Face Off: How the Braves can — repeat, can — win the East

They were 9 1/2 games back at the All-Star break in 1991, not even in second place. I know, it was a different time and a better Braves team, but still …

Can it happen? Sure it can.

The Braves are four games out of first place. They’re lucky to be that close, but sometimes you get lucky. They’ve played better these past six days, and there’s a chance they’ll play better in July than they did in June. Because they can pitch, and starting pitching has an aggregate effect. Good innings prop up a team, just as bad innings drag it down. Look what’s happening to the Phillies, who have almost no pitching.

Philadelphia is 27th among 30 big-league teams in ERA, and a team cannot win a division that way no matter how hard it hits. The Braves are sixth in ERA, which means they can. They’ll have to hit a little better and hope the Mets, who remain the most gifted team in the NL East, don’t get healthy. (Carlos Beltran just joined Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado on the disabled list.) But there’s a way the Braves can leverage some pitching to find a bat before the trading deadline.

I’ve said it before: Tim Hudson is the hidden key to 2009. He’s expected back in August, and if he’s throwing well in July rehab the Braves could part with one of their starters in exchange for, say, Adam Dunn, the Washington outfielder. Which starter? By process of elimination, Javier Vazquez. Which sounds crazy, given that he awoke Tuesday leading the National League in strikeouts. But hear me out.

Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are the future. (Also the present.) Can’t trade them. Derek Lowe is the ace. Can’t trade him. Kenshin Kawakami is new and makes too much money. Can’t get much for him. Hudson is coming off an injury and could be a free agent at season’s end. Can’t get much for him, either. But Vazquez? A durable 32-year-old under contract through 2010?

You could get something for him.

Most teams looking to dump players at the deadline are hunting prospects, but a veteran pitcher could be enticing to a team lacking everything, which describes Washington. Almost no contender is ever shedding pitching in July, but the 2009 Braves could become the exception. They might even throw in Jeff Francoeur as a package-sweetener.

Think of it this way: Dunn to hit behind Chipper Jones and ahead of Brian McCann, Hudson in for Vazquez to keep the innings-eating going. The Braves have already upgraded once with Nate McLouth. One more major move and the hitless wonders could well surge past the pitchless Phils and give the Mets a run to October.

I know, I know. This hasn’t looked like a playoff team since the Ides of April, but it has hung around. As long as it pitches, it can keep hanging. One more bat and the serious climbing can commence.

198 comments Add your comment

Powder Springs Jacket

June 24th, 2009
11:14 am

Mark, what about maybe trading to bring DeRosa back? With the Indians probably not resigning Cliff Lee, he (Vasquez) can be a good #1 for them, and with DeRosa, he can play 2 or 3 spots in the infield or move to outfied to give some guys a rest..And what are your thoughts on Matt Holliday? Do you think his stats were magnified by Coors Field, or is his sub-par season in Oakland just an abberation?

JP

June 24th, 2009
11:32 am

Mark — I like the enthusiasm, but the reason this doesn’t work: pitchers coming off TJ (or other serious arm/shoulder surgery) a year later are just not that good. The examples are numerous. Doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t return to being good, but usually it takes that extra six months. You just can’t expect Huddy to perform this year, let alone “eat innings” coming off surgery.

Airik

June 24th, 2009
11:32 am

Knowing how the Braves front office has handled the last two pitchers it did away with, they’ll probably do the same to Hudson haha. If Vasquez is pitching well at the end of July they’ll probably package Hudson as soon as he looks ready.

Hilton Head Island

June 24th, 2009
11:38 am

I agree with you on this one, Mark. The Braves certainly CAN come back and win the NL East, especially when you consider that they’re only 4 games back despite having played so poorly and inconsistently. I mean, what does that say about THE REST of the division? Weren’t the Phillies and Mets supposed to leave the others in the dust??

I think this team just needed a spark, and Tommy Hanson has provided it…and I think there’s a great chance that he’ll be a HUGE difference maker as the season progresses. I also agree that the Braves should make an effort to get Adam Dunn. Frenchy’s time is up as far as I’m concerned, and at least Dunn hits for power and knocks in tons of runs.

The Braves have the talent to win, there’s no question. The only question seems to be whether or not they want it badly enough.

