May 20, 2009

Playing Catch-Up

I opened my local sports page today. I flipped past all the local sports coverage; high school sports just aren’t that important. There were a couple of interesting bits, though. Our local Norfolk Tides are riding an eight-game win streak. Hmm…it might be time to go out to Harbor Park again. It’s hard to get excited about the Baltimore Orioles’ triple-A club, but maybe the next time Gwinnett comes to town, I should make the effort. Norfolk has Matt Wieters right now, so he may be worth the trip alone. It’s been a couple of weeks since I have been able to see our boys (the Braves, not the TBS sitcom inexplicably set not in Atlanta, but in Chicago…take that, WGN!).

My personal drought of viewable games has robbed me of the opportunity to see Atlanta claw their way back to .500. It has also spared me the misfortune of witnessing Frenchy’s predictable slide back to something less than mediocrity, otherwise known as the best anyone should expect from him.

Seriously, if I may speak for out-of-town fans for a moment…the fact that this bonehead is still with the team is one of two things. It is a testimony to the blind admiration of a city for a kid whose greatest achievements are behind him, or it is a demonstration that the Braves’ front office is willing to sacrifice success in order to sell a few more jerseys. Outside the city of Atlanta, Jeff Francoeur could count the number of fans he has on one hand. That kid has gone a long way on that smile. But I digress…

The most important aspect of this past week or so is that the Braves are 6-4. As long as they continue along at that pace, and avoid the prolonged losing streaks that have plagued them over the past couple seasons, we may have reason to hope after all. The next step for Atlanta is to put together a couple of small win streaks and turn it around at home. The Phillies and Mets have both recently put together small win streaks. While the Braves have hung around, they need to focus and get on a run too. They can’t rely on lingering listlessly. The fact that Atlanta is hanging around, though, is a testimony to the reliability of the rotation. That rotation should only get stronger in late July, early August, when Tim Hudson is projected to return. Things are looking a little less bland! Woo hoo!

Lineup Switcheroo

Tuesday night, the Braves moved one step closer to Steve’s dream lineup with Casey Kotchman leading off. The lineup change was a surprise, but impressive for a couple of reasons. First, Bobby Cox doesn’t really shake things up like this very often. As we all know, he’s a very steady warrior who likes his routines. Therefore, the shake up in the lineup was welcome. Secondly, Yunel Escobar, Casey Kotchman, and Chipper Jones are all three at or near the team lead in both on-base percentage (OBP) and batting average on balls in play (BAbip). Essentially this means that the Braves’ lineup now leads off with guys who get on base routinely followed by guys who put the ball in play successfully and routinely. That’s how you produce runs. Forget runs batted in. That’s all circumstantial. OBP and BAbip, that’s how it’s done.

Finally, the Braves put Kelly Johnson in the sixth spot. Kelly responded to the move by going three for four. He even stole a base. I remember when Kelly came up in 2005, they discussed the fact that he had been hitting in the three-hole in Richmond. I know players frequently claim that their position in the order doesn’t matter, that they approach at-bats the same way, regardless. I don’t buy that for all players. I honestly believe Kelly is one of those guys who just hits better when he isn’t leading off. I’m hopeful that the move down the lineup is going to instigate a return to form from him. Maybe he’ll even approach some of that potential we all thought we saw in him. I’m cautiously optimistic…

One last note- Jair Jurrjens…did this kid really only cost us Edgar Renteria?! Unbelievable. I love trading with Detroit!



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