 6-7 with a 2.95 ERA, he has worked 119 innings, recorded 136 strikeouts and issued 23 walks.  Opponents have hit .229 against him and produced a .270 on-base percentage.  

And instead of being a short-term rental, Vazquez will be under contract again next year at a cost of $11.5 million. Given that he’s averaged 215 innings and 195 strikeouts over the course of his past nine full seasons, he could certainly be viewed as an affordable commodity by a number of teams.

With some baseball executives saying that only a handful of teams are capable of adding payroll before this year’s trade deadline, the $3.9 million cost Vazquez would bring over the final two months of this season might eliminate some potential suitors.  In addition, his contract prevents him from being traded to one of the teams in the West Divisions of both the American and National Leagues.

But the Braves have to at least explore this opportunity at a point when Vazquez’s value may never be higher.  Dealing him could allow them to find at least one of the outfielders that they will be seeking during the offseason.

There was some thought that the Braves would begin the 2010 season with Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer manning two of their outfield spots.  But with Schafer’s left wrist still ailing, there’s a chance that he’ll have to begin next season back in the Minors.  

Looking at the list of outfielders who will be available this winter, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are the most attractive names available.   Unless Nate McLouth is able to persuade his good buddy to join him in Atlanta, I don’t see Bay as a possibility and Hank Aaron has a better chance than Holliday to be a part of the Braves outfield next year.
 
 
With Tim Hudson returning next year, the Braves already have a pitcher that will team with Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe to give them the makings of a strong rotation.  But they obviously need  to add some offense and with Vazquez, they seemingly have a piece that will provide them the opportunity to upgrade their lineup before attempting to do so on the uncertain free agent market. 

As previously mentioned, if the Braves fall out of contention, they might also attempt to move Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.   There are a number of teams looking to upgrade their bullpens.  But with both of these potential closers being Type A free agents, the Braves are going to be looking for a strong return. 

While it still seems unlikely that the Braves will be able to move Jeff Francoeur this month, they are at least holding out hope that a team might be willing to take a chance on Kelly Johnson.  The Indians and Cardinals are among the teams who have previously shown definite interest in Johnson. 

And to provide an update on Schafer, doctors weren’t able to detect any damage to his left wrist during an MRI exam performed on Tuesday.  In attempt to gain a better view, a CAT Scan was scheduled for Wednesday.
 

 

Johnson placed on the disabled list

Kelly Johnson will have to wait until after the All-Star break to attempt regain regular playing time.  The Braves have placed him on the 15-day disabled list with right wrist tendinitis.  

Brooks Conrad has been promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett to take Johnson’s roster spot.  Conrad has hit .259 with nine homers and a .769 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 73 games this year. 

After Martin Prado produced a four-hit, four-RBI performance during Tuesday night’s win over the Phillies, he learned that he had earned the opportunity to serve as the Braves everyday second baseman.  He’d spent most of the previous month platooning with Johnson.

Johnson, who has hit .198 with three homers and a .590 OPS in his past 63 games, began this season as Atlanta’s everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter.

Conrad, who was acquired by the Braves as a six-year free agent this offseason, made his Major League debut with the A’s last year.  During his brief six-game stint in the Majors, he recorded three hits, including a double, in 19 at-bats. 

While Prado will continue to serve as the everyday second baseman, Conrad will provide the Braves bench with right-handed power potential.   He combined for 95 homers while spending each of the past four seasons at the Triple-A level with the Astros and A’s.     

Will daunting stretch be the turnaround point?

As the Braves prepare for this 13-game stretch that will pit them against the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Phillies, we can either focus on the tone of “Taps” or take the optimistic approach by taking the belief that this will be the two-week stretch that will turn the whole season around. 

While taking two of three against the Yankees this week, the Nationals provided hope or  at least made Herm Edwards proud by proving that “you play to win the game.”

With their starting rotation, the Braves will at least enter this stretch with the confidence that they’ll have at least be in every game that is played.  But as Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez will be the first to attest, mound dominance will only lead to utter frustration when backed by an offense that has habitually provided minimal support. 

But we’re going to keep things positive and take the assumption that Thursday’s seven-run uprising in Cincinnati was a sign of things to come for Bobby Cox’s offense.  With his four-RBI performance, Nate McLouth showed what he could do at the top of the lineup and at the same time provided himself more reason to feel comfortable within his new enviroment. 

In addition, we were reminded that things seem to click when Martin Prado and Matt Diaz are in the lineup.  Unfortunately the Braves are scheduled to face right-handed starters during each of their next five games and thus we may find ourselves watching much more of Garret Anderson and Kelly Johnson than Diaz and Prado. 