PS-Suddenly Garrett Anderson is paying dividends, another huge factor in a 2nd half surge…LET’S GO BRAVES!!!

bwash21

June 24th, 2009
11:38 am

Hudson cannot be counted on to give us much of anything coming off surgery. He’ll be good for 3-5 innings for about 4 weeks and then maybe 6 innings come September.
Injuries to our staff will likely take care of itself and Huddy will plug in somewhere. We cannot trade Vasquez. He’s a 200+ innings eater we’ve been looking for and along with Lowe, anchors this staff.
Hudson can be a free agent and leave and we’re right back to trying to fill that hole again next year.
Besides that, the Nats will want prospects for Dunn, not a guy like Vasquez anyway. Do we really want to part with more prospects for a 200 strikeout guy who hits .240?

Mrs. Chanandler Bong

June 24th, 2009
11:40 am

I’m on Team Mark! I still believe! And I don’t know much about TJ surgery, but maybe Huddy will have it a tad easier than the rest, simply because he’s not relying on speed so much since he’s definitely a ground-out pitcher.

Bama Aaron

June 24th, 2009
11:41 am

I think your thinking and your enthusiasm. A good bat like Dunn and I too think this team can make a run!

Ernest

June 24th, 2009
11:43 am

I agree with bwash21 regarding what the Nats would want. When you also factor in the Anderson is hitting the ball and making contributions, where would you put Dunn?

Don

June 24th, 2009
11:43 am

The Braves Pitching Staff is good enough to win the Division but not GREAT enough to overcome Bobby Cox’s incompetence as an offensive manager. Cox’s offensive management has the Braves next to last in all of baseball in average number of pitches seen per at bat. This guarantees that you will not have consistent run production and will not be competitive. This violates the most essential requriement of offensive management – developing the approach of your hitters to work the count and force the opposing pitcher to throw a lot of pitches — This enables the hitters to adjust to the pitcher, see what he has, get better pitches to hit, make him make mistakes, wears him down both within innings and for the game, gets you into their weak middle relief etc. Bobby Cox has never understood or implemented this. The only way he won the Division in the past was having dominant pitching so far far superior to the other teams that it overcome his incompetence in management of the offense and in game decisions and made it almost impossible to lose over the 162 game reagular season schedule. All possible moves- everything else is meaningless as long as Bobby Cox is managing and does not implement this basic essentil of effecive run production. Having Pitching so dominant that it overcomes his lack of management skills was a once in a lifetime situation.

P-Man

June 24th, 2009
11:43 am

I’m always optimistic. Heck, I was the guy who figures that if the magic number isn’t reached, you’re still in it. It ain’t over ’til it’s over!

j

June 24th, 2009
11:44 am

I agree with the reasoning here, Vaz is definitely our most valuable trade chip. The only problem is that by trading him, our starting pitching takes a big blow. We signed Lowe and Vaz to eat innings and stay healthy, and they have both been as advertised. Its a bonus that vaz is pitching so well. But if we give him up and hope Huddy performs, we put an extra strain on our BP to pitch more innings effectively. Vaz has been pitching like an ace, and I think he really thrives and feels comfortable in the NL, so there’s no reason to think he won’t continue pitching well. I would feel much better if we could grab a power hitter for less than him.

Plus, it wouldn’t make sense for the Nats to trade Dunn for Vaz. Both are under 2 year contracts for about $20 million, and the Nats have some pretty good SP in their pipeline (especially if they can sign Strasborg, who could be MLB ready as soon as next year). So they would be swapping Dunn for a year of Vaz. You’d think they’d probably be looking to trade Dunn for a young stud who would be under contract for the next 5 years, not an expensive 1 year rental.

Ernest

June 24th, 2009
11:45 am

I forgot to add that our bullpen is and will get better because of ‘innnings eaters’ like Vasquez. I like what he brings to the team.

I do believe the Braves will be in a position of strength by having many quality starters. Given the lack of them in the major leagues, it should help them in trading for hitters.

Over and out

June 24th, 2009
11:49 am

I’ve seen this version of Braves baseball long enough to know that we have NO CHANCE. There isn’t enough fire in their bellies to get the job done. Simply showing up for work and being professional doesn’t win championships.
The Braves need more Paul O’Neill types but instead have a team full of Garrett Anderson personalities.
That’s only good enough for 4th place in the NL East. Don’t kid yourself. I would love it if they could prove me wrong but I’ve lost all faith that Bobby can get the most out of his players anymore. I know, I know, he’s a great players manager, blah, blah, blah. Fact is, he hasn’t done anything for 3 years to make this team better.

