An American League approach puts the Braves atop NL East

Brian McCann hit a grand slam despite being down 0-2 in the count. (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

Brian McCann hit a slam despite being down 0-2 in the count. (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

October baseball became an exercise in contrast. I’d watch the Braves lose in Round 1 by swinging and missing, and then I’d go cover the World Series and see the American League representative — the Yankees, the Red Sox, the 2002 Angels — swing less and hit more. And I’d think, “Why can’t the Braves do that?”

These Braves do.

Said Chipper Jones: “We were always a team that liked to hit early in counts, and if we didn’t we’d strike out.”

Being my cause-and-effect self, I figured the difference between those Braves and this selective bunch could be traced to the number of AL transplants in this clubhouse: Troy Glaus, Melky Cabrera, Eric Hinske. Chipper Jones, a lifetime NL’er, took issue with my little theory.

“I like to think I’m the ringleader,” he said.

But too often, I suggested, he’d been the Lone Ranger. He’d work counts, but nobody behind him — Andruw Jones or Jeff Francoeur — would. Now everybody on this roster does as C. Jones has always done.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re different,” Jones said. “I don’t know if Frank Wren intentionally put this team together that way or if it’s merely a coincidence of us getting together on the same team.”

Whatever the cause, the effect is stunning. The Braves rank 11th in home runs but lead the National League in on-base percentage and walks. Their intent isn’t to knock down fences but to wear down pitchers. On Sunday they mustered as many walks (three) as extra-base hits, but they scored 11 runs and induced Milwaukee starter Manny Parra to throw 104 pitches to record 16 outs.

Said Hinske, once with the Red Sox: “Our team’s approach is to try to get to the bullpen as quick as we can.”

Said Matt Diaz, formerly with Tampa Bay: “We’ve got professional hitters 1 through 13. And there’s also something here I haven’t seen before, and that’s communication throughout the order. I lined out on a fastball on the first pitch today, and Martin [Prado] came over and started telling me how [Parra] had pitched him.”

About Prado, Diaz cannot say too much. “I watch Martin, and he almost never swings at the first pitch of the game. He’s 0-1 a lot, and then he’s 2-1 and hitting the ball hard. And the more you watch good hitters, the better you get. I love watching Jason Heyward’s at-bats, and Chipper has had some of the most consistent at-bats in the history of the game the last 15 years, and I love Troy Glaus’ approach.”

Is there such a thing as an AL approach? Said Hinske: “Coming up in the American League, you see a lot more offspeed pitches early in the count. You don’t want to make an out swinging at a first-pitch offspeed pitch. You learn to take a strike.”

Back to Diaz and his lineout. He was greeted, he said, by hitting coach Terry Pendleton, who told him: “That’s all right — that’s the approach we want.” Meaning: It’s OK to swing on the first pitch if it’s a fastball down the middle. As Diaz noted: “You watch the [renowned-for-their-selectivity] Yankees and Red Sox, and you see they do a lot of damage on first pitches.”

And that’s the benefit of being known for your patience. A pitcher will himself get impatient. Even some of the best Braves lineups would make it harder on themselves by swinging at what are known as pitcher’s pitches. This crew waits for a hitter’s pitch: Like the hanging slider Jones hit on a 3-2 count for the game-winning homer off Dave Bush on Thursday.

Said Jones: “I’d fouled off a 3-1 pitch, a four-seam fastball that surprised me — it was a defensive swing to keep the at-bat going …  But I knew he wouldn’t throw me a straight fastball on 3-2. I figured he’d throw a slider or a change.”

That’s professional hitting. Said Hinske: “We talk about it as a team. We’re not just going up there swinging, for want of a better word, selfishly.”

So has this developed, Hinske was asked, into an AL-like batting order? “I don’t think,” he said, “we’d have any problem having a DH.”

These Braves might get that chance — in Games 3, 4 and 5 of the World Series.

106 comments Add your comment

Stotts Era

July 18th, 2010
7:02 pm

i wouldn’t call getting on base an American League approach

Stotts Era

July 18th, 2010
7:03 pm

or maybe its no coincidence that the AL is a better league and they get on base more

Mark Bradley

July 18th, 2010
7:10 pm

There’s a significant difference. Trust me on this, Stotts Era.

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Steverino

July 18th, 2010
7:23 pm

Dave

July 18th, 2010
7:30 pm

‘91 We had speed with Otis, power with Gant and Justice, nice defense with Blauser, a doubles hitting high average hitter in TP. A nice set of young arms and the rest is history. That was a great World Series. This team seems better but so is the competition, exposure, distractions, etc. A little speed wouldn’t hurt though.

