Are the Braves really better than they’ve played? (Let’s hope)

Everybody loves the home run. But the Braves love it too much. (AP photo)

Everybody loves the home run. But the Braves, once again, love it too much. (AP photo)

After the Braves lost Sunday night in New York, manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters, “We’re better than that,” and Tim Hudson, the losing pitcher, said, “We’re much better than what we’re showing.” This prompts a fairly massive question: Are they really?

The Braves have played 60 games, or 37 percent of their season. They’re on pace to win 86 games, which would be five fewer than last season and wouldn’t book postseason passage. (Over a full season, no National League wild card has been taken with fewer than 88 victories.) They haven’t climbed above third place in the East since April 5.

They got going last month, winning 12 of 16, and even better days seemed at hand. The schedule, which had been difficult early, figured to ease. After taking two of three from the Phillies at Turner Field on May 13-15, the Braves opened six of the next seven series against opponents under .500. (And Cincinnati was 26-25.) They’ve lost four of those seven series.

Given the chance to make hay, they’ve made hash instead. They were 3 1/2 games behind Philadelphia on May 15, and they remained 3 1/2 games back Monday morning. The Phillies contrived to lose four consecutive games last week to Washington and Pittsburgh, but the Braves lost four of six to the Padres and the Mets.

Back to our question: Are they better than this? They should be, yes. The 2010 Braves, who didn’t look nearly as good on paper, were 34-26 after 60 games. This team is 32-28. That mightn’t sound like much of a difference, but it is. The 2010 club was so bad in April — 9-14, if you recall — that everyone was wondering if it could play a lick. This team reported to spring training believing it was cut from playoff cloth.

Seven of the eight everyday Braves lineup have been All-Stars. Yeah, it was a long time ago for Alex Gonzalez, and yeah, Nate McLouth only made it because he was a Pirate, but still. Brian McCann is at worst the second-best catcher in baseball. Chipper Jones is a Hall of Famer. Jason Heyward was just included on the Sporting News’ list of the game’s 50 best players. Dan Uggla is the highest-paid second baseman in the history of the sport. This is a good-looking team.

And yet: It’s 12th among 16 NL teams in batting, 13th in on-base percentage, 11th in runs. The 2010 Braves weren’t exactly the Buckhead Bombers, but they got guys on — they led the league in OBP — and drove enough of them home to rank fifth in runs.

The beauty of having guys on base is that it puts pressure on the opposing pitcher. These Braves make it too easy. Sometimes they’ll hit a homer, which is never a bad thing, but the home run has again become the only staple crop. Of the Braves’ 738 runs last season, 139 (or 18.8 percent) resulted from a batter hitting the ball over the fence and thereby driving himself in. This year 25.6 percent of the Braves’ runs have been home runs.

Are the Braves better than than they've played?

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Having seen such a thing happen too often under Bobby Cox, many among us hoped we wouldn’t see it under Fredi Gonzalez. And it’s not Gonzalez’s fault that Uggla is hitting .172, or that McLouth and Heyward are on the disabled list. But the gold-plated lineup is, alas, lead-footed: The Braves rank last in the league in stolen bases, third-from-last in grounding into double plays. Forget Small Ball. We’re back again to waiting for the big blast.

As a consequence, some great pitching has gone to waste. The Braves lead the majors in ERA. Opponents have hit a big-league low of .230 against these pitchers. It’s possible to win a World Series with a great-pitch, seldom-hit club — heck, the Giants did it last fall — but it isn’t the way these Braves were designed. They were supposed to hit, too. They haven’t yet.

The silver lining: They still might. Surely Uggla — and Heyward and Chipper, too — will do more than they have. These guys have 102 more games to prove they are in fact better than they’ve shown. They’ve played 60 games at maybe 65 percent capacity, and they’re 3 1/2 games out of first. If they dial it up to 75 percent, they might win it all.

By Mark Bradley

103 comments Add your comment

Paul H

June 6th, 2011
1:20 pm

Calab

June 6th, 2011
1:20 pm

Welcome back Mark. You were missed!