The Braves are 14-11 in the games that Prado has started and 15-13 in the games started by Diaz.  They are 14-10 in games against a left-handed starting pitcher and 17-24 in games during which the opponents starts a right-hander.

During Thursday’s win, Diaz certainly made an impressive bid to earn more time in left field.  His fourth-inning solo homer provided cushion and his sixth-inning leadoff double led to a three-run inning that allowed Tommy Hanson to cruise toward his second straight win. 

But Diaz’s bid to earn more playing time was most significantly enhanced with his fifth-inning diving grab in left-center field with one out and runners on first and second base.  If Anderson had been in left field, that ball gets to the wall, at least one run scores and there’s no guarantee that Hanson would have been able to once again wiggle out of the ensuing jam.

While finding himself in a platoon, Anderson certainly hasn’t provided the offensive production the Braves envisioned.    In 108 at-bats against right-handers, he has hit .231 with a .612 OPS.   In 43 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, he has hit .326 with a .774 OPS. 

Then of course, while hitting .238 with a .670 OPS in June, Anderson hasn’t recently found consistent success against anybody.  At the same time, 2ith a .267 batting average and .746 OPS this month, Diaz hasn’t exactly set the word on fire.

But with his defense and further proof that he is capable of finding equal success against right-handers and left-handers,  Diaz at least provided further reason to argue that he should be seeing more time in left field.

In 60 at-bats against right-handed pitchers this year, Diaz has hit .267 with a .777 OPS.  In 58 at-bats against lefties, he has hit .293 with an .812 OPS. 

Prado’s case: While hitting .306 (15-for-49) against lefties and .238 (15-for-63) against righties, Prado has made it a little harder to argue that he should be seeing more time at second base. 

But his argument proves to be much stronger when you account for the fact that Johnson has hit .148 with an abysmal .402 OPS in 14 games this month.  If a bigger sample size is needed, Johnson has hit .216 with a .630 OPS in his past 27 games. 

Statistically, Johnson has once again proven that he doesn’t necessarily benefit from the platoon that puts him in the lineup against right-handers.   He is hitting .196 with a .569 OPS in 148 at-bats against righties and .303 with a .948 OPS in 66 at-bats against lefties.

Weekend prediction:  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will be a productive weekend for Jeff Francoeur.  Playing in front of his Boston-area relatives, Frenchy is once again going to prove that he’s one of those guys who can rise to the occasion.  During his only previous three-game series at Fenway Park, he had eight hits, including a double and a homer, in 15 at-bats.

Lowe’s blog is live:  On Saturday, Derek Lowe will be making his first start in Boston since helping the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series.  He talks about some of those memories in the first installment of his new blog.    

Cox shuffles power-hungry lineup

If Braves general manager Frank Wren’s attempt to land a power bat proves unsuccessful, he might want to see if the Phillies are willing to trade Citizens Bank Park in exchange for Turner Field.

In fact, while thinking out of the box, he might want to call the Reds or any other team that is capable of providing a homer-happy environment in exchange for Turner Field, a place that has become the kryptonite to the power-limited Atlanta lineup.
 
Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Rockies, the Braves had scored one run in their previous 18 innings and won just three of their previous 14 home games.  Working with a roster that doesn’t possess a legit leadoff or cleanup hitter, manager Bobby Cox is going to have to employ some serious chemistry skills to form an effective equation with his current elements.  

With his latest attempt on Tuesday night,  Cox moved Yunel Escobar into the leadoff spot, placed Casey Kotchman in the second spot and positioned Brian McCann back in the cleanup spot.  Kelly Johnson will bat sixth, where he’s found success in the past.

Tonight’s Lineup
SS Yunel Escobar
1B Casey Kotchman
3B Chipper Jones
C Brian McCann
LF Garret Anderson
2B Kelly Johnson
 RF Jeff Francoeur
CF Jordan Schafer
P Jair Jurrjens

In  346 career plate appearances in the lineup’s first spot, Escobar has hit .317 with  a .378 on-base percentage.   In the 72 plate appearances he’s recorded while serving as the game’s first hitter, the Cuban shortstop has .429 with a .444 on-base percentage. 

The potential benefit of placing Kotchman in the second spot stems from the fact that he routinely puts the ball in play.  In the 316 plate appearances he’s registered since joining the Braves, the veteran first baseman has struck out 32 times   —  or  just 13 times more than the second hitter in Atlanta’s lineup has registered in 169 plate appearances this year. 

Putting McCann in the cleanup spot provides Chipper Jones the protection he needs against pitchers, who still haven’t been given much reason to fear Garret Anderson’s bat.    In the 11 games he’s recorded since returning from the disabled list, Anderson has hit .262 (11-for-42) and tallied just two extra-base hits  — both doubles.

