The Atlanta Braves are tied for the second-best record in the NL and the third-best record overall in the majors.
Read it again.
How many of you thought you would read that on this date a month ago? I would guess it’s a small part of the Braves population. I certainly didn’t. I would have expected them to still be in the running, but not actually breathing down the Phillies’ back.
Anyways, after posting several posts lately that have been a little on the negative side, I’ve decided to make this post strictly positive … after I get to say one negative first: Despite the current hitting barrage and winning, the Braves are still hitting .242 as a team. Ok, I’m done with the negatives.
Let’s focus on some positives.
The Braves will be in first at season’s end and here’s why:
Jonny Venters has a 22-consecutive-innings scoreless streak going and hasn’t given up a run since the Phillies on May 8. Before that, he only gave up a run in the second game of the year, against the Nationals.
Jonny Venters: Two runs in 40 innings. ERA 0.44. Majors-leading 37 appearances.
Tommy Hanson (remember him?) struck out a season high 14 batters in only seven innings against the tumbling Astros. Josh Beckett leads the majors with a .188 opponent’s batting average and Hanson trails him by just one point at .189. Amazed yet? (I’m amazed that Beckett is there!) Hanson leads the majors with a .101 opponent’s average when the ducks are on the pond, so to speak. The righty also ranks third in ERA with a 2.48 behind the great Roy Halladay (2.39) and Braves ace Jair Jurrjens (1.82).
Speaking of Jurrjens, he’s on the mound tonight against a Mets team that is showing signs of a little offense. I gotta feeling that Jurrjens will hammer them down a bit. He’s still holding tight on that Cy Young race, and I’m sure it helps that fellow teammate Hanson is challenging him.
Jordan Schafer had more stolen bases in the series against the Astros than any Braves player has recorded all year. He’s only batting .235, but he’s playing much better than we expected. Schafer, who hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning last night, has a .325 OBP, which is higher than most players in the starting lineup right now. Without him, the Braves wouldn’t have had the recent success that’s blessed them.
I personally would love to see Schafer stay in the lineup throughout the season. I just don’t see it happening unless one of the starting outfielders stay hurt. As long as one is hurt, Schafer will be up. Heyward is expected back in the lineup on Wednesday and McLouth could be around the same time. That will push Schafer to LF or the Braves could keep Schafer in center and move Nate McLouth to LF. Either way, it’s only one spot left. That being said, once Martin Prado comes back off the DL (no timetable yet, Staph infections can take some time) Schafer will be presumably out of a starting spot.
That starts the debate on McLouth vs Schafer. Here are the lines so far.
Nate McLouth – 194 ABs, 8 doubles, 3 HRs, 11 RBIs, 1 SB, 33 Ks with a .238 BA/ .332 OBP / .341 SLG.
Jordan Schafer – 79 ABs, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 7 SB, 9 Ks with a .235 BA/ .325 OBP / .338 SLG.
Before going down on the DL, McLouth was 4-for-22 in his last nine games, with six Ks and one RBI.
Schafer is 8-for-27 in his last nine games with three RBIs and three multi-hit games while batting in the leadoff spot. There was also a broken nose thrown in the middle of those nine games that kept him out for only a game.
Personally, Schafer has done the same amount of damage while batting in the lead-off spot and supplying the speed and threat on the base paths that we have needed. Prado was moved to the second spot where Prado thrives. The offense started to click.
McLouth provided that offense (or lack of offense) batting in the two spot and hit much better while moving to the bottom of the lineup. As I mentioned, much better, that’s his .238 average. We don’t need a much better .238 average at the bottom of the lineup. We already have that with our multiple bench options.
In my opinion, Schafer is much more valuable because he can handle the lead-off spot and, surprisingly, doesn’t strikeout like he used to. But the reality is Schafer has options and McLouth doesn’t. McLouth is owed about a remaining $4 million the rest of the season and would be a very expensive bench player or minor league player. I know, I know we have our $6 million dollar man in relief down in double-A in Kenshin Kawakami, but he’s just a rare species.
But the Braves aren’t going to let Schafer take a bench role without getting regular at-bats. That’s just my two cents on the situation.
Other fun stats
Chipper Jones is starting to heat up and has his OBP back up to .362. Interesting stat: his walks, strikeouts, and RBIs are all about the same at 34, 36, and 35, respectively.
The Braves rank third in the NL in HRs with 69. They only had 139 last year while ranking near the bottom in HRs. They are doing this without the pop of Dan Uggla. Just imagine when he heats up (if, I know, I’m staying positive).
Pitching ERA is still first in the majors at 3.05.
Defense is third in the NL with .987.
For all those that said our defense would be a problem, shame on you!