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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  • Lee Trocinski

    The 2006 Cardinals showed how much a team can over-achieve in the playoffs. Molina, Miles/Belliard, and Eckstein were below-average hitters, while their pitching staff was middle-of-the-pack in ERA. All they had were Pujols, Rolen, and Carpenter, yet they managed to win it all. The Braves have more than that, so they definitely have a chance.

    The ’05 White Sox and our own ’95 Braves also had quite a few offensive holes, but they had the arms to withstand it. If the Braves don’t win anything this year, it’s because the pitching couldn’t match the offense.

    • fireboss

      Okay lets see. The 05 White Sox had a better lineup top to bottom not because ll the numbers were higher but because they rarely slumped and then never for long. In the 162 games season their longest losing streak was 7 games. In two of those games they scored 5 runs and they were only shut out once. They had one 4 game losing streak and were not shut out during those four games.There were shut out only 7 times that year. They faced much stiffer competition in their division yet they won 99 games in a division where the runners up won 93 and the third place team won 83. They won the season series against those teams decisively, winning 11 or more in every series. They had three 8 game winning streaks a 7 game and 2 5 games streaks.
      All of that boils down to a lineup they may not look spectacular but is well balanced and has a consistent approach at the plate. From top to bottom they delivered. While Konerko led them with 100 RBI, 7 other players had 86,87,71,71,69,62 and 56 respectively; even Posdesnick had 25. You don’t have that many people with that many RBI if you’re leaving men in scoring position on a regular basis.
      We’ve already been shutout 11 times, had an 8 game and lost 4 in a row 3 times. While there was no shutout during the 8 game streak each of the 4 game runs included a shutout. We will with the season series in our division of course against everyone but the Nats. But the Nats and Braves will be the only teams above 500 at the end of the year.
      The 05 White Sox were 39-33 against above 500 teams and 60-30 with the sub 500 teams. While we should get to or better the 60-30 mark we will finish below 500 against the better teams we’re 24-32 now. Why? Because even when our pitching is good the lineup goes on vacation often against a pitcher they should beat like Zito or Blanton.
      Molina’s BA wasn’t much but he got big hits in high leverage situations, ask the Mets. I know there’s no quantifiable thing called clutch but I’ve watched this game and played it and other sports all my life. Clutch exists. They also had Tony LaRusa. The lost memories from the 06 series is that the Cards didn’t so much win it as Detroit threw it away – literally – and La Rusa backed by Carpenter and Wainwright made them pay. We have Fredi. He’s been punked so many times this year it’s sad, h e makes no one pay.
      When this lineup hits it scores but many of their s big numbers have come against bad teams. Against good teams not so much 24-32 remember? The lineup can go cold top to bottom as quickly as you can blink. We’ve seen that too often against mediocre pitching this year. Three times since the ASG Minor’s allowed 2 or less runs and lost. While he was up with the big team Delgado allowed two or less four times and lost.
      We have Uggla, McCann and right now Janish who are instant outs. McCann’s shoulder is seriously hurt. He can’t swing a bat without wincing in pain and hasn’t had an XBH since July. Uggla will not break out his year. It’s just that kind of lost year for him. If a rookie hangs a change up he will hit it out like he did in SD. If good pitchers throw good breaking balls he’ll strike out, popup or roll over them. Janish never could hit that’s why he was in the minors. Simmons will be back eventually and will hopefully hit as he did before.
      Teams also know the secret. If you want to stop this lineup just run a lefty out there and watch the ice form on our bats. It doesn’t even have to be a great lefty and we do beat the best now and then, just not often. It wasn’t an accident the Nationals went after Gio and chose Detwiler over Lanan. The Giants have Bumgarner and I know we just beat him but that’s an exception based on the way he’s pitched this year. We looked pathetic against Zito. The Dodgers have that Kershaw fella and the Cards Jaime Garcia. In a one game playoff who do you think we’ll face?
      The pitching is actually not our problem once we get to the point where we need 4 starters and can shove Tommy into the pen. Hudson, Minor, Medlen and Maholm will get us through 6 and to the pen even if Sheets doesn’t return and pitch as well. They will that is IF we score them some runs. It’s not that the lineup can’t score big against the best. rather it’s that this year they are far more likely to forget how.

      • Lee Trocinski

        The ’05 White Sox were 9th of 14 teams in runs scored, doing that in a hitter-friendly park. Of the nine hitters with at least 450 PA, three had above-average wOBAs. As a team, they had a .242/.292/.395 slashline in August, which I would consider an extended team slump. They scored 3.75 R/G against .500+ teams.

        The Braves are 4th of 16 teams this year in a neutral park. Uggla and McCann are the only regulars below average, and Uggla managed to hit at an average rate this month, despite the average. The Braves are finishing their worst month at the plate, hitting .232/.316/.377, better than the ’05 White Sox after considering run environment. They are scoring 3.64 R/G against .500+ teams, not much different after considering run env. again. The Braves will have seven hitters with at least 60 RBI, with Freeman having a chance at 100.

