Braves’ solid-gold arms are undone by dime-store bats

If pitching is 75 percent — or 90 percent; estimates vary — of baseball, why are the Braves further under .500 than they’ve been all season?

Because the other 25 (or 10) percent of their team is worth about 10 cents.

Without meaning to say it, Brian McCann said it perfectly: “We’ve got to start playing better baseball.” Then he checked himself. “Not better baseball — we’ve got to swing the bats better.”

The Braves swing the bats just fine. It’s the hitting part that bumfuzzles them. They’ve scored one run in two games against the Red Sox, who have managed only five but have already won this loud and steamy series. Jair Jurrjens was rather good Friday night but wound up the loser. Javier Vazquez was nigh-great Saturday and got beaten 1-nil by a 42-year-old who throws about 42 mph.

The Braves mustered three singles against Tim Wakefield, who was knuckle-dusting the Braves in October 17 years ago, and Garret Anderson’s two-out double off the heat-bringing Johnathan Papelbon. Their biggest threat, such as it was, came when Matt Diaz walked in the eighth, took second on a wild pitch and moved to third on a groundout.

McCann again: “This team should win more games. You win with pitching.”

And usually you do, provided you have anything approaching a big-league batting order. The Braves have three only real hitters, and one of them (the increasingly peculiar Yunel Escobar) didn’t play Saturday because of what was described as a twitchy hip. McCann went 0-for-3 but walked and stole a base. Chipper Jones went 0-for-4 and saw his average dip to .290.

The Braves keep marveling about how lucky they’ve been, having not won a series since Memorial Day but still hanging within five games of first place. They can’t expect to be lucky much longer. The Phillies come to town Tuesday, and if the Braves lose that series we can bid adieu to 2009.

“We’re not out there trying to get shut out or stay only four or five games back,” Chipper said. “We’re busting our humps. But we seem a little offensively challenged this year for some reason, and I’m not talking about the front or the back of the lineup. It’s the whole lineup. Nobody’s exempt.”

This could well be the best these Braves can do, and there’s no real reason a team with a right fielder, a left fielder and a first baseman who have managed 10 homers as a triumvirate should bust any fences. We can credit Frank Wren for getting half his offseason spectacularly right — the Braves can really, really pitch — but having whiffed egregiously on the other half.

Still, unless you’re the Red Sox or the Yankees, there’s only so much you can fix over one winter. The good news is that these Braves should be pitching well for a nice long while. The bad is that 70 games’ worth of deft pitching has positioned them fourth in a five-team division.

The feeling in the Braves’ clubhouse Saturday was of reality descending like the crack of dawn . They can’t hit. They’re not apt to hit. You can only be shut out so many times — the number is now at nine — and still retain hope. “We’ve got to keep plugging away,” McCann said, and that, sad to say, is the trouble.

Plugging the Braves can manage. Hitting they cannot.

218 comments Add your comment

Bill

June 27th, 2009
8:53 pm

Thanks Mark for another top post. Man you never rest. I’ve asked this before but did you get to talk with Coach Mills and Farrell while in Red Sox clubhouse. I know you can’t ask certain questions but did you get any info of interest about them. Thanks again.

MIKE lump

June 27th, 2009
8:53 pm

i’m first.. somewhere the Braves won’t be for a LONG time!!!!

Rogers Nelson

June 27th, 2009
9:02 pm

I’m third. Still higher than the Braves in the NL East.

David

June 27th, 2009
9:06 pm

Why can’t our average players hit .275 like everyone else? You rarely hear it but why isn’t Terry Pendleton getting more heat? We have the pitching and we have enough offensive talent – i just don’t feel like we’re playing to our potential. As bad as the offseason was at times, Wren put a division winning team out there. Its just that our .275-type hitters are hitting .175.

mudcat

June 27th, 2009
9:06 pm

Don’t we have ANYBODY in our system that can hit? Big changes coming in July! This team is really hard to watch. Good post, Mark.

Shadetree

June 27th, 2009
9:07 pm

Tell it like it is. The Bravos are terrible and there is no hope in thinking they will get better. Will Johnson get better? No, he is what he is. He would not be playing with any other team. Will Francouer get better? No, steriods and crank aren’t there to help him any more. Anderson is an American league DH and not a National league player. Escobar is turning into a flake because they’re telling him he needs to play proper. Like a professional. Tell me now. A professional what? Loser? We have that covered. Chipper is no leader. When he gets a game winning hit he runs like a Bit$$ from the players he is to lead. Notice he has done nothing since then.

