Results tagged ‘ Yunel Escobar ’

Looking back on Teixeira trade

Things are obviously much quieter along the Braves trade front than they were both of the past two years, when they were dealing with the acquisition and departure of Mark Teixeira.
 
Still with the Phillies still playing a lead role in the daily developments that surround Roy Halladay, these final days leading up to the trade deadline could prove to be interesting for the Braves and their fans.
 
Or if Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi does stick with his self-imposed deadline, this trade-deadline excitement might simply extend for another 24 hours.
 
If the Phillies were to land Halladay, there’s certainly reason to believe that a third consecutive National League East pennant will appear in Philadelphia.  But his acquisition seemingly would have more of an effect on the potential of a second consecutive world championship.
 
When MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki asked if the Phillies should continue their pursuit of Halladay, Cole Hamels responded:
 
“It depends on if you want to try to win the World Series the next two years because that’s what he’s going to be here for,” Hamels said. “Winning the World Series or at least attempting to win the World Series the next two years will please us, please the organization and please the fans. You can’t really complain about that. I think it would be a step in a good direction.”

It appears the Jays need a multi-player package that is headlined by both J.A. Happ and Kyle Drabek.  The Phillies have balked at including both of these promising young pitchers.

But this certainly doesn’t mean that they won’t eventually opt to pull the trigger.  As Braves president John Schuerholz reminded me last week, he and his aides experienced a number lively debates before ultimately appeasing the Rangers with the five prospects that it took to bring Teixeira to Atlanta
.
With the Halladay trade talk in focus, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan wrote a story looking back on the 2007 trade that made Teixeira a Brave.

As the years progress, you can twist and turn the analysis of trades in many different directions.  But at the end of the day, I don’t think you can truly bash a trade unless it’s one you bashed at the time it was completed.
 
My initial thoughts were that the Braves had given up too much for Teixeira.  But two years later, I actually find myself feeling that Schuerholz made a calculated gamble that was worth taking.
 
As has been pointed out countless times, with Yunel Escobar and Brian McCann in place, there was no room in Atlanta for Elvis Andrus and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.   This analysis has proven to be even stronger as Escobar continues to develop into one of the game’s top shortstops.
 
Matt Harrison might have been a nice Band-Aid last year, when the Braves rotation was wrecked by injuries.  But scouts and others who have had a chance to watch the soft-spoken left-hander on a regular basis don’t seem to be too high on his future.

Obviously the most consistent knock about the trade centers around the fact that the Braves included a 19-year-old right-hander, who had recorded 28 strikeouts and allowed 18 hits in 27 1/3 innings for their rookie level Danville club that year. 

Two years later, that 19-year-old is now the 21-year-old right-hander that the baseball world knows as  the flame-throwing Neftali Feliz.  Still even with a fastball that has reached 100 mph, Feliz’s future success at the big league level is clouded by the fact that he’s struggled to find consistent command with a secondary pitch. 

Feliz, who has been moved into a relief role with Texas’ Triple-A affiliate, and Andrus still have the potential be superstars at the Major League level. 

But even if they both reach this status, wasn’t it worth taking the gamble on the acquisition of a first baseman, who would hit .295 with 37 homers in the 157 games that you placed him in your lineup.

Forgettable anniversary:  Today marks the one-year anniversary of when Teixeira’s career in Atlanta essentially came to a close.  One year ago today, the Braves blew a five-run lead against the Phillies for a second consecutive day.

With those consecutive losses, Frank Wren faced the reality that his club wasn’t a postseason contender and had to find a club willing to exchange a Major League-ready first baseman for Teixeira.

It’s still hard to believe that the return the Braves gained from the Angels in exchange for Teixeira was limited to Casey Kotchman and Minor League reliever Stephen Marek.

But while hitting .328 with three homers and a .492 slugging percentage in his past 19 games, Kotchman has at least contributed to the offensive awakening the Braves have realized this month.   In the 104 games he’d previously played for the Braves, he’d hit .254 with four homers and a .349 slugging percentage.  

With Kelly Johnson back in the mix and at least showing some indication that he got himself right during his Minor League rehab assignment, Martin Prado’s versatility could prove to be even more important.  

