The Braves lose a series but buy some much-needed pitching

Tim Hudson's start Sunday: Six innings, five earned runs, one more loss. (AP photo by David Tulis)

Tim Hudson's start Sunday: Six innings, five earned runs. Ouch. (AP photo by David Tulis)

The Braves lost a series to the team they’re chasing –  although, having gone 27-29 over the past nine weeks, this constitutes the slowest chase since O.J. Simpson took off in the white Bronco — but might have found a way to hurry things along. A half-hour before they played the Nationals on Sunday, the Braves announced they’d signed Ben Sheets to a minor-league contract.

Don’t be misled by the language. “We didn’t sign him to be a minor-league player,” said Frank Wren, the general manager. “We want him to be one of our [big-league] pitchers, probably even a guy in the rotation.”

For “probably,” read “definitely.” The Braves signed Sheets, who since 2008 has won four big-league games and undergone two surgical procedures, because they’re desperate. They’ve hit better than they did a year ago, but they’ve pitched much worse.

Said Wren, speaking of his rotation: “We haven’t been as consistent as we’d like … We need more of [these starting pitchers] being a sure thing on a daily basis.”

Said Fredi Gonzalez, the manager: “We have matched up well [against the opponent's starting pitchers] at times, and at times we haven’t.”

Having witnessed a run of 14 division titles built on the innings eaten by stellar starting pitchers, we in Atlanta should know the drill. If we’d forgotten, these Nationals can serve as a case study. Washington’s everyday lineup isn’t as good as the Braves’, but it holds the National League’s best record because it has outpitched everybody.

Said Chipper Jones: “That team’s in first place for a reason. They’ve got lockdown starting pitching.”

The Nationals have 50 quality starts (six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs), which is third-best in the league. The Braves have 31, which is the second-worst. There’s your 4 1/2-game deficit.

Over the hot weekend the Braves actually hit the Nationals’ starters pretty well, driving All-Star Stephen Strasburg to dehydration after three innings Saturday and forcing Gio Gonzalez, another All-Star, to throw 114 pitches over five-plus innings Sunday. (An epic 14-pitch at-bat by the rookie Andrelton Simmons in the second inning all but ensured Gonzalez would weaken, which he did in the sixth.)

The Nationals didn’t manage a quality start in the series, but they won two of three because the Braves didn’t muster one, either. The home side trailed 4-0 after four innings Friday and 4-nil after one inning Sunday, and you cannot spot a good team — the Nationals’ bullpen is splendid, too — that many runs.

But that’s what the Braves have done too often: Fallen behind early, thereby lessening the effect of their own stout bullpen. (Though the Braves’ relief efforts have been mitigated by the wayward ways of Jonny Venters, who was bad again Sunday.)

Pitching-wise, the year began badly and got worse. Jair Jurrjens, an All-Star last season, lasted four starts before being shipped to Gwinnett, and the youngsters Mike Minor and Randall Delgado never found traction. Then Brandon Beachy, who was leading the National League in ERA, was lost to Tommy John surgery, all but forcing Wren to go shopping.

As encouraging as Jurrjens’ two recent big-league starts have been, as stout as Minor’s winning effort against Strasburg was, the hope that these five pitchers will coalesce into a playoff-caliber rotation has been reduced to a wish. By signing Sheets, the Braves got a guy that cost them nothing but money. If he pans out, Wren wins the Clark Howard Savvy Shopper Award of the month. But don’t think the Braves are done.

Said Fredi Gonzalez, the manager: “Frank and I have been talking for three or four days. If this [Sheets] works, we still have other pieces to go get another guy.”

The Braves have hoarded young pitchers — Minor, Delgado, Julio Teheran (who’s at Gwinnett) and Arodys Vizcaino — the past two seasons. Surely the plan is for Sheets to render either Minor or Delgado expendable, at least in the short term. Unless the rotation catches fire before the trading deadline at month’s end, the temptation will be great to swap a young arm for a proven one.

The Braves aren’t crazy about renting free-agents-to-be, but if an established starting pitcher — Zack Greinke of Milwaukee, say — could turn a middling season into something that extends beyond the 162nd game, it might be worth parting with Minor or Delgado. (For all their promise, it’s fair to say neither seems a Strasburg.)

