Speeding Towards the Playoffs

Speed used to live in Atlanta; Otis Nixon, Rafael Furcal, NASCAR. Nixon left in 94, Furcal left in 2006 and last year NASCAR left town as well. But now, this year, unbridled speed is back.

The arrival of Michael Bourn was designed to add that facet to the team as well as giving us a genuine leadoff hitter. No one expected anything from career minor leaguer Jose Constanza who was called as bench strength up when Nate McLouth went on the DL. Together however Air-Bourn and ‘Georgie” Constanza energized the lineup and the fanbase, created havoc with opposing defenses, forced pitchers to pay attention to Braves base runners for the first time in ages and as a result throw more fastballs to Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and Chipper Jones. They’ve also flashed impressive leather in the outfield.  Their numbers since arrival at the trade deadline are impressive.

Bourn .307 .365 .269* .318* 6 3 13 10
Constanza .375 .423 .500 .538 6 2 17 9

*Bourn v LH pitchers stats are for all of 2011

Those numbers and Jason Heyward’s struggles 220/.313 and .174/.262 against lefties have forced Fredi Gonzalez to make some tough decisions. I would have expected Bobby to play Heyward because he also trusted his veterans over any new rookie. To Gonzalez credit he recognized that he needed to play the hot hand in spite of criticism from stat heads everywhere.

Jason seems to be showing signs of revival in the his last two games,he’s  hitting the ball sharply and is 4 for 15 with a double and a stolen base. He going to get some more playing time as we face a series of right handed pitchers and rest for Chipper Jones and Martin Prado are valuable this time of year.  The resurrection of speed in the lineup isn’t the only change of late.

The Braves took three of four from a battered and bruised Giants team and have started strongly against the D’Backs assisted by three of the four “untouchables”; Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino. Delgado, called up to start in place of an injured Tommy Hanson, touched 97 on the gun several times Tuesday in a game eventually won by Vizcaino who was also at 97 and 98 much of the time.

On Thursday Minor beat Tim Lincecum  1-0 with help from the Three Musketeers of our bullpen – Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. In Friday’s opener Derek Lowe looked sharp through five and picked up a much needed win ably assisted again by flame throwing Vizcaino. While not a flame thrower, Minor was consistently in the low 90s with a a sharp breaking ball and nasty change up. Lowe seemed sharp through five and Venters in the 8th touched 98 and Kimbrel was not to be outdone hitting 100 while closing out the ninth.

The renaissance of speed in Atlanta is exciting and electrifying for fans and forces other teams to rethink their strategies against us. No longer a team that relies on the home run to score runs. Last night’s victory had homers from Uggla (2) and Freeman but also as a result of hitting with RISP (3-8) including a double from Prado and a sac fly from Freeman. The sac fly is noteworthy only because we have hit so few this year.

With Bourn and Constanza in the lineup the hitters are adjusting to waiting for the runners to steal, going deeper in counts and hitting to advance runners instead of swinging for the fences as we have so often in the past. the game we’re playing now is one that allows pitchers to relax knowing they will probably get good run support and will be most productive in the post season.

Tags: Arodys Vizcaino Jose Constanza Michael Bourn Mike Minor Randall Delgado

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