Braves Road Trip Highlights Problems Ahead

remainingschedule8-30-12The Braves returned from their 10 game road trip with a 4-6 record after losing the Padres series three games to one.   A five game losing streak by the Nationals gave the Braves a chance to move within striking distance of the division lead and bypass the idiotic one game wildcard death match. They failed miserably to take that chance. The Braves need today’s off day to regroup and recharge as badly as I need their sleep after watching those west coast matches. Three things are now indisputable; Kris Medlen should have been a starter all year, Tommy Hanson shouldn’t start another game this year and this lineup isn’t good enough to win a championship.

Pitching

There are a lot of interesting numbers in Braves pitching this year but it’s clear the staff hasn’t been consistent and certain pitchers have had rougher times than others.  The way the pitchers approached the rough times seems to have dictated how they fared the rest of the year. Jair Jurrjens was sent down to fix his woes, pouted, whined, was called up and showed no improvement, spent one game in the bullpen and is now injured presumably having started his last game for the Braves. Mike Minor told reporters he wasn’t good enough, worked his way through it and is now arguably one of the top three starters on the team. When Tim Hudson struggled he said he had to do better and did. Then there’s Tommy Hanson who after going on the disabled list with a back issue pouted and stormed out after being told to go to Gwinnett for a rehab start. Judging by his results since returning he should have stayed and practiced some more.

All is well in Hanson land?

According to Tommy it is or at least it isn’t bad  After last night’s loss – his second consecutive outing of less than five innings – Hanson told David O’Brien of the AJC:

“…Probably the biggest thing that sticks out in my head was the leadoff walk in the fourth. I thought I did a decent job early on, executing my pitches. Then in the fourth and fifth, no so much.”

Objectively Hanson had not executed his pitches well early on. In a 20 pitch first inning 11 pitches were called balls and at least half of the strikes (called, swinging or in play) were missed locations judging by the movement of David Ross’ glove from the original target to where he caught or would have caught them. While he got through the next three innings on fewer pitches, more of those pitches were over the meat of the plate and put into play. Pitching to contact is desirable if that’s your intent. These pitches were once again not close to Ross’ target but the defense turned them into outs.  The fourth was a 12 pitch inning.  That sounds great except that it also was a two run inning for the Padres.

Hanson’s last  inning was not entirely his fault -Chipper Jones and Paul Janish miscommunicated and allowed a popup to drop in for a double to start it off – Hanson didn’t help himself at all. He misplayed a bunt popup; this is how he saw it from the same AJC article:

“Stuff like that is going to happen. I don’t know, I heard someone yell and then I was going to try to play it off the bounce. Then it just kind of scooted past me.”

It was obvious he was going to let it drop and try for a play ay third but why? It wouldn’t have been easy for him to make – he would have had to turn and square himself up after fielding the ground ball – and the popup was a free out with no advance by the runner. But when Chipper yelled “first” he appears to have been distracted and made no real attempt to play the ball – the ball scooted past me quote above. A look at the video loop shows the ball close enough for a play and Hanson once he realized there was no play at third just stopping.

 

It’s okay for a rookie or a young minor league pitcher to be so intent on doing something that they are unable to go to plan B. But major league pitchers spend hours in the spring doing pitchers fielding practice to avoid such things. PFP trains them to listen for the shout – in the case First! -  and simply react. It seems to me Hanson was thinking too much – perhaps about how Chipper and Janish (mostly Chipper) – misplayed the popup than doing what he was supposed to do; listen and react.

In Hanson’s defense, he has to be feeling the pressure privately even if he doesn’t admit it publicly. His season has been at best mediocre and he’s now probably the number five starter’; ego damaging when you expect yourself to be a number one. He sees his big paydays slipping away and more importantly I suspect he doesn’t understand why. His last quote is the first time I’ve seen him admit he’s not at his best.

“. . .(command’s) got to be better than what it is now. I’m just going to keep working and do what I can to get it back where it needs to be.”

