What Did We Learn This Weekend?

Hello again everyone from southeast Michigan, where we’re one of the cooler spots in the U.S., with highs in the lower 90′s and a heat index of 104. Yikes! What a hot summer!

And speaking of hot summers, I think this weekend gave us some hints about how hot the rest of the summer might be for the Braves. As the trading deadline nears, I think it becomes more and more important to understand your own team and its needs.

I think the main thing we learned is that this team does have heart. Up to now, the 2011 Braves have not been a come from behind team. Get behind three runs, you lose. When the Nationals went up 6-2 on Sunday, I thought we were toast. But the team came back to tie the game 6-6, then even overcame George Sherrill trying to get a quality right handed hitter out, giving up two runs, and putting the team down 8-6. Finally, Freddie Freeman came through in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves a 9-8 win. This is the kind of play you look for from a playoff team. You have to be able to overcome a bad start occasionally; this team knows how to do it now, as do the “kids” like Freddie Freeman.

On the other side of the coin, we learned that we still cannot hit a quality left handed starter. Honestly, there are very few teams that do hit well against true quality starters, regardless of whether they throw lefty or righty. Even fewer hit lefties. But the Braves make an art form out of it. Put a quality left hander out there and the Braves are likely to generate 6 hits or less and score two runs or less. That sets a very high bar for the Braves pitchers to match up against. The question for Frank Wren is whether he thinks the team can make it to the World Series under his constraint. I don’t think that he can plan on Chipper Jones‘ return changing that circumstance, as the team has struggled against lefties the past few years even when Chipper was in the lineup. I also don’t think that you can count on a resurgent Dan Uggla picking up that slack. Uggla isn’t a .300 hitter for average, even in his best year. While he’ll hit for a higher average in the nominal second half, my bet is he’ll hit closer to .250 than .300. In terms of team impact, Uggla is likely to profile a lot like he has in the first half, hitting a lot of home runs. In my opinion, it’s a really close call. I think the Braves can do it with the current roster, but it will make a crap-shoot a crap-shoot with the dice loaded the other way. A right handed impact bat and the dice are loaded the Braves way. The bat would have to play shortstop or corner outfield. While Alex Gonzalez continues to play a strong shortstop, his bat has been non-existent, notwithstanding his homer this weekend. If Frank Wren makes a move to improve the starting lineup, shortstop is my first priority. If the Braves were to trade for a corner outfielder, that would make Martin Prado a super-utility player for the rest of this season. While he could get plenty of AB’s this way, I don’t sense that he would be thrilled with the arrangement. This is my second choice. The third choice would be center field, but I think this makes less sense the more I see of Jordan Schafer. The way he’s playing right now, he’s getting on base and making things happen once he gets there. Plus he covers a lot of ground in the field and can throw like a cannon.

The third thing I think we learned is that the team will really need another reliever who can reliably retire right handed hitters. Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel are lights-out. Scott Proctor and Scott Linebrink are league average kind of guys at best. And against righties, Sherrill is pitch and pray, in my opinion. He has been used extremely selectively this year, which I think is very smart. Had Fredi Gonzalez stuck with only using him against left handed hitting pitchers, I think he could have sustained a sub 2.00 ERA. As his usage has broadened, his ERA has increased to 2.77 and his BA against is up to .277. Don’t get me wrong; I want Sherrill to do well. I just don’t expect him to do real well, unless he’s used very, very selectively.

So, the question for Frank Wren here is whether or not he has the solution internally. Everything I’m hearing says that Peter Moylan will be back sometime in August. If Moylan can throw at 92+, he’ll be very effective against righties. The wild card may well be Arodys Vizcaino. He has now been moved to relief, ostensibly to control his innings pitched. But keep in mind that Martin Prado scouting Vizcaino during his rehab stint in AA, says that Vizcaino can be a quality MLB reliever right now. He’s good, fast, and cheap. That sounds like a good combination to me.

With all this “learning”, what do I think will happen? Basically, I think that Wren will stand pat on the trade front. I also think that we will see Vizcaino in Atlanta as a reliever this year. If a trade happens with Derek Lowe, as has been widely speculated and written on here by Fred Owens, I agree that it will be a salary dump, with the only hope for quality prospects in return being the Braves sending along a big chunk of cash, and that has not been the teams modus operandi.

That’s my take; what’s yours?

Tags: Alex Gonzalez Arodys Vizcaino Atlanta Braves Braves Chipper Jones Craig Kimbrel Dan Uggla Derek Lowe Frank Wren Freddie Freeman Fredi Gonzalez George Sherrill Jonny Venters Jordan Schafer Martin Prado Peter Moylan Scott Linebrink