What we learned from the biggest week of the Braves’ season

J-Hey by the bay: Four games, three home runs. That'll do. (AP photo)

J-Hey by the bay: Four games, three home runs. A good weekend's work, I'd say. (AP photo)

It started badly and could have spiraled into something far worse. The Braves played seven road games — three on one coast, four on another — against two division leaders, each possessing the kind of starting pitching that can make a good team look bad.  If there’s to be an Epic Collapse II, it figured to start here.

But it didn’t. The Braves lost the first two games in Washington to fall seven games behind the Nationals, and they also lost the first two in San Francisco. But they somehow went 3-4 and drew within 4 1/2 of first place, having gained a sliver of ground in the season’s most difficult week. And now the Braves have 34 games remaining, 28 of those against sub-.500 teams, and they’re 2 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis for the first wild-card spot and four games ahead of Los Angeles for the second.

In sum, they’re in good shape. But they were in good shape last year, and they went 9-18 in September. They will not, however, play .333 ball this September, and here’s why:

They have too many healthy starting pitchers. The E.C. happened because Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson got hurt and Derek Lowe couldn’t win and the rotation was reduced to Tim Hudson and a bunch of rookies, thereby increasing the load on an already-taxed bullpen and further exposing a lineup that couldn’t score to save its life. Ben Sheets, Kris Medlen and Paul Maholm energized a rotation that was substandard over the season’s first three months. Mike Minor is actually pitching well — eight quality starts over his past nine outings — and Tim Hudson is still stout (figuratively if not literally). Even with Sheets on the disabled list and questions surrounding Tommy Hanson, there’s Randall Delgado as a fallback.

They hit the ball too well. They’re second in the National League in runs scored, fourth in on-base percentage. (They were 10th and 14th in those categories last season.) Even with Dan Uggla doing his annual disappearing act and Brian McCann hurting, this is still a lineup that’s good at the top and solid in the middle. Jason Heyward hit four home runs last week and is looking more and more like a franchise player, and Freddie Freeman is on pace to drive in 104 runs.

They figure things out. In a seven-game span that saw them lose six times to the Dodgers, the Nationals and the Giants, the Braves were 6-for-54 (.111) with runners in scoring position, which is terrible. But they were 7-for-25 (.280) with RISP in their final two games in San Fran, winning both. On the season, they’ve hit .250 with runners in scoring position and two out, which mightn’t sound like much but is third-best in the National League. This is not the worst situational hitting team you’ve ever seen. On the contrary, it is, as general manager Frank Wren averred 10 days ago, a pretty decent one.

They still have hope of winning the East. A year ago, even the Braves privately conceded they couldn’t catch the Phillies. The Nationals have never known a pennant race, and the strain might be starting to show. Sunday’s loss in Philadelphia turned when Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche didn’t run hard because they thought a ball LaRoche hit off the top of the fence was a home run. Afterward manager Davey Johnson, who had pulled the famous rookie Bryce Harper in a double switch, was visited by GM Mike Rizzo, and Johnson was overheard by reporters yelling at Rizzo, “You come down here and manage the team.” There’s also the lingering matter of Stephen Strasburg and Rizzo’s innings cap, which hasn’t played well in the Nats’ clubhouse.

They have the league’s third-best record, and there are two wild cards this year. The Cardinals are surging again, but the Pirates are waning, so that’s essentially a wash. The Dodgers are buying up every big name in sight, but they probably stand a better chance of catching the Giants in the West than they do the Braves in the wild-card chase. We can argue at length over whether the Braves have enough top-line starting pitching to win a World Series — my grudging guess is that they don’t — but this has borne the look of a playoff team for a while now, and going 3-4 on the road against big-time pitching only underscored the notion.

By Mark Bradley

119 comments Add your comment

Dawgs East Champs

August 27th, 2012
1:46 pm

First. Go Braves, hope they can continue to close the Nat’s lead!

dawgnation1

August 27th, 2012
1:53 pm

Goldenrod

August 27th, 2012
1:54 pm

FIRST! Finally! Go Jackets!!!

dawgnation1

August 27th, 2012
1:54 pm

NOOOO!!!!!!! so freaking close. That’s what I get for actually reading an article mark wrote.

dawgnation1

August 27th, 2012
1:55 pm

FIRE HERSCHEL TALKER (he’s an idiot)

Goldenrod

August 27th, 2012
2:01 pm

Filthy leghumping dawgs!

dawg tired

August 27th, 2012
2:01 pm

Dan Uggla is stealing money! He has the worst batting avg. of any every day starter in the league! Last season’s slump is the norm, not an abberation.