During those days that the Braves are facing a top left-handed pitcher, Bobby Cox could choose to put Prado at first base and give Johnson the opportunity to prolong the success he’s found while facing southpaws during the past two seasons.
 
When asked who has been the most valuable offensive performer for the Braves this month, it’s easy to determine the distinction belongs to Yunel Escobar, who has produced a team-leading four homers, 19 RBIs, .461 on-base percentage and .662 slugging percentage.   His .369 batting average has been bettered only by the .370 mark that Matt Diaz has compiled in 11 fewer at-bats.
 
Chipper Jones (.294) and Nate McLouth (.259) are the only Braves regulars who haven’t hit at least .300 this month.   Still Jones’ 15 RBIs rank as the team’s third-highest total and McLouth is one of five players who have hit three homers.  The others being Jones, Brian McCann, Kotchman and Garret Anderson.  

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 not looking to move Escobar

Jeff Francoeur is out of the lineup for a third straight game.  Tim Hudson felt fine while throwing an 18-pitch live batting practice session.  And, Martin Prado was named the National League’s Player of the Week.  

But before digging into today’s events, it seems more important to at least quiet the Yunel Escobar rumors that are circulating. 

Look I understand the entertainment value of the rumor market that will swirl over the next few weeks leading up to the trade deadline.  But at the same time, I think it’s time to take Yunel Escobar’s name out of the mix. 

Teams have certainly called to express interest in Escobar and with his stubborn personality the talented shortstop has given the Braves at least reason to ponder the possibility of moving him.

But from what I’ve gathered, the Braves have zero desire to move Escobar.  He’s simply not the kind of player that you move because you’ve found another warm body to fill the shortstop position.  

While his mental mistakes have sometimes been maddening, Escobar is a top-flight defensive shortstop, whose offensive production will grow as he continues to increase his power.   He ranks second in the National League with a .405 batting average with runners in scoring position and his team-leading 42 RBIs have been gathered at a cost of $425,000.  

Still one year away from becoming arbitration eligible, Escobar will once again prove cheap again next year, when he’ll once again be with the Braves.

Huddy update: The five-minute, 18-pitch live batting practice session that Hudson threw today was essentially what he would have completed had this been the first day of Spring Training.  He will throw another short session again on Tuesday and then steadily work to increase his arm strength in preparation for his for Minor League rehab start with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach on July 19. 

“It’s going to take some time for me to get used to pitching in a game, seeing hitters out there and having that added adrenaline rush,” said Hudson, who likely won’t be able to rejoin the Atlanta rotation before Aug. 25. 

Francoeur sits again:  Not to long ago, it was noteworthy whenever Jeff Francoeur was out of the lineup.  Thus, it was certainly newsworthy to see Cox leave Francoeur out of his lineup for a third straight game on Monday.

It’s near impossible to keep Matt Diaz’s bat out of the lineup right now and with the Cubs throwing right-hander Randy Wells tonight, Cox wanted to keep Garret Anderson’s bat in the mix.

When asked if he’d like to be traded Francoeur said, “It’s not something that I want.  I just want to play. You can take that however you want to.”

Prado POW:  When asked what he thought about being named the NL’s Player of the Week, Martin Prado talked about how surprised he was to win an honor that could have gone to the likes of Albert Pujols.

But while hitting .577 (15-for-26) with a .621 on-base percentage and 1.000 slugging percentage last week Prado deservedly earned this award over the likes of Pujols, who hit .429 (9-for-21) with a .571 on-base percentage and .952 slugging percentage.

 

Does Cox still have some magic in his tank?

When Jeff Bennett decided to be the one doing the hitting earlier this week, Braves manager Bobby Cox said that the reliever’s decision to punch a door wasn’t exactly smart.  Then he added that it was at least encouraging to see that Bennett cared.
 
Using this same logic, I guess many Braves fans are proving that they still have some passion while questioning whether Cox is the right man to lead this year’s team. 

Dating back to the days when Cox was leading the Braves into the postseason on an annual basis, there was always a small group of fans who questioned his tactical approach.  But this seems to be the first year that a growing legion is questioning whether his time has passed.
 
