Results tagged ‘ Nate McLouth ’

Updates on McLouth and Prado

While claiming a 4-3 walk-off win over the Phillies at Turner Field on Saturday afternoon, the Braves lost Nate McLouth to a nagging hamstring injury that could sideline him for more than just a couple of days.

McLouth strained his left hamstring on Aug. 8 at Dodger Stadium and still seemed to be favoring it when he returned to the Braves lineup on Friday night.  After doing so again on Saturday, the Braves decided it would be best to give him some further rest. 

“We’re not going to disable him,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “But it sure slowed him down.  It was very noticeable even more than last night.  He’s a center fielder and he’s limping.  You’ve got to face the facts.  But we’ll wait three or four days.” 

If the Braves are forced to place McLouth on the disabled list, they’ll utilize Ryan Church in center field.  While Church has proven to be a sound defender, he’s not capable of providing the speed that McLouth has provided the Braves since they acquired him in a June 3 trade with the Pirates.

“We’d miss him,” Matt Diaz said.  “He’s a big reason for the turnaround we’ve had this year.  When we traded for him, he changed our offense.  He’s a big part of our team.  Hopefully, he’s fine.”

McLouth was removed after drawing a fifth-inning walk just before Martin Prado took a swing that forced him to feel light-headed and dizzy. 

Prado was removed before the start of the next half inning with what the Braves termed “heat-related symptoms.”  The Braves second baseman said that he simply didn’t drink enough water before the game and became dizzy after consuming an energy drink.  <p>

While he still had a headache while talking to the media after the game, Prado said he’ll be ready to play during Sunday night’s series finale against the Phillies.   

  

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

 

Infante returns to face red-hot Nationals

Coming off a weekend during which Kris Medlen was one of the many players that proved to be huge at Dodger Stadium, the Braves are back at Turner Field to host the red-hot Nationals.  
Do I get any kind of bonus Scrabble points for describing Medlen as huge and the Nationals as red-hot in the same sentence?  

During my nine seasons on this beat, I’d have to say this past weekend’s four-game set in Los Angeles was one of the best series that I’ve witnessed.   How many times do you see a team bounce back from a potentially demoralizing walk-off loss with consecutive extra-inning victories and then end  up taking three of four against a team that entered the series possessing the best record in the Majors?

While their pitching staff has been weakened by injuries, the Dodgers still are one of the National League’s elite teams and this weekend, the Braves proved to themselves and everybody else that they have the potential to work their way into that same category.   

But everything that was accomplished in Los Angeles will go to waste if the Braves aren’t able to prolong this successful run against the Nationals, who have posted a 3.88 ERA and compiled a .322 batting average during the eight-game winning streak that they carry into tonight’s series opener.  

The Braves have lost 16 of their past 27 games against the Nationals and they realize that taking care of business during these next two days would put themselves in great position this weekend, when they welcome the Phillies to town and have the opportunity to directly affect how things look at the top of the NL East standings.

Chipper Jones seemingly understands the importance of these two games.  When he arrived at his locker before Tuesday’s batting practice he was told that his name wasn’t in tonight’s lineup.

“It’s not in there?” Jones said. “Excuse me a second.”  

A few minutes later after having a brief discussion with Bobby Cox, Jones returned and said that he was back in the lineup.  

Jones strained his left oblique muscle during Friday’s batting practice and was absent while the Braves won three straight against the Dodgers.   The ailment bothered him while he was in Los Angeles, but when he awoke on Tuesday he felt no discomfort and was determined to play.  

“If I can play at all right now, I’m going to play,” Jones said.  

Jones’ return to the lineup led the Braves to shift Omar Infante from third base to second base.  Martin Prado was positioned at first base because Cox opted to sit LaRoche against Nationals left-handed starter John Lannan.  

Since joining the Braves LaRoche has five hits in 14 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.  But he’s batting just .171 (7-for-41) against them since July 1 and is hitless in six career at-bats against Lannan.  

