Instructive win: Braves show their strength – and weakness

Mark Bradley is off for a bit. Normal service will resume soon.

Jason Heyward brings home the game-winning run. (AP photo by John Bazemore)

Jason Heyward brings home the game-winning run Saturday. (AP photo by John Bazemore)

Because there are so many baseball games, it’s tricky to ascribe any lessons to any single game. But the doings Saturday, I submit, showed us the 2012 Braves for better and worse.

For better: They won by scoring three runs in the eighth inning.

For worse: Their starting pitcher twice couldn’t hold a two-run lead, necessitating the late rally.

Even with their No. 1 shortstop hurt in the final game before the All-Star break and his understudy injured in the first game after, the Braves have one of the better everyday lineups in the National League. On Saturday, they scored five runs in five innings off R.A. Dickey, the knuckleballer who has been baseball’s best pitcher. When you score five runs and you have Craig Kimbrel to close, you should win.

Which the Braves did, but they needed three more runs — and a slew of unyielding at-bats, we should note — off the Mets’ wretched bullpen to do it. “When we get guys firing on all cylinders, that’s a pretty long [meaning deep] lineup,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, speaking of his own.

It is. It’s the sort of lineup you can envision playing and winning in October. At issue, however, is whether the starting pitching will allow it.

Hanson is 10-5, making him the biggest winner among Braves. But his ERA rose above 4.00 after yielding six earned runs (on nine hits) in 5 1/3 innings Saturday, and it would be a stretch to dub him a No. 1 starter. Nor is Tim Hudson a No. 1, not anymore. The Braves will deploy the retread Ben Sheets against the Mets on Sunday with the hope — general manager Frank Wren’s words here — of adding “consistency to the back end of our rotation.”

Good idea. But the front end needs propping up, too.

Let’s dare to think ahead to October, and let’s say the Braves qualify as one of the wild cards. Those two teams will meet in a one-game playoff  — or play-in, if you prefer — and is there a Braves starter you’d take over the Giants’ Matt Cain or the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw? And even if the Braves win the National League East and avoid that one-game crucible, are any three of these starters apt to dominate in postseason?

Maybe Sheets will be the rising tide that lifts all boats. As it is, he’s merely replacing Randall Delgado at the shank of the rotation. Which brings us yet again to the July 31 trade deadline. It will take a lot to land Zack Greinke or Ryan Dempster, both free-agents-to-be, but the more these Braves play, the more a move to land a true No. 1 seems warranted.

“We’ve got a little swag going, got a little winning streak going,” Chipper Jones said after the streak reached six, but the Braves won’t be seeing any bullpens this awful in the postseason. (The Mets’ relievers have compiled the worst ERA in the majors, and closer Frank Francisco is on the disabled list.) The path to victory in October — the other New York team once made this a way of life — is to get ahead early and let a stellar bullpen do its stuff.

The Braves’ bullpen, with or without Jonny Venters, is playoff-caliber. The starting staff isn’t quite. Hudson lasted only four innings Friday night after being spotted a five-run lead, and Hanson couldn’t nurse a two-run lead through the sixth. Said Gonzalez: “You feel pretty good when he goes out in the sixth and gets the first hitter.”

The next three Mets — the bottom of their lineup, plus a pinch hitter — mustered singles, and Hanson left with the lead down to one and two aboard. The sixth inning is the bridge inning, the time for a starter to drop the hammer on a trailing opponent and then hand the lead to relievers. Hanson couldn’t do it. He’s a good pitcher, but he’s not a Halladay or a Sabathia. Or a Greinke.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Braves were chasing the Mets for second in the East, but they’ve surged 2 1/2 games in front. The Mets have begun to flag, while the Braves are gathering speed. For this team to take full flight, however, a big-time starting pitcher will be required. The Braves can make the playoffs with the rotation they have; to win once there, they’ll need more.

Unless, that is, Ben Sheets happens to turn into Sandy Koufax. Should that occur, forget I said anything.

By Mark Bradley

107 comments Add your comment

We Need a GM

July 14th, 2012
9:03 pm

Darryl Blackberry

July 14th, 2012
9:03 pm

Well said. The Braves have the arms to trade, so why not?

