Posted: 2:55 pm Monday, August 18th, 2014

Braves can significantly improve playoff outlook this week 

By David O'Brien

 

 PITTSBURGH – When I opined in Friday’s blog that it was a good time for the Braves to be facing the A’s, who had batted .228 while losing eight of their previous 15 games, a whole lot of folks figured that was the kiss of death. Or, they just assumed the Braves would continue to sputter against another West team after losing three of four to the Dodgers.

The Braves proceeded to sweep the A’s, who’ve now lost five in a row. While a 6-4 homestand isn’t quite as good as the Braves had hoped for, all things considered, taking six of 10 against three teams in first place when the homestand began wasn’t too shabby. Especially given that the Braves continued to handle the Nats, taking two of three to improve to 9-4 against the NL East leaders.

Now the Braves go back out on the road, which perhaps has fans concerned, given the debacle that ensued when last this bunch packed its suitcases and played teams away from Atlanta (0-8, their worst trip since 1949).

Justin Upton hit this homer in the series opener against Oakland on Friday, part of his torrid homestand. The Braves need him to keep it going on the 10-game road trip that starts Monday at Pittsburgh.

Justin Upton hit this homer in the series opener against Oakland on Friday, part of his torrid homestand. The Braves need him to keep it going on the 10-game road trip that starts Monday at Pittsburgh.

But this time they don’t have to go out west, which has not been kind to the Braves this season, and the Braves start and end the trip in the Eastern Time Zone at Pittsburgh and New York, respectively, with a four-game jaunt to Cincinnati in the middle. More important, instead of facing the likes of the Dodgers and Mariners and Kershaw, Greinke and King Felix, the Braves are facing Pirates and Reds teams that have struggled lately, and a Mets team that has no legit playoff chances.

The Braves need to have a winning trip to keep their damaged NL East hopes alive, and in the process of having a good trip they can improve their wild-card outlook by taking this series against the Pirates, who are currently tied with the Braves at 64-60, 1 ½ games behind San Francisco for the second wild-card spot.

The surprising Marlins have climbed to .500 at 62-62, just two games behind the Braves and Pirates, and the Reds are 61-63, a game behind the Marlins in the wild-card standings. So the  Braves need to take at least two of three from the Pirates and then bury the Reds by winning that series — never an easy proposition in any four-game road series and certainly not at at Great American Small, er, Ball Park, where Atlanta’s had some bad nights in recent years.

But first things first. The Buccos.

The Pirates are 10-13 in their past 23 games and lost all five games on a road trip that ended Sunday with a second consecutive walk-off defeats at Washington.

Oh, and they’re playing without all-world center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who’s on the DL recovering from a broken rib.

They posted a 4.64 ERA and hit just .209 on their trip, totaling 18 runs in those five losses, including two games at Detroit followed by a sweep at the hands of the Nationals.

 • Opening matchup’s a good one:  In the series opener at beautiful PNC Park, it’ll be resurgent Ervin Santana (12-6, 3.66) against surprising Vance Worley (5-2, 2.51).

Santana is 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA and .240 opponents’ average in his past six starts, with 41 strikeouts, 14 walks and only one homer allowed in 40 innings. His only no-decision in that span came in his only road start in those six, a loss to the Padres in which he pitched quite well (6 2/3 innings, two runs), but the Braves scored only one run while he was in a 3-2, 12-inning loss.

Santana is 3-4 with a 3.88 ERA and .272 opponents’ average in 11 road starts, compared to 9-2 with a 3.47 ERA and .249 OA in 12 home starts.

He’s 7-1 with a 2.95 ERA and two homers allowed in his past nine starts, and the Braves have scored five runs per nine innings that Santana pitched in that span. He allowed two runs or fewer in six of those nine starts.

The veteran has never pitched against the Pirates, only two major league teams that Santana has not faced. Against Santana, Jayson Nix is 2-for-11 with two  homers, Travis Snider is 1-for-10, and Gaby Sanchez is 1-for-2 with a homer.

