Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kawakami / Stauffer in Game 2

With last night's extra innings loss to the Padres and the Rockies' victory over the Dodgers, the Braves are now 5.5 games back of the wild card. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA-adjusted playoff odds give them a 25.37% chance of making it to the postseason, down 7% from yesterday.

Needing a string of minor miracles to make it to a 163rd game this season, the Braves send Kenshin Kawakami to the hill on Wednesday to face Tim Stauffer. Kawakami has been slightly more effective over the past month, trading strikeouts for a diminished walk rate and a 3.77 ERA over the past 31 days (5.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 over that time).

Stauffer is a former prospect whose star has faded following a string of injuries. He's been effective in his brief time (41 IP) with San Diego this season, striking out 37 against 14 walks for a 3.95 ERA.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Padres outlast Braves in extra innings

Mat Latos rebounded from a pair of rough outings with a brilliant one, giving the Padres seven innings of scoreless ball, including four strikeouts, no walks, and just two hits.

The only run his opponent, Jair Jurrjens, surrendered was a solo homerun to Adrian Gonzalez in the top of the third, but he probably deserved worse. Not including Gonzalez' round-tripper, Jurrjens allowed eight baserunners (4 hits, 4 walks), but all were left stranded. Jair left the game after 7 2/3 IP, down 1-0.

The Braves missed a golden opportunity to tie the game and/or take the lead in the eighth inning. The bases were loaded with one out, but Omar Infante lined out to Everth Cabrera, and Martin Prado struck out to end the threat.

It seemed like the book was written going into the bottom of the ninth. No one has done anything against Padres closer Heath Bell all season, so there was little reason to think tonight would be any different. But Adam LaRoche couldn't be bothered with the notion that he was expected to bend over and take it like Casey Kotchman. LaRoche drove in in pinch-runner Reid Gorecki on a single that was nearly caught by Will Venable.

But, ultimately, Atlanta's propensity for striking out with the bases loaded did them in. Garret Anderson joined the party by striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth, and David Eckstein drove in the winning run on an RBI double in the top of the 12th.

Screaming Indian favorite, the normally reliable Kris Medlen, took the loss, allowing two walks and two hits (including that fateful Eckstein double) in one inning of work.

Jurrjens v Latos in Braves/Padres opener

With the Rockies' late night, extra innings miracle win against the Giants last night, the Braves are 4.5 games out of the wild card. According to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA-adjusted playoff odds, Atlanta has a 32.4% chance of making the playoffs.

The Braves will resume work on closing that gap when the Padres come to town tonight and open up a three game series at 7 PM Eastern.

Jair Jurrjens takes the hill for the Braves, hoping to build upon a hot streak that began a month ago whe he outpitched Tim Lincecum. Since (and including) that game, he has struck out 25 and walked eight in 28 2/3 innings pitched.

Jurrjens' opponent, rookie Mat Latos, is heading in the opposite direction. In his past two starts (7 2/3 IP), Latos has allowed 12 ER on 15 H and 7 BB. The Padres have decided he will only make one more start beyond tonight in order to limit the 21-year-old RHP's workload.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The spectre of Tim Hudson looms over Turner Field as Kawakami takes on Phillies

Today's Pitching Matchup: Cole Hamels (LHP, Phillies) vs. Kenshin Kawakami (RHP, Braves)

It's easy to look at Cole Hamels' stellar 2008 and forget that for much of his career he's been dogged by the dreaded label of "injury-prone". But that label is not an uncommon one among young pitchers, especially ones that have endured the heavy workload that Hamels bore last season (223 1/3 IP, not including playoffs). Though he's spent some time on the disabled list this season, Hamels has performed admirably (128 1/3 IP, 111 K, 27 BB, 41% GB rate). There is some cause for concern, as he's on a three-year downward trend in strikeouts per nine (9.9, 8.7, 7.8).

There's little good that can be said about what Hamels' opponent, Kenshin Kawakami, has done this season (118 IP, 84 K, 49 BB). If Kawakami can outperform Hamels on Saturday, it will be huge not only for the Braves' postseason hopes but for Kawakami's hopes of remaining in the rotation. On August 13th, Tim Hudson pitched four innings against AAA Durham (Tampa Bay), striking out three, walking one, and giving up five hits in four innings pitched.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Howard's homerun beats Braves

Joe Blanton (2 K, 1 BB, 7 H) and Jair Jurrjens (6 K, 1 BB, 5 H) dueled admirably, giving their respective teams seven innings apiece of two-run ball. Blanton's cause was aided by a brilliant defensive performance by the Phillies' not-so-secret weapon, Shane Victorino.