        As far as facing lefty starters, teams most likely won’t be able to choose who they want to start the one-game playoff. If the Dodgers are tied going into game 162 and Kershaw is in line to start, he’s not going to pitch in the play-in game. Also, Lannan is a lefty, and he managed to shut us down his one start. The Braves have an average offense, average rotation, good defense, and good bullpen, what you expect with an average payroll. When three of your four best pitchers from last year get hurt/suck, you can’t expect much more than what the Braves are doing.

        • fireboss

          You’re looking at statistics in a vacuum instead of in relation to their opposition and with results. The woba etc means nothing if they are scoring runs and they did continue to score in August. They were down from their average of the previous four months -123- month largely because the competition changed. August was their first trip through the top two teams in AL East who were both surging at the time. They played Boston 4 games in July but this time they had to deal with the Yankees as well. The 7 game losing streak I mentioned was in August and included a two losses to the Yankees including the one shutoff, two losses against the Red Sox and three losses to the Twins. The lineup for the shutout featured started their 5th starter and rested 4 of their regulars at that point they were 11 games ahead in the division so while Ozzie tried to win, he wasn’t going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the Yanks. BTW they split the season series 3-3 with the Yanks and lost the RSox series 4-3 but scored exactly the same number of runs. In the other six games of that losing streak they scored 8, 4(Boston) ,4,2 1 (Twins) ,1 (Yanks). The one run game against the Twins was Johan Santana pitched. That was his 2.87 0.91 WHIP year. The Yankees won 95 games that year as did Boston while the Twins won 83. That’s not a slump. Removing that extremely intense 7 game period when they continued to score consistently and they were 12-9.
          I’m not sure what a neutral ballpark has to do with this, we don’t play in neutral ballparks. Nor am do I understand how Uggla’s .207/.330/.402 is an average month for him when his career numbers are .274/.366/.491. While his RBI total is within his normal range his run total has never been this low though if he scores 4 times tonight he could match his career low.
          Your run environment must not account for losing to a Marlins team stripped of all of it’s first line players except Carlos Lee and Jose Reyes or an Astro team that’s likely to end up as the worst since the 62 Mets; essentially a AAA team. The WSox had no such rest spots in their August schedule.
          All of that dances around what the lineup produced when it had to. In high leverage situations the WS lineup delivered significantly better than the current Braves lineup.
          The WS BA in those situations excluding their DH from the list looked like this in between 66 and 87 opportunites

          RBI
          BB
          SO
          BA ▾
          OBP
          SLG

          31
          8
          15
          .356
          .406
          .575

          28
          11
          12
          .352
          .426
          .580

          32
          11
          16
          .320
          .391
          .544

          31
          11
          15
          .308
          .405
          .471

          29
          7
          13
          .298
          .327
          .417

          20
          5
          12
          .258
          .295
          .427

          37
          7
          21
          .225
          .279
          .459

          The Braves looks like this:

          RBI
          BB
          SO
          BA ▾
          OBP
          SLG

          16
          9
          11
          .309
          .394
          .418

          22
          7
          3
          .304
          .367
          .435

          19
          11
          5
          .274
          .378
          .419

          22
          9
          24
          .253
          .323
          .410

          22
          15
          18
          .247
          .360
          .358

          30
          9
          10
          .236
          .317
          .486

          29
          19
          26
          .234
          .410
          .416

          The bottom two on this list are two of our top run producers – at least in theory – McCann and Uggla. McCann’s prodcution camebefore his shoulder injury flared up,he has 2 RBI this month neither in high leverage spots as I recall.The bottom two on thw WS list Joe Crede and Jermaine Dye were not expected to be those guys for the WS.
          The likelihood of the 2nd WC spot going down to game 162 is small IMO. The Cards or more likely now that Furcal is done for the year Dodgers will wrap it up before we go to Pittsburgh. Given the chance Mattingly will arrange for a Kershaw or a Capuano start against us and Matheny a Garcia start though of course that could be Wainwright. Both managers learned the game under HoF managers and won’t miss something that easy.
          Minor started 13 games this year that the Braves lost. In those games the Braves failed to score at all while he was still in the game 6 times, twice they scored 1 run and twice they scored 2. Cy Young couldn’t have won those games.
          This lineup is full of people who have skill and talent but it all too often fails to produce like it. McCann won’t be a significant force again this year, not to say he won’t have a good game or a significant hit or two but the shoulder will not allow him to be the pre-ASG 2010 McCann right now. Uggla is having his Adam Dunn 2011 year. For this team to win Bourn has to get on and play the way he did in April and June, Prado has to stay hot, Jason has to remember how to take lefties to the opposite field, Chipper has to find his third wind and Freeman can’t afford to slump period. If they can do that for 6 weeks the pitching is good enough to win.