Worley, whom most Braves fans remember from his years with the Phillies, is 3-1 with a 1.62 ERA in his past five starts. He had allowed just three earned runs and no homers in 28 innings over four starts before giving up five runs (three earned), nine hits and two homers in 5 1/3 innings of a loss at Detroit on Saturday.

The right-hander is 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA in 10 starts for the Pirates since being brought up from Triple-A, and he has a 2.00 ERA in four starts at PNC Park. He’s resuscitated his career after going 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts for the Twins in 2013.

Worley struggled against the Braves in the past, going 1-2 with a 5.81 ERA in and .317 opponents’ average in seven games including five starts. He ast faced them in May 2013 and got blitzed for 10 hits, eight runs and three homers in just 3 2/3 innings of a loss in Atlanta.

Against Worley, Jason Heyward is 3-for-8, Freddie Freeman is 3-for-9 with three walks, Ramiro Pena is 2-for-3 with a home run against him, Chris Johnson is 2-for-3, Evan Gattis is 1-for-2 with a homer and four RBIs, and B.J. Upton is 1-for-2 with a homer. Meanwhile, Emilio Bonifacio is 1-for-7 against the righty.

Braves need J-Up road work: It was more big-time home production from Justin Upton, who was 10-for-31 (.323) with two doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs on the 10-game homestand that ended Sunday, with nine walks, a .475 OBP and .774 slugging percentage.

He’s  hit .320 with 16 homers and a .621 slugging percentage in 63 games at home, compared to just .246 with seven homers and a .408 slugging percentage in 55 road games.

Upton ranks second in the majors in home runs at home, behind Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, who has hit 21 of his majors-leading 32 homers at spacious Marlins Park.

Upton went 4-for-23 (.174) with two doubles, two RBIs and nine strikeouts in the last six games of the Braves’ 0-8 trip prior to the 6-4 homestand. However, in his previous 16 road games he shed his road woes and burned at a .348 clip (23-for-66) with six doubles, three homers, 15 RBIs and a .576 slugging percentage. The Braves went 9-7 in those road games.

So it can be done. And when he gets it going on the road, good things tend to ensue for the Braves.

Freeman update: First baseman Freddie Freeman went just 1-for-6 with four strikeouts  and two walks in the last two games of the Oakland sweep, but over his past 22 games he’s hit .345 (29-for-84) with 11 extra-base hits (three homers), 12 RBIs, a .421 OBP and a .560 slugging percentage.

• J-Hey vs. Pirates: In 23 games against the Pirates, Jason Heyward has a .326 career average (30-for-92) with eight extra-base hits (three homers), a .398 OBP and .489 slugging percentage.

He had three consecutive two-hits games against them the last time he faced the Pirates in June 2013, but Heyward was only 4-for-18 with no extra-base hits or RBIs in his most recent five games at PNC Park in 2012 and 2013.

• Etc.

The Braves won consecutive 4-3 games against the  A’s Saturday and Sunday to make them 4-0 in games decided by one-run on the homestand. This after losing nine consecutive one-run games prior to the homestand….

B.J.  Upton leads major league center fielders with seven errors, and Justin Upton leads MLB left fielders with six errors.

Here’s one from the strong recent solo album by Bob Mould, a song that sounds a lot like his spectacular former band, Husker Du.

“HEY MR. GREY” by Bob Mould

A young Bob Mould

A young Bob Mould

Hey Mr. Grey, that’s what the children say
Life used to be so hard, get off my yard

They’re so young, they’re so dumb
They don’t understand
Kids don’t follow, kids don’t lead
Kids go hand in hand

Hey Mr. Blue, the brokenhearted fool
You wonder why the one you loved would lie

Hey Mr. Green, your grace is rarely seen
so filled with rage and then you disengage

Get so up, get so down
Get mixed up inside
Kiss of death, kiss of love
Kiss it all goodbye

Hey Mr. White, it’s time to stop the fight
The world has changed while you turned out the lights

But old Mr. Grey will slowly fade away
Old Mr. Grey, hey Mr. Grey

Find a life that’s right for you

1140 comments
VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

Somehow make a trade where we'll send Heyward or Justin along with BJ and most of his remaining contract and then I'm open to talking deals. Cause keeping BJ Upton as our everyday CFer and moving someone else makes zero damn sense. I don't care, it's doesn't. I'm in a "damn" good mood too :)

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

The reason I'm for keeping both Justin and Jason is they are both on contract years. They are our 2nd and 3rd best position players as well. Both with huge breakout potential and definite impact. 

