Posted: 1:54 pm Friday, July 4th, 2014

Braves must keep pedal to metal in soft part of schedule 

By David O'Brien

Remember during the stretch drive of the 2012 season when the Braves and Nationals were in lockstep? When the Braves won, the Nats won. When they lost, the Nats lost. It happened almost every day for weeks on end.

Julio Teheran (left) has established himself as the Braves ace in his second full season in the majors.    Atlanta is 9-1 since B.J. Upton (right)  moved into the leadoff spot.

Julio Teheran (left) has established himself as the Braves ace in his second full season in the majors. Atlanta is 9-1 since B.J. Upton (right) moved into the leadoff spot. (Jason Getz/AJC photo)

Well, we’re not in the stretch drive yet, but it’s been happening again lately. After Atlanta wasted an opportunity to gain ground when the Nats struggled for long stretches of the first half, the Braves are now on their first extended winning streak of the season. But they haven’t been able to put any distance between themselves and the Nats, who are also suddenly surging.

Beginning with the four-game series June 19-22 at Washington that they split with the Nats, the Braves have gone 11-3 despite hitting a mere .227 with 53 runs and six homers in 14 games. They’ve posted a stellar 2.41 ERA in that  period.

In the same stretch, before their Friday afternoon game against the Cubs, the Nats were 9-5 despite hitting just .226 with 53 runs in 14 games. (Yes, almost identical to the Braves’ .227 with 53 runs over 14 games.) The Nats had a 2.82 ERA in that period.

Both teams have ratcheted up their performance another notch since the series at D.C. Atlanta is 9-1 with a 2.33 ERA in its past 10 games, and enters Friday night’s home-series opener against the Diamondbacks riding a season-high seven-game winning streak in which the Braves have pitched to a 2.14 ERA and hit .253 with 35 runs — despite hitting just two homers.

Meanwhile, the Nats had a .270 batting average and 1.80 ERA during a season-high five-game winning streak before their Friday afternoon home game against the Cubs. They had allowed three or fewer runs in every game in that streak, and scored seven three times.

Both the Braves and Nats built their winning streaks by beating up on teams they should be up on: The Braves took two of three at Houston (36-51 record before Friday) and swept four at Philadelphia (37-48) and three from the Mets at Turner Field. Those are teams at the bottom of their divisions. Similarly, the Nationals’ win streak came against the last-place Cubs (37-46 before Friday) and fourth-place Colorado (36-50).

So the Braves have lately done what they were supposed to do against bad teams, and they have a golden opportunity to keep to finally put some distance between themselves and the Nats, because the Braves’ remaining 10 games before the All-Star break are all against teams that were at least 11 games under .500 and at 10 games out in their division races before Friday: D-backs (36-51), Mets (37-48) and Cubs (37-46).

And then coming out of the break, the Braves open with a 10-game homestand against the reeling Phillies, the Marlins, and the 38-47 Padres.

I mean, you couldn’t ask for a much better schedule than the Braves have to close the first half. And then a 10-game homestand coming out of the Braves, against three teams the Braves should at least take series from, and a couple they should sweep if they get the kind of pitching they’ve gotten lately.

The Braves got through a tough part of their schedule that included 16 games against the Giants, Cardinals and Brewers between May 2-May 22, and another seven-game stretch that included four games at always-interesting Coors Field and against the Angels.

Now they’re enjoying a long, relatively soft portion of the schedule. And instead of coasting and catching their breath, they’ve taking care of business.

But the Nats are right there, lurking. Waiting for the Braves to slip up. And before the Braves embark on an eight-game trip out west July 29-Aug. 6 to face the Dodgers, Padres and Mariners, the Braves need to get their offense firing on more cylinders. I didn’t say all cylinders, because few teams do that and these Braves have too many streaky hitters to expect it.