The belief within this team is that it hasn’t played to capacity; without better starting pitching, it never will. Hiring Ben Sheets can’t hurt, but there’s more than one hole in this rotation.

By Mark Bradley

138 comments Add your comment

From Worst to

July 1st, 2012
6:47 pm

Toolate

July 1st, 2012
6:49 pm

Toolate

July 1st, 2012
6:49 pm

Oh well……

There isn’t any doubt that we need to shore up the starting pitching.

jimmie

July 1st, 2012
6:50 pm

and the braves arent far behind

Tim

July 1st, 2012
6:50 pm

bro

July 1st, 2012
6:51 pm

there may be some hope with sheets, but now he is just another old used up arm. If they get a win or two out of him it maybe worth the trouble. Still need a bat in leftfield–mainly for next year or when chipper can’t play.

P Rose

July 1st, 2012
6:56 pm

Do not trade a promising young arm for a rental of a mediocre veteran. One season isn’t worth it.

Dawg Haus

July 1st, 2012
6:58 pm

Mark, do you see the Braves going after Hamels?

dawg4u

July 1st, 2012
6:59 pm

Once again (it’s too familiar) I am glad the Nats are leaving town. It’s good to get Sheets because we have to gamble for something better than Delgado/Minor although Minor has been better of late. We’ll still need more than Sheets to overtake the Nats. Looking on the bright side – my brother lives in the Philly area and says that they are talking about just unloading most of their 178 Mil $ payroll after going 36-45 in the first half and still in last place.

Nite Owl

July 1st, 2012
7:00 pm

Getting Sheets seems like a last-gasp attempt to get help without giving up any of the young pitchers. But either way, a young-un is going—because if he doesn’t pan out, we’ll have to give one up, and if he does pan out, we can afford to give one up.

And I’m just going to point out the obvious and say that we’ve got a really good team. We just need guys to stay healthy and play to their ability. You can say that about any team, sure. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Jack Dennis TN

July 1st, 2012
7:03 pm

Get a RH hitter, for cryin out loud.

Whopper Dawg

July 1st, 2012
7:03 pm

Remember not too long ago when the talk was of trading some of our young pitching for some bats as we were pitching rich. We didn’t and shouldn’t have. This just reinforces the old adage that you cannot have too much pitching.

ihateleyritz

July 1st, 2012
7:04 pm

@ jimmie

This is a blog about the Braves. Leave the President out of it. Go Braves!

GregD

July 1st, 2012
7:05 pm

Why not put Venters in the minors for a little bit, let him work some things out, bring him back up after the all star break or sooner if he gets it together.

ihateleyritz

July 1st, 2012
7:10 pm

I agree, GregD. Seems he has lost his location due to mechanics. I’m not a pitching coach but he’s definitely out of synch. Maybe the All Star break is the much needed adjustment time he needs. I also agree we need to find a RH hitter, and fast. Uggla is swinging hard(at anything) and causing small children to cower in fear! :)

Nova Scotia Steve

July 1st, 2012
7:10 pm

Our starting pitchIng has been a concern even before Beachy went down. So now we’re scambling, they need Sheets to pitch better than Minor (which shouldn’t be hard) and they need a proven top of the rotation starter.

Holding your breath three out of five days of the week and expect to contend is a pipe dream. We need to pull the trigger on a deal ASAP.

On another note: There isn’t a clutch hitter among the bunch right now – offensively the Braves are still frustrating as hell.

Nite Owl

July 1st, 2012
7:22 pm

Couldn’t agree more, Nova Scotia Steve. We’ve got to do something now if we want to contend. The Nationals are for real, especially their pitching. This could have been a sweep if Strasburg doesn’t wilt in the heat. And it won’t be over 100 degrees in October.

I’m usually an optimist, but the starting pitching has to get right, and right now.

As for offensively, it’s an odd thing—there’s really no one in the lineup I’d like to take out, but I would like them all to be more consistent. And more clutch.

Jack in Macon

July 1st, 2012
7:23 pm

You gys are going to think I’ m crazy, but we need two high quaity starting pitchers (ones we can extend contracts) and a quality left-handed reliver.

