The 2009 Braves: They’re OK so far, but they need a tweak

A year ago the Braves beat Brandon Webb on Memorial Day, and these fallible fingers went to work. “They’ll be in first place by the Fourth of July,” they typed, “and come Labor Day they’ll be pulling away.” In a career of Dewey-defeats-Truman moments, it was among the dewiest.

One year on, no rosy proclamation will be offered. The forecast of May 2008 was based on the Braves getting healthy. (They would, alas, get hurt at an even more alarming rate.) These Braves are getting healthy, too, but there’s difference. What we’ve seen is apt to be what we’re going to get: Good starting pitching, not much hitting, a slew of games that must be won 1-0 or 4-3, which, not coincidentally, were the scores the first two nights of the Toronto series.

At peak capacity, the Braves as constituted could win 88 games. They cannot win 95. At best, they seem a wild-card team – good, but not that good. A lot of things have to go right for them to win, and lately they have. But I don’t see this offense holding up over six months.

The Braves’ starting outfield against the Blue Jays on Sunday carried a total of five home runs, two of which came on Opening Night in Philadelphia. The Braves as a team entered the game with 30 homers, which ranked 13th among 16 National League clubs. They’ve been putting the ball in play a bit more – they had the fourth-fewest strikeouts among NL teams – but it isn’t as if they’ve been reincarnated as the 1982 Cardinals.

This isn’t an offense built on speed. The Braves have 10 stolen bases, the fewest in the majors. (Brian McCann is tied for the team lead – with two.) This is simply an offense that, as much as it would like to generate the three-run homer on cue, doesn’t anymore.

Without a major acquisition, the Braves will finish:

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Speaking of those 1-0 and 4-3 victories, Bobby Cox was moved to recall a time when the Braves won such games as a matter of course. “Those were the days, man,” he said, but there are clear differences.

As good as Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez are, they’re seven Cy Youngs short of matching the rotation of the ’90s. And there’s no Fred McGriff playing first base, no Ron Gant or David Justice in the outfield.

There’s Chipper Jones, who’s still great, and Brian McCann, who’s very good. And Yunel Escobar is a threat. But who else? Garret Anderson and Casey Kotchman are doubles hitters. Jordan Schafer is fighting to stay above .200. True, Jeff Francoeur seems to be coming around, but weren’t we saying that a month ago?

To their credit, the Braves just swept a good team. But the first two victories were hairbreadth things, and Sunday’s game was in the balance until the seventh, when the Jays left the go-ahead run at third and Jones, in his only at-bat of the series, lined a pitch off first baseman Lyle Overbay’s mitt to untie matters.

Said Cox afterward: “The hitting is timely, most of the time.”

Earlier in the day Cox had offered this appraisal: “I can’t say I’m thrilled with where we are, but I like our team.”

I do, too. But I’d like it more with another bat in the outfield. I suspect Cox would, too.

165 comments Add your comment

curtis jones

May 24th, 2009
5:11 pm

We have another bat in the outfield. His name is Matt Diaz. He just doesn’t get a chance to go to the plate very often.

Max Sizemore

May 24th, 2009
5:13 pm

Mark, transpose the e and the u in Francoeur’s name. Then kill this out.

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2009
5:18 pm

Thanks, Max. That’s one I don’t usually miss, but I missed it today. Know how I (usually) remember it? “E-U-R,” as in “euro.”

On the other hand, I also tell myself, “No ‘g’s’ in Jurrjens” and I still miss on that one about half the time.

Jimmy

May 24th, 2009
5:19 pm

Ahhhhhhhh man, those close games were the days, huh? Now we just have to sit back and enjoy the ride, until we fall off the edge of the cliff. Hopefully it will come sometime in August, and football season will take over from there.

Reid Adair

May 24th, 2009
5:25 pm

The starting pitching has been somewhat better than I expected. The key, as you pointed out, Mark, is a serious lack of power in the outfield. The overall lack of speed is also a concern.

brewdawg

May 24th, 2009
5:26 pm

Mark,

Okay, good article, now throw some possibilities out there for my amusement.

Paul

May 24th, 2009
5:26 pm

sure would be nice to ship Anderson back to the west coast and enjoy Matt Holliday roaming left for the rest of the season….

Drixie

May 24th, 2009
5:26 pm

The Braves starting pitching is good enough to keep us in most games. The offense needs to (consistently)score about 5 runs a game, and we will win between 85-90 games in 2009. The good news in the NL East is that no team is without its shortcomings: The Phils have the best lineup, but their pitching is suspect; The Mets have several very good players (Wright, Beltran, and Reyes), one very good pitcher (Santana), a somewhat improved bullpen (Putz is no longer dominant, and let’s see how Rodriguez holds up throughout the season), and mediocre defense; The Marlins have young talent; and The Nats have very little.