But most cylinders is not expecting too much, and it’s what the Braves will need to do if they hope to win the division and assure themselves of a first-round playoff series. They can’t expect to ride their pitching and a few timely two-out hits to series wins when they face good teams again. They’ve got to start producing better, more consistent offense. They’re still not hitting well with runners in scoring position, still aren’t moving runners over and getting them in from third with less than two outs, still aren’t shortening swings with two strikes and putting the ball in play on a regular basis.

Against bad teams, they can still win without doing that, long as they get a well-pitched game and a couple of timely hits. But not against good teams.

The Braves have a significant advantage over the Nats in the head-to-head record if it were to come to that. Even after losing the last two games of the four-game series at D.C., the Braves are 7-3 against them this season.

The teams meet again in a three-game series Aug. 8-10 at Turner Field, right after the Braves get back from their West Coast trip. Between now and then, the Braves have a chance to take control of the division race. But they can’t afford to sputter, because the Nats could be poised to take advantage. Well, unless Bryce Harper decides he should manage the team.

• B.J. at top of order: Since moving to the leadoff spot, B.J. Upton is 10-for-37 (.270) during a nine-game hitting streak, with a double, a triple, a homer, seven runs, two walks, 10 strikeouts and two stolen bases (would’ve been three SBs if he hadn’t come off second base on a slide).

He has just a .308 OBP and .432 slugging percentage in that span, but it’s still pretty significant improvement over his overally numbers.

Oh, and the team is 8-1 with him batting leadoff, and riding a season-high seven-game winning streak entering Friday’s series opener against Arizona.

In his last 44 games before the move to the leadoff spot, Upton hit .193 (32-for-166) with 19 runs, five stolen bases, a .257 OBP and .325 slugging percentage, and the team was 19-25.

By the way, in his past 11 games against the Mets, Upton is 14-for-43 (.326) with three doubles, a triple, 10 runs, three RBIs, five walks, two stolen bases, .388 OBP and .442 slugging percentage. The Braves have another four-game series against the Mets starting Monday in New York.

 • Yes, Teheran is an ace: From June 3, 2013 through July 2 (Wednesday), Julio Teheran has a 19-11 record with a 2.61 ERA and .216 opponents’ average in 38 starts, with 197 hits, 58 walks and 234 strikeouts in 248 1/3 innings. He received 3.33 support runs per nine innings pitched in that span, and the Braves were 25-13 in those games.

In that same 12-month period, Tampa Bay’s David Price was 16-11 with a 3.02 ERA and .239 opponents’ average in 36 starts, with 238 hits, 30 walks and 255 strikeouts in 262 2/3 innings. Price received 3.84 support runs per nine innings pitched (1/2 run more than Teheran) and the Rays were 22-14 in those games.

Price pitches in the American League in a division with hitter-friendly ballparks, so that has to be taken into account. But still, look at those stats. Other than being a bigger strikeout pitcher than Teheran, has Price been significantly better over that period? And consider, Price says that right now he’s the best pitcher that he’s ever been in his career. He’s 28, in his seventh season.

Teheran, 23, is in his second full season. And think about this: After signing a six-year, $32.4 million contract at spring training, Teheran is making $800,000 this season, and will make a total of $10.6 million over the next three seasons (2015-2017), then $8 million in 2018 and $11 million in 2019, when he’s 28.

The Braves also hold a $12 million option for 2020, with a $1 million buyout.

In 21 home games during the past 12 months, Teheran 10-4 with a 2.02 ERA and .201 OA, with 140 strikeouts and 30 walks in 138 1/3 innings. He has a majors-leading 1.23 home ERA this season.

Johnny Cueto and Price shared the major league lead with 131 innings pitched before Friday, “King” Felix Hernandez was next with 128 1/3, and Teheran was fourth with 126, and Adam Wainwright fifth with 124.

The WHIP for each of those pitchers: Cueto (0.87), Price (1.08), Hernandez (0.92), Teheran (0.95), Wainwright (0.90).