MFin04
MFin04

Lets keep Justin and Jason...they ain't the problem!!!

Double down
Double down

The comparison earlier to the difficulty in changing your golf swing is a good one I think. But I believe Jason could lose that regripping/palming with his top hand. A few thousand swings this winter. As in golf, changing a set up (pre swing) issue is easier than changing a mid swing issue.

noleee
noleee

would not surprise me too much to see a multiplayer trade this winter

maybe for a good starter and a leadoff guy which might cost Jason or Justin

I would prefer to keep Jason f the two

Rick_C
Rick_C

Really nice to see more consistency from Justin this year.  He had an awful June (226/263/355), but otherwise has been consistently good to great.  Of all other months, his lowest AVG is August (273), lowest OBP May (362), lowest SLG May (515), lowest OPS May (877).  His OPS range excluding June is .877-1.041.

Double down
Double down

I sure hope they reach an extension deal beyond 2015 with Jason. We have a nice core and he's at the core of the core. JUp is gonna get a bazillion dollars. Whether to trade him or let him continue to drive a huge part of our offense in 2015 will be a compelling story line this winter.

MFin04
MFin04

Our highest value guy is Jason...then its Justin and Freeman....equally close I believe. Gotta keep those guys and Simmons and Gattis. After that...we can upgrade for sure...

So you got third, second, and CF.

Probably in order...

CF

2B

3B

Be nice if we had some cheap internal options there...and maybe make one trade...

But I'm fine with BJ starting if we upgrade elsewhere and BJ stays at 8th.

TennesseePaul
TennesseePaul

"And obviously nobody knew B.J. would tank.  That's kind of the whole point."

Please. There was a disagreement among Braves and others on the future of another particular player. Absolutely NO ONE thought Uggla would be unable to hit 12 months after being acquired. No one. Not you, not anyone. The argument against Uggla wasn't that he would tank as he did, it was that he would not be worth a long term deal. Similarly, there were people who did not believe BJ was worthy of a long investment. They analyzed the data before them and came to a different conclusion.

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@VaBravesFan

If they do manage to rid themselves of the Plague of BJ, I want to know the details of such a trade. How much of his remaining $45 Million would another team be willing to take on so they can proudly boast of having the poor fielding, worst hitting, strikeout king in the Bigs???

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

They should be part of the plan for winning. I'm only in favor of moving either of them if BJ Upton is gone as well. If you don't get BJ out of Atlanta, just hang it up.. Don't do a damn thing. 

noleee
noleee

@MFin04

of course they ain't the problem, but they might be part of a solution

it would have to be the right deal, but one leaving is possible

noleee
noleee

@Double down

it is very hard to stick with a change under pressure, many players who get it right in BP, which was said of Uggs, regress to what feels comfortable under pressure 

not impossible of course, but not all that many players manage successful changes even if they see that need, which many refuse to acknowledge

and the bigger the change, the more unlikely

seems like nothing to one watching, but can actually make things worse

even BJ has changed his approach a bit this year, obviously trying for less power/homers

it isn't helping all that much

theoriginaltruth
theoriginaltruth

@noleee 


If a huge trade happens I pray that John Hart is involved behind the scenes and has some influence on it............my confidence in Wren isn't all that high....



Jeff_R
Jeff_R

@noleee  Nolie, I think you're compass is oriented true north on this one.  ;-) 

EMWTK
EMWTK

@noleee Heyward might one day equal Justin's performance at the plate. Justin will never equal Heyward's performance in the field.