Jack G

May 24th, 2009
5:28 pm

Did I actually see some small ball play in this series?? (bunting, etc)

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2009
5:31 pm

Actually, I brought up Matt Holliday’s name the other day and got hooted down on the ol’ blog.

OK, here’s another name: Jermaine Dye. Used to play here, did he not?

sansho1

May 24th, 2009
5:35 pm

Trying to look on the bright side, we’ve got some hidden pop in the number of doubles the team hits. We could end up leading the league. Enviable rotation, pretty good pen, solid infield and great bench. It’s all about the outfield, and that’s too big to fix this year. Here’s to a bright future.

(FYI Mark, you were right about Sansho the Bailiff. It’s a great movie, but too much of a downer for a lot of people.)

sansho1

May 24th, 2009
5:39 pm

I agree with Reid about the team speed. Not so much in regards to stolen bases, but we almost never take the extra base on balls in play.

Sidney Alphonse Sizemore

May 24th, 2009
5:40 pm

We must remember that Chipper has bad toes. If Chipper’s toes were not smeared pre-game with vaseline and cornmeal and encased in two pair of socks the man could not suit up. It is painful to watch. Today, he came off the bench and had a big hit. Tomorrow, he will likely be confined to the trainer’s room with toe distress. I admire the man. He shows some real determination to suit up with sore toes.

Francoeur starts every game and shows next to nothing while Diaz labors for a game appearance and seems to figure in a lot of game winning rallies. I wonder what would happen if Diaz played right and Francoeur spent two days on the farm making corrections like last year?

We Sizemore’s have followed the Braves since 1968 and it seems to me they just keep getting better and better to watch. I don’t care for the games on television, though, because of all the nose picking and scratching and lifting off the seat from Bobby Cox. I guess that’s just baseball.

virgilshouse

May 24th, 2009
5:41 pm

bring back barry bonnell toback up chipper……….that would help

siskel_god

May 24th, 2009
5:42 pm

I like the thought of bringing bac DeRosa, versatile on the infield and has more pop than all of our outfielders. Since the Indians are in dead last this may be a good possibility. Another guy not likely but possible is one we just saw in Vernon Wells. Big contract though, but i beleive the Jays will be out of it by the break.

Paul

May 24th, 2009
5:43 pm

Jermaine Dye would be great as well, but are the sox really interested in giving him up?

I really do think Holliday would be the best option. What does B. Beane want for him and is Wren willing to Do unto Oakland as he did unto Texas, i.e, give them four future starters for one year?

Bravos33

May 24th, 2009
5:43 pm

Yeah, Jermaine would be good, but what is he making? How old is he? And how long would we be on the hook for with him? Also, is he primed to stay healthy AND produce?

Brian D

May 24th, 2009
5:46 pm

Let’s enjoy the ride here. If I were to tell everybody that we would be in second place just a game and a half out tell me you wouldn’t take that…..top 3 in the rotation is fine, 4-5 spots are still questionable. In about a month bring up tommy boy from triple a and then let’s rock this joint.

Paul

May 24th, 2009
5:50 pm

I am certainly enjoying the ride so far, but the Phillies and Mets are not going to be within reach for the entire season. If they pull a trade for Roy Oswalt as Rosenthal suggested yesterday, the entire division will be in deep trouble and the Mets, we all know, will not sit on their hands either. I do enjoy watching Lidge revert back to his old ways, though (blowing saves).

Sidslid

May 24th, 2009
5:51 pm

Let’s try the Angels again. Garry Matthews will be their fifth outfielder after Guerrero comes back and there rotation is still shallow. Matthews has been solid while Guerrero has been DL’d. Vasquez for Matthews and Reggie Willits (for speed). Put Matthews in center and play Willits a lot in left and lead off particularly while Infante is down. Then decide who is gonna go, Frenchy or Anderson. Once that decision is made, play Willits full time. Still not great power, but gives you big speed in Willits and good speed with Matthews.

Brian D

May 24th, 2009
5:54 pm

Don’t trade any major pieces from the minors. We need a veteran centerfielder who ca pick it and can jordan some days off… Josh anderson would be nice.. Damn!

IlliniBrave

May 24th, 2009
5:59 pm

Mark:

Is there a problem with being a great-pitching, mediocre-hitting, slow-running team?

