Posted: 2:13 pm Friday, August 22nd, 2014

J-Up enters MVP discussion, helps revive Braves offense 

By David O'Brien

 

  CINCINNATI – His performance in the second half has pushed Justin Upton into legitimate top-five National League MVP consideration. More importantly, it’s recently helped resuscitate the Braves offense and keep them in contention for at least a wild-card spot.

But there’s not much  J-Up or J-Hey or FreddieFree or anyone else in a Braves uniform can do to stop the streaking Nationals from pulling away in the National League East standings, at least not until the Braves face them again Sept. 8-10 in Washington and Sept. 15-17 in Atlanta.

Justin Upton has 18 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak, and is second in the NL with 84 RBIs for the season. He's entered the MVP discussion with his second-half performance.

Justin Upton has 18 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak, and is second in the NL with 84 RBIs for the season. He’s entered the MVP discussion with his second-half performance.

Those are the only six head-to-head matchups left for the Braves, who have a 9-4 record against the Nats this season but trail them by seven games entering Friday’s. The Nationals lost two of three in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago and haven’t lost since, reeling off a drama-filled 10-game winning streak that’s matched their franchise best.

How about these stats: The Nats are 10-0 with a 1.82 ERA, 46 runs, 10 homers and seven one-run wins in their streak, including a ridiculous five walk-off wins in their past six games. I mean, c’mon.

Meanwhile, the Braves rebounded from their disasterous 0-8, 18-total-run-scored West Coast trip to go 9-5 with a 2.96 ERA and 65 runs scored in their past 14 games, including 6-1 with a 2.15 ERA, .277 batting average, 11 homers and 43 runs in their past seven.

“Yeah, we’ve hit on all cylinders for four out of the past five games,” Upton said after Thursday’s 8-0 series-opening win against the Reds. “We faced a tough customer yesterday (Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole on Wednesday), but today we came out and put up some runs.”

While the offensive improvement and team resurgence hasn’t helped them gain any ground on the Nats, it’s at least served to put the Braves squarely in the middle of the wild-card race, only one game behind the Giants for the second wild-card spot entering Friday, and 1 ½ games  ahead of the struggling Pirates.

So, we’ll see.

If the offense can keep doing its part, the Braves have a real good chance of getting a wild-card berth, and don’t completely write off the NL East race just yet. It’s not likely they’ll catch the Nats, who’ve finally started to play up their potential and surely got a big boost to their confidence and chemistry and all that with their energizing 10-game streak.

But as long as the Braves have those six head-to-head matchups, and if they can trim a game or two off that seven-game deficit in the next week or so, there’s a chance for Atlanta to reel in the Nats. Not a good chance, obviously. But a chance.

And as long as the Braves keep them close, there’s a better chance that the Nats will at least help drag them in their wake into the postseason as a wild card. Once you’re in the tournament, absolutely anything can happen. But you’ve got to get there.

Which brings us back to J-Up and the original point about him being a legit top-five National League MVP candidate if he keeps up his recent pace, though I can’t see him overtaking Giancarlo Stanton or Clayton Kershaw, and probably not Andrew McCutchen.

Upton is 16-for-40 (.400) during a 12-game hitting streak with four homers, 18 RBIs, a .500 OBP and a .750 slugging percentage. In 42 games since July 4, he’s hit .327 (49-for-150) with 13 doubles, eight homers, 37 RBIs, 23 walks, a .408 OBP and a .573 slugging percentage.

He has nine RBIs in his past three games to raise his season total to 84, second in the NL behind Stanton (89). Upton leads the NL with 21 RBIs in August, second in the majors to Houston’s Chris Carter (23).

“You know what he’s doing?” Gonzalez said after Thursday’s game, when Upton had two hits including a bases-loaded, two-run single through the left side of the infield, plus a sac fly and a walk. “He’s taking advantage of situations. He came up with (runners on) second and third, and instead of trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark he put the ball in play with a productive out, got a sac fly. He’s done that a few times this road trip. Keeping within himself. That’s a good sign.”

I mentioned to Upton what Gonzalez had said in the manager’s postgame comments.