How do we do that? Include BMac in the deal(s). Trade Delgado, Minor, Venters and Gilmartin if necessaryl. Don’t let the AL teams know the secret but BMac is never going to be an All-Star again. He now only has for the most part warning track power and the shift will automtically knock 30 or 40 points off his average. He’s done, stick a fork in him.

I love BMac but we need to trade him for a short and long term solution.

ihateleyritz

July 1st, 2012
7:31 pm

Wow, Jack in Macon. I have to say I’ve been thinking the same about BMac for some time now. There was the contract speculation chatter earlier in the year, when he seemed to be on a roll and now, he’s looking a lot like he did last year toward the end of the season. He’s a great dude, and obviously his teammates love him, but at this point, something has to be done with him. Is there an injury we don’t know about?

As for the pitching, I’m at a loss. Who do we move to get some arms in here? Can we get Leo Mazzone back to consult with McDowell and Gonzales(sp?) the arms that we have?

Nite Owl

July 1st, 2012
7:33 pm

Not crazy at all, Jack. If Ross can keep production up for the rest of the year, and Betancourt is ready next year, we might as well do it now. I kind of think that BMac’s on the downside, too.

I’d keep Venters and Gilmartin out of it for now, though. Too much potential there. And as always, you have to make sure the guys you’re getting back are healthy and hope they stay that way.

bulldogbubba

July 1st, 2012
7:37 pm

We also need 2 good bats off the bench if they are out there.Not getting the production off the bench like we did in the glory years. Cut Wilson,Diaz, and Hinske now to get some fresh power” If Posibble”. I know I might in fantasy-land with that request but we need something to wake this team up!!!!!!!! HOW ABOUT CLUSTERS TO THE RESCUE

Mike in Georgia

July 1st, 2012
7:44 pm

Jack, I’m ashamed to be from MACON after reading your comments….did you run the Macon Braves off too? Brian will be fine in time…everyone has a downtime….this is his.

NorCal Brave

July 1st, 2012
7:49 pm

Signing Sheets is fine; trading away young, still promising, arms for a partial year pitcher this season is not. This club has a lot of holes on offense, too: McCann’s hitting .226, Uggla the all star, .232 with no recent homers; I don’t even count Chipper as a starter anymore. Even the Bourn trade doesn’t look so great. The bench has given us no help, and without a consistent Venters in the pen, well I would say the playoffs are well out of reach this year.

Thomas

July 1st, 2012
7:50 pm

Phillies now shopping Cole Hamels. Too much to ask?

shorty

July 1st, 2012
7:54 pm

Fire Fredi the Fail before he has a chance to mess up the rest of our staff…and we get too demoralized to even care if we haven’t reached that point already.

Larry

July 1st, 2012
7:55 pm

The Braves do this every year. All the blogs speculate on the big name pitchers and the big bats, and the then sign one or two has-beens. We get our hope up salivating over the options available, then sign a used-to-be and expect to compete. Even during the 14 years that they won the division. Instead of winning the World Series, JS and FW would settle. The only time in recent history they signed anybody, was JS’s attempt to go out in style by mortgaging the future for Mark “Five Player” Teixeira before handing it over to Frank “Do Nothing” Wren.
People cry for Leo to be brought back, but Leo’s not stupid…he did it with the stellar personnel and not ability.
The Atlanta Braves should, but won’t, spend the money on big bats and big name pitching each year to stay competitive. I’m not talking about doing what the Fish did or Cubbies did…Talent is there, but it’s not free.
P.S., Mark, nice piece!

The Grinch

July 1st, 2012
8:02 pm

We could really use an upgrade of the bench. I love Diaz, but he doesn’t scare anyone. Hinske and Francisco at this point are only good if we get into a brawl, and Wilson’s only good for bunting and pinch running. He’s not even a defensive replacement anymore. Ross is the only good pinch hitter and Fredi’s scared to use him.

Skeezix

July 1st, 2012
8:22 pm

Mark: Unless the Braves go out and get some proven, quality pitching soon, it’ll be another disappointing year. Ben Sheets, I’m afraid, isn’t the answer to our pitching woes. If we haven’t the bucks to afford an ace, then let the young arms keep pitching and gain experience that will pay dividends next season.

