3 Up, 3 Down.
Posted by jrniemeyer on August 8, 2010
As the calender moves towards mid-August, most baseball fans turn their attention to the pennant races. The Braves have a 2 game lead at the end of play on August 8th which is just enough to be dangerous. Dangerous in the fact that you can’t be comfortable with a 2 game lead but it still puts pressure on the Phillies to perform at a high level. Listed below are 6 reasons the Braves will or will not win the NL East in 2010.
- Starting Pitching- To put it simply, the Braves starting pitching has allowed the Braves to stay ahead of the pack in the NL East. Last night against the Giants, Tim Hudson pitched his best game of the season. He allowed 3 hits in 8 innings and was as dominant as ever. Tommy Hanson has recently found his groove and only once has he allowed more than 2 ER’s in his past 7 starts. Three of those games were against current playoff teams(Reds, Giants, Padres). Jair Jurrjens is also pitching well after returning from the DL at the end of June. He has allowed 3 ER’s or less in 5 of his 7 starts. If the Braves are to make the post-season Hudson, Hanson, and Jurrjens are the three horses that will get them there. I’m still not sure where Derek Lowe fits into this equation. His pitching over the past month and a half has been average at best. In his last 7 starts Lowe has made it through the 7th inning only once and has allowed 3+ ER’s four times in that span. If Lowe can pitch to the league average from here on out, I for one, will be thrilled.
- Turner Field- In the past, Turner Field hasn’t always been the greatest safe haven for the Braves after a long road trip. This year is the complete opposite. To say the Braves have been dominate at home is an understatement. They own the best home record in MLB with a 38-15 home record. They have lost 1 series all season at home and that was early on against the Phillies. As Kris mentions in an earlier post, the Braves have a decent enough schedule left ahead of them. They have 27 more home games and 12 of those are against the Nats and the Marlins. They’ve had trouble with those teams in the past but if they want to win the NL East, they will need to take care of business against the weaker teams.
- On Base %- The Braves lead the NL in OBP with a .341 clip. They’ve had some recent troubles with hitting with RISP but when you put the most men on base, you’ll tend to leave the most on base. The Braves have 3 players in the top 11 in the NL in OBP. McCann leads the way at .382 with Chipper and Jason right behind him at .379 and .375 respectively. Their hitting with RISP should turn around and when it does, it should lead the team into October.
- Bench(Honorable Mention)- Brooks Conrad, Omar Infante, David Ross, and Eric Hinske(or Matt Diaz if Hinske is starting) is the most talented bench in the NL and I’m not sure it’s close. Omar Infante can play almost any position and hits .330 while doing it. David Ross would be starting for 1/2 of the NL if given the chance and plays the roll of backup catcher to perfection. When it comes to Brooks Conrad, I’m not sure what he does great but he does just about everything well(not to mention 2 PH grand slams). Only on this Braves team can you lose an All-Star 2nd baseman and plug in an All-Star utility man(whether he should have been an All-Star is an argument for another day).
- Defense- The Braves have committed 79 errors this season which is 10 more than league average but within those 79 errors are way to many un-earned runs. The Braves have allowed 34 un-earned runs this season and some of those have cost the Braves a win. Consecutive errors by Alex Gonzalez and Chipper Jones cost the Braves the game against the Giants on Friday. Another hole in this DEF is Brian McCann especially when his battery mate is Tommy Hanson. Tommy has an extremely long and slow delivery to the plate and has allowed the most SB’s in the NL with 22. He really needs to come up with a quick step or a slide step to help limit the damage.
- Bobby Cox- Before everyone jumps down my throat and asks how I could possibly put a legend of the game in the “3 Down section, hear me out. Bobby Cox may be the best manager in the history of the game at getting the most out of his players. Every single player talks about how hard they want to play for Bobby and how he treats them like men. On the opposite side of the coin he is, at best, an average in-game strategist. He tends to leave his guys out there about two hitters too long and will rely on one player to get him out of a jam(it happens to be Jonny Venters this year). Bobby is clearly not stupid but I’m not sure he realizes that when the heart of the opposing teams lineup sees an average pitcher for the third time their average sky-rockets. If there was a knock on the 90’s run, it was the fact that Bobby would often get out managed. Let us hope that trend doesn’t continue this year.
- Age- In my last post, I mentioned how much age played on a factor for this team. I’m not confident that it’s a positive factor. They depend largely on Glaus, Heyward, and Chipper for offense and while that may seem ok, their ages can lead to problems. In general, players don’t talk about retirement and sign 1-2 year contracts because they are consistent at the plate. If Glaus and Chipper can get things going at a consistent pace, it’ll be a huge boost for a team starving for offensive consistency. Heyward should be fine but he’s only 20. I’ve never met a 20 year old in my life that does anything consistently. As long as the Braves don’t put the full brunt of the offense on Heyward, they’ll be just fine. I’m not so worried about the starting pitching but it certainly has some age issues of itself. Like I mentioned before, it’s very hard to get consistent production from a staff who has no starters in the 25-34 age range.
Like most things in life, if you can limit your down moments and capitalize on your up moments you will do well. The Atlanta Braves are no different.