Results tagged ‘ Yunel Escobar ’

Escobar or no Escobar, Braves are the team to beat

Now that Alex Gonzalez has been acquired in exchange for Yunel Escobar, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan says the Phillies must react by making a move.ESPN’s Buster Olney says the Braves made a great trade with the Blue Jays and labels them as the “team to beat in the National League East.” 

While these beliefs certainly make sense, I’m not sure the Escobar trade significantly altered the NL’s landscape. Sure the Braves got rid of a negative clubhouse presence who hadn’t produced offensively and replaced him with a capable veteran shortstop who is enjoying one of his finest seasons at the plate. 

But regardless of who was playing shortstop in Atlanta, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro was going to spend these next couple of weeks attempting to improve his rotation and bullpen with the hope that his club would become strong enough to kill the optimism that currently rests in Atlanta. 

The Braves improved the strength of their organization yesterday by using two pieces they didn’t want (Jo-Jo Reyes and Escobar)  to gain a Major League-ready shortstop and two respected prospects, who certainly have a chance to get to Atlanta.

But my belief that the Braves enter this season’s second half as the favorites to represent the NL in the World Series, has little to do with the fact that Escobar is no longer around.  It has much more to do with what happened last week, when they took four of six on the road against the Phillies and Mets.

This small stretch legitimized everything that they had accomplished over the course of the previous two months.  While going 39-18 since the start of play on May 10, they have recorded a better winning percentage (.684) than any other Major League club and proven to be four games better than the Dodgers who have compiled the NL’s second-best record (35-22) during this span. 

While gaining eight games on the Mets and 10 1/2 games on the Phillies during this two-month span, the Braves showed their greatest strength — their depth.  Jair Jurrjens and Matt Diaz were sidelined during most of this stretch and after sparking this torrid run Jason Heyward did very little while battling a sore left thumb in June. 

Heyward will be evaluated once he arrives at Turner Field this afternoon and if the medical staff clears him he’ll be in tonight’s lineup against the Brewers.  If this transpires, the Braves will essentially be whole for the first time since April 29, the day they suffered a ninth consecutive loss and also lost both Jurrjens and Escobar to injures that required stints on the disabled list.

As long as Gonzalez stays healthy, this Braves lineup certainly has a chance to be more productive than the one that was saddled by Escobar’s surprising struggles.

Given that he entered this season with a .301 BA and .426 slugging percentage, it’s hard to imagine that Escobar will continue to be the guy who has slugged .284 this year and totaled 12 extra-base hits, none of which have been home runs. 

But as the Braves smelled the chance to win this year, they couldn’t risk remaining patient with Escobar at the expense of seeing his lackadaisical approach or mental mistakes prove detrimental to what they were trying to accomplish. 

It’s obviously no secret that Escobar wasn’t a popular figure among his teammates.  During Spring Training while talking about the team’s chemistry one player said, “We really only have one (jerk) in here.”

There was no reason to ask who he was referencing.

Andy Martino of the New York Daily News wondered if this trade was the product of another example of a culture clash between white and Latino players. It’s a justifiable question.  But within this blog entry, Martino concludes by pointing out the essential fact, which was that Escobar’s problems stemmed from a personality flaw, not cultural differences. 

Just like there are plenty of white players (John Rocker, Bob Wickman Robert Fick) who have drawn the ire of Braves management and seen their time in Atlanta cut short, there are a number of Latin players (Andruw Jones, Eddie Perez and Martin Prado to name just a few) who have drawn admiration and appreciation from the club’s decision makers.

In the classic movie Rudy,  the man playing Notre Dame head football coach Dan Devine said to an uninspired player, “If you had half the heart of Ruettiger’s you would’ve made
All-American.”

Well if Escobar had the heart and drive of his boyhood friend Brayan Pena, he would have already legitimized his potential to be one of the game’s top two or three shortstops.  He also would have escaped the All-Star break without learning that he’ll be spending most of the next couple of months in Canada. 

 

Wren had to trade Escobar

If their current offensive numbers remain the same, I would still enter
this offseason with the belief that instead of Alex Gonzalez, I’d still
rather have Yunel Escobar as my shortstop during the 2011 season.

But
if placed in Braves general manager Frank Wren’s shoes, I would have
also pulled the trigger on Wednesday’s five-player trade with the Blue
Jays.  There’s a difference between making projections in the offseason
and taking care of immediate needs during the season. 