“Just trying to get one of them at a time, that’s the goal,” Upton replied. “If we can plate one of those runs, I think we’re in good shape. So that’t the mentality all of us have.”

As for the other two members of the surging threesome leading the Braves’ offense:

–  Jason Heyward has  hit .292 with a .370 OBP, .416 slugging percentage and 20 extra-base hits (five homers) in 68 games since the beginning of June, including .352 (45-for-128) with 10 extra-base hits, 19 RBIs, 24 runs and a .410 OBP and .469 slugging percentage in his past 34 games.

– Freddie Freeman has hit exactly .400 (26-for-65) with a .500 OBP and .600 slugging percentage in his past 18 games, with seven doubles, two homers, 12 walks, three HBPs in that stretch.

• Reversal of fortunes: Reliever James Russell has had a complete turnaround since Gonzalez began using him in full innings after initially using him as a traditional lefty specialist.

After being charged with three hits and three runs over a three-appearance span in which he recorded a total of two outs, Russell has allowed just one hit (no walks) in 6 1/3 scoreless innings over his past five appearances, including consecutive two-inning hitless appearances Monday at Pittsburgh and Wednesday at Cincinnati.

For the season, lefty batters have  hit .303 (23-for-76) with three homers and a .500 slugging percentage against him, while right-handed batters have hit .104 (8-for-77) with no homers and a .117 slugging percentage against the veteran lefty. Cincinnati hitters are 2-for-25 this season against Russell, who faced them seven times with the Cubs before being traded to Atlanta on July 31.

• Simba clearly likes red: Andrelton Simmons has four homers in just 11 games (44 at-bats) against the Reds, matching the career-best four homers he also has against Washington (in 35 games and 121 at-bats) and against Philly  (in 35 games and 133 at-bats).

He homered Tuesday and has hit .364 (16-for-44) in his career against the Reds with eight extra-base hits, seven RBIs and a .727 slugging percentage against the Reds. That includes a .500 average (9-for-18) with two doubles, three homers and six RBIs in four games in the cozy confines at Cincinnati.

“I don’t know, it definitely feels a little comfortable,” Simmons said of Great American Ball Park. “I feel hot whenever I’m playing here. But I’ve been feeling pretty comfortably lately overall, and especially today, actually. I felt pretty good.”

The only other road ballpark where he’s hit more than two homers is Philly’s Citizens Bank Park, where Simmons has four homers in 20 games.

• Friday’s matchup: It’ll be Mike Minor (5-8, 5.16) trying to continue recent progress against Reds righty Mat Latos (4-3, 3.10).

Minor is 1-1 with a 3.29 ERA and .240 opponents’ average and two homers allowed in his past two starts, with 14 strikeouts and three walks in 13 2/3 innings. This after going 2-3 with a 7.33 ERA and .357 opponents’ average and 12 homers allowed in his previous 10 starts, with 47 strikeouts and 17 walks in 54 innings.

The Braves skipped his turn in the rotation after that alarming 10-start slump, to give him time to regroup and work on making a few adjustments including his grip on some pitches.

Mike Minor will try to continue his recent progress when he face the Reds in a hitter-friendly ballpark where he once gave up four homers in a game.

Mike Minor will try to continue his recent progress when he face the Reds in a hitter-friendly ballpark where he once gave up four homers in a game.

His past two starts were at Turner Field. In his past six road starts, Minor is 1-2 with a 7.20 ERA, .324 opponents’ average and six homers allowed in 35 innings. It’s been three weeks since he made a road start, an Aug. 1 loss at San Diego in which he gave up nine hits, five runs and two homers  in five innings.

Minor is 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA in three starts against the Reds, including 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA in two disparate starts at Great American Ball Park. He allowed four runs and five hits including four homers in six innings of a May 2012 loss at Cincinnati, then limited the Reds to four hits and one run on a homer in seven innings of a May 2013 win at their park.

Minor has allowed a .372/.423/.543 slash line in 94 at-bats vs. lefties, and .287/.334/.493 in 363 ABs vs. righties. Oddly enough, given that line, he has only two homers allowed by lefties compared to 18 by righties.