Don

June 24th, 2009
11:50 am

Adam Dunn – You must be out of your mind. A high strike out, low BA hitter is just what the Braves do not need. And to give up a good pitcher for Dunn????? We have no chance anyway with Bobby Cox’s incompetence.

Jfreak

June 24th, 2009
11:51 am

Dunn would be a good fit if Washington would part with him for Vasquez? Big if? Having to package Frenchy in that trade would too much to give up for Dunn in my opinion. However, hope springs eternal right?

Ron Roberts

June 24th, 2009
11:52 am

What is WITH this “DeRosa” love affair? guy has one magical season with the Cubs’ playoff run, and all of a sudden he’s the “can’t miss” trade piece? C’mon…

We do NOT need another super-utility guy; we have Prado for that, and Omar Infante due to return soon, as well. methinks Prado’s ABOUT to get the everday 2B job once Omar’s back; or maybe Infante gets it, and Prado’s the super-sub. Either way, we don’t need DeRo for a slot already capably filled and not costing us a pitcher/prospect.

The team NEEDS an OF bat; period. Until then, Francoeur and Diaz need to platoon in RF. At LEAST Francoeur hits .277 against lefties. Doing that will eliminate one of the two “holes” we have in our lineup before the pitcher bats.

Doug

June 24th, 2009
11:53 am

What about moving Chipper to 1st? He is slipping at 3rd and could extend his career with a move across the diamond. Start Infante (when he gets back) at 2nd and put Prado at 3rd. I’m not perceptive enough to see their shortcomings, but I sure have been impressed with their attitude, play and hitting. Test Johnson in right field for his last chance before (or while) putting him on the block along with Frenchy. I know neither have much trade value, but we can be shopping them around without giving up the store over the next month. I agree that we can’t put a big load on Hudson right away or we will be disappointed. Vasquez is doing a wonderful job and I think we need to leave this pitching staff alone unless someone offers a bona-fide difference maker for the outfield (not likely). I’d like to see some tweaking without major upheaval for the next month to see if we are really settling down or if we are doomed to sub-.500 with this bunch. Minimize the damage that Francoeur and Johnson are doing with liberal application of bench time.

Hilton Head Island

June 24th, 2009
11:53 am

Yes, Adam Dunn. He doesn’t strike out any more than Frenchy and unlike Frency he still hits home runs and drives in a ton of runs. I’ll take a .230 average with 35 home runs and 100 RBI any day over .230 with 10 home runs and 60 RBI.

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2009
12:00 pm

We know the Braves aren’t going to play little ball with this lineup. They lack a home run hitter. Adam Dunn is a home run hitter. He’s not Mickey Mantle, but he ain’t Greg Norton.

Poorjeff

June 24th, 2009
12:00 pm

Hell no to trading Vazquez . We could have had Dunn for no players but they passed and now you wish to trade one of the best pitchers we have. Hudson may come back and may not. Do you wish to chance that, Another Hampton. I hope Wren gets another bat but no to trading Vaz. Hell go after Milkey Cabrera he could be had .and are go fishing, they have couple we could get.

Over and out

June 24th, 2009
12:02 pm

Don, you nailed on the head.
Here’s the irony of the Braves lineup. Our leadoff hitter is leading the team in HR’s and only has a .329 OBP.
Other than him, we don’t have anyone in double digits in HR’s yet, we don’t steal bases, hit and run, or bunt. Anyone thinks that’s good baseball?
The steriod era is coming to an end and yet we still play for the 3 run HR to win games without a legitimate HR hitter in the lineup.
Fundamentally, we are gawd awful and have been for years. Whose to blame for that? Good thing we have one of the all time greats in our dugout making decisions. Where would we be without him?

STRETCH

June 24th, 2009
12:05 pm

Well put Mr Bradley!

Reid Adair

June 24th, 2009
12:05 pm

Mark, I think the inconsistencies on offense are too significant to be resolved with a single player. It just can’t be fixed that easily – at least not for this year.