There’s
certainly a chance that Escobar will turn things around and Gonzalez
will spend the second half of the season looking more like a .402
slugger (his career slugging percentage) than the guy who is currently
on pace to hit 31 homers this year, seven fewer than he hit over the
course of the past five seasons combined.

But there’s also a
chance that Escobar’s personality would have continued to prove to be a
negative presence within an otherwise harmonious clubhouse.

In
the end, Escobar gave Wren little reason to continue weighing the pros
and cons.  Once the Cuban shortstop made his lazy throw to first base
and nearly caused Troy Glaus great harm on Friday night at Citi Field,
the Braves GM began accelerating the efforts that enabled him to land
Gonzalez from the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

“It’s easier to put up with that kind of stuff when the guy is hitting
.300,” one veteran Braves player said in reference to the fact that he
and his teammates have been less forgiving of Escobar’s mental mistakes
while watching him hit just .239 with ZERO homers and 19 RBIs this
year. 

When you look at Gonzalez’ career statistics you see
jumps that appear to be as dramatic as the ones Escobar has staged while
drawing attention to himself in the on-deck circle.

When you
look at Escobar, you see a 27-year-old shortstop with a world of
potential and a personality that could have proven to be detrimental to
the Braves as they attempt to make a strong postseason push this year. 

Wren
saw this potential and also recognized the fact that many members of
his team wanted him to get rid of Escobar. Thus when the Blue Jays were
willing to offer Gonzalez and two respected  20-year-old prospects
(shortstop Tyler Pastornicky and left-handed pitcher Tim Collins), he
jumped at the opportunity.

The Braves needed a Major League-ready
shortstop who would be as affordable as Escobar.  Gonzalez will receive
$2.5 million via an option for the 2011 season and Escobar will make
around $3 million when he becomes an arbitration-eligible player at the
end of this season.  

“How can (the Braves) want to get rid of a
guy so bad and then end up getting a shortstop and two good prospects
like that in return,” one American League scout questioned Wednesday
afternoon.    

As the Blue Jays look toward the future, they
have reason to be happy with Escobar’s capabilities.  As I’ve said many
times, he was the most valuable Braves player in 2009 and remains one of
the game’s best defensive shortstops.

Wren said Gonzalez is
comparable to Escobar defensively, but “not as flashy.”  That will be
just fine with the members of the Braves coaching staff who grew tired
of watching the Cuban shortstop attempt to make the routine double play
turn into one that appear on all the highlight shows. 

Over the
course of the next couple months, the Braves will likely be happy with
the fact that they’ve replaced Gonzalez with Escobar.  It appears he’ll
have little trouble fitting into this clubhouse. 

“I can’ say
enough about Alex Gonzalez the person more than the player,” Blue Jays
GM Alex Anthopoulos said.  “The production and the results speak for
themselves. As I told Alex, the two most professional position players
that I’ve probably been around in my time in the game has been Scott
Rolen and Alex Gonzalez. Just the way he carries himself, the way he
conducts himself, he’s a tremendous teammate and a quiet leader — not
an easy guy to part with.” 

Based purely on talent and
potential, it wasn’t easy for the Braves to part ways with Escobar.  But
as he continued to prove stubborn and unwilling to learn from his
mistakes, he left Wren with no choice.

Braves not actively looking to trade Escobar

Received a call from an American League scout today, who said his club had gained the sense that the Braves might be willing to deal Yunel Escobar.  But before worrying those of you who understand the great value Escobar brings from a defensive standpoint, I’ll let you know it appears he’ll be in Atlanta past this year’s July 31 trade deadline.  

Yes Escobar still infuriates opponents, umpires, teammates and his own coaches with his flamboyant approach to his game.  And to tell you the truth, there are some members of the Braves organization who would like to trade him. 

But at the end of the day, the guys who crunch the numbers will be quick to tell you that Escobar’s $435,000 salary makes him one of their best bargains.  While his offensive production has declined dramatically, it’s hard to argue with those who still believe he is as good as any of the game’s other shortstops from a defensive perspective. 

It was interesting to see FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal suggest the cash-strapped Dodgers should trade Matt Kemp.  As Rosenthal mentioned, the Braves would certainly be interested in obtaining the talented outfielder, whose current $4 million salary will still be a bargain when it escalates to $6.95 million in 2011.