Johnson, who has batted .191 with a .262 on-base percentage in 105 plate appearances as the leadoff hitter this year, will now have an opportunity to display his run-producing skills.  He has hit .289 with a .344 on-base percentage in 90 career plate appearances , while batting sixth. 

Jumbling the order of the lineup might enhance the power by giving Jones the potential to see better pitches with McCann hitting behind him.  But this is a club that is in dire need of benefiting from the longball.  

Entering Tuesday, the Braves had scored 58 runs during their 17 home games.  The only Major League team with a lower home total was the White Sox with 56 runs after 16 dates at U.S. Cellular Field. 

The six home runs the Braves had tallied at home ranked as the Major League’s lowest mark, sitting five dingers behind the 29th-ranked Giants.
 
The Braves have totaled 28 homers this year and 12 of those were hit during this six games they played at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park.  Another four were tallied during the three-game series at Cincinnati’s compact stadium.

Further showing the power discrepancy that has been produced outside of Atlanta, the Braves have homered once every 31.7 at-bats on the road and once every 90.7 times at home.  The Giants have compiled the Major League’s second worst home mark with one homer every 62.7 at-bats.    

While you’re at it Frank, see if the Phillies are also willing package Ryan Howard with their ballpark.

Twitter @mlbbravesscribe.com

Braves getting ready for influential stretch

Welcome to the most influential 10-day stretch the Braves have encountered during this still-young season.  Over the course of the next 10 games, the Braves will have a chance to keep themselves in the thick of the National League East while solely playing the Mets, Marlins and Phillies.  
In the process, they might also have the chance to construct some lineups that include Brian McCann and Garret Anderson, who are both hoping to be activated from the disabled list this week.  Anderson is expected to be activated for Tuesday’s series finale against the Mets and as long as his prescription Oakleys prove to be beneficial McCann could end his DL stint in time to be behind the plate for Friday’s series opener in Philadelphia.  
Braves manager Bobby Cox’s Opening Day lineup had McCann batting cleanup and Anderson sitting behind him in the fifth spot of the order.   That exact lineup has been utilized just three times this year and Cox has had a total of four lineups that have included both McCann and Anderson.
“We miss Anderson and Mac, they’re two of our big thumpers,” Cox said.  “They’ve been out together for a long time. So it’s a lot to overcome.”
Given that injuries have also sidelined both Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar for at least three games this year, the Braves have even reason to feel fortunate that they are just 2 games behind the front-running Marlins in the NL East race.
With a significant portion of their projected power (Anderson and McCann), it’s easy to understand why the Braves rank 10th in the National League with a .405 slugging percentage and 14th with 19 home runs.  
Of course most of that production occurred during the opening series in Philadelphia when McCann’s vision was still allowing him to perform like one of the game’s top catchers.   In the 21 games that have followed, the Braves  have hit .258 with 11 homers and a .383 slugging percentage.  
Without surprise, the two least productive positions during this 21-game span have been the ones originally reserved for McCann and Anderson.  Since the Philadelphia series, the Braves left fielders have hit .215 with a .642 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and their catchers have hit .232 with a .763 OPS.  
While David Ross has at least provided some production in McCann’s absence, it’s obvious that the Braves need McCann to return to form and provide Chipper Jones necessary protection.  
Obviously the sore left thumb that he carried out of Spring Training has played a part in the fact that Jones has hit .273 with one homer and an .838 OPS  in the past 13 games.   But so too has the fact that the injury-depleted lineup has given pitchers less reason to provide the veteran third baseman with a chance to hurt them.
Kelly returns to the leadoff spot:  Cox has put Kelly Johnson back in the leadoff spot tonight against the Mets, who are starting right-hander John Maine.   Johnson has three hits, including  a triple and a double, in 12 career at-bats against Maine.  
Coming off the first consecutive three-strikeout performances of his young career, Jordan Schafer is once again batting in the eighth spot.   Schafer’s NL-leading 30 strikeouts are a product of  overaggressive rookie play and the fact that he too often hasn’t shortened his swing when he’s fallen behind in the count.
In the 37 plate appearances that he’s gotten ahead with a 1-0 count, he’s drawn 13 walks, recorded 11 strikeouts and produced a .514 on-base percentage.    In the 51 plate appearances that he’s fallen behind with an 0-1 count, he’s drawn five walks, struck out 19 times and produced a .333 on-base percentage.  
More concerning than the strikeouts themselves is that Schafer has hit .111 (2-for-18) with eight strikeouts and no RBIs in 24 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.  

 
 

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