I guess I need to lower my expectations. They are just not that good. Diaz is a role player. Cox can’t manage any more. Pendleton can’t coach hitters. If that’s not true then that means the players can’t be coached. It’s one or the other.

No heart. No soul. Now that’s professional.

Come on Cox. Call up some players that would love to be here. We only need you to call up 7 of them.

How shocking to see Bennett in the dugout. Disgraceful.

But then again, that’s what this whole seasons been.

Disgraceful but professional.

Ken Stallings

June 27th, 2009
9:08 pm

Sums it up accurately. A very sad situation. Throughout the run in the 90’s it was rare that the Braves had an offense to match its starting pitching. But to review the order from that era, it was HOF worthy compared to what we have now.

I agree that the Braves have three professional hitters, Mark. But, their names are NcClouth, McCann, and Jones. Escobar isn’t a professional player, so he cannot be a professional hitter. His unprofessional attitude has benched him and you cannot hit from the pine!

Ben

June 27th, 2009
9:11 pm

If Vazquez pitched for a team that could hit the ball, I wonder what his record would be? This is a shame that Wren would put such a poor hitting team on the field. It seems this has to be one of the worst hitting teams since they moved to Atlanta.

Ross Copeeko

June 27th, 2009
9:11 pm

I’f I’m Jurrjens and Vazquez I am absolutely sickened by the Braves bats(or toothpicks). These guys pitch their hearts out and have no wins to show for it. On a real team, Vazquez would have 10 wins by now. These guys are worse than the Giants and Natinals. Are they trying to get Bryce Harper? Good luck the rest of the year Braves fans, it could be an ugly year. Can anyone say “Chipper for Sale”?

Rocket Rod

June 27th, 2009
9:14 pm

1st Step get rid of the hitting coach. Sit Johnson and Francour down. Play Prado at 2nd Diaz and Anderson can play the corners in the outfield. The midddle relief that is not being relief get rid of.
Signed
Frustrated

David

June 27th, 2009
9:14 pm

Escobar is a STUD. Who cares if he flips his bat or kicks the occational routine ground ball. The guy has all the potential in the world and i guarantee everyone that he will be an All-Star some day. Whether that is in a Braves uniform or not remains to be seen.

RT

June 27th, 2009
9:14 pm

Come on guys we all know, you must give up something if you want to get something.Time to trade CHIPPER,time to start over!

Billy

June 27th, 2009
9:15 pm

Please send Chipper somewhere that he can actually compete for a title!

Navigator

June 27th, 2009
9:16 pm

Let’s start with Chipper, who I have consistently said the Braves should have traded him (with his permission) last year (season a career year). But, they decided to give him the house, even though he can’t stay healthy (even with a career year last year, what 78 rbi’s). First base, second base and all of the outfield positions are manned by bench players. The pitching was suppose to be the strong point, but since Cox doesn’t know when to take a guy out, that has not been as good as it should have been. The Braves are in trouble for a long time, and now doesn’t have a minor league to produce future players. They’re management is one of the weakest in the Major Leagues.

Tucker

June 27th, 2009
9:19 pm

The time has come to unload the position players one by one with the exception of Brian McCann. The time has also come to unload Bobby Cox and Terry Pendleton. All of these are good guys, but the second, third, fourth, etc. chances given every one of them are sufficient tips of our collective baseball caps to their basic likability. So long and good luck, fellows.

brandon

June 27th, 2009
9:26 pm

this is a lost season.

azcat225

June 27th, 2009
9:28 pm

Hey, Mark. Are you finished deleting all of your prior comments about the Braves and Frank Wren from the archives? You know the ones—about how the Braves can win their divison and all those compliments on what a great job Wren is doing.

Bill (SC)

June 27th, 2009
9:29 pm

Can you tell me more about Chris Burke. Could he do a respectable job at SS on the major league roster if the Braves were to trade Escobar?

It seems interesting that Blanco and Hernandez had hits against pitches in the 60s but cannot seem to do the same against fast balls in the high 80s or 90s. Is their bat speed too slow?

bob

June 27th, 2009
9:30 pm

All the comments are correct.

BC was spoiled by the Braves of the past and really did not need to manage when there were three studs on the mound and at least three studs in the lineup.

TP has done nothing to help the hitters who are in slumps.

RM does not believe in pitch count. Too many starters are allowed to go over 100 pitches during their starts. Our arms will be dead in Sept.

CJ needs to be given the chance to play with a team which has a chance to go into the postseason.

BM needs to be moved to third before he gets hurt as a catcher. (remember joe torre did the move in his career)

KJ and JF need to be traded.

MD and GA are great bench players for situational hitting. They are not great outfielders. Get some speed in the outfield and the lineup.