As our faithful blogger Rother pointed out in the comments section earlier this week, Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are among the most recent coaching legends who have heard fans question whether they’re too old to prolong the traditions of excellence that they established at their respective universities. 
 
Like Bowden with Florida State and Paterno with Penn State, Cox is the man most responsible for the fact that the Braves transformed from laughingstock to a perennial championship contender.  He rebuilt the Minor League system during the late 1980′s and then served as an unmatched general while leading the Braves to an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles. 

About five years ago, I wrote that Cox had earned the right to continue managing the Braves as long as he desires.  As I’ve had the opportunity to be around this game longer, I’ve come to view that as a  short-sighted comment that should never be made in reference to any legend, regardless of their accomplishments. 
 
Still I’m not ready to concede that Cox isn’t the right man for this job.   This year’s team possesses flaws that extend beyond the fact that the offense hasn’t adequately backed a strong starting rotation.   But while this clubhouse might not be as harmonious as some of the recent ones that have existed in Atlanta, the fault shouldn’t squarely be placed on the manager.
 
The Braves have pushed for Yunel Escobar to enhance his knowledge of the English language and he told them that he intended to do so this past offseason.  But other than the expletive he mouthed toward the press box after being charged with an error on Thursday, I haven’t seen him provide much indication that he’s willing to speak anything other than Spanish.

With limited communication skills and his stubborn personality, Escobar has proven to be both unable and unwilling to fully grasp the messages that veterans like Chipper Jones and the Braves coaching staff have attempted to deliver over the course of his two years at the Major League level.
  
Like Bowden and Paterno, Cox has reached a point where he has to rely more heavily on his assistant coaches.  Within this framework, the responsibility of guiding Escobar has been placed on the shoulders of bench coach Chino Cadahia, who at least attempted to show provide some discipline after the shortstop displayed his unprofessional reactions on Thursday.
 
As for Garret Anderson,  there isn’t anybody who was going to be able to alter the lifeless approach that he’s developed throughout his 16-season Major League career.
 
Provided no other external alternatives, Cox pushed for the Braves to sign Anderson during February’s final week and the veteran outfielder has at least rewarded him with consistent offensive production that lacks power.
 
But while Anderson’s bat has been solid, his defensive skills have proven to be worse than expected.   His limited range has been on display throughout the season and he certainly didn’t gain any supporters  on Friday night, when he didn’t even react to Dustin Pedroia’s high chopper  until it landed in shallow left field.
  
Instead of publicly ripping Escobar or Anderson, Cox has continued to shower them with the same kind of support that Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson have been provided while proving to be this year’s top two offensive disappointments.
 
While this approach might prove maddening to fans while the team is losing, it’s one that allowed for the dramatic turnarounds the 1991, 1993 and 2004 clubs experienced on their way to division titles. 

So for now, I’m just going to maintain the belief that Cox has earned the right to prove he still has some magic in the tank.  

Cadahia gives Escobar an earful

Placed in Yunel Escobar’s shoes, I probably wouldn’t have reacted favorably had I been charged with the error that he was given during the fourth inning of Thursday night’s game against the Yankees. 

And there’s certainly a chance that I would have fired off some kind of expletive. But I don’t think my Irish temper would have led me to fully mimic Escobar’s unprofessional reaction. 

When Escobar pointed toward the press box in disgust, he provided the reminder that he’s still immature.  While continuing to sulk with his hands on his thighs during the next two pitches, he clearly showed a lack of respect for his teammates and the game. 

Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia took Escobar behind the dugout and gave him an earful when the inning concluded. 

Based on the accounts of multiple sources, Cadahia berated Escobar with greater vigor than he ever has in the past.

While we can hope that this is the last unprofessional act committed by Escobar, you have to assume that it won’t be.  This is his third Major League season and as time has passed it’s become clear why he essentially led his former Double-A Mississippi manager Jeff Blauser to decide he didn’t want anything to do with the coaching profession. 

After Cox benched Escobar in the middle of a June 14 game in Baltimore, I used this space to talk about how his stubborn personality makes him difficult to coach.  At the same time, I pointed out that he’s arguably the best all-around talent on the Braves club.   <p>

Based purely on talent and the fact that he has one arbitration-eligible season remaining, Escobar ranks as one of the game’s best bargains and there’s undboubtedly a number of teams that would be interested in his services.    