On first pitches, hitters are 27-for-61 (.443) against Minor with 10 extra-base hits (three homers) and a .705 slugging percentage.

The only healthy Reds hitter who’s done much damage against him is Zack Cozart, who’s 4-for-10 with two homers against Minor. No other active Red has a homer against the lefty, and Ryan Ludwick (2-for-6) is the only one with more than one hit. Todd Frazier is 0-for-8 with five strikeouts against him, Brandon Phillips is 1-for-8, and Devin Mesoraco is 0-for-5.

Latos is 4-3 with a 2.97 ERA and .200 opponents’ average in his past 10 starts, including 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in four August starts. He lasted seven or more innings seven times  in nine starts before pitching five innings Sunday at Colorado, where he gave up eight hits, three runs and three walks and got no decision in a Cincy loss.

Against the Braves, Latos is 3-3 with a 3.45 ERA in seven starts. Originally a Padre, he had a 2.45 ERA and .228 opponents’ average in six starts against the Braves before getting whacked for nine hits and six runs in four innings on July 11, 2013, the only time he’s faced them since 2012.

  Latos has a 2.31 ERA and one homer allowed in 39 innings over six road starts, and a 3.89 ERA and four homers allowed in 39 1/3 innings of six home starts. You might have heard, this ballpark, aka Great American Small Park, is extremely hitter-friendly.

Lefties are batting just .193 in 140 at-bats with a .224 OBP against Latos, and righties haven’t fare a lot better at .222 in 144 at-bats, but do have a .304 OBP and more than twice as many walks as lefties have against him.

Against Latos, Freeman is 7-for-12, J. Upton is 6-for-14 with a homer, Chris Johnson is 7-for-17 with a homer, Heyward is 4-for-10, and Emilio Bonifacio is 3-for-4. B.J. Upton is 0-for-5 with four strikeouts against him.

• The excellent band The National is based in Brooklyn now, but started here in Cincinnati. Every album they’ve made has been good or great. I love this song off the most recent one.

“I NEED MY GIRL” by The National

The National

The National

I am good, I am grounded
Davy says that I look taller
I can’t get my head around it
I keep feeling smaller and smaller
I need my girl
I need my girl

Remember when you lost your shit and
Drove the car into the garden
You got out and said I’m sorry
To the vines and no one saw it
I need my girl
I need my girl

I’m under the gun again
I know I was a 45 percenter then
I know I was a lot of things
But I am good, I am grounded
Davy says that I look taller
I can’t get my head around it
I keep feeling smaller and smaller
I need my girl
I need my girl

There’s some things that I should never
Laugh about in front of family
In a week we’ll be together
Try to call you when I’m landed
I need my girl
I need my girl

Remember when you said I’m sorry
To the vines and no one saw it
I’ll try to call you from the party
It’s full of punks and cannonballers
I need my girl
I need my girl

I’m under the gun again
I know I was a 45 percenter then
I know I was a lot of things
But I am good, I am grounded
Davy says that I look taller
I can’t get my head around it
I keep feeling smaller and smaller
I keep feeling smaller and smaller
I keep feeling smaller and smaller

3180 comments
SultanOfSwing
SultanOfSwing

With his 20th HR on Sun, da Bear is the 2nd catcher in franchise history to hit 20+ HRs in his rookie & 2nd season

MFin04
MFin04

This really is not to bash BJ... But -14 DRS...

Wasn't he expected to be above average? And what happened to his defensive performance and that theory?

noleee
noleee

Three years of Carlos Gomez raises a lot of questions about him

pretty dayum dramatic differences in DRS on Fielding Bible

MFin04
MFin04

Sorry the convo below has branched too much...

I would be more comfortable giving a guy an MVP based on offensive stats...

Than giving a gold glove to a guy on one year defensive stat that really needs to be evaluated over three years.

Even if Simmons has a down year...unless someone is epically better.. he's the GG SS this year.

noleee
noleee

this Ebola gonna be the end of the world as we know it??

