It looked like the Phillies were going to welcome in the Atlanta Braves with just a two-game lead in the NL East, but thanks to some late-game heroics by Jayson Werth, that is not the case. Werth hit a walk-off two-run home run yesterday to keep the Braves at bay by three games, requiring them to sweep out the Phillies if they want to catch up any time soon. Even if they win the series two-to-one, they will still be behind two games. The Phillies, on a seven-game winning streak, have been taking care of business but so too have the Braves, winners of six of their last nine games.
I caught up with fellow ESPN Sweet Spotter Peter Hjort of the Braves-oriented Capitol Avenue Club to get some insight on the Braves. Note that, unlike Chipper Jones, Peter did not cast blame on others for the Braves’ current second place standing. He’s a keeper!
My questions in bold; his responses in normal typeface.
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1. Chipper Jones injured his knee on August 10. How badly have the Braves missed his presence in the lineup?
Very badly. Chipper Jones is the type of hitter you just can’t replace, especially in August. A true-switch hitter who plays a premium position, hits .300, and posts a .400 on base average nearly every year. There’s no question losing Chipper was a huge blow to the offense.
2. The Braves’ outfield has been horrendous offensively. Obviously, it’s a bit too late to fix that now, but is there anything the team plans on changing after the season?
They’re going to have to. I see them sticking with Heyward in right and McLouth in center, while fishing for a left fielder on the trade or free agent market.
3. The mid-season acquisitions didn’t seem to pan out as expected. Alex Gonzalez, Rick Ankiel, and Derrek Lee have put up an OPS of .731 or lower in Braves uniforms. Do you think Frank Wren should have seen this coming?
Yes. Alex Gonzalez has a career .295 on base average. Rick Ankiel swings at everything. Derrek Lee was suffering from a bulging disk in his back at the time of the trade and was having a very poor season. To be fair, Alex Gonzalez and Yunel Escobar have been roughly as valuable since the trade, Rick Ankiel has provided some value even though he’s basically been reduced to a defensive replacement, and Derrek Lee has hit better as of late.
4. On a related note, why did the Braves give up so quickly on Yunel Escobar?
I wouldn’t say they gave up on him quickly at all. He’s been in their system since 2005.
The reason the Braves gave up on him, though, is because he’s an asshole. This isn’t a new development, either, in 2006 he basically ran Jeff Blauser–the then coach of the AA Mississippi Braves–out of the organization. The Braves’ philosophy suggests there’s no place in the organization for a player like that. They’ve tried to correct his behavior problems for 5 years. I guess they realized people don’t change.
5. Let’s say the Braves make the post-season. In the effort to keep the jinxes at bay, I won’t describe how, just that they did. How do you feel the Braves’ starting pitching matches up with the competition? What would the post-season rotation look like in a 5- and 7-game series?
I would’ve been able to give you a better answer two weeks ago, but the starters that have been good all year have sucked as of late, and Derek Lowe has turned in two straight excellent starts, including an 8-inning masterpiece with 0 walks and 12 strikeouts in his most recent one.
I’d probably go Hudson/Hanson/Lowe in a 5-game series and use Jurrjens as the 4th starter if needed.
6. Mike Minor doesn’t have a sparkling ERA, but has some impressive strikeout and walk numbers in his brief time in the Majors. Is he a shoo-in for a rotation spot next year? Do you think his struggles so far have reduced his value?
He’s probably more or less guaranteed a spot in the rotation next year because he costs $400,000. He needs to get better to be an asset, though. I don’t think his struggles have reduced his value any. It’s his first full pro season and he’s probably pretty tired right now. He’s shown some good things, and I think any evaluator will tell you his first stint in the majors has been a lot more encouraging than discouraging.
7. Of the five relievers who have tossed 40 or more innings this year, only one has an ERA above 3.00: Peter Moylan, at 3.14. Do you think the Braves have the best bullpen of any playoff contender, in either league?
No, the Padres have a better bullpen, but the Braves have the second best.
8. The Phillies lined up their rotation for this three-game set while the Braves chose not to. The match-ups are: Jurrjens/Hamels, Minor/Halladay, and Hanson/Oswalt. Do you think the Braves should have tried to get Tim Hudson into the mix?
Not with the way he’s been pitching.
BONUS: Tell us how you see this series playing out.
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Thanks to Peter for sharing his thoughts on the all-important upcoming series. Make sure you add Capitol Avenue Club to your bookmarks to keep tabs on the opposition as the regular season winds down.
May the best team win. (Hint: it’s the Phillies.)