Paul H

June 6th, 2011
1:22 pm

“Given the chance to make hay, they’ve made hash instead.” Exactamundo. They aren’t taking care of business against the teams the Phillies use to pad their record. That’s why the Braves are in 3rd, not 1st.

Newbomb Turk

June 6th, 2011
1:25 pm

If I hadn’t read the article, I would have beat you to “first”, Paul H. Nice read, MB….let’s hope that these opposing pitchers start hitting these Braves’ bats hard!

Chipper's Oblique Muscle

June 6th, 2011
1:30 pm

There needs to be a deadline on Uggla, except his salary virtually forces him to start. But I’d say, two more weeks and no hitting and we will have to put someone else in there and put Uggla on the bench. His black hole in the lineup affects everyone else. It’s really past time for him to sit, but if they are going to keep playing him, at least do it with a timeline/deadline.

Matt from MN

June 6th, 2011
1:31 pm

Hope is all it is. There has been absolutely nothing concrete to back it up. You know what?…this team is something worse than bad…they are BORING.

Mark Bradley

June 6th, 2011
1:33 pm

Kudos, Paul H.

And thanks, Mr. Caleb.

Bill

June 6th, 2011
1:37 pm

Yes, Mark you were missed..Hope everything is ok with the family and you were just getting some R&R.
Maybe..OF at Ted is ole Indian burial ground. Cursed..just ask Frenchy, A Jones,Cabrera, Nate, and now Uggla as he sometimes goes in that area. maybe return of a new Indian Medicine man to remove the cure. lol

Rickster

June 6th, 2011
1:38 pm

Post first, Turk…. read later.

Falcorave

June 6th, 2011
1:40 pm

i just want to make a point of the fact that, although we have sucked (and we have this year), we still remain 3.5 games back of the phillies. But during the second half of the season, we have a relatively easy schedule (pirates, mets, cubs, dbacks, dodgers) while the phillies have a MUCH rougher schedule. If we are on pace to have 86 wins as terrible as we’ve been, i don’t think its that inconcievable for us to end up with 92-94 wins this year. Our pitching is dominant, and i am still convinced that Uggla will turn it around, Heyward will get healthy, and our pitching will remain good. Don’t stop believing, y’all. The Bravos will come back

Bryan G.

June 6th, 2011
1:44 pm

Matt from MN – You’re dead on. I’ve watched very few Braves games this year bc this team isn’t much fun to watch. Last year’s time was great to see…this year’s team is a snooze

Tucker T

June 6th, 2011
1:45 pm

Don’t think it’s fair to include Chipper in your players that you called out specifically for poor performance. After Chipper got hurt last year someone told you that he would have 32 RBI after 60 games and be playing on a regular basis with solid defense I think you would have been satisfied with that. I know I would. No way he is going to go back to his numbers from 3-4 years ago.

P-Man

June 6th, 2011
1:47 pm

Why this team isn’t hitting is baffling, but everyone has an opinion (and many will post it here, as, you know, everyone on a blog is an expert!). Anyway, back to my original point…

The best predictor of future success is past performance, but even that is not foolproof, as injuries, age, etc. can affect performance. Based on the past, these are all good hitters who have produced. If anyone really knew why they haven’t produced this year, they could make millions of dollars (instead of accusing players/coaches of being failures and giving up on them/saying they should be fired/demoted/let go… whatever.

The bottom line is, they will either produce or they won’t. In the scheme of things, it’s only a game, only there to entertain us, and judged by that standard, because of their pitching, the Braves are always in games, and, thus, entertaining (getting blown out 11-2- like the Braves of the 70s and late 80s- is obviously not entertaining.

Atticus

June 6th, 2011
1:47 pm

Hey Mark, welcome back!

Usually a team is what it is. Yes they can hit better, Struggla and Heyward have really hurt this team and logic tells you they will come back to the mean. But then the pitching has been outstanding and the odds are, they will go through some bumbs and struggles. But the bottom line is this franchise is restricted by budget. They should’ve gone after Holliday two years ago when he was being shopped. Instead they saved money (remember Andruw had a huge contract that went off the books) and have been replacing OFs with bench players.