But it doesn’t appear the Dodgers have started calling teams to inform them that Kemp is available. 

McLouth update:   Nate McLouth dealt with what he described as a “constant” headache for essentially two straight weeks after his June 8 collision with Jason Heyward.  McLouth awoke Wednesday without any headaches and arrived at Turner Field Friday happy to report he had been pain free for 48 hours. 

It might still be a while before McLouth is cleared to begin playing.  But he was hoping to gain a better timetable after meeting with a Braves doctor on Friday night.  
 

  

Infection will sideline Diaz for an extended period

Yunel Escobar was back in the Braves lineup on Saturday night.  But it could be at least another three weeks before manager Bobby Cox is able to utilize Matt Diaz again. 

Diaz has spent the past three weeks bothered by the same right thumb infection that sidelined him during the final weeks of last season.  When he began bleeding and showing signs of an infection after a pinch-hit at-bat on Friday night,  the Braves determined it was time for him to be further evaluated. 

Noted hand specialist Dr. Gary Lourie will remove a foreign substance from Diaz’s right thumb during a surgical procedure on Wednesday.  While the recovery time is undetermined, Cox knows it will be June before the veteran outfielder is playing again. 

“It will be weeks,” Cox said. “They have to go in there pretty deep.” 

With Diaz unavailable, Eric Hinske will likely see a lot more playing time in left field.  Brent Clevelan has been promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett to at least temporarily serve as an extra outfielder. 

Clevlen, who hit .259 with a homer and 14 RBIs in 26 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this year, was a high school teammate of former Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson, who is in town this weekend with his D-backs teammates. 

The Braves told Clevlen that he was going to the Majors at about 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and approximately one hour later he was getting ready for his new assignment at Turner Field.   He made the 30-minute drive to downtown Atlanta in a car he borrowed from right-handed reliever Stephen Marek, a childhood friend who was recently promoted to the Gwinnett roster.

To make room for Escobar, the Braves sent shortstop Brandon Hicks back to Gwinnett.  Hicks will now spend the next few weeks and months proving that he can develop a swing that would enable him to prove how valuable he can be from a defensive standpoint at the Major League level. 

BRAVES LINEUP vs. D-backs  5/15/2010

Prado 4
Heyward 9
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Hinske 7
Escobar 6
McLouth 8
Hanson 1    

Suddenly rejuvenated offense returns home

While mixing Mucinex, Zyrtec  and a couple of cough drops this week, I could have sworn that I saw the Braves go into Milwaukee and score 28 runs over the course of just three games. 

Had I also seen Jo-Jo Reyes come off the disabled list to earn one of those three wins over the Brewers,  I would have certainly been moved to immediately check myself into the nearest hospital.  

With their first road sweep of the season, the Braves may have saved hitting coach Terry Pendleton’s job and given us reason to believe they are capable of scoring at least one earned run against Jamie Moyer at some point this season.  

Had Pendleton been chosen to be the fall guy, there likely wouldn’t have been a significant public backlash.   When a preseason contender hits .232 and compiles a .337 slugging percentage through the season’s first 31 games, you find yourself nearing a point where change seems imminent.  

Fortunately for Pendleton, the Braves did what they were supposed to do against Doug Davis on Monday night and then gladly put Jason Heyward back in their lineup for the final two games in Milwaukee.  

Instead of saying Heyward is a difference maker for the umpteenth time this year, I’ll point out that despite totaling just three at-bats while battling a sore right groin over a six-game stretch last week, he still enters tonight’s series opener against the D-backs with more RBIs (28) than the combined totals of Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar.  

Looking at one of the new-age stats, Heyward’s 2.70 WPA (win probability added) ranks second in the Majors only to the 2.88 mark posted by Miguel Cabrera, the early favorite to win the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award.  

FanGraphs.com defines WPA as the difference in win expectancy (WE) between the start of the play and the end of the play. That difference is then credited/debited to the batter and the pitcher. Over the course of the season, each players’ WPA for individual plays is added up to get his season total WPA.

If this stat still seems confusing, just ignore it and accept the fact that your eyes haven’t deceived you.  It certainly doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that the Braves lineup is severely weakened whenever it doesn’t possess Heyward’s presence.  