Teheran’s contract has the potential to be the best long-term deal the Braves have given out in a long, long time.

  • Jason Heyward’s past 22 games: .200 (15-for-75) with one homer, eight RBIs, 14 walks, 12 strikeouts, no steals, .341 OBP, .320 slugging percentage. And his past 12 games: 4-for-36 (.111) with one RBI, nine walks, three strikeouts, .304 OBP, .194 slugging percentage.

In the fifth spot in the order, Heyward is 9-for-46 (.196) with no homers, three RBIs, 12 walks, .373 OBP, .304 slugging percentage. Batting leadoff, he hit .254 (70-for-276) with eight homers, 27 RBIs, 31 walks, .334 OBP, .384 slugging.

Heyward’s .136 average against left-handers (11-for-81) is the worst in the majors among those with enough plate appearances to qualify. B.J. Upton’s .152 against lefties is third-lowest in the NL.

The Braves haven’t faced a lefty starter in two weeks, but will finally see another one Sunday, Arizona’s Wade Miley.

Freddie, JUp vs. Arizona: A couple of Braves in particular like seeing that Diamondback uniform on the mound.

In 21 games against the D-backs, Freddie Freeman has hit .398 (33-for-83) with 10 doubles, six homers, 22 RBIs, and a .735 slugging percentage. And he’s 7-for-12 with a homer against Friday starter Josh Collmenter.

  And Justin Upton, traded by the D-backs to Atlanta before the 2013 season, has done this in nine games against his former team: .353 (12-for-34) with one double, two homers, six RBIs, seven walks, .476 OBP, .559 slugging percentage.

Meanwhile, Martin Prado has gone 12-for-33 (.364) with a double, no RBIs and a .417 OBP in nine games against the Braves since the former Braves fan-favorite was sent to Arizona in the seven-player trade that brought Upton and Chris Johnson to Atlanta.

• Justin Upton’s past 30 games: .209 (24-for-115) with four doubles, three homers, 13 RBIs, seven walks, 33 strikeouts, .258 OBP, .322 slugging percentage. So yeah, it might be a good time for him to face Arizona.

Friday’s matchup: It’ll be Ervin Santana (6-5, 4.05 ERA) vs. D-backs righty Josh Collmenter (7-4, 3.74).

Santana is 2-5 with a 5.56 ERA and .305 opponents’ average in his past nine starts, with 43 strikeouts, 19 walks and six homers allowed in 55 innings. He’s 1-2 with a 3.86 ERA and .292 OA in his past three starts, officially all quality starts of six innings or more (6, 6, 6 2/3) and three earned runs or fewer (3, 3 and 2). He hasn’t allowed a homer in his past two.

In three starts against the Diamondbacks, Santana is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA. That includes a June 7 win at Phoenix when he allowed six hits and one unearned run in seven innings, with two walks and one strikeout.

Collmenter is 6-4 with a 3.94 ERA in 14 starts this season (1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in five relief appearances). He’s allowed a .293 opponents’ average on the road, 70 points higher than he’s allowed at home.

Collmenter is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his past three games (two starts), pitching a combined total of only 11 1/3 innings in those games including 5 and 5 1/3 innings in the two starts. He had two runs, 10 hits (no homers) eight strikeouts and six walks in those games, and allowed five hits and one run in 5 1/3 innings at San Diego on Saturday pitching on short rest.

He’s 1-2 with a 1.73 ERA in six games against the Braves including a 2.45 ERA in three starts. He last started against them in April 2012, and pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings over three relief appearances against the Braves since then.

• Bethancourt’s family business: In case you missed it, our AJC intern Erica Hernandez wrote a fine story about rookie Christian Bethancourt and how baseball and catching runs in the family. Here’s a link.

 JJ resurfaces: Jair Jurrjens was 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in the first half in 2011 when he made the All-Star team for the Braves. Since then he’s gone 4-7 with a 6.31 ERA in 20 major league starts, and 29 of his 30 major league starts over the past two seasons came in Triple-A with the Tigers, Orioles and Reds organizations.