EMWTK
EMWTK

If three years of data are required to feel comfortable about a defensive metric, don't you unavoidably end up with a picture of how good they were, rather than how good they are?

EMWTK
EMWTK

I watched a little of the Yankees/Royals game last night. It was fun to see a lot of familiar faces on both sides. And double fun to see Marteen hit his homer.

But man, the Yankees are OLD. Er, rather, they have a lot of veteran presents.

noleee
noleee

Finally got around to watching the first season of Chicago PD

its pretty decent, definitely prefer it to Chicago Fire


Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

Worth noting 

• Braves catcher Evan Gattis hit his 20th home run on Sunday, giving him back-to-back 20-homer seasons to begin his Major League career.

• Mets center fielder Juan Lagares entered Sunday leading all Major Leaguers with a 3.3 defensive WAR this season.

• Four of Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson's 16 home runs this season are against the Braves.

_Murph_
_Murph_

@Maggot_Man Not really... MFin has been talking about GDRP of Botswana at length, though.

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

@SultanOfSwing Thirteen catches in the major leagues have more at-bats than Gattis. Why are those teams not as worried about their guys wearing down as we are?

Rick_C
Rick_C

@MFin04 DRS has never really liked him.  His career best was 2 last year.  UZR on the other hand has looked at him slightly above average.  He's put up a career low there this year with -5.0, but this would be only his second below average year in that stat.

I don't know what theory you are referring to.

Rick_C
Rick_C

@noleee Didn't he catch a number of would have been HRs last year?  Might have helped to inflate his total.  Same deal with Trout in 2012.  Outfield assists could also boost it a bit too.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 The tricky part is defense does and should matter to value (if one is actually concerned about the MVP award being about value).  


I think you just have to get as much info as you can about a player's defense, knowing what's going into the metrics, and judge a player's defense as best you can.  No, it's not going to be as clear-cut as offense usually is in a single season.  

Rick_C
Rick_C

@MFin04 Well, that is pretty much how gold gloves are often awarded.  Lots of guys win them year after year purely based on defensive reputation, even though some may not actually be good defenders.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@EMWTK That's the case with all stats.  It's all how good a player was versus is.  It's actually how it is with all info.  Even with a scouting report, you look at what a player did to give you insight into what he probably is and what he might be.

MFin04
MFin04

Four Inside fastballs yanked over RF...don't do it tonight!

Rick_C
Rick_C

@LumanHarris Maybe because they haven't had durability issues (DL stints at every professional season for Gattis), aren't coming off knee surgery from last fall, and aren't blowing away a previous career high in games caught (in any professional season).  Oh and he also had a DL stint this year.

noleee
noleee

@Rick_C @MFin04

Wren's claim that he was a good defensive CFer, is prolly the theory he is referring to

MFin04
MFin04

So he isn't and hasn't been above average defensively? I mean I'm assuming these stats all love Heyward and Andruw...no matter the stat, right?

MFin04
MFin04

Agreed, but then no first baseman or DH could win the MVP...

And some guys are paid to hit...just to hit...

MFin04
MFin04

Yeh still pissed about Bourn not winning one! And Wright over Chipper and A-Ram.

MFin04
MFin04

Jason saved like 2-3 the other night with his dive...although all the runs scored.

I don't know how the DRS works. Do they really have to not score? Or just not score on that play?

MFin04
MFin04

Right. I believe he was called above average...maybe really good...I dunno. He was praised defensively.

Rick_C
Rick_C

@MFin04 Yes, both DRS and UZR liked Andruw until late in his career, and they both saw a decline at the same year.  Both have liked Heyward every year.  There are still differences though.  Last year for example Simmons led MLB in DRS, but he was 4th in UZR.

Rick_C
Rick_C

@MFin04 Depends what you want to look at.  It's an example of where DRS and UZR, which are both designed to measure the same thing, don't agree.  Scouts have also always liked his defense more.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 It's about cumulative value.  So if a guy accumulates enough value with his bat alone or in any other way, why not?  It's about who has the most value for the season, regardless of whether he accumulates that value by being a great all-around player or by doing it mostly or completely on one side of the ball or another.  