JeanE

July 1st, 2012
8:23 pm

Diaz is not a great pinch-hitter, he does better when he gets the occasional start. Hinske is most definitely having an off year. Uggla being an all-star is a joke, he should not be in that game. Hope the Sheets move works out, it can’t hurt to try and could reap mucho benefits. I don’t feel confident enough in Randall or Minor to count on them. I wish I knew what was wrong with Jonny, it is so sad to see him struggle when he was just lights out last year. Got to beat up on these Cubs and make some hay. Go Braves.

Jaded Braves Fan

July 1st, 2012
8:28 pm

The Nats are very similar to what the Braves were in 2010. Very steady starting pitching, dynamite bullpen, and an opportunistic offense that does just enough to back their superb arms. Washington’s staff really outclasses ours, and the discrepancy is so great that I’m not sure one trade, no matter how big, and the return of Ben Sheets will be enough to close the gap.

However, removing Delgado and Minor from the rotation would make the Braves much more dangerous in the second half. Those guys are momentum killers.

BravesBobblehead24

July 1st, 2012
8:29 pm

Jack from Macon ain’t crazy, BMac is batting .230 and has decent on base percentage. He HR production has gone down but as far as a trade, I have to optimistic whatever funk he is in, BMac will get through it.

Sonny Clusters

July 1st, 2012
8:33 pm

Well, we was at a game on Thursday and we was country music-ed to death. We think playing all that country music all during the game may be affecting the players and making them want to ride off in a pickup truck with their hunting dog when they should be concentrating on baseball. That duo that sang God Bless America managed to mess it up with all that twanging and whanging and whining. We say ban all country music from the Ted and replace it with baseball songs. We can be center field.

Caseyatthebat

July 1st, 2012
8:37 pm

As this team is constructed now it is only an average team. Withhold any great expectations. For all the early press this pitching staff received it’s not very good. The bench is poor. At the start of the season we really should have gotten a big hitting left fielder. We still need one. But now we also need two proven pitchers. To watch two young pitchers learn in this rotation is not going to be playoff successful, let alone world series. The lineup is stronger and hitting better than last year but Uggly and McCan’t aren’t helping.For the life of me, I can’t understand why they don’t just sit a guy in a prolonged slump. It hasn’t been proven to me that it isn’t just as effective to let him get his head straightened out. I’ve thought from the beginning of this season that Wren was tap dancing his way through this year waiting for the available increase in money next year and Sheets acquisition just confirms it. At any rate, if they can’t beat Washington they ain’t going’ nowhere.

Sonny Clusters

July 1st, 2012
8:37 pm

Put Davey Johnson in the Braves dugout and Fredi in the Nationals’ and the Braves lead the division. When we see Fredi reaching to tip his cap it makes us sick. Davey Johnson looks so old and feeble he doesn’t need to waste any energy tipping his cap. Still, he is an ex-Brave and we would rather see him propped up in the dugout managing rather than Fredi in his extra-cool Oakleys. We think Fredi may not be watching the game under those sunglasses. When he is interviewed he acts like he wasn’t there.

Sonny Clusters

July 1st, 2012
8:41 pm

And another thing . . . Uggla is going to the All-Star Game and we was wondering who holds the All-Star record for strikeouts? If we was a betting Clusters we would bet Uggla may hold the record after the game. We watched him strike out looking 3 times the other night and if they hadn’t hit him with a pitch it may have been 4 times.

Jfreak13713

July 1st, 2012
8:51 pm

Don’t mind giving Sheets a chance because he can’t do any worse that what is out there now and he might be better. No lose situation for Braves in this deal but lets hope the Braves are counting on Hudson, Hanson, Sheets, JJ, and either Delgado or Minor to beat the Nationals, Giants, Dodgers, or Cardinals. The Greinke deal is appealing and maybe they can BORROW him for a couple months for Minor or Delgado?? A lot of maybes!!