I remember the halcyon days of the early 90s, and if I recall correctly, we didn’t exactly have a killer lineup. Outside of Terry Pendleton’s clinical hitting and Ron Gant’s power in the outfield, our starting eight featured such speedsters as Sid Bream and Greg Olson (and who can forget the base-running prowess of Lonnie Smith!) and such hitters as Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser. We pitched well, caught the ball, and played a lot of close games. If this team does that I have no problem whatsoever. Let’s not trade away some of our talent for a short-term rental like we did with Lofton and Drew and Tex.

Brian D

May 24th, 2009
6:03 pm

Hawks talk for a few now.. Answere this- why didn’t woodson play ac law against the cavs and put him on delonte west??? Anybody? Bring back flip, zaza, and we always have that bargaining trade chip with j-chill. how bout this? trade marvin and bibby to portland for travis outlaw and pryizbilla? draft ty lawson or pattie mills. Starting 5: lawson, joe, smoove,al pryzbilla. bench: flip, law, evans, outlaw, zaza add another big.

[...] Mark Bradley | ajc.com – [...]

KingfishStevens

May 24th, 2009
6:09 pm

Great win today. What if the Braves moved K.J. back to the OF, then either sign a 2B or put Prado there. Ship out G Anderson, then put Matt Diaz in the everyday lineup?

rainman

May 24th, 2009
6:10 pm

It’s nice to get a blowout every now and then, and today’s game allowed us to sit back and make several evalualtions. If we can assume the eyesight problem with McCann is over, let’s just quit the speculation and count on him to be our cleanup hitter. The Braves have not been secure at cleanup since McGriff (Tex was a rental) and at lead-off since Furcal (we tried to get him back). Chipper feels better at 3, and I just knew he would keep the rally going today when he came in to PH. He just extended his contract, so barring major health issues, our 3-4 is set. The lead-off hitter will not be established until Schafer improves, another prospect moves up, or a trade is made. I just don’t see Johnson, Escobar, or Infante being the long term solution.

The pitching staff seems to be coming around, so that leaves the outfield as the major question mark. I agree, I would like to see Diaz get more opportunities. We just need to stay calm and let the Francoeur situation run it’s course and Schafer gain his experience. Garrett Anderson needs to decide if he’s going to give it his all, or simply to ride it out.

T'Challa

May 24th, 2009
6:19 pm

Maybe they could sign Michael Vick to STEAL Bases.

DHD

May 24th, 2009
6:21 pm

Go get DeRosa and Uggla. Both are available. Then, you can mix and match with KJ. I know that’s no Tex, but you can’t just go out and get a stud. Holliday is a possibility but he would be a rental and we don’t do well losing young players for rentals. Heyward and Freeman are just around the corner.

Bravoshawkin

May 24th, 2009
6:33 pm

Why all the worry? Our SP is great, we have solid players in McCann and Chipper, and I have no doubt Frenchy and Anderson will come around. Heck, Anderson was hurt early on, give him time. Also, with our injuries, we’re winning series. Go back to how we became great in the 90’s, it wasn’t anything more than what Bobby Cox said, “Try to win every series, it’ll take care of itself.” It’s not the best time to worry, you sound like Cubs fans……

Bravoshawkin

May 24th, 2009
6:35 pm

Brian D? This is the absolute worst time to dissemble a team. Didn’t we wait long enough without making the playoffs? I.e. Mookie, Mutombo, Smith

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2009
6:35 pm

Vernon Wells is a nice name (and a nice player), but I don’t see the Jays being out of it anytime soon. They’ve lost six in a row, but they’re a good team.

Supes

May 24th, 2009
6:43 pm

Mark, the Braves can’t afford to go after a 3-4 month rental like Matt Holiday (who btw has tailed off considerably from last year’s numbers), or Jermayne Dye (also prone to injuries and with a fat contract for next year to boot).

It’ll be the Mark Texiera trade all over again if either of those 2 players are aquired for some young starting pitching (and make no mistake, that’s what they are going to want most of all).

The only way a trade should be considered if the Braves get a young player (who is inexpensive or signed to a more affordable long term deal), who can play the OF and be penciled in for the next 3-4 years (at the least).

I know the Pirates signed Nate McClouth to an extension but that’s the kind of caliber of young Outfielder that we do need here.

This current OF group will simply not do in the long haul.

James Youngblood

May 24th, 2009
6:45 pm

Enter your comments here

James Youngblood

May 24th, 2009
6:48 pm

love the Barry Bonnell reference….(where did that come from…I remember him..) he hit lots of doubles…he could hit…I am so excited at the Bravos…Mark why this article after such an impressive sweep..????

