Braves Series Preview with Peter Hjort

The Phillies rebounded nicely from a disappointing start to the series with the New York Mets, scoring 21 runs in the last two games. After their blowout 11-0 win yesterday, the Phillies traveled down to Atlanta where they’ll start a three-game series against the Braves. They will have to get through three tough right-handed starters in Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, and Derek Lowe. The Phillies, of course, will counter with Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

I swapped questions and answers with Peter Hjort of the Braves-themed Sweet Spot blog Capitol Avenue Club to preview the series. You can find my answers to his questions over in his neck of the woods.

. . .

1. Freddie Freeman — my pick for NL Rookie of the Year — is off to a slow start. Do you expect him to turn it around?

Yes. He’s looked pretty good at the plate and had a few hits taken away by some good defense. He’s put a few too many balls on the ground and will have to make a few adjustments, but I expect him to be fine.

2. How has Chipper Jones looked so far?

Good. He’s being aggressive, almost too aggressive, early in the count. He’s Chipper Jones and knows what he’s doing so he gets a free pass, but you’d like to see him walk in more than 4 percent of his plate appearances. Most importantly he’s hitting, which is what Atlanta needs.

3. Many were expecting Nate McLouth to have a bounce-back year, but he hasn’t been effective thus far. Will the Braves stick with him, or is he on a short leash?

I don’t know. I assume he has a few months to prove he belongs in the majors before the Braves do something about it. They don’t have an acceptable replacement in-house, so that “something” would involve trading prospects for a CF’er. They don’t want to do that, and their offense can survive without McLouth hitting, so they have a lot of incentive to wait and see what he’s got.

4. Mike Minor struggled in Wednesday’s start against the Milwaukee Brewers, while Brandon Beachy held the Brew Crew to one run in six innings. Did you notice anything in particular that led to Minor’s failure and Beachy’s success? Do you expect both to end up in the rotation at some point? If not, who keeps the #5 spot?

Beachy’s command was way better. By the time I tuned in to Minor’s start he had walked the first three batters he faced and allowed a 2-run single. He settled down a bit thereafter, but by the fifth inning he was already facing the batting order for the third time. We both know that batters really start to rake during the starter’s third trip through the order, and it was too much for him to handle at that point.

They’ll eventually both be in the rotation on a more permanent basis once a starter goes down long-term. Right now I expect Minor to be sent down to AAA once Jair Jurrjens returns from his latest injury.

5. On your blog, you wrote about the “mistreatment” of Kenshin Kawakami. Most of the readers here are not familiar with the situation. Summarize for us how Kawakami has been mistreated and the implications on the Braves going forward.

Kenshin Kawakami is a major-league caliber starting pitcher who was ostracized last year because he got very poor run and defensive support. They exiled him to the bullpen for the last three months of the season where he was allowed to face all of 29 batters, including 18 in an emergency start which Bobby Cox publicly criticized Kawakami after. The ostracization continued this year when the team sent him to AA rather than AAA because he lives near the team’s AAA facility and they think that sending him to AA might anger him into accepting a transfer to a Japanese club. There are multiple pitchers in the AAA rotation that the club would be better off giving a rotation spot to Kawakami at their expense.

6. Craig Kimbrel. Daaaamn. Your thoughts?

If he can keep throwing strikes and stay healthy he’ll be one of the best relief pitchers in the game for awhile. I just hope he isn’t constantly saved for 3-run lead, 3-outs to get situations.

7. You said that you think the Phillies and Braves are the two best teams in the National League. Who do you expect to win the NL East?

The Braves. I picked the Phillies before the injuries to Domonic Brown and Chase Utley, but I think the latter in particular really hurts. The Braves are a younger team than Philadelphia and have more talent in AAA ready to help if needed. I think they’re built for the regular season better.

. . .

Thanks again to Peter for brushing us up on the Braves. They got lucky enough to avoid Roy Halladay, but they still have to deal with the Lee-Oswalt-Hamels buzzsaw. Normally, I’d be somewhat concerned, having to face Hudson-Beachy-Lowe, but it’s just not an issue anymore. Anyway, be sure to stop by Capitol Avenue Club to check out my answers to his Phillies-related questions, and throughout the season to keep a watch on our enemies.