We Need a GM

July 14th, 2012
9:05 pm

Remember Mark…our goal is just to get there…that’s what we keep getting told year after year. They put no priority on winning it all.

RA

July 14th, 2012
9:11 pm

The word is ending…Bradley is making more and more sense…

The Grinch

July 14th, 2012
9:12 pm

I agree we need to improve our rotation, but with our ownership situation we can’t afford to mortgage the farm and overpay for Greinke. They want a ridiculous amount for him and he’s not that great away from Miller Park. If we give up five players for him and then have to pay him 20 mil a year, it’ll hamstring this team for a good while. Look for someone cheaper.

RA

July 14th, 2012
9:13 pm

I meant to say the world is ending…

BC

July 14th, 2012
9:13 pm

I saw DOB earlier mention that he thought it would be Liriano or Dempster. With all due respect, that’s not going to be acceptable. Has to be Greinke – even if it takes Tehran.

Mside B-Fan

July 14th, 2012
9:18 pm

You nailed it, Mark. Only way to take make the Braves a true contender is to add a starter of the caliber of Dempster or Greinke. .
It would be a shame to pass up the opportunity to make Chipper’s last season magical. It’s up to the corporate Bigs at Liberty Media to allow Frank Wren the extra dollars to be bold – let’s hope they seize the day – Go Bravos!

Nathan

July 14th, 2012
9:18 pm

Mark,

I do share your concerns about the starting pitching, but Hanson had come in on the tail end of a run of some great pitching for the last several weeks. Hudson as well has shown inconsistency, but as Dickey demonstrated today, even the best of pitchers have their hiccups.

A starting pitcher will greatly help the team out, but my primary concern lies with the bullpen. It’s not yet known what Venters will bring back to the table. Medlen has been just okay. Durbin has become a very solid option but cannot be the backbone of the middle innings.

It’d be nice (especially with the SS woes) to have some solid bench production, which perhaps Pastoricky can provide. It remains to be seen how this bullpen will function on games that the Braves are trailing but close or in games like today when the starter pitches ineffectively and they have to eat some innings.

While a starting pitcher should be high on the radar, Wren should also pay mind to the much maligned bullpen at the deadline.

Darryl Blackberry

July 14th, 2012
9:20 pm

Greinke would make the most sense because we could get him for next year as well…but the Brewers haven’t exactly been sucking the past two weeks. They might start to get ideas about winning their division. Only if the Crew start a losing streak now can we hope to land Zack by July 31st…

topdawg

July 14th, 2012
9:22 pm

Thank goodness for a game on Fox with professional announcers. Chris Myers and Alex Karros did a wonderful job. What a pleasure not having to listen to Dip Caray and his 12 yr old girl rantings. I do like Joe Simpson but mute any games I watch bcs of Metaphor Man (Caray).

wild'n

July 14th, 2012
9:27 pm

will moylan return at any point this year?

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record

July 14th, 2012
9:35 pm

The Brave alowed 2 many runs. THe need beeter pithin the need a new managar.

Rob

July 14th, 2012
9:36 pm

Moylan is pitching in single A right now

Southpaw

July 14th, 2012
9:36 pm

Moylan had a good inning at ROME on Friday night.

Bravesfan

July 14th, 2012
9:39 pm

I don’t like Carey either, but I do like Greinke. I wish Sutton and Simpson were the tv duo.

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record

July 14th, 2012
9:39 pm

Keep in mind win U hire a managar with a loosing reord U can expect a loosing efort.

Darryl Blackberry

July 14th, 2012
9:40 pm

@ topdawg:

That’s lunacy. Myers referred to Freddie Freeman as Brian McCann (!) and referred to J-Hey as “Adam” Heyward. And Karros is way out of his depth when commenting on any team other than the Dodgers.