But for now, the end of the season is happening and it will be over by the All Star break.

wes covington

June 27th, 2009
9:30 pm

It has been tough watching the Braves these past few games. Nothing but singles hitters except for McLouth, Yunel, Chipper , & McCann. Time to replace Anderson & Kotchman with Heyward and Freeman. Leave Prado at 2nd. Cody Johnson has 20 HR’s for Myrtle Beach but he strikes out too often.

Brownie

June 27th, 2009
9:33 pm

When professional athletes perform poorly, I typically will blame the player, not the coach/manager. In the Braves’ case, I believe the blame is spread out among everyone. Even the TV announcers noted outload how listless the team looks…these guys are not professionals.

Other than the fact that he played well as a Brave years ago, they like him, and believe that he might make a decent (and cheap) manager when Bobby steps down, can someone explain why Terry Pendleton is still employed?

Sometimes a strong message has to be sent, and in this case Pendleton needs to go. The Braves hitters are getting worse as the season progresses, not better, and TP is making no difference. A batting instructor’s job is to instill/refine the hitters’ fundementals AND to teach them the mental side of hitting. Evidence that he’s failing??:

Furcal: never understood his role, and wanted to hit home runs. TP and Cox should have locked him a the video room watching nothing but film of Ichiro and Rod Carew hitting a baseball.

Giles: never got rid of the uppercut swing – how many fly balls or topped grounders did we have to see from a #2 hitter???

Chipper and McCann: great hitters, but when they go cold they go to their dads. Couldn’t TP sit in on one of those bull sessions to learn what Dad is looking for?

Andruw Jones: what a mess, and waste of talent. TP failed completely here.

LaRoche: pretty swing, but technically flawed to the max.

Frenchy: it’s not little league of high school anymore, Jeff. You’re not the most talented guy out there anymore. A terrifically flawed swing mechanically, and a 10 cent head.

Bunting: a little better this year, but over TP’s tenure the worst bunting team ever.

There is not a shred of evidence that this team is suddenly going to become a group of professional hitters, so changes must be made, starting with TP.

Frank Wren: great job on the pitching staff – you quickly solved our biggest problem last year. Will you be able to work the same magic with the offense before 2010?

Billy

June 27th, 2009
9:34 pm

Vazquez should definitely sue the Braves for non-support!!! You can’t pitch much better than what he’s done this year.

NO MORE BOBBY

June 27th, 2009
9:36 pm

FANS NEED TO STAY AWAY

Gator in the Hootch

June 27th, 2009
9:37 pm

Francouer, Anderson, Johnson, and Kotchman should not be starting for any team in the major leagues…period. This team needs heart, attitude, and effort…oh, Bobby Cox does not like heart and attitude.

Terry Farkas

June 27th, 2009
9:39 pm

Why is Terry Pendleton still here?

ray k.

June 27th, 2009
9:42 pm

Mark, great post.

You are dead-on accurate about the importance of the Phils series. Take 2 of 3–hell, sweep it–or good night, sweet prince.
Here’s my water cooler take on Pendleton and Cox.
I wish you guys would leave a comment from time to time. My buddy, who is getting more hits than me on his awful Dallas Cowboys blog (and making some dough), and I have a bet whose blog is more popular by the end of the year…

I’d hate to see my $62,000 dollar English Degree go to complete waste.

http://tomahawktake.com/

Mitch C

June 27th, 2009
9:42 pm

Mark, an excellent blog as always.

Do you remember the 1970s Mets, Mark, after the 1969 miracle championship? Those teams would have great gamea pitched for them, for nearly a decade, by guys like Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, and Ryan in his early career, and finish at or below 500 every year, due to lack of hitting. This Braves team is beginning to remind me of them.

Our lineup should produce more than it has.

We are now two and four on this “make or break homestand” Unless we win tomorrow, and win at least two of three from Philly, you are most rorrect that 2009 then becomes a lost cause, and you have to wonder what happens next?

I hope we can right the ship, but things are looking very bleak now.

Mitch

RufinoLinares

June 27th, 2009
9:42 pm

I think it’s safe to say you can start getting rid of some of the players and the production couldn’t be any worse. I have said for months that there are too many gimme outs in this lineup. 1B, 2B, LF & RF are just about guaranteed outs. With this pitching, Atlanta should be in first place, that is, if they got ANY offense. Chipper Jones hasn’t done any better of late. I know he’s the favored son in Atlanta but he hasn’t hit his uniform number in the last month. I would say that the position players owe this pitching staff an apology. I would also say that if management doesn’t do something before too long to address the offensive woes that management has some explaining to do to the pitchers.