Elonbrave

August 27th, 2012
2:02 pm

That’s a real good column, Bradley. Nice work.

Paul

August 27th, 2012
2:03 pm

A mild way of saying they won’t squander. It’s gonna be funny to watch st louis and la or sf get those last 2 wild cards and another choke season down the drain.

evan

August 27th, 2012
2:07 pm

I agree about the Braves not having the top of the line starting pitching to win a WS, but then again, if Medlen keeps it up and either Ben Sheets or Tommy Hanson gets back on track that would give the Braves a good #1-3. Unfortunately, Huddy seems to be the only sure thing the Braves have this year. The Braves bullpen is lights out and the offense has been great.

Widespread Panic

August 27th, 2012
2:12 pm

Good points, Mark. Another: Freddi Gonzales may have finally smelled the coffree regarding a certain right handed infielder, who formerly started about six games per week. Jannish isn’t going to hit a lot, nor the pitcher, Starting Prado at second and Johnson in left gives the Braves 7 legit bats in the lineup on a consistent basis, increasing the lineup turns for the reliable fast guys and the surging mashers in the middle of the lineup.

Genevaman

August 27th, 2012
2:15 pm

Why isn’t Tim Hudson being considered a contender for the Cy Young award? Few in the National League can top his won-lost record, and he is certainly the pitching MVP for the Braves.

TC

August 27th, 2012
2:17 pm

When is Simmons coming back?

Steve

August 27th, 2012
2:18 pm

I can’t believe how bad people want to be first. Must be the highlight of their day. Pretty sad.

Sundrop Kid

August 27th, 2012
2:26 pm

MB failed to point out, in all his optimism, that the Padres are on a 7 game winning streak, and start a pitcher tonight making his MLB debut. That is usually the “kiss of death” for the Braves, so don’t chalk up another victory yet.

Max Sizemore

August 27th, 2012
2:26 pm

Cardinals to beat the Braves in the wild-card playoff, then beat Wash. and Cincinnati to reach the World Series again, this time losing to the Yankees.

Steve

August 27th, 2012
2:28 pm

Genevaman, I agree but Hudson is nowhere close to these guys:

Cueto – 16-6, 2.47 ERA
DIckey – 16-4, 2.76 ERA
Lohse – 13-2, 2.61 ERA

sidslid

August 27th, 2012
2:36 pm

The race is against the Giants. Dodgers will dominate in September when most teams play intradivison games. A while ago it looked like that series against Pittsburgh was going to be for a playoff birth, but Pirate pitching can’t hang on. St. Louis will at least win 2 of 3 this week from them (they have owned Pittsburgh for 20 years) and you can stick a fork in Pittsburgh. Therefore, Cardinals get a wild card no matter what as that division is a cake walk outside of Cincy. Giants have to face a suddenly hot San Diego and a decent Arizona team. Even Colorado has begun to play well.

Lookatmyaverage

August 27th, 2012
2:37 pm

How common is it for a GM and Manager to yell and scream at each other? Any insight on that? Looks like pressure bust pipes and the Nats might have a few pipes close to bursting? Not saying we going to catch them but lets see how they handle that September pressure…..tennis balls turn into golf balls! Just keep Uggla on the bench and I think we can make those last three with the Nats a nice wram up for the playoff run for the Braves!

Mark Bradley

August 27th, 2012
2:39 pm

Kudos, Dawg East.

Alaska Braves Fan

August 27th, 2012
2:51 pm

Mark: I often cringe when I see a new article from you. You provide honest appraisals, and those sometimes are uncomfortable to read. In this one, you are, I think, absolutely correct in your evaluation of the Braves’ chances. I hope you’re wrong about starting pitching and the Series, but I have to admit to having had the same worries.

If Reed Johnson is moved into the starting slot in left field, and Martin Prado goes to second full-time, I think this team takes a step up. (I know, teams don’t like to sit big earners like Uggla, but he has had more than enough time to show what he can and cannot do at this point in his career.) David Ross probably should get about half the starts from here on out, too, because McCann has a shoulder issue that simply will not get better on its own. Those two moves would be a big help.

Thanks for your work!