Also, Heyward has superior marketing potential.

theoriginaltruth
theoriginaltruth

@Double down  If somehow you can get rid of BJ's money you can keep JUp....if not I don't see how we have a chance to resign him to his next contract.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@TennesseePaul I thought the Uggla extension was reasonable though I didn't agree with that move.  I understood why they did it.  I think the front office figure even if he didn't provide value equal to the contract, he would still provide solid value; and there weren't any obvious candidates waiting in the wings if they had let him walk.


I thought the B.J. signing was reasonable and, based on other likely options, agreed with that move.  I think with B.J. it was more likely that he would live up to the contract.  Obviously, it hasn't turned out that way and it is, at this point, near impossible for it to turn out that way.

Jeff_R
Jeff_R

@TennesseePaul  The argument against Uggla wasn't that he would tank as he did, it was that he would not be worth a long term deal. Similarly, there were people who did not believe BJ was worthy of a long investment. They analyzed the data before them and came to a different conclusion.

Paul cuts to the nut.  

MFin04
MFin04

Bingo. People evaluated different factors at different weights. Like WAR on BR or Fangraphs.

But other teams evaluated BJ differently as well. That can't be ignored. Wasn't a huge bidding WAR on BJ for sure.

But there is not one stat, one way to analyze and evaluate a player.

wcanon
wcanon

@Rabbit_Maranville1914 @VaBravesFan  In the real world we are forced to live in...no team is going to touch any trade BJ is a part of. Everyone seems to be talking about the money....that money is gone..period. The only thing remaining to do is try to make the best of it. We certainly don't need to be making things immeasurably worse by still having the loser play CF and take up a roster spot.

Seriously, If the Braves were to offer BJ free to any team...how many teams would look at their roster and say 'yeah, we'll send one of our players down to make a spot for BJ.' I can think of maybe three, MAX. He's a AA player at best.

To me, the worse thing isn't the loss of the money, which is unreal...it's that we keep 'running him out there' and keeping some prospect off the roster.

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

@Rabbit_Maranville1914 @VaBravesFan Well it was reported the Cubs were the team interested in BJ... I have no clue how much a team would take on. But after seeing how the Uggla situation turned out, it might be better to move him and save whatever you can and not continue to have hope in a worthless bum. 

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@noleee @Double down

Kruk, the other night was talkkin about all the many things that BJ must be trying to remember regarding his swing when he's at the plate. . . .

Freddie, on the other hand said he doesn't think about anything. He never looks for a pitch. He just tries to see the ball, hit the ball. I believe he even said that he doesn't watch film.

MFin04
MFin04

Umm I've seen more marketing of BJ and Justin than Jason lately...

theoriginaltruth
theoriginaltruth

@ShaunATL @TennesseePaul 


Shaun.....at least you own up to being wrong. Personally I was against both deals, both the trade of Infante and Dunn for Uggla to start and the extension.


Both of those deals seemed to me to be against basic baseball fundamentals in favor of the long ball....and in BJ's case over looking his "heart" or "head" issues.......

theoriginaltruth
theoriginaltruth

@Jeff_R @TennesseePaul 


Yes.........and the bottom line is that neither of those two were worthy of long investments. Whoever thought they were was wrong.........doesn't mean they never get things right, but in those cases they clearly were wrong....


My issue with Uggla from the start was trading Infante and LH pitcher Dunn to start with.


ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 Some of us realize that it was a reasonable signing, based on all the information and ways to evaluate.  

Jeff_R
Jeff_R

@MFin04  It's a straw man argument to say that no one anticipated Danny and BJ hitting the skids the way they have.  Of course, no one did.  But it doesn't diminish the argument of those of us who didn't think that 1) Danny and BJ weren't worth their contracts even if they approximated their norms; 2) more importantly, there was some suggestion by pro observers at the time that Danny was ripe for decline and that BJ had had his best years (which skewed his norms).


Maybe I shouldn't write "those of us."  Shouldn't be presumptuous.  ;-)    

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@VaBravesFan

I see that BJ has 444 AB's and his avg is .207. The next lowest avg for anyone with more than 400 AB's is Ryan Howard and Curtis Granderson at .221.

What is the qualifying # of AB's? I don't wish to say that BJ has the worst avg for all qualifiers unless he does.