They are close but spening money on a very streaky hitter isn’t wise. And the patience rule doesn’t work all the time. Yes we went to the playoffs last year but that team wasn’t a playoff team. We haven’t been to the playoffs before that in 5 years and not to the WS in 13.

Mark Bradley

June 6th, 2011
1:49 pm

Thanks, Bill. Everyone’s OK. Just a trip to Kentucky.

Mark Bradley

June 6th, 2011
1:50 pm

And Atticus is correct: Usually a team is what it is. But I’m not sure this one is. I think this one’s better than it has showed.

JC Boscan III

June 6th, 2011
1:56 pm

How can a major league team be 11 out of 27 in stolen base attempts!?! Heyward leads us with 3 steals!! How can a team not try to bunt for a hit when the Mets pitcher is pitching with a sore foot and his mobility was in question? When healthy, why bat McLouth 8th so that when he does get on base, he’s not allowed to run because you don’t want a CS with the pitcher batting (and making an out like the other Braves hitters!)? Prior to joining the Braves, McLouth had one of the highest percentages on stolen base attempts in the majors. Why not try a radically different lineup – how about taking the top 8 batting averages each day, and THEY get to start?! Everyone else sits. Why not do SOMETHING to shake things up!?!?!?! Heck — bat Uggla in the leadoff position and tell him he’ll have to run 5 miles after each game if he doesn’t just take a solid, controlled “base-hit” swing and put the ball in play. Flailing at bouncing curveballs doesn’t work so well.

Like Matt from MN said, they are playing BORING baseball offensively. I like Fredi, but he seems to be just standing there in the dugout watching this dull offense………….zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. When’s the last time there was a hit and run? …..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…….. Not that I’m frustrated or anything. The approach to offense seems WAY TOO PASSIVE…… bleah!

Charlotte Braves Fan

June 6th, 2011
1:59 pm

Spot on, as usual Mark.

My question: Does Uggla trust Larry Parrish, at all? I have to believe Parrish is giving Uggla some mechanical tips. But the evidence on the field indicates that Uggla is either unwilling or unable to heed the advice, based on his horribly flawed front-foot maneuverings (displayed nicely by ESPN last night).

Mather, Hinske and Freeman were meant to be complimentary pieces in this line-up. Instead, they are being counted on as nightly producers.

j

June 6th, 2011
2:01 pm

Not so sure what The Sporting News has been watching. Heyward looks to be slumping this season. I really hope he can pick it up and the injury was bothering him. If not, we’re in trouble!

Mark Bradley

June 6th, 2011
2:01 pm

Thanks, Charlotte Braves Fan.

Eric Hinske: Frank Wren’s second-best acquisition. (After Jair Jurrjens.)

Texas Pete

June 6th, 2011
2:03 pm

It’s a head thing now for Uggla. First, take him to a doctor and get his eyes checked. Could be he needs to correct his vision. Next, find somebody he trusts to review his swing. Uggla is an automatic out right now. I know little leaguers who make more contact than he does. Then, find out why Heyward is always hurt. I can’t remember a 21-year-old baseball player being as hurt as often as Heyward. What good is he sitting on the bench?

Jack G.

June 6th, 2011
2:13 pm

Its not whether you win or lose, its how you play the game, Right now, the Braves are not playing the (or any) game very weell

Space Monkey

June 6th, 2011
2:13 pm

I think they’re actually much worse than they’ve played so far. Most of the games are won by outstanding pitching by largely mediocre starting pitchers. Kimbrel and Venters are the real stars on this team. JJ is showing some promise. Hanson is very hittable. I think he still believes he’s in high school and can throw heat high in the zone. Lowe is hit and miss. Hudson is either lights out or flat out horrible. Minor and Beachy are bad jokes. Then there’s the lineup. I don’t think half this team could win a race with a garden slug. And why on Earth are they swinging at every first pitch? It’s like they have a date after the game and need to get there on time. Last night was a horrid example of that. I don’t think Dickey threw a single first pitch in the zone. Work the count, you morons. Opposing pitchers who face the Braves have such low pitch counts they can probably go on two days of rest. Ridiculous. Somebody please teach them some patience.