That’s probably an understatement but at least he’s acknowledging that with his velocity down and no real out pitch he has to become a control pitcher like the new staff ace Kris Medlen.

Medlen Magic

Kris Medlen’s ascension to top of the rotation doesn’t surprise me. I lobbied for his place in the rotation all winter, through spring training and all during the first half of the year when the Braves brain trust – and I use that term in its most sarcastic form – felt it was essential for him  to be a middle reliever and spot closer; sort of a pitching Martin Prado. Of course now that Medlen looks more like a Greg Maddux than a Christian Martinez, we hear the new spin – and it is certainly spin or we would have heard it in the spring – that they (in particular Fredi Gonzalez) knew he would be awesome and were saving his TJ repaired arm ala the Steven Strasburg fiasco in DC.  Sure you are, I believe you though thousands wouldn’t. (Boy I REALLY need a sarcasm font…)

Medlen’s been virtually unhittable. His 28 1/3 inning scoreless streak puts him in pretty good company. Since 2000, 21 starters have posted streaks of 20 or more consecutive scoreless innings.

Strk Start End G W L GS CG IP H R BB SO HBP WP
Zack Greinke 2008-09-18 2009-04-24 6 6 0 6 2 43.0 25 1 9 47 1 2
R.A. Dickey 2012-05-27 2012-06-18 5 5 0 5 3 41.2 16 1 5 52 1 0
Brandon Webb 2007-07-25 2007-08-17 5 5 0 5 3 41.0 23 0 7 35 0 0
Cory Lidle 2002-08-04 2002-08-26 5 5 0 5 1 38.0 19 1 7 23 0 0
Ryan Dempster 2012-06-05 2012-07-14 5 5 0 5 0 33.0 20 0 6 21 1 0
Chan Ho Park 2000-09-19 2001-04-02 4 4 0 4 1 32.0 15 0 11 41 2 0
Greg Maddux 2000-09-07 2000-09-23 4 4 0 4 2 32.0 15 0 1 25 2 0
Pedro Martinez 2002-07-25 2002-08-10 4 4 0 4 0 31.0 11 0 3 38 1 0
Kenny Rogers 2005-04-27 2005-05-14 4 4 0 4 1 30.0 18 0 11 12 0 0
Matt Cain 2006-08-27 2006-09-14 4 4 0 4 0 29.2 11 1 8 28 1 1
Johan Santana 2004-09-03 2004-09-19 4 4 0 4 0 29.0 15 0 2 41 1 1
Kris Medlen 2012-08-11 2012-08-28 4 4 0 4 1 28.1** 19 0 2 28 0 0
Dontrelle Willis 2003-09-28 2004-04-20 4 4 0 4 0 24.1 16 1 7 21 2 0
Chris Carpenter 2008-09-02 2009-05-25 5 2 0 4 0 24.0 12 1 4 24 0 0
Zach Duke 2005-07-07 2005-07-27 4 3 0 4 0 24.0 22 1 8 18 0 0
John Maine 2006-07-15 2006-08-06 4 2 0 3 1 23.0 11 0 8 15 0 1
Jeremy Guthrie 2012-08-08 2012-08-19 3 2 0 3 0 22.2 10 2 3 19 0 0
Doug Fister 2011-09-21 2012-05-07 4 2 0 3 0 21.2 12 1 1 17 0 0
Bartolo Colon * 2012-07-28 2012-08-07 3 3 0 3 0 20.2 18 1 2 13 0 0
Ted Lilly 2011-09-23 2012-04-14 3 3 0 3 0 20.1 9 1 4 16 1 0
Gio Gonzalez 2012-04-12 2012-04-24 3 2 0 3 0 20.0 6 0 4 21 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/30/2012.

* Colon tested positive for PEDs in August and was suspended for 50 games.

** Medlen gave up a run to the Mets in the bottom of the second inning with one out on August 11. He induced a double play and pitched 4 1/3 more scoreless innings that game. So I make that 29 innings scoreless total. I’ve asked for clarification on this from BR and when/if I get an answer I’ll update this or add it to another post.

