Things to Know about the Atlanta Braves

The Wild Card leading Braves come to New York this weekend. Here are some things to know about them:

Record: 64-48, 2nd place NL East
Manager: Fredi Gonzalez, lifetime 340-327 (.510) managerial record. Gonzalez likes to make a lot of moves, most of them counterproductive. He’s making a good case as the worst manager in the division.
Park: The Mets’ homestand continues, so we’re still at Citi Field.

Quickly . . .
Can they hit? Averagely
Can they pitch? Yes
Can they field? Yup
Who’s their best player? Well, Brian McCann is injured, so it can’t be him right now. I’ll say Tommy Hanson, Saturday’s starting pitcher.

Lineup:
CF – Michael Bourn – L
LF – Martin Prado – R
3B – Chipper Jones – S
2B – Dan Uggla – R
1B – Freddie Freeman – L
SS – Alex Gonzalez – R
RF – Jason Heyward – L
C – David Ross – R

Michael Bourn was the perfect pickup for the Atlanta, bringing speed and on-base abilities to a team that severely lacks both. The Braves’ .309 team on-base percentage is better than just three other NL teams, and Baseball-Prospectus rates them as the worst baserunning team in the majors. Basically, they’re slow and they make a lot of outs, while Bourn is fast and doesn’t make a ton of outs. And then throw in that Atlanta leadoff hitters have a .309 on-base percentage this season, and their center fielders have a .655 OPS, and Bourn (.362 OBP, .764 OPS) is an upgrade in every conceivable way.

Let’s see, what else: Dan Uggla has been successfully reanimated and comes in with a 25 game hitting streak, Brian McCann is on the DL, Chipper Jones is coming off the DL, and Jason Heyward is sophomore-slumping and sat on the bench the past two games. Finally, Fredi Gonzalez has toyed with hitting the pitcher eighth recently . . . because if you can’t be Bobby Cox, why not try to be Tony LaRussa?

Pitching Matchups:

August 5: RHP Tim Hudson (10-7, 3.31 ERA) vs R.A. Dickey (5-9, 3.77 ERA)

Hudson’s never been the best pitcher in baseball, but he’s been one of the better pitchers for 13 seasons now: He’s never had a losing record, had a below-average ERA just once, and pitched over 200 innings seven times and will probably do it again this season. If he can keep going at this rate for two or three more seasons and then bounce around after that, he’s going to have a strong Hall of Fame case.

August 6: RHP Tommy Hanson (11-6, 3.20 ERA) vs Jon Niese (10-8, 3.94 ERA)

He might not start Game 1 of a playoff series over the veterans, but Hanson is the ace of the Braves’ staff. More strikeouts than innings pitched, the best advanced stats of anyone on the team, and the most likely to moonlight as Axl Rose in a G n’ R cover band on weekends. A good fastball, slider, and curveball.

August 7: RHP Jair Jurrjens (12-4, 2.63 ERA) vs Dillon Gee (10-3, 3.69 ERA)

Jurrjens is having a little bit of a fluky season – both Hudson and Hanson have better FIPs, lower batting averages against and lower WHIPs, while Jurrjens has the lower ERA. He isn’t pitching poorly, but he’s not pitching this well either. Things are starting to even out, however: Jurrjens has a 6.26 ERA in his last four starts and his velocity has been down. It could be just a dead arm period, but the Braves may be starting to worry.

Bench:
C – J.C. Boscan – R
IF – Brooks Conrad – S
IF – Julio Lugo – R
OF – Eric Hinske – L
OF – Jose Constanza – L

I don’t know what purpose Julio Lugo serves here. I get that he can physically play shortstop, in that you can stick him out there and he knows to stand somewhere between second and third base. But he’s never been a good hitter or fielder or anything better than a passable shortstop, and he’s probably less than that at age 35.

Brooks Conrad is tied for the league lead in pinch hit home runs with three; Eric Hinske has two.

Bullpen:
RHP – Craig Kimbrel
LHP – Johnny Venters
LHP – Eric O’Flaherty
RHP – Scott Proctor
LHP – George Sherrill
RHP – Cristhian Martinez
RHP – Anthony Varvaro

They’re good, second in ERA, first in FIP, strikeout rate, and strikeout to walk rate. But . . . Venters leads the NL in appearances with 60, while Kimbrel and O’Flaherty are tied for fourth with 55. Fredi Gonzalez has made 350 pitching changes this season, three off the league lead, and 24 more than the NL average of 326 pitching changes per team. On one hand, the Braves aren’t exactly running away with the Wild Card – they’re two and a half games up – and they do play a lot of close games . . . but think there’s a better way to manage this bullpen. There’s no reason to have your three best relievers on pace to pitch in 80 games each, particularly if you want these relievers to have attached arms in the postseason. Kimbrel has come into 15 low leverage situations – the least important situations in games – O’Flaerty in 12 and Venters 10. Is there a good reason Geroge Sherrill can’t pitch some of those innings? I don’t see a good reason George Sherrill can’t pitch some of those innings.

And those were some things about the Braves.

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