Mike Minor goes tonight for the Braves against the Rockies in Denver - Snow permitting of course. Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Head to Denver And The Surging Rockies

(Updated to reflect Monday’s snow-out)

After losing the last three games in Pittsburgh the suddenly impotent Braves offense heads to Coors Field to face the NL West leading Rockies.  If the predicted snow stays away the projected matchups are:

Monday:   Tuesday Afternoon 3:10 Eastern Braves :LH Mike Minor (2-1, 0.95 ERA) vs. LH Jeff Francis (1-1, 8.25)

Tuesday: Braves RH Julio Teheran (0-0, 7.31) vs. RH Jon Garland (2-0, 3.32)

Wednesday: Braves RH Tim Hudson (2-1, 4.50) vs. TBA

The snow can’t be much colder than Braves bats that have gone cold enough to reverse global warming on their own. The Rockies on the other hand are so hot their arrival at Coors might be enough to melt any snow that actually falls there.

The Rockies

In spite of entering the season with a pitching staff made up of the almost great and once were, the Rockies lead the West with a 13-5 record. They won eight straight before losing to the Diamondbacks yesterday. During that time the team scored 57 runs on 86 hits including 15 doubles four triples and 13 home runs while putting up a slash of .278/.360/.479/.839.  Led by the resurgent trio of a finally healthy Troy Tulowitzki – .333/.409/.833/1.242, Michael Cuddyer  .333/.429/.611/1.040  and the mercurial Carlos Gonzalez 417/.464/.750/ 1.214 in their last seven games – the Rox offense is once more one of the league’s strongest. Rockie pitching is a different story.

Monday’s Tuesday afternoon’s starter Francis has an 8.25 ERA and a 2.333 WHIP in his three starts this year allowing (21 hits, 11 earned runs and seven walks in his 12  innings of work. Right-handed hitters are hitting .395 (17-for-43) so far this season while lefties hit him at a .333 clip (4-for-12). With all of that hitting going on you’d think there were a few homers but surprisingly he’s allowed only four extra base hits – three doubles and a triple. Against Atlanta Francis has a 3-2 record with a 6.49 ERA in five starts, but he hasn’t faced the Braves since 2007 so that means nothing at all to the current lineup.

Garland couldn’t find a home this off season but seems to have landed nicely in the Rockie rotation. He’s 2-so far with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP in his three starts allowing seven doubles and one homer and his R/L split is minimal at .229/.235. Garland has struck out 10 but isn’t going top blow a hitter away, he isn’t going to walk many either having given up on 3 walks this year.  (And the Mariners released him then traded for Aaron Harang? Okay.) Garland’s record against the Braves is rather odd and probably meaningless against this lineup. Overall he has a 7.25 ERA and a 1.701 WHIP but most of that was in 2010 or before. He last faced the Braves in 2011 throwing a complete game allowing one run on four hits.

On Wednesday we were supposed to Jhoulys Chacin but he’s on the 15-day disabled list with a strained oblique (isn’t everyone at least once a year?)  If the snow falls in sufficient quantities we may see Jorge De La Rosa but Tyler Chatwood or Drew Pomeranz are also in the mix for Wednesday’s finale.

In spite of the Rockies torrid start their bullpen isn’t the strongest. With closer Rafael Betancourt unavailable yesterday after pitching two consecutive days their relievers allowed three runs in the last two innings.

The Braves

The Braves entered Pittsburgh 13-2 never having lost if they scored. They leave 13-5 after the home run ball deserted them in the last three games and they were unable to find a way to bring runners home without it. That situation will be improved with the return of Freddie Freeman from the 15 day DL.  During his brief rehab stint with Gwinnett he went 5-10 with two doubles so the oblique looks healed and the Braves most dependable RBI is back. Before going on the DL F5F was 7-17 with a homer and seven RBI.

While the Braves lead the majors in homers with 29 just one ahead of the Rockies, the Rockies lead everyone in runs scored with 104 while the Braves have just 77.  The difference in runs scored with relatively the same number of homers tells you the story of the Braves lineup; boom or bust. The Braves scored 42 of their 77 runs (54%)  with the home run while the Rockies scored 40 of their 104 (38%) via the long ball. That’s quite a difference and one the Braves will have to mitigate if not change in order to have that championship season they seek.

Mike Minor takes the mound tonight (2-1, 0.95 ERA). Minor’s struck out 16 and walked just one over his19 innings work in his first three starts. His loss to the Royals was directly a result of an impotent lineup as he allowed only one run and five hits in six innings. The altitude and cold weather will test Minor’s new found reliability and consistency at a park that hasn’t treated him kindly. His start there last year lasted just 5 innings and a 14.40 ERA with a WHIP of 2.800. That was before things fell into place for him at the All Star break of course, hopefully he won’t repeat that again.

Julio Teheran pitches Tuesday and if there’s a worse place for him to pitch right now I don’t know where it would be. He’s never pitched in that high altitude home run haven where the ball doesn’t break as much and ground balls are preferred in order to win. His 0.81 GB/FB ratio says ground balls haven’t been his specialty this year and a 19.2% HR/FB rate (five homers in three starts totaling 16 innings) could make Tuesday a long night for the young right hander.