Sonny Clusters

June 6th, 2011
2:16 pm

We was irritable and grumpy and realized it was because we missed you. Welcome back. Heyward has a Bobblehead day coming up and we heard the bobbleheads may be hurt. Wouldn’t that be irony? Bobbleheads say a lot about a man. If Fredi ever has a bobblehead we think it should tip its cap. Uggla’s hitting .172 now and we think his Bobbleheads should be lined up on a wall for the Buck Commanders to shoot.

Mark Bradley

June 6th, 2011
2:16 pm

Thanks, Sonny. I missed you as well.

VolGuy

June 6th, 2011
2:18 pm

How can you say the Braves “surely” are better on paper than they have played? As with any team in any sport, they are as they play and right now the Braves are a mess at the plate. Uggla has thus far been this year’s version of last year’s Nate Mclouth – only worse. Jason Heyward may ultimately be a super star but thus far, he has been injury prone and evne before he got hurt this year his stats were not overwhelming. Getting back to Uggla, what good is the hitting coach if he can’t help in getting Uggla’s mechanics straightened out. It seemed pretty obvious to the ESPN announcers last night that Uggla is opening up when he strides into the ball. they even showed it by comparing Uggla’s stride to Chipper’s.

joe

June 6th, 2011
2:20 pm

Bat Ugs 8th, or send him to Gwinnett for a week or two…

Seinfeld

June 6th, 2011
2:24 pm

No, they’re not better. They’re worse. Much, much worse.

MWC

June 6th, 2011
2:29 pm

Does anyone miss Bobby Cox yet?
I do.

Seinfeld

June 6th, 2011
2:31 pm

Here’s a question for you, Mark: What other teams’ #3 hitter takes one game off each week?

Carl

June 6th, 2011
2:44 pm

Little Timmy Hudson has already worn himself out for the year; he’s down to 88lbs soaking wet. Chipper is taking every other day off; Uggla is overswinging and can’t hit squat. This is a very mediocre year after high expectations; Freddie Gonzalez is not overly impressive either.

Realist

June 6th, 2011
2:46 pm

At least we’ll get a #1 draft pick tonight as compensation for losing Rafael Soriano… oh, wait, we traded him for Jesse Chavez.

So I guess the Uggla trade/extension isn’t Wren’s worst move. Heck, it’s probably not even the second-worst (I see you, Kenshin Kawakami!).

GoBraves

June 6th, 2011
2:48 pm

For all of you pessimists on these blogs; It is a long season with a long way to go and the Braves are 3.5 back from the Power Rankings #1 team in baseball. Real fans are still fans when things aren’t going well. Please jump ship and find a new team to pull for.

CTim

June 6th, 2011
2:51 pm

To quote a famous coach, “They are who we thought they were!”…And that is a second rate team to the Phillies, Giants, Cardinals, and whoever comes out of the West….as long as they remain under current corporate ownership. For example, wouldn’t Carl Crawford (nobody has ever called him slow footed) look just great in centerfield, instead of Nate “no hit” Mclouth? Heck, forget the Phillies, they can’t even pass the Marlins.

Jason Foster

June 6th, 2011
2:52 pm

So far, Uggla has reminded me a lot of Reggie Sanders when he came to the Braves in 2000. The Braves got him for his bat, as he hit 26 homers and stole 36 bases in 1999 with the Reds. But like Uggla, he struggled mightily as a Brave. He was well below .200 for much of the season — for a while, he was on pace to set the record for lowest average by an everyday player — before rebounding somewhat in the second half to finish at .232/11 HR/37 RBI. His stayed in Atlanta for just one season before going to the Diamondbacks and hitting 33 HR and 90 RBI in 2001.

Brownie

June 6th, 2011
2:53 pm

Seinfeld – good point on Chipper. However, Fredi doesn’t have any options right now. We all know that if CJ goes every day, he will break down and be out for weeks. Then we’ve lost our third best hitter, behind Mac and Prado.

Everyone on this blog has zeroed in on the problem: Uggla hasn’t produced a lick, and JH is hurt and out too much. With Uggla, he does have mechanical issues, however he hasn’t changed much mechanically from the previous few years….so it must be primarily mental.