Things got hairy in the top of the eighth when Ben Francisco led off with a double against Mike Gonzalez. Luckily, the Phillies decided to waste an at bat from one of their best players when they allowed Jimmy Rollins to bunt Francisco over to third. Victorino and Utley popped out in succession to end the inning.

But the bullpen's high-wire act was short-lived. Ryan Howard gave the Phillies the game-winning run in the top of the ninth with a solo homerun off of RHP Rafael Soriano. Despite the lefty-leaning heart of the the Phillies order (Utley, Howard, Ibanez) likely coming up in the ninth, Cox opted use LHP Mike Gonzalez the inning prior to face righties Ben Francisco, Jimmy Rollins, and switch-hitter Shane Victorino.

The Braves were unable to mount a counterpunch in the eighth against Ryan Madson and got two runners on against Lidge in the ninth, but Nate McLouth flied out to deep left to end the game.

The Braves now have a serious uphill battle to win the series. Tomorrow will be the hardest part. The Kawakami/Hamels pitching matchup heavily favors the Phillies. The Braves now trail the Phillies by six games.

Atlanta & Philadelphia open critical intradivision series

It's difficult to overstate the importance of this weekend's series against the Phillies. By Monday, the Braves could be as few as two games back of the Phills in the NL East or as many as eight. Baseball Prospectus currently gives the Braves a 44% chance of making the playoffs. Taking two or three games from Philadelphia should dramatically improve those odds. The series gets started on Friday night in Atlanta, where Jair Jurrjens and Joe Blanton are set to take the mound.

Blanton came to the Phillies last season via trade from the Oakland Athletics. Since arriving in Philadelphia, Blanton has been a solid mid-rotation type who is, at times, prone to being done in by the longball. (But then again, are there any pitchers who pitch half of their games in Citizens Bank about whom this cannot be said?) On the year, Blanton has pitched 132 innings, tallying 111 K and 35 BB while giving up 1.5 HR/9. Blanton has been particularly effective of late: in his past 28 1/3 innings, he has a 2.51 ERA on the strength of 20 K and just 2 BB over that same period.

Jair Jurrjens will be asked to manage the difficult task of limiting the damage done by the Phillies' lineup, a solid group to be sure but one that feasts on right-handed pitching in paricular. Jurrjens' overall performance this season had been characterized by deterioration in each base skill: strikeouts, walks, and groundball percentage. But Jurrjens caught fire after the All-Star break to bring his strikeout and walk ratios in line with those from 2008 (The only perceptible difference is an eight percent drop on his groundball rate.) In his last 29 IP, Jurrjens has struck out 25 against 9 walks on his way to a 3.41 ERA during that period.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 ET.

Good news, Phillies fans: Kenshin Kawakami is set to take the mound on Saturday. Philadelphia has yet to name a probable starter. Sunday's matchup will be much better for Atlanta, as staff ace Javier Vazquez will take on overrated rookie J.A. Happ.

A version of this article also appeared on the Braves Baseball Blog

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I am Medlen; hear me roar!

A couple of weeks ago, we highlighted the success Kris Medlen has enjoyed since being converted to a reliever and argued that he be used more frequently and in more high-leverage situations.

Since that time, Medlen has made us look brilliant (13 2/3 IP, 15 K, 2 BB, 2 ER over the past 31 days), but he still isn't being used in critical situations. Of the his colleagues in the Atlanta bullpen, his .56 Leverage Index tops only Manny Acosta and James Parr.

13 2/3 innings of work indicate that Bobby Cox is starting to use him more, but dammit Bobby (said in best King of the Hill impression) start using him more when the game is on the line!

A new collaboration

I will be doing some writing for The Braves Baseball Blog, a satellite of NL East Chatter, so be sure to check out both of those sites.

But for my uncensored, raw, and uncut analysis (not to mention the occasional nude photo of Jeff Blauser), be sure to keep it tuned to the Screaming Indian.

LaRoche powers Braves to 6-2 victory over Nationals

For the second night in a row, the Nationals got on the scoreboard against Atlanta in the top of the first, but - for the second night a row - the Braves came storming back.

Derek Lowe gave up three hits and a walk in the first inning, but managed to limit the damage to one run when Nyjer Morgan was caught stealing and Josh Willingham grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Atlanta got things going in the bottom of the second when Garret Anderson and Adam LaRoche hit a pair of solo shots to take the lead away from Washington. The Nationals tied it back up in the top of the seventh inning when a Ronnie Belliard single drove in Elijah Dukes.

The seventh was the last inning that Lowe would work. He continued to struggle with his control of the strike zone, walking four batters in seven innings pitched. Still, Lowe had the ground ball machine in full effect, generating 11 of outs via the grounder.