BavadoFever

July 1st, 2012
8:52 pm

ADMIT IT FRANK WREN, THIS TEAM IS AVERAGE AND NOT AS GOOD AS ADVERTISED. QUIT TRYING TO SELL US A BILL OF GOODS ON HOW GOOD THIS TEAM CAN BE IF THE MOON AND STARS ARE ALL LINED UP JUST RIGHT.

Steve

July 1st, 2012
8:53 pm

Sonny, why don’t you ever use proper grammar?

Game Changer

July 1st, 2012
9:05 pm

uggla – not good trade asap
heyward – trade while he is hot
freeman – stop striking out so much or you will need to go

shortstop is for real – 1k every 9 at bats and defense lock down to date

3rd base ?????? chipper ok martinez kills the team

prado needs to be at second on the uggle trade, need a left fielder badly.

and ben sheets is the savior of this current mess and I could continue regarding the terrible bence players.

As Frank Wren why no music is allowed in the locker rooms. Ask F Wren if he is worried about any players from the drug test thursday night after the game. Fricking ask someting of interest to read. Ben Sheets much needed pitching???? Can’t field, very slow to any ball hit except at SS and Centerfield, can’t hit and way to many strikeouts by top of the order batters.

Current top Major Leaguers starting for braves:

CF, SS

Average players:

LF should be at 2nd, RF currently – time will tell,

Below Average.

1st, 3rd, 2nd, catcher, pitching

Gene Garber

July 1st, 2012
9:06 pm

Sheets??? Are you kidding me? Is this another of Wren’s push to get “something for nothing”. Sheets’ days are over….You’re telling me that Wren was impressed with Sheets’ throwing 91-92. Obviously there’s no pitching in AA or AAA. Put together a package of Francisco, Minor and (insert name here) and $…go get a big arm and a left-hand hitting OF. Prado moves to 3rd next year and the new hitter is in LF. Sheets isn’t the answer.

STRETCH

July 1st, 2012
9:06 pm

They got rid of Gonzalez when they should have been trying to get a bat in LF. Prado is going to be the 3rd baseman next year. Also the Nats make pitchers work and they dont miss pitches like the Braves do. The NATS try putting the ball in play not like the Braves who in turn are trying to send everything over the fence.

This pitching staff is overrated and ive been screaming that for a couple of years now. So now they have finally been exposed and Wren is trying to save face.

STRETCH

July 1st, 2012
9:07 pm

Yep, what Gene Garber said…Sheets is NOT the answer!

jobro

July 1st, 2012
9:09 pm

hamels costs wayyyy to much i like the sheets move it can only help us get better the braves havent played their best ball yet but we will find our stride and win the national league east i believe in this team and i think we havent played our best ball yet and weve got the cubbies this week we can beat them if we win 3 or 4 in a row and washington loses 3 or 4 in a row we are right back in it GO BRAVOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Alaska Braves Fan

July 1st, 2012
9:10 pm

BavadoFever: What’s wrong with you? Have you made any effort at all to understand the intricacies of the baseball process? How could anyone please you? Think about it; you’re an irritant, but your thoughts aren’t important and mostly are incoherent.

ABF

Truth hurts

July 1st, 2012
9:14 pm

The Yankees shop at Bloomingdales… The Braves go shopping at the Dollar Store

Baby Ruth

July 1st, 2012
9:24 pm

Blah…Blah….Blah….This organization sucks now!

SLBReb

July 1st, 2012
9:27 pm

Since the Marlins are struggling, go get Morrison who is young but having a difficult season. He can be our left fielder and Prado to third. Fire Freddie “I am an incredible strategist” Gonzalez and get another arm that is legit (Sheets is fine but is a gamble). McCann has been incredible for the Braves but his time is done – has not hit in the last year since his injury. See if we can get any value while we can and let Betancourt learn as we are going nowhere this year. What to do with 5 years of Struggla is a big question.

SR

July 1st, 2012
9:32 pm

RIght on Gene Garber, other desperate move by the buffoon Wren. Braves will be running in place all season, not a contender with this roster.

Larry

July 1st, 2012
9:38 pm

Truth Hurts
Maybe a second hand store or the flea market.

brandon

July 1st, 2012
10:15 pm

Sheets would be a great story.