Right now the Braves don’t have any intention to trade Escobar.  But as he continues to show immaturity and a lack of professionalism, he’s providing the club more reason to wonder if there will ever come a time when the majority of the attention he draws is based on his tremendous physical skills.

Every pitch counts

When you dissect the progression of a baseball season, you can lead yourself to believe that every pitch has the potential to produce consequences that extend beyond the game during which it was thrown.
 
Had plate umpire Bill Hohn called a strike on the 0-2 fastball that Eric O’Flaherty threw during Sunday afternoon’s game at Fenway Park, J.D. Drew wouldn’t have had the opportunity to deliver the next pitch off the Green Monster for a one-out, go-ahead RBI single. 

The Braves believe Hohn’s call cost them that series finale against the Red Sox.  Extending this arguable belief, did this call also deny them the opportunity to carry a four-game winning streak into tonight’s series finale against the Yankees?

If Drew had been called out on strikes, with first base open, two outs and left-handed slugger David Ortiz on deck, Cox said that he still would have called upon Peter Moylan to face the right-handed hitting Kevin Youkilis. 

But had first base umpire first base umpire Tim Welke not ruled in Jake Fox’s favor on a bang-bang play  with two outs in the seventh inning of Monday night’s win over the Cubs, Cox wouldn’t have needed to replace Javier Vazquez with Moylan, who needed just two pitches to end that threat and his evening.

After needing 14 pitches to erase Tommy Hanson’s potential sixth-inning damage and toss a perfect seventh inning during Tuesday night’s win over the Yankees,  Moylan was given a night to rest. 

Thus he was unavailable when Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game.   Had the Braves gotten the desired ruling from Welke, there’s seemingly reason to believe that the Aussie would have been the one facing A-Rod.
 
Instead, the Braves were forced to call upon Jeff Bennett, who allowed A-Rod to halt a 1-for-24 skid with a two-run single that gave the Yankees a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. 

There’s no guarantee that Moylan wouldn’t have allowed A-Rod to deliver the clutch hit.   But they certainly likely would have had the option to stay away from Bennett, who opted to challenge the veteran third baseman with four consecutive fastballs before seeing his 0-2 delivery deposited into center field.

Bennett, who was the one who surrendered Nick Green’s walk-off shot on Sunday, was inching closer toward ending his days in Atlanta.  But he’s at least bought himself some time with the fractured left hand he suffered when he punched a door after Wednesday’s sixth inning.  

When you’ve seen opponents hit .316 against you in 33 appearances and .295 with runners in scoring position, there seemingly must come a time when you’re the one who wants to do some hitting.   All indications are that the defenseless door  simply suffered a bruise similar to the one on Kenshin Kawakami’s neck. 

Kawakami, who was hit on the right side of his neck with a Joba Chamberlain line drive on Wednesday night, reported that he was feeling better than expected on Thursday.   Still with an offday on Monday, the Braves will likely skip his next turn in the rotation and allow him to make his next start during the July 4 game in Washington D.C.  

Tonight’s lineup:   With left-hander Andy Pettitte starting tonight’s series finale for the Yankees, Cox opted to keep Garret Anderson’s hot bat in the lineup.  But he did stick with his second base platoon with the insertion of Martin Prado, who is batting second.  

Yunel Escobar, who leads the club with 36 RBIs, is batting in the fifth spot.  Escobar is hitting .385 (25-for-65) with runners in scoring position.  

Back to life and back to reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Braves winning the close games

As the Braves prepare to begin this three-game series against the Giants, I decided to see where they stood on May 25, 2008.  Given how bad the season developed, it was somewhat surprising to see that they were 27-23 and 2 1/2 games behind the front-running Marlins in the National League East race.

But those aren’t the important numbers to utilize while comparing the 23-20 record the Braves carried into Monday afternoon’s Memorial Day game at AT&T Park. 

Instead, it’s more important to look at the fact that the Braves got off to that decent start last year, while winning six of their first 22 road games and two of their first 14 one-run games. 