Hopefully I am wrong. I would gladly be wrong on this one.

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2009
12:07 pm

Thanks, Stretch. And I’m glad you didn’t say, “Mr. Bradley, that’s a stretch.”

MiltonDawg

June 24th, 2009
12:08 pm

we should know more about this team after this homestand and right after the all-star break where we stand. as long as the mets are injury plagued and the phillies continue with their struggles…who knows? we definetly need a bat!!

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2009
12:09 pm

And to answer Powder Springs’ question from a while back … I like Matt Holliday and I like Brad Hawpe. But the Rockies are playing well now and they might not trade anybody, and I’m not sure the A’s would offload Holliday for anything except prospects.

jeffrey d

June 24th, 2009
12:09 pm

I’d love Adam Dunn in this lineup. But 1) he’d be FIFTH regular lefty in the lineup. 2) I don’t think the Nats are planning on contending next year either, so I don’t think they’d want Javy Vazquez.

And 3) I don’t see where Dunn (or any new acquisition) would play. I don’t think the Braves can justify benching Garret Anderson. McLouth’s in center, that’s a given. And what about Jeff Francoeur in right? Given his potential I can’t see the Braves giving up on him, sending him down for an extended period of time, or benching him for an extended period of time. Unless he’s traded, but why would a team trade a good outfielder for Jeff Francoeur?

Buzz

June 24th, 2009
12:09 pm

There’s no need to trade Vasquez, the Braves don’t need a megastar. They need an RF and 2B that can bat his weight, which ain’t much.

I figure Infante will be our regular 2B, and he will hit close to 300, so the 2B prob is solved.

Now, how much do you think Cleveland wants for DeRosa, who would be a really good #6 hitter? NOT MUCH. Cleveland overpaid and can shuffle that salary off on the Braves, so they will jump at the chance.

Kelly Johnson+Medlen+prospect=DeRosa

hal

June 24th, 2009
12:09 pm

Enter your comments here

hal

June 24th, 2009
12:11 pm

if its coxs fault we dont take more pitches i have a question,whats tps job or does he have one ?

jeffrey d

June 24th, 2009
12:11 pm

PS – I like how you use Schultz’ old picture…was that his request?

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2009
12:11 pm

To trade Frenchy, you’d have to find a team that sees his potential more than his flaws. Maybe Kansas City. (Dayton Moore, who ran the Braves’ minor-league system when Francoeur was coming up, is the GM.) Maybe Texas, although I can’t see the Rangers making an experimental move when they’re playing well.

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2009
12:14 pm

That would be overpaying for DeRo, I’m afraid, Buzz.

As for Mr. Schultz’s picture … I usually do the photos on the ol’ blog but didn’t do that one. (Although I did notice they used a more current one of me on his page. Not that sports writers are vain or anything.)

Joseph Russo (Griffin Ga)

June 24th, 2009
12:15 pm

This is an absolutely horrible idea, Bradley. Lets trade the National League leader in strikeouts, hes got a 5-6 record but it really should be about 7-3 or 8-2, hes got horrible run support, but still a 3 ERA. And in return we get a old, fat first baseman with 80 strikeouts already and its not even the all-star break. Huddy will be back, but not back to himself until 2010. Keep pitching. How did the Braves win so many division titles in the past. The braves can win the division, and they need a bat. But the bat they need is not 200 strikeouts a year, with or without 40 home runs.

Over and out

June 24th, 2009
12:16 pm

My lineup:

Prado .348 OBP – Infante when he gets back (.389 OBP)
Escobar
McLouth
Chipper
McCann
Anderson/Diaz
Kotchman
Franceour

Escobar can handle the bat and is ideal for the 2 hole. He can hit opposite field yet we never hit and run with him. He can also bunt.
Just once, I’d like to see us bunt in the first inning. Man on 2nd with one out and you have to pitch to McLouth and then Chipper.
With our pitching, get an early lead and put the pressure on.

Move Kelly Johnson to a reserve role. He’s hitting .222 with a .293 OBP yet he continues to get PT while all Prado does is give you positives on the offensive and defensive side. I don’t understand.

