Well, for the first time in what seems like decades, the Atlanta Braves are in first place in the NL East. They now have a 2 ½ game lead over the rival Philadelphia Phillies after sweeping them this week. It helped that the Braves didn’t have to face Mr. Perfect, Roy Halladay, and the “Old Man” Jamie Moyer, but the way the Braves are playing right now, I don’t think it would have mattered who was on the mound…well except for Ben Sheets. That guy could face the Braves with no arm and still somehow strike out 15…
The Braves have won eight straight games and are the hottest team in the majors right now. They are doing this behind the stellar play of Mr. Troy Glaus, whom I believe I owe an apology. Last month I referred to him as a “telephone pole in a baseball uniform,” and though I still think it’s true, the context I used it in has changed a great deal. Glaus is leading the world in RBI over the past month+ and was recently named NL Player of the Month for May (J-Hey was named NL Rookie of the Month for the second straight month).
Glaus is now batting .278 AVG 9 HR 40 RBI and if it weren’t for the Phillies’ outfielders, he would have 2 more HR. I guess he just needed a month to get his feet wet after missing most of 2009 with a shoulder injury. Whatever it is, I am not going to question it and just go along for the ride.
Along with Glaus, Martin Prado has emerged as the leadoff hitter the Braves were so desperately lacking the past few seasons. He is not the prototypical lead-off hitter who is going to steal a bunch of bases and drag bunt for a hit, but he gets on base, watches a lot of pitches and sets the table for the heavy hitters…and Chipper Jones. Prado currently leads the NL in hits (73) and Batting AVG (.324) and has been one of the Braves’ best clutch hitters with RISP.
The bad news has been and continues to be Nate McLouth. You can add Chipper and McCann to this list, but at least Chipper has been getting walks and McCann has been better over the last 2 weeks; McLouth, on the other hand, has been doing nothing but making outs. His AVG is down to .178 and has just 2 hits in his last 10 games. McLouth has 4 stolen bases this season and just 11 extra base hits…this is NOT the guy the Braves thought they were getting—Gregor Blanco could be doing this for a lot less money.
McLouth clearly has a problem with his swing—obviously! He has a sharp upper-cut swing that causes him to pop up any pitch above the belt. He is also a dead pull-hitter—he hasn’t hit a ball to the left side of the field with any authority this year. I can see all of this from a rocking chair in NY, I know I’m not the only one, Jo Simpson has made reference to this and I’m sure Terry Pendleton (among others) have been trying to work with McLouth…but why isn’t he doing anything about it? Something has to give…
I have also noticed whenever he has a chance to throw out a runner from the OF, he eats the ball and lobs it in; as was the case in Tuesday’s game against the Phillies. With a runner trying to score from 2B on a single and a pitcher running from first to second (so he wouldn’t be trying to stretch it to 3B on a throw) McLouth lobbed the ball in with no intention of trying to keep the run from scoring.
Over the past week Bobby has been making some changes to the lineup that I hope to see more of…
Against a LHP—Omar Infante in LF and Melky Cabrera in CF.
Against a RHP—Eric Hinske in LF and Melky Cabrera in CF.
Obviously if McLouth is going to break this slump he needs at-bats, but it’s now June and if things don’t improve over the next month, something needs to be done; whether it’s a extended period on the bench or a minor-league stint. I realize I am being hard on McLouth, but when you are brought in to be a big part of a team and you don’t perform, you are going to take some heat. (Also I’m hoping that ripping on Nate leads to the same thing that happened when I ripped on Glaus).
The Braves will now go on an 11-game road trip that will kick off with 4 games against the streaking LA Dodgers. The Dodgers have won 5 of 6 and have the same 31-22 record as the Braves. The Braves have not been the same team on the road (12-16) this year as they have been at the Ted (19-6) and have a tough task ahead of them having to face the Dodgers young 1-2 punch of Clayton Kershaw (5-3 2.95 ERA) and Chad Billingsley (6-2 3.74 ERA). The Braves need to play well against LA because, even though it’s June, a playoff spot could always come down to a game or head-to head record. I’m just saying…
Finally, Congratulations to Armando Galarraga for his performance Wednesday night! 28 up, 28 down.
Follow me on Twitter @ BRAVEinNY.
Until Next Time…Go Braves!