Rick_C
Rick_C

@Rabbit_Maranville1914 When Chipper sat in the booth for an inning or two earlier this year and they talked about him working with BJ, he also said that he thinks BJ gets too mechanical with his swing.

EMWTK
EMWTK

@MFin04 I know what you mean. Somebody's screwing up big time.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@theoriginaltruth I think all moves related to Uggla and B.J. were reasonable, given the Braves situation.  I did think Uggla's extension was more likely to turn somewhat ugly, although I understood why the Braves did it.  I thought B.J. would live up to his contract and remain a decent centerfielder, as he has been throughout his career in Tampa.  


My point was I think the Uggla trade, the Uggla extension and the B.J signing were all reasonable.  

Jeff_R
Jeff_R

@theoriginaltruth @Jeff_R @TennesseePaul  I didn't like the trade at the time, but I was in the minority.  And... in fact, Frank Wren and the front office have been right in many ways.  I've always given Wren high marks (and still do) for how he's emphasizes pitching.  Development, particularly, and his ability to take scrapheap performers and squeeze loads of value out of them.   

TennesseePaul
TennesseePaul

That is a false statement Payne. A true statement would be worded thusly: "I concluded it was reasonable based on my interpretation of the data" That would be a true statement because it would explicitly acknowledge that other equally knowledgeable people can read the data and come to a different conclusion, as I did. I reviewed the data and concluded it was not a reasonable deal.

Your flaw is in that you accept only one possible outcome, one possible interpretation and that is simply not the case with anything.

MFin04
MFin04

Not 20+ other GMs looking for value...obviously...

Rick_C
Rick_C

@Rabbit_Maranville1914 Qualifier is 3.1 PA per team games played.  BJ is second to Chris Davis, who has hit .193.  Nick Swisher is just behind at .208.

noleee
noleee

@Rick_C @Rabbit_Maranville1914

murph couldn't change his either, and he was lots better than BJ

a guy who makes it to the bigs and is then successful for awhile has an awful lot of himself invested in his approach

both consciously and subconsciously 

TennesseePaul
TennesseePaul

This, this is a fair statement. You've worded it as a conclusion you made. You agreed with the move. That's fair. Others did not agree with it, which is also fair. It is a binary equation. One was going to be proven correct and one would be proven incorrect. The smart people in the room analyze both methods and see how to address their own methods to improve their analysis. Going forward it isn't so much of holding your own against the wind, it's about looking at how you came to a conclusion that failed and revising it. I've had to do so with Uggla, you can do so with BJ.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 Were 20+ other GMs in the market for a long-term solution at centerfield in the B.J. price range?  

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@Rick_C

Thx, Rick. So, we can only say that BJ is the worst hitting OF in the game, going strickly by AVG.    :-)

Davis is still 5 behind BJ in the race for most Strikeouts, however.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@TennesseePaul Obviously every situation and every season is different.  But I would say if a team is desperate for a long-term solution in centerfield or secondbase and can get players who performed and with the tools of players like B.J. and Uggla, it's worth taking the risks.  


Unless a player has been a superstar performer with plenty of athleticism, you are taking a risk on the free agent market.  Can't be afraid to take risks, in certain situations, because of some past failures.  Sometimes it's worth the risks.  

Jeff_R
Jeff_R

@theoriginaltruth @Jeff_R @TennesseePaul  Lowe gave the Braves two years worth of Lowe norm, then dropped off. Kawakami stunk. 

Santana?  Doing well in the rotation and worth every nickel, given what befell Medlen and Beachy. 

MFin04
MFin04

If he has that much value...and is the third best free agent...teams should be all over him, right?!

TennesseePaul
TennesseePaul

This isn't a conversation about taking risks in the FA market. Everyone knows that conversation.

This is about the evaluation of a given player. Some correctly evaluated it, others came to a wrong conclusion. It is irrelevant how well reasoned the conclusion was, it was incorrect. Your best bet is to go back and figure out why some came to a different conclusion than you and adjust your analysis for improvement.

MFin04
MFin04

When the fourth best CF in the world is available...tons of teams should be clamoring for him...