Braves in last palce by Sept fist

July 14th, 2012
9:45 pm

With a loosing managar, it is gauranteed

Beneath Reproach

July 14th, 2012
9:57 pm

It seems that it is time for the AJC to shut down these comment sessions or at least moniter them so that stupid comments and comments that are just wrong will not stay up. When people resort to questioning the character of an individual or stating that someone should get cancer it is time to step in. I understand second guessing of players and managers but to be despicable about it is reprehensible. I have decided that I can no longer read these comments as they tend to fan flames of garbage. Each and every athlete tries to win every game. Each manager/coach tries to do the things needed to win each game while keeping the rest of the season in mind. If you use all of your eggs today you want have eggs for breakfast tomorrow. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the person who decided that several people should get cancer because he/she was not getting their way. I firmly believe in freedom of speech but do not think that we have to provide a platform for such unsupported garbage.

DaveinNEPA

July 14th, 2012
10:02 pm

If anyone thought the balls and strikes were all over the place today…………….beware, beware. Tomorrow we get the wonderful C.B. Bucknor behind the plate, the worst ball and strike upire in baseball. combine that with Sheets not pitching in 2 years and it might not be pretty. Just sayin.

David Puddy

July 14th, 2012
10:05 pm

Refreshing to have someone writing in a fair-minded ‘it iswhat it is’ good and bad manner. Listen to the radio guys and they are nonsensical in any discussion wth elementary-school attempts at humor with no real analysis. This writer is one of the few, very few, in this market who seems to understand the sport enough to offer logical and pragmatic views.

Mark Bradley

July 14th, 2012
10:14 pm

Kudos, We Need a GM.

Dawg'88

July 14th, 2012
10:19 pm

Well said “Beneath Reproach”….This forum or any other on the ajc is monitored very well. I have seen trashy talk from sexual comments to the wishing ill will on players to constantly childish characterizations of Braves/Dawgs/Tech/Falcons/Hawks players. Time for it to end…

Dawg'88

July 14th, 2012
10:20 pm

should have said “not monitored very well” in the above post

Dawg'88

July 14th, 2012
10:21 pm

BTW….great analysis here by MB.

Forgot to mention it after seeing some of the immature comments again.

Prado Wan Kenobi

July 14th, 2012
10:59 pm

My boy Prado the real Domingo Ayala!!! He can do it ALL. ” That Talent is God Given”
Braves MVP
Is it just me or do we need José G. Constanza back with the Big Leauge Braves- what a spark he is when he is up!!

VinceVanGo

July 14th, 2012
11:14 pm

Here’s my suggestion. Give Sheets 2 starts. If he doesn’t pitch like Sandy Koufax, Wren stills has time to go get Dempster or Greinke and move Sheets to the bullpen. You can never get enough veteran arms in the pen, and it’s possible another starter may go down and the Braves would have insurance. And Wren needs to go out and get someone for the bench, preferably someone who’s under contract for next year too. Hinske, Diaz, Fransisco, and Jack Wilson have been the worst bench in MLB. Fortunately, David Ross is the best backup catcher in baseball, but Fredi only carries 2 catchers so he rarely gets to pinch hit. They need a super utility player in the mold of Omar Infante who can play 3-4 positions and hit at least .270. Do it Frank. Get your head in the game!

RPN

July 14th, 2012
11:18 pm

Agree on Braves announcer Chip. He is like a sophomore in college, who is sitting in front of his TV and thinks he is a sports announcer. Next year it would be great to have Sutton, Simpson and a rotation of Smoltz, Glavine, Murphy, Chipper, others. doing the games. Have real baseball people who stay focused on the game do the announcing.

Moy

July 14th, 2012
11:20 pm

A few more games in Rome and I will be there to help. Soon….

urban redneck

July 14th, 2012
11:46 pm

MB, please stop giving people kudos for getting first. that just encourages them.

i hope everyone on this blog was loaded tonight. the spelling is terible………..see, now i’m doing it.

chem

July 14th, 2012
11:57 pm

Baseball playoffs are a crapshoot, and you know it, Brad. Even the Marlins get lucky every decade or so. Teams should angle to get to October and let the cards fall where they may. That said, some reliable pitching might shore up the Braves’ chances of getting there — the odds are hovering ~60% right now.

