Coming down the mountain…
Things have gone from bad to worse over the past two weeks in Bravesland. It just doesn’t seem like anything can go right for Atlanta, while nothing can wrong for the opposition. Friday’s shelling at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals punctuated what has been the roughest stretch of baseball for the Braves in recent memory.
The numbers don’t lie. For a team that was second in the National League and fifth in all of baseball with a 3.79 team ERA at the All-Star break, Atlanta’s hurlers have been battered around at a 6.27 clip in the second half. Over the past two weeks, the Braves have lost 11 of 12 games coming into Saturday and a primary reason for that has been that opponents will jump out to nice leads and never look back.
It would be somewhat unfair to not mention that Atlanta’s patchwork rotation was hardly what anyone thought would be taking the mound every fifth day. What if I told you in April that the only veteran in the Braves rotation by the last week in August will be Mike Hampton? Doubtful anyone would believe me. Heck, I have a hard time believing it myself.
Each game I come across an interesting little updated tidbit that is included in the Braves media notes. When Casey Kotchman missed Wednesday’s contest to return home and be with his ailing mother, he became the 20th different Brave to go on the DL or bereavement list. Total games lost combined? 1,018 (through Friday). Wow. Or “ouch” as the case may be.
Of course, the Braves really haven’t given anyone a reason to look over their shoulder late in the game lately either. Since the trade of Mark Teixeira, the Braves offense has seemed almost punch-less at times. Brian McCann and Chipper Jones have certainly done their part, but the 1-8 production simply has not been there this season.
The season-long struggles of Jeff Francouer underscore an outfield that has simply not turned in the kind of production that anyone in or around the organization has been accustomed to. With Andruw Jones and his decade-plus 30+ homers and 100 RBI’s now a thing of the past, the Braves have not been able to find a way to add some power production to their line-up. Matt Diaz has been out for three months; Mark Kotsay missed some time as well but has been a solid contributor for the most part.
Regardless, the Braves outfield has combined for just 25 homers, 163 RBI and a .252 batting average. By comparison, 2007’s numbers (.275-59-280) even had a career-worst year for Andruw factored in. Even with five more weeks, it’s doubtful that the gap will close between these two stat-lines. If you want to know a place where I would expect to see some money spent this off-season, then you could put the outfield right up there with the starting rotation.
I could go on and on, and on some more, about the loss of starters John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Tim Hudson to season-ending arm surgeries. I could, really. But at this point, you know this pat of the story. There’s no truckload of numbers that I could dump on your computer screen that would locate something that hasn’t been pointed out already…. Those losses hurt. And there is no team in baseball that could stand to lose three top-line starters and contend for any length of time. Unforeseen and unfortunate is all I can say for those injuries.
Jair Jurrjens has been a saving grace, without a doubt, but may start to show the effects of the largest workload of his career over his final starts. Just think of this season without the quality work of the studious Jurrjens, still honing his craft before being thrust to the front of a rotation in his just his first full season. He’s one to watch for the future.
The rest of the younger Braves hurlers took some serious lumps in rotation. Jo-Jo Reyes has been quality on the road (3.54 ERA in 48 innings), but has just a 1-4 record to show for it. Home has been another story. Turner Field has been a little shop of horrors for Reyes, who sports a 2-5 record and a 7.15 ERA in nine starts. There were high hopes that Reyes would be able to hold down a spot in the Atlanta rotation, but he may have been rushed through the system in 2007 and still feeling the effects this season. If Reyes ever gets command of his pitches and cuts down the walks, he could still be a big piece for Atlanta.
Righty starter Charlie Morton (3-8, 6.39 in 13 starts) has shown flashes of brilliance, followed up by forgettable shellings. Friday’s horrific start in St. Louis was wrought with walks (five in 1.1 innings), which seems to be a theme with some of the younger arms. Command has been at a premium, but like Reyes, Morton has the stuff to compete at the Major League level. The problem has been a penchant for walking hitters and dealing with too many base runners (1.64 WHIP) to be successful. Pitching in Turner Field has been hard on Morton as well, with an 0-6 record and an 8.18 ERA in seven starts.
We can talk about potential all day, and what players are capable of, but this season has not allowed the Braves to simply convert the numbers from predictions in the spring into success on the field. It never is quite that easy. Losing Teixeira, who rebuffed Atlanta’s contract extension offer earlier this year, cost the Braves a number of prospects who would be nice to have in the mix. But there is money to be spent on fixing some problem areas this off-season.
The free-agent crop isn’t exactly the world’s best, but there will be some players who could fill the voids left by age and injury in the Braves line-up and on the hill. Fodder for next time…