ABF

Medlinfan

August 27th, 2012
3:01 pm

How can people say that Hudson is the ace of the staff or that he’s the Braves’ MVP of pitching? What does Kris Medlin have to do, please??????? He’s pitched middle relief – he even had a 3 inning save this year – and the team is 16-0 in his starts since last season. I think he even got a hit (maybe walked) but scored from first on a double in his last start. That kid has been lights-out all season in any role they’ve put him in. I say, in a seven game series, give him the ball in games 1-4 and 7 if necessary. Let’s just hope we have a 7 game series to play at some point.

Medlinfan

August 27th, 2012
3:02 pm

That should be 1,4, and 7. Bad use of a dash in place of a comma. Ha! Anyway, go Medlin and go Braves!!!!!!!

Stinger 2

August 27th, 2012
3:02 pm

Paul: Are you a fan of LA, SFO or ST Louis or maybe all three?
You comments indicate that you must be an anti-Braves fan.

Stinger 2

August 27th, 2012
3:05 pm

Paul: Are you a Braves fan?

Stinger 2

August 27th, 2012
3:06 pm

Mark: Good analysis of why the Braves will at least get into the playoffs.

disbot3000

August 27th, 2012
3:09 pm

What are you guys talking about? Dan Uggla is an All-Star. AN ALL-STAR!

Just kidding! I can’t keep a straight face. I think the rest of the MLB fans voted him in just so we would feel obligated to keep him in the line-up, no matter what.

bravesgirl4ever

August 27th, 2012
3:11 pm

I love the Braves but am even more amazed at how they keep on winning with Uggla doing nothing; Jannish tries but really can’t hit; and a hurt McCann. Watched them take the last 2 from the Giants and was applauding the 5 who are DOING IT,,,Bourn, Prado [an unsung hero], Freeman, Jones, and even ole Francisco…Heyward, and Johnson is coming around….not got them in the right order but yall know who I mean!
GO BRAVES!

Stinger 2

August 27th, 2012
3:15 pm

As much as Uggla has struggled, he is not hurting his team any more
than many of the so called “fans” are doing with their never ending negative comments.

Alaska Braves Fan

August 27th, 2012
3:20 pm

I love watching Janish play. You’re right in saying he just cannot hit, but you do have to concede that he’s getting the biggest bang he can for the buck. His hitting has improved somewhat – he has put in his time with Walker – but the most impressive part of his offense is that he has come up big when you least expect it. He has had some critical RBI’s, and he really has not been an automatic cipher in the lineup, despite the fact that everyone said he could not hit at all. And, of course, his defense needs no defense. I wonder just how many runs he has saved us with his fielding when compared to what would have happened if Pastornicky had returned to SS.

DanthenotsomuchMan

August 27th, 2012
3:21 pm

Please send Uggla down to Gwinnett for goodness sakes he’s terrible. He has the worst swing in the majors and plays less than average defense. Absolutely no reason he should be in the lineup day after day. I know highschool players with more talent. So I’ll ask again please, please, do what is long over do and get rid of him.

VinceVanGo

August 27th, 2012
3:33 pm

Just get excited Braves fans, it’s almost Sept. 1st. Then Wren can call up Constanza, Meija, Lyle Overbay, Delgado, Gearon, and maybe a few more. Then Fredi will have a full pantry to choose from and if he’s serious about playing the hot hands and match ups the Braves should be able to play with anybody. I only hope that he(with Wren) make the right decisions when it comes to the post season roster, even if it means leaving off a high priced player or a popular veteran who has under performed.

Bradley Curse

August 27th, 2012
3:38 pm

“If there’s to be an Epic Collapse II, it figured to start here. But it didn’t”

just as how they won the last 2 games of the Giants series they could just as easily get swept by the Padres and negate everything …. so obviously to early to say that for sure

Stinger 2

August 27th, 2012
3:38 pm

VinceVanGo: Who would you leave off? Bet I can guess at least one of them.

Alaska Braves Fan

August 27th, 2012
3:40 pm

You might find it interesting to compare the stat lines of Simmons, Pastornicky, and Janish at the Braves’ site. I know I was a little surprised.