Now with Chipper Jones expected to return tonight and  Yunel Esobar likely coming off the disabled list in time to start Saturday’s game, where should Heyward sit in the lineup over the course of the next couple weeks or months?

Given that Chipper Jones has hit .231 with 12 homers and a .736 OPS over the course of his past 123 games, there is certainly reason to wonder if the Braves would benefit from replacing him in the third spot of the lineup with Heyward.  

But this isn’t something that is going to happen immediately and when you look at the recent results maybe it is time to believe Jones’ contention that he feels good at the plate and is seeing the ball much better than he did during the second half of the 2009 season.  

Jones has hit .350 (7-for-20) with three doubles in his past seven games.   When he first felt some discomfort in his hip on April 23, he was hitting .295 with a .959 OPS.  Over the years, the veteran third baseman has drawn criticism because of the amount of time that he has spent out of the lineup.  

But the numbers certainly provide reason to believe that his current statistics are a product of the fact that he chose to play through some pain because the team was enduring a rough stretch (the nine-game losing streak).  

From April 24-May 2, Jones recorded just one hit in 24 at-bats.  Take away that eight-game stretch and he would currently be hitting .313, which is right in line with the .307 career batting average that he carried into this season.   

If Jones continues to hit third, the Braves could put Heyward in the second spot and move Martin Prado into the leadoff spot.   Bobby Cox loves all the skills that Prado provides in the second spot.  But there isn’t much need to have the  ability to hit the ball to the right side of the infield or consistently advance runners when the guys (leadoff hitters)hitting in front of you have compiled an NL-worst .253 on-base percentage.  

Nor should it matter that Prado isn’t much of a threat to steal a base.  The Jimmy Rollins-less Phillies and Cubs are the only National League clubs with fewer stolen base attempts than the Braves this year.

The Braves simply need to supply a table setter for Heyward, Jones, McCann, and the suddenly red-hot Troy Glaus.  To give Escobar a chance to continue being the solid run producer that he was last year, I think the best choice is to at least try Prado in that leadoff role for a week or two.  

If it doesn’t work, they could flip-flop him with Escobar, who has .307 with a .370 on-base percentage in his career as a leadoff hitter.  During his first plate appearance in  the 78 games he has started a game as the leadoff hitter, he has hit .395 with a .410 on-base percentage.  

Escobar will make a rehab appearance for Triple-A Gwinnett tonight.   Reyes is scheduled to start for Gwinnett, which will also likely welcome Jordan Schafer to its roster at some point this weekend.  Schafer has hit .294 with three doubles in the nine rehab games he has played for Class A Rome and Double-A Mississippi this year.

Escobar placed on the 15-day DL

While attempting to build off the momentum created by this past weekend’s sweep of the Astros, the Braves will spend the entirety of their current nine-game road trip without Yunel Escobar.  

With Escobar’s strained left groin still ailing, the Braves have placed the 27-year-old shortstop on the 15-day disabled list and filled his roster spot by promoting Brandon Hicks, a talented defensive player whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday.   

Escobar, who is hitting .217 with eight RBIs, has been sidelined since straining his groin on Thursday.   In his absence, Omar Infante will continue handling the starting shortstop duties that he filled during this past weekend’s series against the Astros.   

While Escobar could be ready to play at some point this weekend, the Braves didn’t want to spend more time playing one man short.   The talented shortstop will be eligible to come off the disabled list on May 15.    

Braves manager Bobby Cox has said over the course of the past two years that Hicks is ready to serve as a Major League shortstop from a defensive perspective.  But the 24-year-old infielder’s offensive struggles have slowed his rise toward gaining a permanent spot on the Major League roster.  

While playing  128 games for Double-A Mississippi last year, Hicks hit .237 with 10 homers and 131 strikeouts.    He has hit .179 with one homer and 21 strikeouts in 84 at-bats with Gwinnett this year.  

Hicks, who has never previously been on a Major League roster, traveled with the club to Washington D.C. and will be available for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Nationals.   

Braves looking to claim first sweep of the season

After being swept in two consecutive series, the Braves are hoping to be the ones pushing the brooms by the time they conclude this afternoon’s game against the Astros.