On Wednesday Tim Hudson tries ot get back on track after missing his 200th win in Pittsburgh. By his own account Huddy wasn’t very good on Friday and he will need to have his sinker/slider working well to hold down the Rockies offense. He’s 5-2 lifetime against the Rox with a 4.34 ERA and a 1.275 WHIP at Coors Field however he’s o-2 with an 8.04 ERA and a 1.375 WHIP.

DL and Roster Moves

In addition to Freeman’s return Dan Uggla – .161/.309/.321/.630, three homers, four RBI, 12 walks, 20 Ks – will be back in the lineup Tuesday for at least one game, two if he can convince the Skipper it won’t hurt him. barring a late setback on his strained left calf. I’ll leave you to decide if that’s a good thing or not. Freeman’s return means a roster move of some kind has to be made. This will likely be the return of David Carpenter to Gwinnett after Luis Avilan pitched without injury issue yesterday. Jonny Venters is eligible to return however he isn’t close to doing so. Paul Janish continues to work at Gwinnett though his return to Atlanta isn’t likely the way Ramiro Pena has played. Cristhian Martinez could return tomorrow but that too would require a roster move and who that would be I have no idea.  Brian McCann continues to rest his injured wrist and won’t start catching in rehab games until later in the week.

Questions

I got a couple of questions yesterday I thought I’d take a stab at answering here. The first was “how could this lineup go cold all at once?”  Well it didn’t really, four of the starting eight have been cold since day one.  BJ Upton –.167/.247/.303/.550 –, Jason Heyward – .121/.261/.259/.519- , Andrelton Simmons – .211/.292/.281.573 – and Dan Uggla have yet to put together two meaningful games though Simba showed signs of waking up on Sunday. The rest of the lineup was so hot it could not possibly sustain that pace and they predictably cooled off as fast as they started. Only Chris Johnson is still riding high and his history as a streaky hitter suggests that he will get as cold as he has been hot eventually. Though Justin Upton’s numbers still look great, the last 14 day’s numbers – .220/.347/488/835 – tell a different story. His return to the NL West and facing Francis could easily turn that around as he’s 8-22 with two homers against the lefty and hits a ringing.341 five homers and 16 RBI over his last 25 games against the Rockies. At Coors he’s a career .260/.347/.440/.787 with six homers seven doubles and a triple.

Evan Gattis cooling off was predictable. Pitchers no longer try to get a high fastball by high him after finding that those usually land somewhere in the left field seats. Instead they are pitching him smarter and waiting to see if he adjusts.

Question 2: “Why is Gerald Laird so bad?” He isn’t. if you’ll turn off your David Ross and Evan Gattis man crush and look at what he’s done since arriving you can see that. It’s true he had a rough defensive game in his first outing but since then he’s been pretty good at keeping Teheran in his games and behind the dish. The wild pitch yesterday everyone screamed about was not his fault nor would McCann or Gattis done better set up the same way. His line of .300/.391/.400/.791, two doubles, two RBI, three walks and one K is also pretty good. I understand you miss Ross because he’s Ross but his current line of .143/.182/.286/.468 is nothing to brag about. So take a deep breath and repeat after me, Ross is gone and Laird is here. Laird didn’t kidnap Rossie and take his job Ross left for a better deal.

That’s a Wrap

This should be an interesting series. In order to regain momentum the Braves have to play well in a place where they have not done that with any consistency. BJ Upton leading off and Heyward hitting second means J-Up comes to the plate with two out and no one on base far too often as indicated by the 10 RBI from nine homers he’s hit.  BJ wasn’t a great leadoff hitter at best and he isn’t a leadoff hitter at all right now. Heyward says he isn’t worried about his numbers. If so he’s the only one. He looks lost at the plate, his zone recognition isn’t what it was and he’s swinging at a lot of pitches he traditionally hasn’t had success hitting. His home run the other night was THE tailor made Heyward Homer Pitch, outside half just above the knees. He will hit those pitches if the pitcher mistakenly leaves one out there. He will hit again and by October this may be a forgotten hiccup but until he is hitting the Braves will struggle. I wonder if the weight of being “the face of the Braves” is weighing on his young shoulders more than even he understands.

Getting Freeman back adds balance to the lineup but unless BJ and Heyward get on he’ll have to depend on J-Up getting on in order to produce much needed RBI.  I think we really need McCann back more than many realize. A healthy BMac is a high OBP bat and a steadying influence in our young clubhouse. Gattis may or may not be his heir but right now his inexperience means he doesn’t bring what BMac brings to the lineup.

I guess I need to make a series prediction so here goes. I think we can beat Francis and whoever they throw at us on Wednesday though admittedly we aren’t good against pitchers we have never seen. I expect Teheran to struggle at altitude and have a short outing which will stretch a bullpen missing its long man. That could affect Wednesday’s result as well but I’ll go for two out of three and hope I’m being pessimistic. What’s your take, who will win the series and who will break out for the Braves?

comments powered by Disqus