VinceVanGo

July 14th, 2012
11:58 pm

I feel confident that Frank Wren reads these blogs. Any good GM would. I keep urging him to “get his head in the game”, but if the rumors are true that he’s shopping Martin Prado then I know where his head is. Prado is the Braves MVP and possibly the league MVP. Keep him, pay him, and build your team around him and the other young stars(Freeman, Heyward, Simons, Kimbrel). Put Prado at third next year and go out and get a couple of slugging outfielders in Free Agency or trades and pay for it with Chipper/Lowe/Bourn money. Rebuild the bench, and think carefully about committing long term to Brian McCann. It may be best to trade him to an AL team as a DH before his downhill slide becomes permanent. If you have any questions Frank get my email address from Mark!

NRBQ

July 15th, 2012
12:01 am

Noticing a pleasing reduction in hateful/moronic/unrelated comments, Mark.

Hope this is intentional.

earthlover

July 15th, 2012
12:11 am

Smoltz & Glavine are awful in the booth! Murphy is way better with valid points about the games. Skip is not so bad but I think all the regulars are good. People always put down Ernie Johnson but he was great!

benchwarmer

July 15th, 2012
12:13 am

Prado has me thinking that he may be a MVP.

blairjoyfulsound

July 15th, 2012
12:45 am

One thing to keep in mind with our pitching, especially Tim Hudson, is the impact of the middle-infield defense. That’s where we miss Simmons the most because he could get to grounders that not everyone else could get. Wilson is an OK fielder, but a lot of balls still get through as hits. Same with Prado at short. There were a couple of instances in today’s game where there were groundball hits that would have been outs with Simmons.

When most people think about defense, they look at errors and pretty plays. It takes an extra minute to remember that the pitcher’s (especially sinkerballers) success is dependent on how well the defense performed. If we have lousy defense, then Huddy gets more of his patented groundball-outs turned into hits. If we have good defense, then Huddy gets a quick 1-2-3 inning.

Gritsfed

July 15th, 2012
1:02 am

Excellent article, Mr. Bradley! I couldn’t have said it any better! ( But there again, I don’t get paid to write sports columns.) A couple of points 1) I honestly think the Braves need more than just one new starting pitcher (i.e. Greinke or Dempster) to do anything in the off-season. 2) Let’s see how the Braves are in 2 weeks, just before the trading deadline after playing some more in this humid, southern, heat ( ALL Braves’ teams, I think, wear down in August! Playing in the humid Southeast!) 3) Sorry to be so cynical but I suddenly recall the LAST huge trade for a pitcher; Braves’ gave up Brook Jacoby and Brett Butler for Len Barker. WE ALL KNOW HOW THAT ONE WENT! I can live with a trade just as long as the Braves are legitimately in the hunt AND I don’t hear the names, Prado, Bourne, McCann or Freeman going the other way.Food for thought, from Dalton.

JASon

July 15th, 2012
1:09 am

“Let’s dare to think ahead to October…”

Every september this team lets us down. Why are you even thinking about october?

Otis Nixon's Hellbent Redemption

July 15th, 2012
1:19 am

Chris Meyers screwed up several times during the broadcast and Eric Karros ain’t no must watch announcer either. I do like watching the nationally televised games much better though. I even watch the Braves on WGN when we are playing the Cubs. Chip Caray is a little to rah rah cheerleader, overreacting on a fly ball type for me. By the way Tommy Hanson is a gdmf’n 88 mph fastball throwing, 5 inning pitching, nasty red bearded, 3rd starter in the rotation type….didn’t he used to throw in the mid 90’s??

SR

July 15th, 2012
2:25 am

You’re kidding right, about the bullpen??!!! Leaving aside the wretched starting pitching for a moment, let’s look at the “playoff caliber” bullpen. Venters?? Not this year. O’flaherty? Not this year. Cristian Martinez? Sometimes, sometimes not. Do you really have confidence in him at playoff time??? If so, good for you, I don’t. Chad Durbin??? Come on, dude can sometimes be a gas can. Who else, Mike Minor if they use him in relief?? I think that shoots ample holes in your bullpen theory, now as to the starters, Hudson just had a birthday and is coming off back surgery. He is like Forrest Gump’s box o chocolates…. Hanson? Hardly, dude has no guts and is not clutch. Jurrjjens??? Please. Dude is like the Pillsbury doughboy and now can’t even throw a decent major league heater. Delgado? Whatever. Sheets???? Who the hell knows but smacks of desperation on the part of moron Wren. Get the picture??? Playoffs?? I doubt it but if they have to win a game and they are pitching any of the foregoing, bet on the other team.