Whether the Braves have taken advantage of the schedule or shown signs of an offensive resurgence shouldn’t really matter.  Frustrated throughout a nine-game losing streak, they needed to right themselves in the manner that they have while winning the first two games of this weekend’s series. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox once again has Nate McLouth in the leadoff role for this afternoon’s game against right-hander Bud Norris. It appears Cox plans to utilize a platoon in the leadoff spot, with McLouth getting the nod whenever the opposing team is starting a right-hander. 

When the Nationals start left-hander Scott Olsen on Thursday night, Omar Infante could be back in the leadoff spot.  Yunel Escobar is still struggling to recover from his groin strain and Cox said on Sunday morning that the club could opt to put him on the disabled list within the next two days.

If Escobar is disabled, Infante would likely handle the shortstop duties and Brandon Hicks could be promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett to serve as a backup infielder.   Hicks is hitting just .163 this year.  But with limited options the Braves would likely still tab him because of his tremendous defensive skills. 

Jordan Schafer will begin a Minor League rehab assignment with Class A Rome on Monday.  If Schafer’s surgically-repaired left wrist continues to cooperate, he should become a part of the Gwinnett roster in the near future. 

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Astros  5/2/2010 

McLouth 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Glaus 3
Heyward 9
Cabrera 7
Infante 6
Lowe 1

Long losing streak has not killed postseason hopes

One horrid nine-game stretch in April does not define the path that a Major League club is destined to travel over the course of a 162-game season.  But as the Braves attempt to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Astros tonight, they can’t escape the fact that many are already asking, “are they really this bad.”   

Just seven days have passed since I last sat in this Turner Field press box with the belief that a slumbering offense would soon awake and direct the Braves toward a pennant race in September.   Yes 47-year-old Jamie Moyer had just baffled the Atlanta bats in a frustrating manner.   But such an event is deemed just a bump in the road when the calendar still rests on April 22.   

Now on April 30, just 10 days since the Braves constructed their consecutive back-to-back walk-off victories, manager Bobby Cox returned to Turner Field without much reason to laugh.   Coming off a winless seven-game road trip, he is among the many who have to wonder if his club’s nine-game losing streak is a fluke or a sign of things to come.  

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, this is essentially unchartered territory for Cox.   The only 10-game losing streak he has experienced during his long managerial career began with a loss to the Astros on June 11, 2006.  Horacio Ramirez was drilled in the head with a Lance Berkman liner that afternoon and as the Braves left Houston that afternoon they learned their flight to Ft. Lauderdale would include the bumps caused by a nearby hurricane.   

This prompted Chipper Jones to say something like, “The hits keep coming…I suggest staying as far away from the Atlanta Braves as you can now.”

Jones’ playful comment was made at the beginning of a 10-game skid and in the midst of a 23-game stretch that included just three victories.   

During that 10-game losing streak, the Braves hit .256 and saw their pitching staff post a 6.10 ERA.   Within this current nine-game losing streak,, the Braves have batted .223 and compiled a .188 (12-for-64)batting average with runners in scoring position.   The pitchers have posted a 5.20 ERA.  

When asked Friday afternoon, Jones said he did not remember the emotions he felt during that 10-game skid from four years ago.  But he later said, “I’m pretty sure this club is much better than that one.”  

On the charter flight back from St. Louis last night, many of the players dealt with the shock caused by the frustrating road trip.  When some mentioned that things needed to change before the front office decided to start making changes, Jones said, “I like the guys on this team far too much to let us reach a point where some of these guys are getting traded.”  

During this conversation, Troy Glaus mentioned that  the 2002 Angels club that he was a part of started the season with the same 8-14 mark that the Braves carry into Friday night’s series opener against the Astros.  That  Angels club won the World Series six months later.  

Last year there were three postseason participants  –  Twins (11-11), Angels (9-13) Rockies (9-13)  –  who didn’t have a winning record through the season’s first 22 games.    During the 2007 season, three of the National League’s four playoff participants   –  Phillies (10-12), Cubs (9-13) and Rockies (9-13) –  fell into this same category.  

En route to six of their 14 most recent division titles, the Braves had a non-winning record through the first 22 games.   But their only losing record within this category came in 2001, when they won 10 of their first 22 games.  

Given a chance to face Brett Myers, who is 0-3 with a 6.53 ERA in his past four starts against Atlanta, during tonight’s series opener, the Braves seemingly have a good opportunity to begin this homestand in auspicious fashion.   