CobbBraveNightmare
CobbBraveNightmare

@MFin04

I'd like to look it up, cause I remember him saying "something," just can't remember enough to even paraphrase. But, cause I'm too lazy, I just can't do it...

MFin04
MFin04

But 1st and 4th is still elite.

MFin04
MFin04

It seems like he has the physical tools but the fundamentals and effort seem to go off and on. Very inconsistent and timid/non-assertive.

MFin04
MFin04

I don't think so. Look at Heywards value. He is no where close to an MVP bat but was a top five guy...I think defense might be overvalued there. Especially for an award that guys can't get as high defensive value at some positions.

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@Rick_C

Oh.

I see that Jason is ranked 11th in this version of WAR while JUP, the next highest ranked Brave is 23rd and FF is 27th.

Looks like Trout and Stanton are tied for first.

BJ is 141st out of 152.

MFin04
MFin04

Yuck, that seems...umm...rather complex and difficult to judge and understand...not to mention...

Context:

"Before drawing any conclusions about a player’s defense, look at a full three years of defensive data, drop the decimal points and take an average, and compare DRS scores with other defensive metrics (UZR, TZL, etc.). By taking a broader picture, you will help ensure that you’re not being over-confident or overstating a player’s defensive abilities."

Wait three years on Gold Glove voting...I guess...

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 Or just use more info than just defensive metrics.  


I don't think DRS is that hard to understand, at least not the concept behind it.  It's basically a more scientific approach to recording scouting type info and the recording of it.  


As far as waiting to draw conclusions, this is really not any different than other stats, particularly other stats for which a single season is a rather small, inconclusive sample, like reliever stats.  


But I think it's useful to look at defensive metrics along with other info, even in a single season.  You just have to look more at what is going in, what's behind the metrics.  

Rick_C
Rick_C


@MFin04 Players can have flukey defensive years just like they can offensive and pitching years.

EMWTK
EMWTK

@_Murph_ @EMWTK @noleee I have been reading Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, in which the Black Death is prominently featured. Does that count?

MFin04
MFin04

If you have to look at four or five metrics over three years.. the metric isn't that valuable.

At least not for voting on a single season award.

Now its better than number of errors in a season that's for sure.. or McCutcheon sucking and winning based on highlights or hair style a few years ago.

MFin04
MFin04

Apples and oranges though. You can't judge one defensive year like you can one offensive year.

noleee
noleee

@EMWTK @_Murph_ @noleee

Under The Dome TV show is not like the book all that much

at least Ebola is not spread airborne, but it is rampant in parts of Western Africa

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 You look at how the metrics work and what goes in the metrics, you take all that into account, and you look at other information on a player's defense, and you pay attention to that to give you insight into what a player did in a single season.


Also, just like offense, a player can have a fluke season with the bat and win a Silver Slugger Award.  That doesn't mean just because we can judge that player as one of the best batters in that season, that we can conclude that he's a good hitter.  Offense is a little different because we typically get a fairly meaningful sample over 162 games so it's more difficult for a mediocre or bad hitter to have an award-worthy year with the bat.  But same basic idea.


Defense is more like a strict lefty specialist out of the bullpen posting a ridiculous single season.  He might be mediocre over the long haul but in the single season sample, he might have been unhittable.  

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 Right, because of sample size.  That's why about three years worth of data is needed before we can draw definitive conclusions from the defensive data.  


A better comparison would be a specialist reliever.  

MFin04
MFin04

A good year offensively you can win an MVP...but a good year in DRS or dWAR ain't gonna win you a gold glove necessarily due to other factors and the fluctuation in the stat.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 Regardless of who gets the Gold Glove Award, it's still possible for a player to have a fluke season defensively.  


I agree with you that a sub par defender has little-to-know chance to win the Gold Glove, even if he has a fluke defensive season and actually deserves to.   

Rick_C
Rick_C

@MFin04 Probably not.  Doesn't have anything to do though with what I said about players having flukey defensive years.

MFin04
MFin04

I don't know that a defensive flukey season is as dramatic as an offensive one. And offensive flukeyness is more easily identified than a defensive one.