The Observer

May 24th, 2009
6:50 pm

Maybe the AJC should STOP idiots from posting!

gponced

May 24th, 2009
7:00 pm

Why not bring up heyward?

James Youngblood

May 24th, 2009
7:00 pm

“the Observer”…you speak like a man of experience

BringOnHanson

May 24th, 2009
7:03 pm

Dye is a cocky, arrogant person. I don’t care for him much as a player and I am not for trading the youngsters that they will likely ask in return. Again, I have said this until I’m blue in the face. The Braves right now are still a mediocre team. You don’t trade away your future to make a mediocre team slightly above mediocre.

PN

May 24th, 2009
7:03 pm

Do you really see Oakland trading Holliday for anything short of Medelin? Granted, Medelin is nothing proven or gauranteed a la Joey Devine, but Holliday would be a one year rental (I believe his contract is up this season, maybe next?) Let’s see, it’s almost June. I think 2 weeks from now we can start the annual “Braves should trade for Griffey” posts? Honestly, there aren’t many teams that out of any races, so it would be difficult to get anyone of value without dumping the farm. And I think Wren proved this summer the Braves are not willing to dump the farm for any player, regardless of how big (see Jake Peavy).

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2009
7:06 pm

Holliday’s contract expires after this season. And the A’s would surely like prospects for him.

PN

May 24th, 2009
7:07 pm

Bravoshawkin — How are you certain Francoeur will come around? He has proven that you should only be certain that he will always lean on bad habits and poor mechanics if he has a bad day. I said this after 2 seasons of Francoeur and I certainly stand by it now, the Braves should have traded him when his value was up. He is not a good hitter, period. If it were not for the hype around him coming up and Bobby’s loyalty to players, Francoeur would be a 4th OF on most teams. Granted on this team, 3 HRs for an OF after ~60 games is outstanding.

Burgess

May 24th, 2009
7:17 pm

The Braves won’t win because their best player will only play in about 120-125 games. That Chipper Jones is a real Cal Ripken,Jr isn’t he ?
Let’s see so far this young season, he’s missed games because of his thumb, elbow and big toe, right ?
How can the self proclaimed leader of this team be out of the line up so often ?

NCBravesFan

May 24th, 2009
7:25 pm

Unless a slam-dunk deal comes our way for a player who we can control for a few years, I’d be inclined to roll the dice with this team. Our best days are coming – 2010 and beyond is when we figure to get well.

That said, I agree with those in other spaces who have said that perhaps it’s time to ship Francoeur out for whatever we can get for him. He’s doing better, but being a singles/doubles hitter in this offense is not good enough.

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2009
7:43 pm

Let’s put Francoeur aside for a moment. How much longer do they go with Schafer in CF?

Rick Caffery

May 24th, 2009
7:52 pm

Hey, Burgess…better Chipper takes a game or two off here and there throughout the year than push it too hard and end up on the DL. He’s avoided that so far. Cut him some slack, he’s, what, 37? He’s going to have some injuries, man. I think he’ll play in 130 games or so. Give me that many games from a future HOF thirdbaseman anytime.

Aborting Braves Fan

May 24th, 2009
7:52 pm

Schafer has until All-Star Game or Braves are out 8 games, whichever comes first, to get to and achieve above 0.275 RISP. Otherwise, we should be talking about Cox’s contract extension, as well as Holliday’s.

Shadetree

May 24th, 2009
7:54 pm

Burgess, the Braves just swept the Jays without Hoss (until the end)

Supes

May 24th, 2009
7:56 pm

Mark,

That’s on Frank Wren. He and Bobby Cox hitched their wagon to a talanted but inexperienced minor league player who had never played above AA ball prior to Spring Training this year.

Not saying Josh Anderson is a world beater, but he was more proven and consistant at the major league level as a lead off guy too (solve 2 problems at once, since Jordan is hitting 8th in the lineup right now).

They have to go with Schafer barring a complete collapse (something like hitting below .200 when July rolls around.

Weakest OF in MLB – I give you your 2009 ATL Braves. Darn shame too, it didn’t have to be. It’s on Wren and Bobby (they sold us the bill of good about going for it this year, when it’s clear this is at best around a .500 team, unless Kelly, Yunel, Casey, all the supporting crew other than B-Mac and Chipper start hitting!)

Frank from KS

May 24th, 2009
8:00 pm

rainman

Don’t forget…the Braves also had *Big Cat* Galarraga for three years.

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2009
8:04 pm

I’m not sure you want to keep playing Schafer if he’s not hitting .200. Don’t want to crush a young guy in his first season.