When the Braves activated Infante from the disabled list, they optioned Diory Hernandez to Triple-A Gwinnett.  With Infante’s presence, the Braves no longer needed to keep Hernandez around to serve as Yunel Esobar’s backup. 

While Greg Norton has hit just .138 this year and .087 (4-for-46) from the left side of the plate, it still seemingly made more sense to keep him around with the hope that he’ll turn things around.   It’s not as if Hernandez gave the Braves reason to believe he could be a valuable right-handed bat off the bench.   He’d hit just .143 in the 42 at-bats he’d compiled dating back to June 28. 

It was somewhat concerning to see Nate McLouth return to the bench during Tuesday’s batting practice and tell Bobby Cox that he was still feeling some discomfort in the same left hamstring that sidelined him for a week earlier this year.
 
McLouth, who tweaked the hamstring during Saturday’s 10th inning,  said he really doesn’t feel any discomfort until he attempts to push off while attempting to run down a fly ball.
  
Given McLouth’s blue-collar, win-at-all-costs approach to the game, it’s definitely in his best interest to wait a few more days before returning to regular action.   If he were to push himself attempting to score from second base or while running into one of the outfield gaps, he could incur an injury that would certainly handicap the Braves during this stretch run.  

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.     

McLouth expects to play on Wednesday

Having never previously experienced the excitement of a chase toward the postseason, Nate McLouth certainly isn’t going to allow a little lower back soreness to prevent him from being a part of the excitement he and his Braves teammates have recently created.  <p>

With a secure lead during Tuesday night’s 8-1 win over the Giants, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to use some precaution by allowing McLouth to rest his back during the final three innings. 

But when reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum toes the rubber for the Giants on Wednesday night, McLouth plans to be the first Braves batter that he faces.  

“I’ll be in there,”  McLouth said. “I’ll be fine.”

McLouth said he felt a twinge in his back during his first-inning at-bat.  As he beat out a fifth-inning infield single, he showed enough discomfort to at least draw a quick visit from Braves manager Bobby Cox.

As he was receiving treatment in the trainer’s room, McLouth said he was thinking about how exciting the past couple of weeks have been.   With a 13-6 run, the Braves have put themselves in a position that the 27-year-old outfielder never experienced during his days with the Pirates.

“It’s been great the past couple of weeks,” McLouth said. “This is a feeling you want to continue.”

With Arizona’s win over Colorado on Tuesday night, the Braves moved to within three games of the lead in the National League Wild Card standings.  They’re tied with the Cubs and looking up at only the Giants and Rockies.

The Giants and Rockies will stage a three-game series against each other at Coors Field this weekend.   

“Right now, we’re playing all-around good baseball,” Brian McCann said. “We’re hitting great, pitching great and our defense has been unbelievable.   It seems like every night our middle infielders are making highlight plays and it’s rubbing off on everybody else.” 

While McCann supplied four RBIs during Tuesday night’s win, the top highlight was provided courtesy of the acrobatic double play turned by Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado.

“Prado made a great play and Esky the same thing,” McCann said. “They work on that during batting practice all the time.  When you put it to work during the game, it’s fun to watch.   I get the best seat in the house.  Both guys made an unbelievable play.” 

After diving to his right to rob Travis Ishikawa of a first-inning RBI single, Prado flipped to Escobar, who vaulted off the second base bag and made an accurate throw to first base that at least in umpire Tim Timmons’ view beat Ishikawa.

“Somebody said he was safe at first,” Prado said. “It was one of those plays where the umpire gives you that. It was a big play in that inning. I saw him coming to the bag and I just flipped it to the base. That’s the only thing I could do. It was  a reaction play. I just flipped it and he was there and he jumped and threw the ball.”

Prado said that Escobar routinely attempts to make these kinds of acrobatic turns during batting practice.

“Escobar is one of those guys in batting practice that wants to practice those kinds of plays,” Prado said. “That happens once in a while. It happened tonight and he was like ‘You see? I told you it would happen.’ We have a great friendship and he’s a great player. He makes us play harder every day.”

When asked where he would rank this turn among the other turns he’s completed during his young career, Escobar responded  “Numero Uno.”