PATTY

June 24th, 2009
12:18 pm

There’s no need to trade Vasquez!!! he should be 11-1 if we had run support and the bullpen didnt suck at times. when you are in a playoff hunt, you need your best pitchers pitching in big game situations. yes we need adam dunn but we dont need to trade Vasquez. I do agree with you we could trade Hudson and some other guys for Dunn but it would be a huge mistake to trade Vasquez.. another option would be to trade Kotchman, jo jo and some other minor league guy for the Padres Adrian Gonzales

o-me

June 24th, 2009
12:18 pm

over and out, mostly out. =all time great in dugout making decisions, where would we be without him.

Maybe 1st place..for sure no worse off.

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2009
12:25 pm

“An absolute horrible idea” — yep, sounds like one of mine.

Over and out

June 24th, 2009
12:27 pm

0-me
I was being sarcastic. I appreciate all that Bobby has done for the Braves but it’s time for new leadership in that dugout.
I think the Braves cannot be worse with a new manager.

Herschel Talker

June 24th, 2009
12:28 pm

MB – I agree with Schultz. The numbers don’t work.

wareagle

June 24th, 2009
12:29 pm

When can we expect to have Infante back?

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2009
12:31 pm

I believe I heard Bobby Cox say not until August on Infante. But I don’t think he’s going to turn a pennant race by himself. He’s a utility man.

Herschel Talker

June 24th, 2009
12:34 pm

BOBBY COX MUST GO

AROD LIKES MEN

P Rose

June 24th, 2009
12:41 pm

Nowhere Fan

for Schultz (”I know nothing…!”)

He’s a real nowhere fan

Sitting on his nowhere can

Writing all his also-ran opinions

Has destructive points of view

Worships Blink 182

He should be on AJC suspension

Nowhere fan, please listen

You don’t know who you’re dissing

Nowhere fan, you need to remove your head from the sand

Ah, la, la, la, la

He’s obtuse as he can be

Dumber than a football tee

Nowhere fan, we don’t agree at all

Nowhere man please hurry

Get a shave, you’re furry

Can you please quit writing of things you don’t understand

Unenlightened point of view

Knows not who he’s writing to

Logic is beyond his comprehension

You’ve a bad disposition

And a bad skin condition

Nowhere fan, you need to expand your attention span

Ah, la, la, la, la

He’s a real nowhere fan

Living with his nowhere clan

Writing his pathetic editorials

Always slams the A-T-L

He deserves a living hell

He should be in KC with the Royals

richbrave

June 24th, 2009
12:43 pm

BRADLEY:

Well, it better be a division winner because the wild-card loss column stands at 32. The BRAVES are four back with all but four teams to climb over to get that spot in the play-offs. Yup, better win that flag or the game’s over, end of story.

sidslid

June 24th, 2009
12:48 pm

Let’s approach the White Sox. Hudson and Frenchy for the 19 year old wonder, Dayan Viciedo, who the White Sox have moved from 3rd to the outfield to allow Gordon Beckham to take over 3rd, and Josh Fields, a slugger that Ozzie has given up on but could be a great back up for Chipper and Greg Norton-lie power off bench. Viciedo might hit 12 HRs the rest of the year, but you have a good one for the future versus a Dunn. Sox are desperate for starters and they have a good bullpen so they can throw Hudson out there as a six inning pitcher.

dobearsbare

June 24th, 2009
12:49 pm

I really can’t see the Braves dealing Vaszquez, particularly to another team in their division. He’d probably face them three times and strike out 30 batters the way this club swings, and Dunn would only make that worse.

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2009
12:50 pm

Let the record show that Mr. Bradley did not crack a smile — not once — while reading P Rose’s latest opus.

Let the record also show that Mr. Bradley just told a big fat lie.

Mrs. Chanandler Bong

June 24th, 2009
12:51 pm

Even though Jeff contends that the numbers are against us, as someone astutely pointed out earlier, even the division (and WS) winners of last year would have to get pretty hot to meet last year’s stats. MB, I also agree with you on trading Vasquez, even though I love him. I think we all know before years end, we’ll say goodbye to a starting pitcher and a reliever.

P.S. Tell Bobby Cox that they don’t make Majestic jerseys in my size, so I ordered a youth size. I hope it fits. That’s how much I love him.

Mrs. Chanandler Bong

June 24th, 2009
12:51 pm

P.P.S. Obviously, I had #6 emblazoned no the back.