Armed with a much better pitching staff this year, the Braves have gone 12-8 on the road and 8-6 in one-run games.  The only National League teams with more one-run wins are the Dodgers (9-3) and Padres (12-5).

Four of those one-run victories garnered by the Braves have occurred during the 7-3 stretch they carried into the Giants series. 

However you cut it, this Braves team doesn’t seem like the same one that was 11-15 and four games back on May 5.  Brian McCann and Garret Anderson have provided the lineup a spark and Jair Jurrjens continues to strengthen a sound starting rotation.

The fact that the Braves produced their seven-run seventh inning after Jurrjens exited on Sunday simply provided more reason for the young right-hander to be frustrated about the fact that he ranks fourth in the Majors with a 2.07 ERA and has just four wins. 

During his past eight starts, Jurrjens has gone 2-2 with a 1.98 ERA.  In the 50 innings that have encompassed that span, he has limited opponents to a .230 batting average and .285 on-base percentage. 

It would be nice for him to gain some of the luck necessary to garner the win total that would allow him to receive deserved consideration when the National League chooses its All-Star team.

Chipper out again:
  Still bothered by some soreness and swelling in his right big toe, Chipper Jones was out of the lineup again for Monday’s series opener against the Giants.   While the Braves would like to see him return to full-time action soon, they know he’s dealing with a very sensitive injury that can be easily aggravated. 

It wouldn’t surprise me if Jones remains out of the lineup for the remainder of this series.  When you think about it, there’s very little you can do on a baseball field without putting some pressure on your big toe. 

It was kind of telling, when Jones said that it took him nearly 10 minutes to make his way back to the clubhouse after taking batting practice on Sunday morning. 

As for Yunel Escobar, it seems like he’s still dealing with a day-to-day right hip ailment.  He could return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday.       

  
    

 

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

Schafer placed in the leadoff spot

Braves manager Bobby Cox has put Kelly Johnson back in the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Astros.  But Johnson will be batting sixth, while Jordan Schafer gets his first chance in the leadoff role. 

Schafer is undoubtedly the closest thing the Braves have to a prototypical leadoff hitter.   During the past nine games, the 22-year-old rookie center fielder has hit .273 with a .529 on-base percentage.   The 12 walks he’s drawn during this span are encouraging and also a product of the fact that opposing pitchers have been more comfortable facing the other hitters at the bottom of the Braves lineup. 

In the 19 plate appearances he’s collected while beginning an inning this year, Schafer has hit .375 with a .474 on-base percentage.

The fact Schafer has just one stolen base attempt this year is also a product of his former position near the bottom of the order. He has the speed and instincts to record at least 25 stolen bases this year. 

Plus while batting in front of Yunel Escobar, who has a 3.75 groundball-to-flyball ratio, Schafer is going to find himself involved a lot more hit-and-run attempts.    Escobar also puts the ball in play, striking out just seven times during his first 77 at-bats.

You have to like Schafer and Escobar at the top of the lineup together.  There was little doubt that Cox wasn’t going to put Johnson back in the leadoff spot and yesterday I ran these graphs while wondering if Cox would use Escobar at the top of the lineup and wait a little longer to put Schafer in this role: 

In 72 career plate appearances while serving as his team’s first batter
of the game, he’s hit .429 with a .444 on-base percentage.

In the 251 plate appearances he’s gathered while leading off an inning, he’s hit .333 with a .378 on-base percentage.

But with that being said, Schafer is the best option in the leadoff role and I don’t think putting him there will affect his development.  He’s had just one rough week during his first month in the Majors and I think you’ll see him show some of the same patience that he has displayed while hitting seventh and eighth this year.

The only question is, will pitchers approach him in the same manner?

This move also benefits Johnson, who has the ability to be a solid run producer.  In the
133 at-bats he combined for while hitting sixth or seventh last year, he hit .294
and seemed much more comfortable in roles that allowed him to maintain
his aggressive offensive approach.

Despite his three-RBI performance last night, Jeff Francoeur is hitting fifth today.  With the Astros starting right-hander Roy Oswalt, Cox has put the left-handed hitting Casey Kotchman back in the cleanup spot. 

Back from being with his wife while she delivered their newest child yesterday, David Ross is back behind the plate for this afternoon’s game.   

 
       

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