AB’s: Simmons, 115
Pastornicky, 161
Janish, 140

Runs scored: Simmons, 13
Pastornicky, 21
Janish, 17

Hits: Simmons, 34
Pastornicky, 40
Janish, 29

Walks: Simmons, 8
Pastornicky, 9
Janish, 12

Average: Simmons, .296
Pastornicky, .248
Janish, .207

RBI’s: Simmons, 15
Pastornicky, 13
Janish, 9

In actual run production, Janish is holding his own, despite the low batting average.

ABF

eastbound and down

August 27th, 2012
3:40 pm

I am not sure the team figures things out regarding hitting with runners in scoring position. this is just one of the nerve wracking aspects of baseball and the 162 game schedule. the Nats couldn’t lose and now can’t score. (thankfully)
But, i am glad an off day is coming up this week, Fredi has fielded some interesting lineups over the past week or so. now everyone can have thursday off.

Stinger 2

August 27th, 2012
3:43 pm

Bradley Curse: How about looking at it in a positive way.If the Braves take
two of three with the Padres, it will be a 5-5 record in a ten day road trip
across the country and playing two division leaders. Not too bad I would say.

Brown

August 27th, 2012
3:44 pm

Bradley Curse – I think you missed the point of the quote

Realtycheck

August 27th, 2012
3:48 pm

After watching the crowds in Philly, Washington and San Fran and the empty seats at Turner, maybe fans get the team they deserve. Just saying.

Sonny Clusters

August 27th, 2012
3:48 pm

Well, we went back and looked at the last blog and found out somebody had taken a shot or two at us for our comments on there. That got us to thinking that special education classes don’t always work with everybody. We was also wondering if our little pretend mama that follows us around and blogs about us would get deer tattooed if Chipper was to offer him a deer tattoo for being a blind squirrel of a fan. The only way to know is if the offer is made unless some of us on here would be willing to pay to get him deer tattooed just so we could laugh. Now, we stand by our comments on the earlier blog and we reiterate our position that should be some pop in Popeye arms – and we’re not talking pop-up.

Train Wreck Bystander

August 27th, 2012
3:49 pm

You people and your silly attempts at firsitude.

=====

The only good thing about Uggla’s horrid summer is that it can only get better from here.

Brown

August 27th, 2012
3:51 pm

Realty check. You’re right – the Braves always seem to have trouble filling the seats when they are on a road trip for some reason.

P.S. – do you have any residential properties available?

Abnerish

August 27th, 2012
4:04 pm

I gotta say that the Braves are a much better team with Prado at 2nd and Johnson in LF. At least until Uggs starts hitting again. But at this point, I’m worried that this season is a wash for him. Frankly, if I were Fredi I would play Uggs and if he continues to pull off the ball and swing wildly, I would bench him the next game. Then repeat until he either gets it or until Fredi gives up hope.

Lou Piniella's cap

August 27th, 2012
4:11 pm

“Then repeat until he either gets it or until Fredi gives up hope.”

@Abnerish, I wouldn’t count on the latter happening. You have a better of talking Liberty Media into selling the team in the offseason. And as far as the Gonzalez talk about picking and choosing when to sit Uggla and when to play him, I’ll believe it when I see it. I’d be downright shocked if Uggla sat more than 3 times down the stretch.

Lou Piniella's cap

August 27th, 2012
4:14 pm

better chance*

bfred

August 27th, 2012
4:26 pm

I’ve honestly never seen a major league hitter pull off the ball the way Uggla does. He couldn’t reach the outside half of the plate with a 40-inch bat; my son’t little league coach wouldn’t put up with that.

Mark, I know the usual response is that players get help from the hitting coaches when they ask for it, but surely by now someone is forcing Uggla to work with them? Watch some film of his swing? Anything? I wouldn’t let that kind of investment sit broken; I’d try to fix it.

bfred

August 27th, 2012
4:29 pm

“son’s little league coach…”

In an unrelated question, what does Hudson look at when he pitches? The ball leaving his hand? The upper deck beyond third base? Airplanes? That photo from the Giants game is crazy! He looks like his head was Photoshopped onto his body.

dean

August 27th, 2012
4:36 pm

By-the-way, who is the dumba** that scheduled the Braves from DC (night game) to SF without a day off?

Right about now the gnats are looking over their shoulders.

oh brother!

August 27th, 2012
4:41 pm

lol Brown..love it.

oldtimer

August 27th, 2012
4:42 pm

Even after Simmons gets back, Fredi could use Janish at 2nd. Pardo back to lf. Still no Uggla and a great middle defense behind our starters.