In the bottom of the seventh, Adam LaRoche quickly helped the Braves retake the lead on the strength of his second solo homerun of the game. Atlanta pulled away in the bottom of the eight with a three-run inning that got kick-started by a Martin Prado solo shot. LaRoche and Greg Norton walked in the Braves' final two runs later that inning.


LaRoche continues to be scorching hot, with 13 hits in 35 at bats, including three homeruns, since he was acquired from Boston.

The Rockies and Phillies both won tonight (the latter in Pedro Martinez' triumphant debut), so the Braves don't gain any ground in the wild card or the NL East with tonight's win.

Braves seek fifth straight victory tonight against Nationals

Pitcher A: 143 IP, 74 K, 45 BB, 55% GB rate
Pitcher B: 153 1/3 IP, 65 K, 48 BB, 52% GB rate

Any guesses as to which two pitchers own these miserable and disturbingly similar stat lines?




Pencils down, class. Player B is John Lannan, of whom the Braves made quick work in last night's 8-1 rout. Player A, unfortunately, is tonight's starter for the Braves, Derek Lowe. Frank Wren has to be sweating that 4 year, $60 million contract right about now. But unlike the hapless John Lannan, Lowe has a track record of being better than his year-to-date perfomance, so there's reason to hope for a turnaround.

Lowe's counterpart in tonight's contest, Craig Stammen, inspires little more confidence (83 1/3 IP, 37 K, 16 BB, 49% GB rate). As a consequence, the two struggling righties could find themselves in the midst of a slugfest before all is said and done.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hanson dominates, Braves roll

Well, we'd been expecting it since the first of June, but we didn't get it until the first of August: Tommy Hanson's first utterly dominant performance (6 2/3 IP, 9 K, 0 BB, 7 H, 1 ER). The Braves bats also stayed hot, delivering eight runs of support for Hanson's seventh win of the season.

Given the outcome, the game did not begin quite as auspiciously as you might expect. The Nationals got on the board in the top of the first when a Ryan Zimmerman single drove home Nyjer Morgan. But it was all Braves from there.

Matt Diaz opened scoring for Atlanta in the bottom of the second with his patented RBI double play groundout, driving in Brian McCann. Martin Prado put the Braves ahead for good in the third with an RBI double that plated Ryan Church, who was filling in at center for Nate McLouth (a late scratch with a sore hamstring). Church and Yunel Escobar would later join Prado with RBI doubles of their own, putting the game out of reach early (6-1 after 5 innings).

Eric O'Flaherty and Manny Acosta combined for 2 and 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to close out the game.


Chipper Jones, a late addition to the lineup was 2 for 4 with a solo homerun, a single, and a walk.

Elsewhere, the Rockies were beaten by the Pirates, and the Phillies held off the Cubs in extra frames, putting the Braves 3.5 games back of the wild card and holding at 4.5 back in the NL East.

Talented Mr Hanson squares off against the not-so-talented Lannan

Wow. What a weekend it was. By taking three out of four from the Dodgers, the Braves have reinserted themselves into the National League playoff picture (according to Baseball Prospectus, they increased their odds if amking the playoffs by 12%). Of course, I missed all of the action as I took a long weekend and was otherwise occupied for most of it.

But, lucky you, I have returned. And, lucky Braves, the lowly Nationals come to town tonight. Taking the mound for Washington will be the lightly-skilled John Lannan (148 2/3 IP, 64 K, 44 BB).

His opponent will be Tommy Hanson, who is showing that he's slowly getting acclimated to big league hitters (monthly K/9 trend: 5.6, 6.5, 7.5). But he still needs to improve his control of the strike zone (29 BB in 67 IP). He'll need his best stuff tonight against the Nationals, who know how to work deep into counts (remember, it's their anemic pitching staff that has done them in).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hanson v Gaudin in early afternoon game

In an early afternoon matchup against the Padres, Atlanta will send Tommy Hanson to the hill. Hanson's strikeout rate is finally starting to climb (6.5 K/9 over the last month), and he'll look to build upon that success this afternoon. Hanson and his 45% year-to-date flyball ratio stand to benefit from the spacious outfield of PETCO.

Hanson's opponent will be Chad Gaudin, who has reinvented himself as a strikeout pitcher this season (102 K in as many innings pitched). At the same time, Gaudin has had some difficulty controlling the strike zone. He's walked 54 batters so far this season. A selective approach by the Atlanta lineup may precipitate an early call to the bullpen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

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Braves rout Padres 9-2, Vazquez gets rare run support

The Braves entered Tuesday night's game against the San Diego Padres as they have entered most games of late: badly needing a win to stay in the wild card race.