JohnSmith

July 18th, 2010
7:31 pm

The AL isn’t a better league. They just have an extra out that must be recorded.

Rather than call it an AL approach, I’d refer to it as a “New York Yankees-like” approach. The Braves have such variety up and down the lineup that it makes it awfully tough to pitch to them with any consistency, unless your name happens to be Jimenez or Halladay.

Greenville Dawg

July 18th, 2010
7:32 pm

The Braves do their best hitting 7th inning on…when they get to the bullpen. Check the stats. I love the approach, or should I say Non-Aproach. I will say though, I did’nt know it was an American Leauge thing. GO BRAVES! Great win today.

mwh6767

July 18th, 2010
7:33 pm

Bradley no doubt that this is a diff. hitting Braves team than in the past. Every national piece I read on them has them being able to countinue their offensive production as the biggest question mark going into the second half of the season. I really think that with who they have and this new to the Braves at least patient approach that someone with be able to come thru night after night. My biggest concern is the big innings that seem to be happening when Hanson pitches. He hasn’t looked good lately and the Braves are going to need him to be that front line guy if a world series is in their future.

Iowa GT Fan

July 18th, 2010
7:33 pm

MB, your right, they are a much more patient hitting lineup. Huge difference from the teams of the past

Asheville Dawg

July 18th, 2010
7:38 pm

They certainly are doing something better than past years. The patience is paying off. The attitude is different. Of course winning never hurts.

eastbound and down

July 18th, 2010
7:42 pm

i remember when the braves were playing the mets in playoffs some years back, one of the mets’ players made the comment, “except for Chipper, they’re a bunch of hackers,” which i think supports your comments, MB. also, i think this braves’ team is best suited for turner field. the braves won a world series in atl-fulton county stadium playing for the big home run and with great pitching, but turner field does not give up home runs very easily.

jacket3

July 18th, 2010
7:44 pm

Good story MB. Dead on the money too. Patients and persistence…it has been a long time since I’ve watched this kind of baseball played here. I keep hounding on ‘91 but this team has the same spirit and attitude, convincingly so. If they just play .500 ball the rest of the way, and I hope they are not content to put it on cruise control, they will be there in late October. Unless of course they all get injured or hit by a bus at the same time.

BobDawg

July 18th, 2010
7:51 pm

Geez…MB..you stole my material… I’ve been saying all year that Wren has decided to do the “why Fight when you can just Switch” with adding AL players to change this team into a hitting machine… Ha. I think the players have allowed Bobby to change his style this year of managing..
“easbound and down”… I remember that quote from the Mets.. You are dead,Balls On….

Reid Adair

July 18th, 2010
7:52 pm

Coincidence … or the credit to Frank Wren?

Coincidence. Without a doubt.

Larry Wayne Von Strain

July 18th, 2010
8:05 pm

MB, what a hoot, this isn’t an AL approach, its a winning approach. This has been carped on by the Braves faithful for years….and Larry Wayne you are no “ringleader” here. If anything I would give Prado the credit, the kid exudes smarts and determination in the batters box. You can’t watch him and the success he’s having and not be impressed…hopefully the team is following his example and not the Say-Ouch Kid (Chippah!)

Dawgs2010

July 18th, 2010
8:06 pm

The old Braves were playing for the 3-run homer and would sit back and let the starting pitching do the rest. They were lazy compared to this team. This team reminds me of the pesky 1996 Yankees.

P. Bull Terrier

July 18th, 2010
8:07 pm

Is it an American League approach or just a “good team” approach? Do the Orioles, Mariners and Indians swing less and hit more just like the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels?

Herschel Talker

July 18th, 2010
8:09 pm

MB:

When you get rid of the undisciplined, free-swinging hacks like Andruw and Frenchy, you have a team that works counts, elevates the pitch counts of starters, and gets managers to go to their bullpens early. A recipe for success.

HT

Prefers NL Ball

July 18th, 2010
8:09 pm

The Designated Hitter can burn in Hell with George Steinbrenner.

Curious George

July 18th, 2010
8:13 pm

Wasn’t Jason Heyward benched earlier this season by the Braves for taking TOO MUCH of that so-called “American League approach” at the plate?