Then with Jair Jurrjens serving as an interpreter, Escobar added, “You practice how you play.”
       
 

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.”  

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? 

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.    

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.      

Will it be Minor or White?

When I called B.B. Abbott this morning, I jokingly asked him if his Draft party was going to be similar to the ones that Drew Rosenhaus throws for his top prospective NFL clients.

Before he could even provide an answer, he received another call from a scout and provided every indication that he’s among the many agents, who are going to be swamped today while fielding calls from clubs that are investigating the signability of the players they’re advising. 

Based on what I’ve seen from the video that MLB.com has provided, it’s a shame that the Braves likely won’t have the opportunity to grab Zach Wheeler, the lanky right-hander from suburban Atlanta’s East Paulding High School. 

Instead while serving as Wheeler’s advisor, Abbott is likely to find himself negotiating a bonus with either the Orioles or Giants, who are selecting directly in front of the Braves, who will be making the seventh overall pick tonight. 

If Wheeler is gone, the Braves could grab the University of North Carolina’s Alex White, a 6-foot-4 right-hander who some consider to be the second-best collegiate pitching prospect behind Stephen Strasburg.

But within his final Mock Draft, MLB.com’s Draft guru, Jonathan Mayo predicts that Braves director of scouting Roy Clark will pass on taking a fellow Tar Heel and instead grab Mike Minor, a left-hander from Vanderbilt University.

Take a look at these videos to make your own comparisons between Minor and White.

I’m going with what Mayo projects because as Clark said yesterday, “Jonathan really knows his stuff.”

While heading the Braves scouting department since 2000, Clark has gained a strong reputation as being one of the game’s top talent evaluators. 

With his contract expiring at the end of this year, the Braves will need to do whatever possibile to keep him and consequently prolong the link to Paul Snyder, the great scout who was instrumental to the rebirth of their organization during the late 1980s.

While doing some research on Garret Anderson last week, I learned that that Angels took him with the 125th overall selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft.  With their fourth-round selection coming 22 picks earlier, the Braves grabbed an outfielder named Johnny Walker. 

This leads me to wonder if Clark and his staff started sipping some Johnnie Walker after grabbing Chipper Jones with the first overall pick that year. 

Speaking of Jones, the dude is currently on fire.  When he singled in the fifth inning last night, it marked the eighth consecutive plate appearance during which he reached safely.  It also made him 6-for-6 since encountering that dizzy spell on Saturday night.

Last week, Jones said that the summer would make Turner Field more suitable to the Braves offense and once again his words have proven prophetic.  Since totaling eight homers during their first 22 home games, the Braves have hit 10 homers during their past seven game at The Ted. 

It was encouraging  to see Kris Medlen allow just one hit over three scoreless innings and notch the win last night.  It seems like the rookie hurler has overcome those nerves that marred his first two career starts and he now finds himself in a position where he could prove to be a key reliever during the rest of this season.

When we’ve talked about making trades that take advantage of a particular area of strength, we’ve been referencing moves like the Pirates made last week when they dealt Nate McClouth to the Braves with the confidence that Andrew McCutchen would be capable of handling their center field duties.

While recording two triples and finishing about 15 feet short of the homer he needed to record a cycle during Monday four-hit performance, McCutchen certainly had to calm the emotions of those Pirates fans who were furious last week when they learned that McLouth had been dealt.  

With his talent, McCutchen isn’t going to be one of those speed demons like Emilio Bonifacio, who energized the Marlins lineup for about a week before falling victim to Major League scouting reports.

Those same reports, which also played a part in Jordan Schafer’s struggles,  will soon start to affect McCutchen. But from what I saw last night and during Spring Training, my dad and friends might want to stop bashing the trade and simply enjoy the fact that they’ve still got a potential superstar in center field.     

Speaking of Schafer, he felt some discomfort in his left wrist during a swing on Friday night and was evaluated by a doctor on Monday.  I should have some more information tonight, when the Braves may also reveal the results of the MRI exam Brandon Jones underwent with the hope of finding out what is causing his left knee discomfort.   

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