Bill

June 27th, 2009
9:43 pm

Good job MB.It is not Pendleton’s fault,it is not Bobby Cox’s fault.You can’t even blame Frank Wren.
Everything starts at the top.Until someone who cares about winning buys this team from Liberty Media expect this.

I told you folks back in March they would go 77-85.

Mark how many AAA players are currently on the Braves roster?

Medlen,O’Flaherty,Moylan,Acosta and Logan,and Kawakami.That is 6 pitchers

Francouer,Hernandez,Johnson,Prado.Blanco, and Diaz.That is six position players.

12 total.

That is almost half the roster.

NO MORE BOBBY

June 27th, 2009
9:43 pm

Thanks by the way for posting about the Braves and it not including lyrics or how your cool riding home on your bike again from Turner. I like DOB but sometimes he seems more like a fan instead of a writer covering what we need to know. You also don’t sugar coat whats wrong.

And there is a lot wrong starting with our manager.

ray k.

June 27th, 2009
9:47 pm

Brownie –
I concur. T.P. is in over his head. Talented as a player, but he may be the Magic Johnson of hitting coaches.

RufinoLinares

June 27th, 2009
9:50 pm

I don’t know if spending more money is the answer in the long run. The players you have just have to produce. Ask the New York Yankees. I would be surprised if moves aren’t made one way or the other before too long. You can’t just sit back and allow this team to just continue to flounder when they get outstanding pitching. If anyone reading this were the GM of the Atlanta Braves, there is no way you could say that you would stand pat with this lineup. Over half of your lineup is just pitiful. I mean they have Rafael Belliard numbers and at least Raffy could catch the ball. Garrett Anderson has been a disappointment. His average may have risen but where’s the production? Casey Kotchman just doesn’t get the big hit at any time. We all know Frenchy’s stuggles full well. Kelly Johnson is just wretched! I can’t wait until Greg Norton gets back in Atlanta! Did you pick up on the sarcasm?

Jan

June 27th, 2009
9:51 pm

I’m not sure who CJ is watching but there are guys on the field who are not “busting thier humps”. There is a lack of professional pride and effort for some players on the field. Garrett looks like he would rather be anywhere but on the field for the Braves. Bobby pulled AJ but not Garrett for visible, obvious lack of effort. He crawl on Yunel but not Francoeur? Yea, Diaz is not the smoothest player but he will step up. Garrett is a disappointment, JF is a headcase and ham hands Johnson just shows no interest or intensity. Our men who hold bats (can’t call them hitters) with the exception of the big three are just disgusting and pathetic. My sympathies to the pitching staff.

Skeezix

June 27th, 2009
9:51 pm

It was over before it started. How can any objective baseball fan be surprised at this? After that ridiculous Wren preseason sideshow was finally done… by March, if you matched us up with the Mets, Marlins or Phillies, this was a third or fourth place team before the season started. This string of games against the Red Sox and Yankees, shows just how far we have to go to get back to a major league championship caliber team. In comparison to the best ML teams, our offense is only slightly better than AA/AAA minor league. That is why the Braves struggle so much against major league pitching. I do feel for the starters like JJ and Vasquez who are pitching their guts out, but have to rely on too many AAA/AA quality hitters for run support. I mean Vasquez holds the Red Sox to one run and still loses? Against Wakefield? That is a pathetic bunch of hitters. A major achievememt for the rest of the season would be to get back to 500. That won’t be easy with this offense…and let us not forget that other anchor – weak middle relief.

RufinoLinares

June 27th, 2009
9:52 pm

Bill, I disagree with you on Prado and O’ Flaherty. I think they had done relatively well. Prado has some spark. I wish they would play him instead of Kelly Johnson. Everyone else, I concur.

The Braves Stink

June 27th, 2009
9:53 pm

Get rid of Francouer, Kotchman, Johnson, Prado, and whoever else plays in the outfield………..unbelievable how poor this team is with their bats……………i would (reluctantly) keep McCann, Jones, Escobar, McLouth, and Diaz, but would designate every other OFFENSIVE player for assignment………….you couldn’t trade this bunch and get anything for them……SIGN SOME GUYS WHO CAN HIT THE BALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

country boy

June 27th, 2009
9:54 pm

Mudcat at 9:06 is 100% right. This team is hard to watch. Our starting pitchers have done well but with our hitting it’s kinda like the old saying about a one legged man in an @ss kicking contest. Hope football season hurries up and comes to us soon.

