There was some optimism coming into the season, most of which centered around excitement (though I'd argue it was more of relief) following the signings of Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami after being rebuffed by several free agents and in the Jake Peavy sweepstakes. I didn't share the same optimism...Javy Vazquez strikes alot of people out, sure, but his WHIP and ERA define average. Lowe has never been a staff ace, revisionist history be damned. I didn't know shit about Kawakami, but I did know that the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Mariners seem to outbid everyone for every Japaneese player worth a damn. KK's other top suitors? The Astros and Orioles. All this, and the starting rotation was considered the team's strength heading into the season.
That much has proven true, simply because the offense has been so anemic. The offense ranks 13th in the NL in runs and homers, 11th in hits. OPS? They're 14th. Outside of Brian McCann, Chipper Jones, and possibly Yunel Escobar, there isn't a bat in the lineup that is better than the league average at their position. Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur have been significant detriments to the offense, and though many a Braves fan would like to see them traded; Johnson has about as much trade value as Ryan Langerhans at this point, and Francoeur's isn't much higher (though I will say I have seen flashes, albeit very, very, very brief flashes of patience and better timing at the plate in recent weeks).
The defense is average at best, there is a very good 8th-9th inning combo out of the pen, but the middle relief sucks (not too different from everyone else's, needs to be said). So where does all the above get you? Treading water at 3 games below .500, where they have been all season. Only four games behind first place Philadelphia, but only in front of the epically bad Washington Nationals in the NL East.
There probably aren't anymore Nate McLouth-type acquisitions to be made to this team, as they are almost at their projected payroll; and they have traded away enough prospects over the last few months that you won't see any selling-the-farm type trades anytime soon. The best thing for this Braves team going into the second half would be:
1. Francoeur to realize his potential, stop swinging at garbage, and simply focus on putting the ball in play, even if this leads to him becoming a contact singles hitter.
2. Garrett Anderson to continue playing as he has the last month of the season, and not the first month.
3. Peter Moylan continues to emerge as a strong 7th inning option out of the pen.
4. Tommy Hanson gives the Braves as dominant a 5th starter as you can find in the majors.
Easier said than done, sure. But if those four things can happen, and the rest of the season plays out on par, you could see the Braves battling for a wild card slot in September. Anything less, and you're looking at just another average team that couldn't "get over the hump" and "didn't catch any breaks."
And while we are here, some Braves Bullets:
- This article, from the now-infamous SI calling Francoeur "The Natural" is just stupefying to read for years after the fact. Some choice hyperbolic passages:
- "Francoeur smiles, and the darkened living room brightens."
- Tim Hudson said of Francoeur, "He's like Roy Hobbs. I'm waiting for him to come out of the bullpen and start striking guys out, throwing 98 [mph]. Or to start hitting bombs lefthanded."
- "He saw a total of 16 pitches, on par with his economical average of 3.34 pitches per plate appearance." (emphasis mine)
- He occasionally frets about selectivity and actually once watched video of his at bats until McCann sauntered by and said, "That's not you. That's not what got you here." Francoeur agrees. "When I don't think," he says, "I do well."
- To settle those old autumn scores for his hometown team, Francoeur will move earth and heaven.
- I attended games one and two of the Yankees series last week:
- Game one was a joy to watch Hanson pitch. That quick delivery from the midsection reminds me of a young Hideo Nomo, who would almost hold the ball still while finishing his windup before unleashing his pitch.
- Before stroking Hanson's balls and anointing him the Braves' savior, please re-read the above Francoeur article.
- What was with all the flashbulbs going off while Rivera was pitching in the 9th? I get that he's an all time great, but hes a closer, not LeBron James or MJ in an 80s dunk contest. Who the hell were these people needing a picture of Rivera pitching to Matt Diaz???
- When Kris Medlin was relieved by Jeff Bennett in game two, I left to go take a leak, not wanting to see the inevitable outcome against A-Rod. In the bathroom, I heard Don Sutton mention on the radio that Bennett had allowed 5 of 15 inherited baserunners to score. While not good, I thought it was much higher...I guarantee I have seen all five of those runners score, and I haven't even watched many Braves games this season. Sure enough, an 0-2 fastball to A-Rod later, and that number is now 7-17. Needless to say, I'm not worried how this injury might affect the pen.
- Obviously I'm quite a bit late on this, but I hated the way the Tom Glavine situation was handled. Clearly, bringing Hanson up from Gwinnett was the right move; but it seemed as if Glavine was assured his spot as the 5th starter was secure and he wasn't having to compete for a spot. If the Braves' weren't going to make that distinction to him clear, they probably shouldn't have had re-signed him, as letting him go after pitching a 13 scoreless innings in rehab isn't exactly the best PR move. Glavine's subsequent sabbatical for the remainder of the season, combined with Hanson's hot start have subsided the ugliness of the whole situation, but you never want to see a local legend go out like that. Even if we are all aware it's a business, and nothing personal.