You can have his eyes checked and see a team of shrinks, but the best way to fix his mental block is to change SOMETHING mechanical! Just having him work on closing up his stance or moving closer to the plate would help, and then if he sees ANY improvement, that will replenish his confidence.

What he’s doing now will only make his confidence shrink more.

Contrary to some of the other opinions on this blog…this Braves team is a LOT better than they’re showing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they will actually play better. Right now I don’t blame any of this on Fredi.

DawginLex

June 6th, 2011
2:57 pm

Mark,

Did you venture into Lexington? Just about as hot here as down in GA.

No need to panic yet but another 3 weeks of this and it is time to make a trade for a bat.

Dr. Phil

June 6th, 2011
2:58 pm

Given the choice, I believe that Uggla and company would rather hit than not hit, but there is certainly something fundimentally wrong witht he Braves’ bats. They could easily have won as many as 10 of their losses by pulling starting pitchers, when they obviously don’t have it, and getting a few critical hits. Whether or not he will stick around, Shafer does bring some energy to a team that seems dead at times. Perhaps Fredi can pull off a late season run, but at this point, that would be a surprise.

They are ... who we didn't think they were

June 6th, 2011
2:59 pm

Sometimes a team just isn’t as good it seems it should be. It happens

Mark Bradley

June 6th, 2011
3:03 pm

Drove through Lexington twice, DawginLex.

yeah

June 6th, 2011
3:05 pm

the braves never ever get a hit with runners in scoring position; when they hit it is with no one on and 2 out

mrnatural

June 6th, 2011
3:12 pm

Winning or losing, this team is like watching paint dry. Loosen up boys, it’s a game. Play ball. Let it fly. Don’t fear failure. Fredi needs to put some runners in motion. Put some pressure on the defense and allow chaos to ensue. At the end of the day it is about entertainment and this team is not doing its job.

StungByAYellowJacket

June 6th, 2011
3:15 pm

Didn’t read all the comments but I’m sure it has been said already…. the Braves biggest issue is swagger and SPEED!!!!!! Look at some of the players on the Braves from the nineties, Deion, Otis, Lonnie, Gant, etc. they had swagger and SPEED!! Everytime they got on base, there was a 90% chance they would score, SPEED puts pressure on the opposing pitcher and takes less pressure off the batter in the batter’s box….

Sonny Clusters

June 6th, 2011
3:19 pm

When we was in a slump we was still hitting over .300. Uggla’s problem is he is a slow starter that forget to start. We would do two things: we’d tip our cap and we’d change the batting order and leave uggla out of it until he shows he can make some adjustments. Hard headed players who won’t change like Jeff and Andruw and now Dan Uggla have hurt the Braves over and over. Batting third should be a privilege and whoever is going to bat third should be in the lineup every day. If a player doesn’t feel like playing, when he feels like he wants to play again he should be batting 5th or 6th. Now, that will never happen. Sometimes a Clusters has to vent.

Realist

June 6th, 2011
3:24 pm

Do people realize that to play hit-and-run, you have to have a runner on base first?

sogadog

June 6th, 2011
3:28 pm

If these Braves can get healthy, maintain the same level of pitching and work their way up to the top third of the NL in hitting, they should win their division. They are very lucky to be only 3.5 games back and they are in position to make a run if they can warm up the bats. If I were making 62 million and hitting .172, I would establish permanent residence in the batting cage.

The Lemmer

June 6th, 2011
3:31 pm

Just like in life, were playing the IF game: IF Uggly comes back to the player we thought we were signing, IF Heyward gets healthy & produces, IF Chipper stays healthy, IF Freeman continues to improve, & IF we trade for a legit CF that isnt hitting .200, then YES, Bravos will contend for NL pennant, but thats alot of IFS isnt it??????

stevie zero

June 6th, 2011
3:40 pm

mark, welcome back. heard anything about us trading some pitching for some offense?

Joey

June 6th, 2011
3:45 pm

“Given the chance to make hay, they’ve made hash instead.”
*******************************************
Yep. That’s why I checked in three or four times a day the last week to see if you were back, Mark!

Ted M

June 6th, 2011
3:52 pm

How was your vacation, Mark.