Because they’ve dug themselves in an early hole, the Braves have made this 162-game journey much more challenging.  But at the same time history has shown that one horrible week can’t solely determine where a team stands in October.

Injury front:  With an offday on Monday, the Braves plan to push Jair Jurrjens’ next start back to May 8.  Jurrjens strained his hamstring during Thursday’s game and was still feeling some tightness on Friday afternoon…Yunel Escobar will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis with his strained left adductor muscle.   Escobar has missed 3-5 days when he has battled this injury in the past. 
 

 

Braves hope their offensive woes stayed in Atlanta

It’s early, but based on the frustration I could sense in the clubhouse after last night’s loss to Jamie Moyer and the Phillies, I’d have to say the Braves players and coaches share many of the worries you developed while watching them split this recent homestand.

Yes, the Braves managed to win win three of six on this past homestand.  But at the same
time, they needed two dramatic ninth-inning comebacks to prevent going
1-5 during this stretch against the Rockies and Phillies.

It will be a homestand remembered for the two clutch hits that Jason Heyward provided to erase deficits with two outs in the ninth inning.  But even Heyward encountered struggles during this homestand, hitting .211 (4-for-19) with seven strikeouts.  

During this six-game stretch at Turner Field, the Braves hit .225, which is actually better than the .214 mark they have compiled over the previous 10 games entering tonight’s series opener against the Mets. 

Yes,  the Braves were burdened by the fact that they faced Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Ubaldo No-No Jimenez during this stretch.  But in the seven games that they didn’t face these elite hurlers, they managed to hit just .249, a mark that would rank as the 11th-best in the 16-team National League this year.  

J.D. Drew, Aramis Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and reigning National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan have provided the reminder that many talented players can find their batting averages resting below the Mendoza line during this early stage of the season. 

But as Braves manager Bobby Cox will certainly attest, you can’t have too many key players falling into this category at one time.  

Through the first 15 games of the season, Nate McLouth (.171), Troy Glaus (.170), Matt Diaz (.167) and Melky Cabrera (.125) all find themselves serving as the holes that Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Schafer and Kelly Johnson were during the early portion of the 2009 season. 

McLouth has shown some recent promise and at least provided indication that it’s time for him to play everyday and prove he can be the leadoff hitter the Braves envisioned entering Spring Training.  Yes, he hit just .200 (3-for-15) during the homestand. 

But he followed Tuesday’s walk-off homer with what I thought was a solid 0-for-4 effort against Halladay.  He put good wood on the ball with each of the four balls he put in play. 

As for Glaus, I haven’t exactly seen him benefit from the clutch two-run homer he hit in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s thrilling victory.   That stands as the only hit he’s tallied in his past 23 at-bats  –  a span that includes eight strikeouts. 

Last impressions are always the strongest and the fact that I think there’s more reason to worry about Glaus than McLouth, might just be a product of the fact that the Braves first baseman accounted for two of the 11 strikeouts Jamie Moyer has posted in 18 innings this year.  

Diaz’s early-season struggles aren’t anything new.  On the way to hitting .313 last year, he hit .216 in April. 

Cabrera’s early struggles only seemingly confirm the belief that he will be best utilized as a fourth outfielder, whose versatility will allow him to platoon with Diaz and occasionally give McLouth or Jason Heyward a breather.

Making matters worse for the Braves is the fact that Yunel Escobar is hitting .203 and has totaled just three RBIs since driving in a career-high five runs on Opening Day.  His offensive woes have seemingly affected his body language. 

But as I mentioned in last night’s game story, if the Braves do indeed decide to put Omar Infante at shortstop for tonight’s series opener against the Mets, it won’t be solely because Escobar has struggled from an offensive standpoint. 

During Wednesday night’s game against Halladay, the Braves loaded the bases with one out and then saw Escobar rip a sharp grounder that hit the mound and landing in the glove of a diving Chase Utley, who flipped to first base to begin the run-preventing, inning-ending double play. 

Escobar appeared to be pacing himself down the first base line and a National League scout later told me that he had him clocked at 4.54 going down the line.  Just to give you an idea of what that means, I mentioned that to one of the Braves coaches and they playfully responded, “isn’t that what Eddie (Perez) ran?” 

Then Escobar played a role in the three-run third inning the Phillies constructed against Derek Lowe on Thursday night.  While the official scorer gave Martin Prado the error, there were some in the Braves clubhouse who felt that his double-play feed to Escobar was certainly good enough for a double-play to have been turned. 

