Things to Know about the Atlanta Braves

The Mets venture down to Atlanta today to start a three game series against the Braves. Here are some things you might want to know about them:

Record: 38-29, 2nd place NL East
Manager: Fredi Gonzalez, lifetime 314-308 (.505) managerial record
Park: Turner Field. Fair park, if a little friendlier to righthanded hitters than left.

Quickly . . .
Can they hit? They’re getting there
Can they pitch? Yes
Can they field? Yes
Who’s their best player? Brian McCann. An .874 OPS as a catcher and never misses a day.

Lineup:
CF – Jordan Schafer – L
2B – Dan Uggla – R
C – Brian McCann – L
3B – Chipper Jones – S
1B – Freddie Freeman – L
SS – Alex Gonzalez – R
LF – Eric Hinske – L
RF – Matt Young – L

The entire Atlanta outfield — Martin Prado, Nate McLouth, and Jason Heyward, left to right – are on the DL, leaving the Braves with super friends Eric Hinske, Jordan Schafer, and Matt Young to patrol for the time being. Heyward is due back for his bobblehead day on Wednesday; his ability to draw walks should be an antidote for the Braves’ still-struggling offense. Atlanta is 13th in the NL in on-base percentage and 12th in runs per game, despite being 8th in slugging percentage. Their on-base problems are compounded by the team’s complete lack of speed and Fredi Gonzalez’s near-compulsive bunting: They either play base-to-base or give up outs in the rare event someone gets on — meaning the Braves’ offense has been based mostly on solo home runs. They’re 3rd in the NL in total home runs, but 2nd in solo shots against 7th in home runs with men on. Throwing Heyward back into the mix should turn some of those solo home runs into two runs blasts.

If you’re wondering, Dan Uggla is hitting .212/.297/.364 in June, a .661 OPS. That’s his highest mark in any month this season. At least he’s a good defender that won’t have to be moved to left field in a year or two . . . just kidding! He will. But at least he isn’t signed for the next four seasons . . . just kidding! He’s got that going for him too.

Rotation:
6/14: RHP – Jair Jurrjens (vs Jon Niese)
6/15: RHP – Tim Hudson (vs Dillon Gee)
6/16: LHP – Mike Minor (vs R.A. Dickey)
Miss: RHP – Tommy Hanson
Miss: RHP – Derek Lowe

The Braves rotation has fallen behind the Phillies’ for the lowest staff ERA in the National League — with the Phillies at 3.20 and the Braves at 3.27 — but the difference should be bigger. The Phillies’ staff has more strikeouts, fewer walks, and almost the same number of home runs allowed. I’ve mentioned this before, but this is mainly a result of the fielders: Atlanta has been one of the top fielding teams in the majors this season (2nd in the majors in park-adjusted defensive efficiency), while Philadelphia has not (27th in the majors in the same). The Braves pitchers are a bit more contact-oriented, and their defense has been helping them out.

Tuesday night’s game is started by Jair Jurrjens. 8-2 with a 1.82 ERA, he’s done impressive work stranding runners this year – hitters are hitting .140/.246/.180 with runners in scoring position against Jurrjens, and the four home runs he’s allowed have all been solo shots. Meanwhile, Tim Hudson, Wednesday’s starter, is 5-5 with 4.06 ERA because has had the opposite effect of Jurrjens: Batters are hitting .293/.356/.453 with runners in scoring position against Hudson (compared to .209/.262/.275 with no one on), and four of the five home runs Hudson has allowed have come with men on base. Maybe they should talk. Thursday’s game will be started by lefty Mike Minor, making his first start of the year against the Mets. Taking Brandon Beachy’s rotation spot, Minor hasn’t been as sharp in the majors (4.50 ERA, 15 strikeouts in 22 innings) as he has in the minors (2.37 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 60.2 innings). Blind scouting report: Low 90s fastball, a lot of changeups, and a few curveballs and sliders.

Bench:
C – David Ross – R
IF – Brooks Conrad – S
IF – Diory Hernandez – R
IF – Brandon Hicks – R
OF – Joe Mather – R

All the injuries have made the Braves’ lineup heavily lefthanded, so expect Joe Mather to sneak in an outfield spot tonight against Niese. David Ross has been the only real threat here — no one else is hitting at all — so let me take the rest of this space to remind y’all about Fredi Gonzalez. The Braves lead the league in intentional walks, are second in sacrifice hits and third in pitching changes, meaning Gonzalez has a chance to win the elusive over-managing triple crown. And, yes, the Fire Fredi Gonzalez chants have begun. I guessed mid-May at the beginning of the season.

Bullpen:
RHP – Craig Kimbrel
LHP – Jonny Venters
LHP – Eric O’Flaherty
RHP – Scott Proctor
RHP – Scott Linebrink
LHP – George Sherrill
RHP – Cristhian Martinez

For my money, this is the league’s best bullpen. The Padres’ pen has a better ERA, 2.35 against the Braves 2.64, but the Padres’ lead is probably more a result of their spacious home park than anything else. On the other hand, the Braves’ low ERA is mostly a result of Jonny Venters. Goodness. The rest of this post will be about Jonny Venters. He flew under the radar a bit last season, with Billy Wagner’s farewell tour and Craig Kimbrel being anointed as the closer of the future, but it seems silly to have missed Venters now. He’s lefthanded, throws in the mid-90s with hard sink, and gets a ground ball 79% of the time. He’s allowed 2 runs in 40.2 innings this season. He has a 0.44 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP. Do yourself a favor this week: When Venters comes into the game, stop what you’re doing for a minute and just watch him. He’s in the middle of a dominant season.

And those were some things to know about the Braves.

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