Seldom have we seen such a rapid decline from a guy in what should have been the prime of his career (he’s still only 28 today), when it wasn’t associated with a season-ending injury or surgery. He had chronic knee problems, but never had to have a midseason surgery and kept saying how the latest brace or workout routine had allowed him to get it under control.

We bring this up now because Jurrjens was traded Wednesday from the Reds to the injury-depleted Rockies, in exchange for a minor league infielder (who was not considered a prospect). And tonight, Jurrjens will start for the Rockies at Coors Field against the Dodgers. Before the trade he was 2-3 with a 4.46 ERA in six starts for the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate.

Tough assignment. Good luck to JJ. I know a lot of Braves fans are still hoping he can get his career back on track.

• Happy Fourth of July, folks. Have a great day. And let’s close this with the best Fourth of July rock song ever, in my humble opinion. Hear (and see) the great band  X doing the cut by clicking here.

“4th of July” by X (written by David Alvin)

X from Los Angeles

X from Los Angeles

She’s waitin’ for me
when I get home from work
oh, but things ain’t just the same
She turns out the light
and cries in the dark
won’t answer when I call her name

On the stairs I smoke a
cigarette alone
Mexican kids are shootin’
fireworks below
Hey baby, it’s the Fourth of July
Hey baby, it’s the Fourth of July

She gives me her cheek
when I want her lips
but I don’t have the strength to go
On the lost side of town
in a dark apartment
we gave up trying so long ago

On the stairs I smoke a
cigarette alone
Mexican kids are shootin’
fireworks below
Hey baby, it’s the Fourth of July
Hey baby, it’s the Fourth of July

What ever happened I
apologize
so dry your tears and baby
walk outside, it’s the Fourth of July

On the stairs I smoke a
cigarette alone
Mexican kids are shootin’
fireworks below
Hey baby, it’s the Fourth of July
Hey baby, Baby take a walk outside

 

 

 

1884 comments
RickinWarnerRobins
RickinWarnerRobins

Braves will be lucky to finish .500...they're a mediocre team with a manager who has ruined several pitchers, can't manage a pitching staff and refuses to play anything other than a bush-league, AA player (at best) player in centerfield.  It has senior management that has no clue how to evaluate players before giving them multi-million dollar contracts and then lets quality players leave the team.  Anything over a .500 season should (at this point) be considered a successful season.

MitchellC
MitchellC

Excellent analysis.  The Braves had been playing very well until the last couple of games, but last night's loss to the Mets was brutal.  


I'm hoping for them to play.. 500 on this trip, and then go something like 7-3 or 8-2 during the 10 game homestand you mentioned after the break.  


I hope the Braves can put some distance between themselves and the Nats.   My gut tells me, that the NL East will be a close race well into September.

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

Someone tweeted Huston Street is the best closer in NL hahaha. Kimbrel bar none is best in NL and possibly baseball.

Well .... Kimbrel has blown as many saves this season (4) as Street has in the past three seasons combined. So if you're going by results alone, Street IS better.

BFChris29
BFChris29

Can we trade Chip to Fox Sports 1 for Frank Thomas?

MFin04
MFin04

So what's wrong with C/DH Brian McCann? Him and Beltran have been terrible? Just got old?

JerseyGil
JerseyGil

Anyone Heard Frank Thomas Saturday in Fox1 talking about Jason Heyward Stand?.....He say Jason need to stand Up and raise his hand little big and will be a better hitter.

MFin04
MFin04

BJ  .260/.288

That's the guy I want leading off...give him the most at bats... ;-)

BFChris29
BFChris29

LOL someone tweeted Huston Street is the best closer in NL hahaha.


Kimbrel bar none is best in NL and possibly baseball.