Larry Wayne Von Strain

July 18th, 2010
8:14 pm

Lets see, the Say-Ouch kid has been with the Braves full time for 15 years, and for the most part have been undisciplined free-swingers, unwilling and unable to work the count. Glaus, Cabrera, and Hinske arrive and all of a sudden, taking a pitch or two become the vogue. Let me see who would be the ringleader in that group….oh of course it HAS to be Chipper! Larry, please give us a break from your self aggrandizing back patting of which you DO NOT deserve. Go on the DL and shut up, I’ll take Omars 4-5 anyday over your egotisitcal ramblngs.

Andy

July 18th, 2010
8:14 pm

Mark, I know that you agreed with the escobar trade, but that trade contradicts your good points about on base percentage and home runs. Escobar is a career .370 obp guy, and gonzalez hovers around .300. This trade certainly doesn’t back your argument for why we are doing so well this year. We will regret making this deal.

Larry Wayne Von Strain

July 18th, 2010
8:17 pm

Yes, you are correct curious George. So don’t give Bobby or TP any of the credit either. Actually from what I’ve gathered Hinske has been very instrumental in helping some of the other players in their approach at the plate, especially in pinch hitting situations.

Bobby's Cox

July 18th, 2010
8:19 pm

I only got thrown out once this weekend…..gotta pick up the pace!

MB: what about the proficiency we have suddenly developed in small ball..squeezes etc..I like that even better!

TROTTINGHOME

July 18th, 2010
8:22 pm

A lawyer asking you to trust him…hummm

Jay Stone

July 18th, 2010
8:23 pm

You talked about the Braves being 11th in HR and near the top in walks and OBP … I think it’s instructive to note that the 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 Yankees, all World Series-winning teams, had just one player — Bernie Williams in 2000 — hit 30 home runs. They had a lot of guys hit 15-20 homers, but they just wore down opposing pitching with this patient approach, which is indicative of a bunch of veteran players.

TROTTINGHOME

July 18th, 2010
8:24 pm

A lawyer asking you to trust him….hummmm be de dummmm

bartsimpson

July 18th, 2010
8:27 pm

ay caramba! i just read where escobar hit his first home-run today in the blue jay’s 10-1 drubbing of the orioles……AND it was a grand slam to boot. wow…..didn’t take him long once he got away from pendelton, did it?!?

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Andy

July 18th, 2010
8:36 pm

Jay Stone, that’s a brilliant comment. I am guessing that you were ticked about the escobar trade, too?

Larry

July 18th, 2010
8:40 pm

Paraphrased, this story perfectly exemplifies what so many of us have known for nearly two decades. Bobby Cox cannot coach up players, has always sat, watched, and waited for the three run homer, is only as good as his starting pitcher, the GM, and player development/acquisition will make his look, and has always been out managed in close games in late October by superior managers.

Or, for those seeking evidence, just refer to his 1-15 all time in the last game and series of the postseason. Yes, there’s a reason the Braves and their fans have watched the other team celebrate on the pitcher’s mound 13 out of 14 times–Bobby Cox!

Dean

July 18th, 2010
8:41 pm

Yes! This was the most obvious to me in the late 90’s when the Yankees were just killin everyone by working counts and wearing down pitchers. You’d watch the Braves try to hit a home run on every first pitch offering only to see alot of strikeouts or week pop outs. Working the count to a hitters advantage is definitely the way to do it and was lawyas my bigest complaint of Bobby Cox’s coaching.

Dean

July 18th, 2010
8:58 pm

another thing, this shows thar Chipper has neve really led like Prado or Pendelton before him. He silently does his thing but has never verbally picked up his teamates and led this team with energy.

Queen Elizabeth

July 18th, 2010
9:03 pm

Greetings from the Mother Land! I think Old Bobby is on his last legs, but he has his team in first place. No question of that. I’d like to be in that locker room sometime. Well, perhaps, not. A bit old for that. I say ride your coronation as far as it will take you, Bobby. Can I address you as that? Just call me “Liz”. I say bring in a younger bloke as your replacement. The younger the better. The game has changed. We haven’t. Good luck with it all. We have no subjects playing that infernal game of yours. Just checking in, as they say, in that rebellious country of yours! Time for me tea. Good night…..

Ken Stallings

July 18th, 2010
9:07 pm

Yes, Mark, except for emphasizing small ball, hits and runs, squeeze plays, walks, and being near the bottom of the NL in home runs, the Atlanta Braves’ offense is very similar to the American League method of scoring runs!

moldavite

July 18th, 2010
9:15 pm

we say that bobby cox approach to baseball is to sit back and wait for the three run homer and rely on great starting pitchers, very rarely does his teams steal bases and this maybe true, also the braves won 14 straight division titles but only one world series. for his crictics say he is an average manager he should have won more world series with the talent he’s had and this maybe true. they say he has been outmanaged in the post season all the time. but ask yourself this question for all those managers and crictics that say these things. which is it easier to do win the best four out of seven like in the world series or be the best over a 162 game season 14 straight division titles never been done before,he put his teams in positon to win it all for 14 years now that consistency and with consistency comes greatness bobby cox is probably the greatest coach of all time

Rob

July 18th, 2010
9:16 pm

AL having a DH does help with their on base %

Coach Price

July 18th, 2010
9:24 pm

I pick the Gators to lose 4 games this year.