RufinoLinares

June 27th, 2009
9:56 pm

Bring back Barbaro! At least he hits the ball.

g kelly

June 27th, 2009
10:00 pm

the are the most boring team in MLB. when they show the dugout, i get sleepy. there is no enthusiasm, no leadership. i have always considered myself an optimistic fan. those days are over.

Skeezix

June 27th, 2009
10:02 pm

It is so bad, instead of watching the Braves, I’ve found myself watching those home decorating shows with my wife.

Ken Stallings

June 27th, 2009
10:03 pm

Something else negative to consider. Seems a lot of people want to focus on the Braves being just 4 now 5 games out of first in the NL East.

But, here’s the larger truth. The Braves now hold the fourth worst record in the National League! Only Washington, Arizona, and San Diego are doing worse. And in the cases of Arizona and San Diego, not much worse!

Want more sobering news? The Pittsburgh Pirates now have a better record than the Braves! They traded their best player to us for prospects!

Teams that folded their cards are playing better than the Braves!

Larry

June 27th, 2009
10:05 pm

Mark….oh MARK! It’s your buddy Larry calling you Mark!

Can you hear what I’m thinking? When are you going to come out and say it, Mark?

Herschel Talker

June 27th, 2009
10:07 pm

You’re all over it, MB. DOB, the blind homer, will come up with any number of reasons why the Braves are really still in it. Probably something like, “Hey guys, look how badly the Braves have been playing and they’re only 5 out.” Some kind of BS like that. You’ve nailed it, Mark. Their bats are weak and will get them nowhere.

Shamus Thacker

June 27th, 2009
10:09 pm

Fine and very accurate piece Mark.

Mr. Price

June 27th, 2009
10:10 pm

PLEASE BRAVES – FIRE TERRY PENDLETON! He is the worst hitting coach I have ever seen. So, terrible that Jeff Francour went to Texas to try to get better this past offseason. None of the younger players have gotten any better under TP and the older players just don’t listen to him anymore. The Braves have LOST FIVE SERIES IN A ROW. The time to part with TP is now. If Bobby won’t do it, then it is time for him to step away.

By the way, did anyone see the dugout the other night at the end of the first game against the Red Sox? After McCann hit his home run, the Braves got two outs and the camera went to the bench. The Braves were only down by three with a man on second in the bottom of the ninth and every single Braves player was sitting back on the bench. It was as if they expected to loose, or didn’t care. These Braves lack heart and a desire to win. If they can’t get excited about a bottom of the ninth against the Red Sox, then they are not going to be enthusiastic about playing anyone and the season was over a long time ago.

JASon

June 27th, 2009
10:10 pm

Lets look at the bright side: we have a very talented pitching staff. Believe me, many teams would kill to have that. Who would have thought we would have had such a huge deflation on the hitting side, though. I am going to be make a brash prediction: braves surprise everyone and make a playoff run in the second half. (I also predicted the magic in 4 or 5, so this could be a stupid prediction)

mudcat

June 27th, 2009
10:11 pm

I keep buying the $6 seats and I feel like I’m still getting ripped off. My boss is a big Red Sox fan. Next week is going to be hell. Give me Alex Rios in RF and Mark Derosa at 2B. Bring up Freeman at 1B, start breaking him in. Anyone got a better suggestion?

LSU

June 27th, 2009
10:12 pm

MB,

The Atlanta Braves baseball team, snooze………Exciting, snooze……Bobby Cox, snooze…….

Tomahawk Tide

June 27th, 2009
10:13 pm

BC + World Series Calibre Rotation + (BM+CJ+NM) / TP – (YE+KJ+JF+GA+CK) =
Season’s Over……..

I hate it for our pitcher’s. They have been amazing (even with Lowe’s recent slump factored in).

Bottom line is that this is it people……

The “Baby Braves” (with the exception of McCann), and liquidation of the farm the past couple of years, has dramatically altered this once proud franchise. When Ted sold the team, and the dollar’s dried up because of owners who could give a rat’s ass, the dominant era of the Braves ended. There is no hope for this team this year even though they are five games back. There is no hope for the future because of the Mets and Phils abilities on the payroll side for future acquisitions.

Both teams have stud players in the lineup, their backups are actually 5 games better than our starters right now, and unfortunately the NL East has turned into a two pony show for years to come.

Please give the fans a reason to believe by the trade deadline or the second half will be the longest half this city has seen in 20 years.

eastbound and down

June 27th, 2009
10:14 pm

Mark, the important point to remember in all of this is none of this is Cox’s fault. he never has, and never will, make the wrong decision. forget the fact that he has been fired before, he has a lifetime appt. to lose 90 games a year for the foreseeable future. nice job if you can get it.