Braves Hit A Lowe Point

Last night for the third straight outing Derek Lowe was awful. In his last three starts he’s 0-3 throwing 14 innings (5+,4+,4+) and allowing 15 runs (14 earned) on 24 hits walking 7 and striking out 9 while allowing 2 home runs.  I hope we will hear soon that he’s on the DL with back or leg issues or that he’s ‘volunteered’ to go to the pen until he works things out.

However you want to wrap it up and in spite of Fredi Gonzales public support of Lowe telling David O’Brien of the AJC, “We’ll get him going, we need him” Gonzalez has to be worried. If he’s isn’t concerned he hasn’t been paying attention. Even Lowe looked perplexed (and exhausted) as he trudged from the mound. He’s not the only Braves pitcher struggling but, he’s gone from a steady and dependable 6 innings 3 runs and a chance to win to nearly 5 innings most of the time and 4 + runs before he goes a certainty.  Something is obviously wrong with Lowe.

First 11 games 4.03 1.358 .302 .324 .371 58 67
Last 12 games 5.05 1.506 .330 .349 .368 31 62 1/3

It’s obvious from the numbers that his famously dependable sinker isn’t sinking and his slider is almost flat. Historically sinkers don’t sink because the pitcher over-throws it or isn’t getting on top of the ball to give it that downward angle. We saw Tim Hudson suffer similar woes when his back acted up a few weeks back. It’s quite possible then that at 38 Lowe is suffering back issues and trying to pitch through it. Arm or leg problems might also be forcing him to slightly alter his delivery and change the way the ball moves. Someone suggested that he doesn’t do well in hot weather but his numbers don’t back that up. August is his time of year, he traditionally gets better from now through October. Whatever the cause it’s time for Lowe go on the DL or to move to the bullpen and become our long man.

Lowe was once a very good relief pitcher and would be a valuable asset in the roll of long man or to replace Scott Proctor whose recent run of scoreless innings doesn’t convince me that he can do it under pressure against the best teams. Randall Delgado was just added to the staff at Gwinnett so it may be time for Julio Teheran to rejoin the big club for a start or 5 or 10. The pitcher’s name won’t matter however, if we don’t start scoring runs. Take a peek at this.

Since the ASG the Braves are 9-10 dropping from 3.5 games behind the Phillies to 8 back, thus ending the division race. Meanwhile Arizona made a run at the Giants and are now tied with them in the West. Both are 1.5 games in the wild card. We have key series at the Ted with both teams coming up. Winning those – sweeping is preferable but unlikely – is a must. We must also beat the Mets, Cubs and other teams below us in the standings. To make that happen – aside from changing Lowe’s situation – we need to score at least 4 runs a game consistently.

As I wrote on July 29th, when the opposition scores 4 or more runs our we lose 3 times as often as we win (14-41) and when we score 4 or more we win about 5 times more often than we lose (49-9). While our average runs per game number is up to 4.5, eliminating blowout games lowers that to 3.5. The most obvious cause is injury.

Losing Brian McCann, the teams home run, RBI and clutch hitting leader was a huge blow. As good a backup catcher as David Ross is, he’s a backup catcher for a reason. When forced to play every day his average sinks pretty quickly. BMac is the team leader now, even with Chipper Jones still in residence. His spirit and presence inspire the staff and give confidence to everyone. BMac is certainly one reason, Chipper’s failed attempt at a miracle return after having his knee scoped is another.

Chipper’s ill-advised and probably needlessly accelerated attempt to return destabilized the lineup and puts strain on a weak bench. Chipper’s not on the DL but can’t play third so Brooks Conrad and Julio Lugo (why is he even in the major leagues?) are playing more often. Conrad is playing much better defense this year but is not an everyday player. Lugo is just a waste of bench space, most AAA players can field as well and hit better. The glaring non-injury weak spot continues to be Alex Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is on a 4 game hit streak (hooray). Unfortunately none of those hits have come  with RISP and that’s nothing new. His numbers are worse than some pitchers.

  • Men on base – BA .215 K avg. .244
  • 2 out RISP- BA .093
  • 2 out man on third BA -.050
  • Late and close BA .179 Ks .310 GIDPs .214

His defense is spectacular but not spectacular enough to cover the chasm he creates in our run scoring potential.Thank goodness there are bright spots as well.

The arrival of Michael Bourn energized the lineup even if our missing RBI guys weakened his impact he’s changed things. The emergence of Jose Constanza as a viable 4th outfielder with a good on base average and the ability to steal bases almost at will further changed the dynamic of our lineup. The blossoming of Freddie Freeman has been a pleasure to watch. He’s on a 17 game hitting streak that’s raised his average to .296. In the last 28 days he’s hitting at a  .413 clip with 2 homers and 13 RBI while looking right at home batting in the 3 hole. Finally of course there’s the resurgent Dan Uggla whose 24 game hitting streak with 8 home runs gave him a BA of .322.  Without the last two guys we’d really have been sunk. Finally a few wishes.

It’s Teheran time in Atlanta.  Bring him up, DL or send Lowe to the pen, DFA or DL Proctor; whatever you have to do it’s time to give the rotation some a power arm.

I hope the GM has the courage to tell Nate McLouth thanks but no thanks, stay on the DL or go to Gwinnett for rehab, we’re keeping Jose Constanza. He’s as good or better in the field as McLouth, gets on base more frequently and can actually steal when he gets on. He is the hot hand doing what McLouth was supposed to do but never did. Leave Constanza there.

I hope too that the GM is working the waiver wires as well as he worked the Bourn trade. The Reds are about to vanish from the chase. When they do Edgar Renteria will become available and clear waivers. He’s a definite improvement over Gonzalez at the plate, ask the Rangers.  There may be other options as well but Edgar’s name is at the top of my wish list right now. I’d even consider a waiver wire swap even up of Lowe for Chone Figgins. Figgins is a versatile player in the mode of Omar Infante who never settled in with Seattle. Give him a chance, heck we even save money on the swap this year and next.

Finally and most painfully, if Chipper can’t play every day or at least every other day he should go on the DL. He’s taking bench space we could use for someone who can play the field and swing the bat more than once a game. As much as I love Chipper, this must be His last season. The mind is willing but the body can’t keep up. It tried to tell him last year but he didn’t listen. That decision cost the team $15 million we could have used to sign a RH bat last winter and could cost us the post season this year. Thank you for your Hall of Fame Career Chipper, It’s time to go.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that three years ago today we lost Skip Caray. When I think of the Braves I hear Skip’s voice. He loved the Bravos and the fans loved him. We miss you Skip.

Tags: Chipper Jones Dan Uggla Derek Lowe Freddie Freeman Jose Constanza

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