_Hillbilly_
_Hillbilly_

Looks like the Braves found some big ol' boys on the international market last week. Here is a rundown of a few of them:

Almaraz said, “(Yepez is) a good hitter. He’s a guy with good hitting ability and above average power for a 16-year old. I mean above average raw power.

Several reports have questioned Yepez’s body-time, but Almaraz shot down that talk.

“The guy is a specimen,” Almaraz said. “He’s a big strong guy. There’s nothing wrong with his body type. He’s a very polished kid for his age. We felt he was the best bat internationally this year.”

Here is the list of the other top signees for the Braves.

Jan Patrick Guerrero - 1B – Dominican Republic – 6-3, 195 – 17 years old – LHH/R

“He reminds me of Freddie Freeman,” Almaraz said. “He’s the spitting image of him. Good power. Very athletic kid. He’s just another hitter, another polished hitter.”

David Sacaria – OF – St. Thomas, Virgin Islands – 6-4, 220 – 17 years old – RHH/R

“We signed him out of the Dominican Republic. He has a relative that is Dominican. A big kid. He’s got big-time power,” Almaraz said.

Grendis Ferrer – OF – Dominican Republic – 6-3, 200 – 17 years old – RHH/H

“He has tools,” Almaraz said. “He can run and has big-time pop. He’s just another power-type bat who has above average running ability and an above average arm.”

http://braves.scout.com/2/1418827.html

BFChris29
BFChris29

@LumanHarris 

If building a team from ground up, would you take Kimbrel or Street?

Sure results may say Street is better, but Kimbrel has proven time n time again since he has been up he is as dominant as they come.

A few blown saves more than Street alone doesn't mean Street is overall better in my opinion.


No bias here, Kimbrel to me is the best one in NL, arguably baseball right now.

JerseyGil
JerseyGil

@BFChris29 You are compare Frank Thomas HOF for Chip a bench player for the Cubs?

_CraZy_
_CraZy_

@MFin04 Maybe his hitting coach isn't kicking him in the pants enough? 

_Hillbilly_
_Hillbilly_

@JerseyGil Didn't hear that, but I mentioned the other day that his stance is opened again, whereas his front leg was very closed late last season and early this year. 

ncscoots
ncscoots

@MFin04

Please try to remember that OBP is a means, not an end. I know that's probably a tough concept, but give it a shot.

MFin04
MFin04

Heyward    .143/.294/

Jason even sucks his way into a better on base....

noleee
noleee

@_Hillbilly_

sounds a lot like when they signed Salcedo, though he actually was rated fairly high IIRC

MFin04
MFin04

Saves need some sort of weighting too. A 4 run save vs a 1 run save...is a huge difference...

noleee
noleee

@BFChris29 @LumanHarris

sure what do facts matter?

he is prolly 3rd order better than Street and that is what is really important ;-)

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

Studies made by smart people reveal, however, that MLB players are unaffected my pressure.

MFin04
MFin04

What is your point?

Fleming01
Fleming01

@MFin04 

You could hit a weak grounder to second every at bat and have an OBP of .000 and Joe Simpsom would say you done your job as long as there was a runner on 2nd everytime that moved to 3rd.

Who cares if you get a hit instead. RBIs are meaningless

TennesseePaul
TennesseePaul

I remember there being some good talk about the kid when they signed him. He really hasn't panned out at all. I think, had he been close to what they had hoped, then the C John extension would never have been made.

BFChris29
BFChris29

@MFin04 

The blown saves Kimbrel has done was one runs, but on same token he has more one run saves than one run blown saves.

Kimbrel has a few bad patches here and there, but 9 times out of 10, he is very dominating and his track record speaks for itself.

MFin04
MFin04

They are affected by Red Bull...maybe he is back on it with a baby?

ncscoots
ncscoots

@MFin04

The point is that you have a tendency to ignore the larger picture and focus on the minutiae. You're more concerned about the leadoff OBP as an item in a vacuum than you are about the ability of the team to score runs. Which is the actual goal, by the way. 