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14 comments

  1. Larry

    April 08, 2011 08:23 AM

    Bill, at the end of your post you write “Normally, I’d be somewhat concerned, having to face Hudson-Beachy-Lowe, but it’s just not an issue anymore.” Just curious what you meant by that? Those three all had good starts to the season. Is it that the Phillies are hitting really well in the first week or because no team really concerns you when L-O-H are starting?

  2. Larry

    April 08, 2011 08:48 AM

    Amen to that!

  3. awh

    April 08, 2011 09:00 AM

    That is “something” isn’t it:

    The Phillies, assuming health, will have the SP advantage in virtually every series they play this season.

    I don’t know that any Phillies team has EVER been able to say that.

    That alone probably makes this bunch very confident, no matter who’s on the DL or who’s in the starting lineup that day.

    I was at the game yesterday. Despite the fact that Niese had a good track record against them coming into the game I never “felt” the Mets would win the game.

    I suspect the players felt the same way.

  4. MplsPhilsFan

    April 08, 2011 10:33 AM

    One major question I have about the Braves is their defense. Their starters are primarily pitch to contact type players and that defense behind them has only two plus defenders behind them (Heyward and McCann). I think that will be the Achilles heel of that team this year, along with injuries because once Chipper goes down they will be in severe trouble

  5. KH

    April 08, 2011 11:40 AM

    I can’t believe the warm fuzzies about Chipper Jones. He is going to have a bad season when its all said and done. A 39 year old guy who was in serious decline before he had a terrible season ending injury last year. Just wait until the dog days of summer catch up to 1000 year old Larry. If Ryan Howard, Rollins, and Victorino can have good years and rightfield and second base arent complete disasters the Phillies offense can still be better then Braves and as good as Atlanta’s starting pitching is the Phillies is better. Braves bull pen is better over-all but again if the Phillies excellent starting pitchers can go deep in games Contreras and Madson are as good as anyone. But seriously enough about Larry Jones!

  6. Mego

    April 08, 2011 11:41 AM

    The Braves defense certainly has question marks, though I think guys like Prado, McClouth, Freeman should be atleast league average. I guess I’m saying I wouldn’t count their defense as too much of a weakness.

  7. awh

    April 08, 2011 12:04 PM

    KH, good point. The pundits who picked the Braves this season usually cite a “healthy” Chipper as being one of the reasons.

    While he may play the entire season and perform to their expectations, his recent track record suggests that there are no guarantees in that department.

    The Braves are a good team worthy of respect – if all went right for them they could win the division. But, they are not the 1927 or 1998 Yankees. They have their flaws and vulnerabilities just as the Phillies do. There 3 – 4 record at this time suggests as much.

  8. awh

    April 08, 2011 12:05 PM

    “Their” 3 – 4 record…

  9. MplsPhilsFan

    April 08, 2011 01:19 PM

    Mego, Prado is learning an entirely new position and, while early on he does not look bad, he is still going to be below average in LF simply by virtue of not having played there often. The minor league scouts saay that Freeman is a decent 1B, but again, you are talking about a rookie out there. McLouth is just not good offensively or defensively, he should not be on a ML roster. Shall we discuss how bad Uggla is at defense, Gonzalez’s lack of range, or the fact that Chipper right now has as much mobility as my grandmother, and she has been dead for 3 years.

    Defense will be their downfall

  10. Mego

    April 08, 2011 02:37 PM

    I agree they aren’t going to be fantastic defensively. I just don’t know if they are going to be that bad either.

  11. Mego

    April 08, 2011 02:39 PM

    I do think the left side of the IF could be an adventure for them though.

  12. Evan

    April 08, 2011 02:48 PM

    While the Phillies have the better pitching the Braves might have a rotation that is #2 behind the Phils in the NL (maybe the Giants are better). Right now without Utley the Braves have the better offense (first 6 games not withstanding). The NL East is shaping up to be a real battle. Considering the season started with Utley out and with Chipper being a key part of the Braves infield it may just be a war of attrition.

    I’m excited to see what the Phils offense does or doesn’t do facing their first legitimate top tier pitchers of 2011.

  13. COAL HAMLETS

    April 08, 2011 11:51 PM

    Well, they did get 3 runs against Hudson…even if some of the hits were rather flukey looking. We may know a little bit more based on how the offense does tomorrow and the next day.

    By the way, why does a 100 year old Chipper Jones still find a way to hurt the Phillies so much? :(

    That hit looked pretty catchable to me, but it doesn’t change what the results ended up being.

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