My thought was that Prado’s feed was certainly good enough to account for at least one out.  But seemingly preparing to leap over the oncoming runner, Escobar dropped the feed and consequently allowed the Phillies to score two of the three runs they tallied that inning. 

Escobar is a tremendous talent, who has the capability of proving to be one of the game’s best shortstops.  But as the Braves leaned last year while benching him at least three times, there are times when it’s best to make him sit and think about things for at least one game.

As for Glaus, some of you have suggested that the Braves platoon him at first base with Eric Hinske.  I haven’t gained a sense Cox is ready to do this. But the career numbers indicate this is something that might work if Glaus continues to struggle.

GLAUS 
vs. LHP   1267 ABs  .275 BA  87 HRs  .949 OPS
vs. RHP   3784 ABs  .247  219 HRs   .820 OPS

HINSKE 
vs. LHP   673 ABs  .221 19 HRs  .667 OPS
vs. RHP  2439 ABs .263 BA 94 HRs .805 OPS

With Glaus having basically missed all of last year, the Braves are
certainly going to give him more than 15 games to get re-acquainted to
the speed of the game.  But this might be an arrangement that Cox occasionally at least toys with over the next couple days and weeks. 

    

 

 

Braves welcome Phillies and Howard back to The Ted

As much as the Braves might like to make an early statement and exit this week’s three-game series against the Phillies sitting atop the National League East standings, it’s still far too early to put too much importance on what transpires at Turner Field over the course of the next three days.  

Through the first 12 games of the 2009 season, the Braves were 6-6 and five games behind the front-running Marlins in the NL East standings.  The Phillies sat 5 games back of this same Marlins club that ended up finishing six game back when all was said and done.  

Oh yeah and in case you forgot, the Braves won seven of the first nine games played against this Phillies team that sat seven games in front of them when the regular season concluded.

The only three-game series against the Phillies that the Braves necessarily want to deem as “important” is the one that will be staged at Turner Field during the final weekend of the regular season (Oct.  1-3).

With this being said, in order to be in position to end Philadelphia’s three-year run as the NL East champs, the Braves certainly could benefit from the opportunity to make a statement against the injury-depleted Phillies club that is in town this week.  

Yes Roy Halladay will toe the rubber during Wednesday night’s game.  But in the other two games this week, the Braves will be challenged by Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer.  

Kendrick has posted a 17.47 ERA and completed just 5 2/3 innings in his first two starts of the season.  The 47-year-old Moyer has split a pair a decisions and surrendered five earned runs in six innings during both of his first two starts.

The Phillies will also be without the leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins, who is on the disabled list with a strained right calf.  Of course seeing how Rollins hit .205 with a .250 on-base percentage through the first 70 games last year, it’s obvious that the Phillies can survive without him serving as a catalyst at the top of the lineup.  

Looking back at how the Braves managed to win seven of the first nine games played against the Phillies last year, Rollins’ early-season struggles obviously played a part.  But so too did the fact that the Atlanta pitchers managed to limit Ryan Howard to a .250 batting average and ZERO homers.  

While losing six of their last nine games against the Phillies, the Braves saw Howard hit .438 (14-for-32) 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 last 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 home runs.

Tommy Hanson, who surrendered one of those eight homers drilled by Howard, will take the hill for the Braves during tonight’s series opener.   Hanson lost just twice in his final 11 starts last year and both of those setbacks came during rain-interrupted outings against the Phillies.  
When Hanson took the mound at Turner Field last year, he was serenaded by Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy.”  

As I mentioned in October,  I suggest the Braves to provide a friendly reminder to their pitchers by playing this song whenever Howard strolls to the plate.  Or maybe they should just cut to the chase and play Aerosmith/Run DMC’s  “Walk This Way”.  

Braves manager Bobby Cox has Matt Diaz back in the leadoff spot for tonight’s series opener against the Phillies.  Diaz has three hits in four career at-bats against Kendrick, who has surrendered a pair of homers to both Chipper Jones and Nate McLouth.

Cox has also moved Heyward up to the sixth spot today and dropped the slumping Yunel Escobar to the seventh spot.  Escobar has tallied just three RBIs since his five-RBI performance on Opening Day. 

BRAVES LINEUP for 4/20 vs. Phillies

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

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