The Braves started the year banking on  Hanson and Hudson to lead the way.  Medlen. Minor and Maholm have now forced themselves ahead of Hanson who may well find himself behind Randall Delgado as well next week. Obviously it’s way too early to anoint Medlen an ace with all that implies; Hudson’s still the number one guy on the staff. However, Hudson, Medlen, Paul Maholm (if he can lose that gopher ball tendency he seems to have caught like a cold) and Minor look like the core going into 2013 leaving Delgado, Teheran and Hanson to argue over being number five.

The Lineup

To say our lineup let pitching down this trip would be an understatement. The 20 game stretch with a 10 game road trip at the end is obviously wearing particularly on Chipper who it seems is also carrying an oblique injury.  The only players hitting consistently well  are Reed Johnson and Martin Prado. While Jason Heyward is scorching right handers and for some reason Madison Bungarner, he’s been unsuccessful against other lefties. Brian McCann’s gaudy numbers are deceiving. They’re all singles (no extra base hits since July 31) and he looks in pain every time he swings.

Player

G GS PA AB R H HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
Michael Bourn 6 6 26 22 1 4 0 3 3 2 5 .182 .269 .182 .451 .222
Martin Prado 6 6 26 23 3 6 0 2 3 3 1 .261 .346 .261 .607 .273
Jason Heyward 6 6 26 25 4 5 3 5 1 1 7 .200 .231 .600 .831 .133
Chipper Jones 5 4 17 16 0 3 0 1 0 1 2 .188 .235 .250 .485 .214
Freddie Freeman 5 5 21 18 4 4 3 3 1 3 5 .222 .333 .722 1.056 .100
Brian McCann 4 4 15 15 1 5 0 1 0 0 3 .333 .333 .333 .667 .417
Dan Uggla 5 5 19 16 3 3 1 1 0 3 5 .188 .316 .375 .691 .200
Paul Janish 5 4 16 16 1 2 0 2 0 0 2 .125 .125 .250 .375 .143
Reed Johnson 5 4 19 18 0 6 0 1 0 1 2 .333 .368 .389 .757 .375
David Ross 2 2 9 8 1 3 1 1 0 1 2 .375 .444 .875 1.319 .400

BAbip indicates Heyward and Freeman are hitting in a little bad luck (though lefties have them and everyone else save Johnson stymied) but the rest are pretty close to their batting average. To his credit Fredi Gomzalez tried to shake things up and rest folks but a badly stocked bench and the ill advised urge to do something even if it’s wrong (starting Eric Hinske in left against the Giants) didn’t help. As it’s currently configured it’s pretty obvious that it isn’t good enough to beat good pitching – particularly good left handed pitching – unless the other team trips and lets us get ahead so the bullpen can close the door.

That’s A Wrap

The 4-6 road trip result could have been a lot worse, we could easily have returned 2-8.  Missing Matt Cain and catching Madison Bumgarner on a bad day helped a great deal. We lead the Wildcard by two games in the lost column over the Dodgers and three over the Pirates. This weekend we face a Phillies team who would like nothing more than to knock us off out perch again. They’ll start Roy Halladay on Friday, Cliff Lee on Saturday and Cole Hamels on Sunday to try and do just that. The Rockies, Mets and Brewers follow and we should at least win those series. Of course we should have won the Padres series as well. McCann’s shoulder injury – which with the call ups arriving Saturday will I hope get a rest -  and Uggla’s continued ineptitude at the plate mean the lineup relies on Bourn, Prado, Heyward, Chipper and Freeman to produce. I’ve never seen or heard of a championship team where a third of the starters produce no offense.  In the post season and particularly in a one game playoff the odds of such successes go down. You can sneak by good teams on bad days. You can beat the beaten who don’t have the talent to fight back.  Now and then a few players can be so hot at once they simply overwhelm even a good pitcher. But, if we hang on, get to the post season and our lineup continues to play the way it’s played against teams over 500, it simply won’t be good enough.

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