Delbert D.

July 18th, 2010
9:28 pm

Are exercise bikes allowed in the dugout? Maybe that would benefit Chipper by keeping his muscles moving. I’ve never seen anyone so injury prone; someday he’s going to strain an earlobe.

Alpha

July 18th, 2010
9:34 pm

Chipper should lather himself in BenGAy and dip muscle relaxers…

The Wad

July 18th, 2010
9:42 pm

Anybody who thinks the Braves were the problem instead of Escobar needs to join him in the frozen tundra…………….
Nice work today getting back to working the count and making the pitcher do the work. That is the winning formula.
I must not have kept up with the options on each player, why is Chavez still here? I feel for the guy but he and KK need to be packaged with McClouth and moved on for Hart?
Anybody ready to trade Diaz? I thought not………….you guys calling for him to be gone are very shortsighted and have zero memory of his productivity as a starter last year. Unless I`m wrong(I`m married, I`m used to it) I believ he is way to valuable to get rid of.

moldavite

July 18th, 2010
9:43 pm

as chipper jones career winds down lets not forget about the things he has done in the past lets give him the respect he deserves. there were times when chipper carried this team as chipper went so did the braves, he almost singlehandedly beat the mets in the postseason 1 year, he restructured his contract on atleast one ocasion so the braves could resign key members of their pictching staff, hes taken less money to stay in atlanta. not many athletes would do that. great career chipper hall of famer

moldavite

July 18th, 2010
9:46 pm

Enter your comments here

The Wad

July 18th, 2010
9:47 pm

Forgot……I seem to remember word leaking out last year that the Braves had inquired about trading Escobar early in the year. I think that really shook him and he never recovered mentally. Some players are too emotionally and mentally fragile to hear about being involved in trade rumors and still produce at a high level. No excuse for his petulent unprofessional laziness, but just another idea to ponder. We will be better for this trade overall.

DARNELL

July 18th, 2010
9:56 pm

THAT HATER BOBBY COX NEED TO GET THE TASTE SLAP OUT OF HIS MOUF FOR BEING STUPID AND NOT STARTING JASON HEYWOOD EVER DAY!

moldavite

July 18th, 2010
10:06 pm

if memory serves me correct that hater bobby cox was responsible for trading dale murphy so that a young right fielder could be brought up from the minors to play right field, that right fielders name was david justice the atlanta brave who hit the home run in game 6 of the world series that won them their championship

Larry Wayne Von Strain

July 18th, 2010
10:08 pm

Hey Wad….good luck making that trade of Chavez, KK and McClouth for a bucket of mold spores or whatever you could get for those guys. True Escobar needed to go but I fault Bobby for not pulling him back in. For some reason the guy never really jelled with the team but having Chipper stab you in the back at every opportunity probably didn’t help.
Trading Hanson is our only hope of getting a big time bat to put us over the top. Not the option I want but you have to give quality to get quality.

The Grinch

July 18th, 2010
10:08 pm

Reid Adair, I’m sorry about what happened between Frank Wren and your old lady, but it’s time to let it go man. Seriously, you’re worse than Don about Bobby Cox, but at least Don has something to work with there. Yeah Lowe, KK and McLouth are overpaid, but otherwise Wren’s taken the mess JS left him and put together a winning team without bloating payroll overall AND restocked the farm that JS raped to make bad trades which means this is going to be a good, well run young team for years to come. If you hate Wren so much, you must think JS is the worst GM in the history of baseball. Can’t you even enjoy watching this overachieving team? And all the energy, hustle and fire come from people Wren either brought in or brought up after trading away dead weight that Bobby and JS wouldn’t quit starting. If we win the WS this year (and we’ve got a good shot at doing so), the team deserves the first toast, then Frank for putting the team together, then Bobby for being around a long time and a nice guy.

Andy

July 18th, 2010
10:10 pm

Has anyone else noticed that Heyward is more aggressive at the plate than he was earlier in the season? His production in this series did not pay dividends. He needs to do what was working for him earlier and not listen to TP