Peter Moylan

July 15th, 2012
2:46 am

You forgot to mention the biggest weakness – the manager.

Tony

July 15th, 2012
3:00 am

I was at this game and found one more thing they need is speed…they are a slow base running team one guy thrown out at the plate and several times the 3rd base would not sent the runner. In my view with the pitcher coming up with one out you send the runner. They need to make a splash with a bat and a pitcher…

Steve

July 15th, 2012
3:23 am

I would gladly pitch Huddy, Hanson, or Jurrgens over Greinke in a one game play-off scenario.

Greinke is like a box of cereal. Fresh at great at the beginning, but when you are trying to polish things off he is all crumbles and dust. No thank you. I do not want Mr. Anti-Clutch being my big game starter.

Bradley Curse

July 15th, 2012
3:42 am

as far as bullpens go, looks at the stats … mediocre is running wild this year.

The lowest bullpen ERA in the AL is 3.38 (any guesses who it is?? Oakland A’s). Only two NL teams have pen ERA’s less than 2 (Reds/Pirates). Braves are 5th with 3.51 (and actually have a better pen ERA than the best team in the Majors right now, the Yanks with their 3.74 ERA).

Starter wise, the Braves have laid a huge egg … they’re 4.21 Starter’s ERA is only in front of Cubs/D’Backs/Astros/Rockies (12th out of 16 teams). Thankfully though they’re tied for 3rd in total runs scored this year … so at least in most cases, the bats make up for their starter deficiencies but like Bradley said they’d be running into some really great starters in the playoffs and we’ve had plenty of good examples of the offense being shutdown this year. So when the offense can only muster 1-2-3 runs per game in the playoffs against those starters, they don’t need their starters giving up 4+ runs.

I’m hoping Sheets can come in on Sunday and give us one heck of a surprise with his pitching performance and carry it for a while.

Bradley Curse

July 15th, 2012
3:44 am

*Only two NL teams have pen ERA’s less than 2 (Reds/Pirates)*

Edit: less than 3 … not 2, they’re not going out there and giving Kimbrel type performances every game .. don’t want to give them too much credit

Chip and Chipper

July 15th, 2012
5:08 am

I guess I am in the minority. I like Chip Caray. Also, Hanson is very fortunate to have 10 wins. He could easily be 5-10 with very few quality starts according to the announcers yesterday.

Dr. Warren

July 15th, 2012
5:41 am

20-year anniversary of Francisco Cabrera’s hit and Sid Bream’s slide fast approaching. I sense something special in these Braves, but a pitcher sure would help.

BigGreenTribe

July 15th, 2012
7:04 am

Hanson used to throw 94-96 mph…he’s now down to 88-89. They just wait for his fastball.

Bad arm again?

Dranuc

July 15th, 2012
7:33 am

Not to get of the subject, and yes I hope we pull the trigger on Greinke or Dempster, we really need to shore up our starting rotation (something I never thought I would have to say about the braves) but topdawg has got to be the most clueless baseball fan around to even make a comment like that. So you really want all of your sports announcers to sound like espn, “takin it to the house” and “hes got it goin on” and “like i said like i said” and “you know you know you know.” Seriously give up on the jiba speak and get back to real announcing. If I have to listen to another insightful espn announcer tell me that “If he hadn’t been tackled that would have been a touchdown” or “If he had hit that a little further it would have been a home run.” And PS the fox announcers are even worse than the espn announcers. Sorry for getting off track here but I cringe anytime I have to listen to anyone but simpson and caray with smoltz or murphy or glavine and miss the days of skip caray and wieren. So go back to your football announcers giving baseball commentary, but don’t criticize true baseball announcers who don’t play to your need for jiba speak. Your name should have clued me in but I still had to say my peace.