Tell you what: just forget I brought it up. Keep griping about Upton and make yourself happy.

_Hillbilly_
_Hillbilly_

@TennesseePaul Agreed.  Now he has been relocated to right field, where it looks like he has talleyed three outfield assists already.  Don't know how the rest of his outfield game looks. 

Rick_C
Rick_C

@BFChris29 @MFin04 Why just look at saves?

Since 2011 (his first full season), Kimbrel ranks among all relievers 2nd in ERA, 1st in K%, 1st in K-BB%, 3rd in opponent's AVG, and 2nd in WHIP.

MFin04
MFin04

I agree Kimbrel is great. Most likely the best.

A more comprehensive save stat should be developed...

I was reading an article about giving up three runs and still getting a save...but at the same time you can give up one run and blow a save...

Its not a good stat for sure...but a degree if difficultly might be nice to have to reference...

MFin04
MFin04

BJ Upton is the 8th best hitter on the team. The teams ability to score runs is based on guys hitting in bunches. If you bunch your best hitters you are more likely to score runs.

The dude went on a hit streak and still could only hit 270/290...that should speak volumes...

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

Scoring runs, preventing runs, and acquiring wins is really not important as long as players' individual OBP and WAR values increase.

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

@Rick_C @BFChris29 @MFin04

Eleven times in three seasons, Kimbrel had failed to do his job.

Four times in three seasons, Street has failed to do his job.

You can throw out all the stats you want that make Kimbrel appear more dominating – which he is, most of the time – but dominating is not the bottom line. Winning is.

Sure, Street has had fewer chances, and probably fewer high-pressure chances, given how bad his team is. But he has a better track record of closing out games than does Kimbrel.


Tumbledown
Tumbledown

Sometimes, you just need to take a step back and let some things go.  If the team is scoring runs, winning, and Elder is performing a little better as a lead-off hitter, just roll with it.

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Tumbledown

I know you're going for an ironic tone, but, the truth is, there are plenty of folks who are more interested in a team's third-order wins than they are the actual won-loss record.

Rick_C
Rick_C

@LumanHarris Ok, let's make winning the bottom line then.  Since 2011, the Padres are 148-44 when Street pitches.  That is a 0.771 winning percentage.  When Kimbrel pitches, the Braves are 213-34.  That is a 0.862 winning percentage.  So not only do the Braves win more when Kimbrel pitches, but he also pitches more frequently.

MFin04
MFin04

I agree...I dont think there is a much better option...although its crazy to give your worst hitter the most at bats...

But his best run of a hit streak...is 270 with a sub 300 on base...I mean look at Simmons...he had more production in a series or two...

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

Excuse me for revealing my ignorance (as well as laziness in not looking the term up), but what are third-order wins? 

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@LumanHarris @Tumbledown Some people what to know how a team has played baseball, not just the team's win-loss record and their on-the-surface statistics.  Some people like to know what a team has fundamentally been.  


For some there is joy in analyzing how a team has played baseball and there is also joy in a team winning, even if their win-loss record is outstripping how they've actually played.  

noleee
noleee

@Tumbledown

it is a teams expected winning % when adjusted on opponents and stats Tumble

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Tumbledown

Sorry. Third-order wins are a step beyond the Pythagorean record, based on underlying stats and adjusted for opponent quality. It is, in fact, a representation of what SHOULD be happening, as far as wins and losses. :-)

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@ncscoots @Tumbledown It's not about what should be happening.  It's about what has happened, getting down to fundamentally how a team has played.  Things on the surface can be affected by all sorts of things that have nothing to do with how a team has fundamentally played baseball.  So looking at third-order wins is akin to looking at how hard a hitter has hit the ball, going beyond things like batting average or even slugging and on-base.  

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

I think I understand.  I will eventually understand that what should happen is more important than what is actually happening.