The top of the fouth began auspiciously for Atlanta as three straight singles by Garret Anderson, Yunel Escobar, and Adam LaRoche loaded up the bases with no outs. But an excellent opportunity to have a big inning was squandered when Matt Diaz hit into a run-scoring double play. Javier Vazquez then struck out to end the inning, stranding Yunel Escobar on third and allowing Tim Stauffer to escape relatively unscathed and down to Atlanta just 2-1.

The Padres tied it up at two apiece in the bottom of the fourth on a Chase Headley double that drove in Will Venable from second base. At this point the narrative seemed all too familiar - squandered opportunities by the Braves lineup hanging the pitching staff out to dry.

But the Braves deviated from the script and answered right back in the next frame as Martin Prado hit a solo shot to untie the game. In the top of the sixth, Matt Diaz redeemed his bases loaded double play groundout with a two-run homerun that drove in Adam LaRoche, putting the Braves up 5-2. The Braves never looked back, tacking on four more runs before the night was over to lock up a 9-2 victory.

Javier Vazquez turned in his customarily dominant performance, striking out six, walking two, surrendering six hits, and allowing just two runs to cross the plate in seven innings pitched. Despite lowering his ERA to 2.99 on the season, Vazquez picked up just his ninth win on the season, a testament to the poor run support he's received all year long. Tuesday, however, was different. Atlanta scored seven of their nine runs before he was pulled from the game.

Elsewhere, the Rockies beat the Phillies 8-3, leaving the Braves stagnant at 5.5 games back of Colorado in the wild card race, but drawing the Braves to within 6.5 games of the NL East leading Phillies. With the Braves set to face the Phillies nine more times over the season's remainder, first place in the NL East doesn't seem as unattainable for Atlanta as it did a few weeks ago, recent struggles notwithstanding.

Javier Vazquez continues to be typecast as "stopper"

For the second time in as many games the Braves will call upon the studly Javier Vazquez to terminate a losing skid that has seen Atlanta fall 5.5 games out of the wild card spot. There is little I can say about Javier Vazquez's performance in 2009 (140 IP, 158 K, 28 BB, 3.01 ERA) that can't be ascertained from his ridiculous stat line. Thankfully, the trade deadline came and went with no action on the curios rumors that Frank Wren was shopping the Braves' ace.

Vazquez will once again have the added benefit of facing an inferior opponent in Tim Stauffer. The 27-year-old Padre is no slouch (21 IP, 16 K, 5 BB in majors; 2.14 ERA, 6.0 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 in minors), but he's also no Vazquez.

Still, the Braves' considerable advantage in the starting pitching matchup will be of little consequence if their lineup continues to score fewer than 3 runs per game as they have over their last seven contests.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Punchless Braves bats offer no support for Kawakami

Despite my numerous castigations of Kenshin Kawakami's performance this season, he was pretty decent on Monday night (6 IP, 4K, 0 BB, 1 HR, 3 ER). Kawakami pitched just as well as - if not better than - his opponent, Mat Latos (7 IP, 3 K, 2 BB, 1 HR).

But the Braves offense provided little succor for Kawakami, mustering just 6 hits, including but one extra base hit - a homerun by Adam LaRoche in the second inning that put the Braves up 2-1. The Padres knotted the game back up in the second on a Kyle Blanks solo shot. A Will Venable single in the bottom of the third drove in David Eckstein. That would be all of the offense the Padres would need to put the Braves away, as Latos and the San Diego bullpen combined to shut Atlanta out over the final seven frames.

The Braves have scored just 19 runs in the last seven games and will need to pick up the pace if they want to salvage any of their rapidly receding playoff hopes. With the loss, the Braves fall 5.5 games back of the Rockies for the NL Wild Card spot.

Kawakami looks to get his act together against Latos, Padres

There's tip-toeing to be done around this fact: Kenshin Kawakami was horrendous his last time out. But if there was ever an opportunity to turn things around, Kenshin will have one when he faces the gutted San Diego Padres on Monday night.

The Padres no longer have Jake Peavy, but the Braves will have the misfortune of facing the best rookie San Diego pitcher since Peavy: 21-year-old RHP Mat Latos. Young Mat has been stellar in his first 16 1/3 innings in the majors (13 K, 4 BB, 9 H, 5 ER). If there's a chink to be found in Latos' armor, it's his 59% flyball rate. When major league batters are hitting that many balls in the air, several of them are bound to leave the yard. But there is one obvious factor mitigating the impact of this weakness - tonight's game will be played in PETCO, a park that has been very generous to the likes of flyball pitchers Jake Peavy and Chris Young over the years.

Kawakami will also enjoy the benefits of PETCO. Though he doesn't have the extreme GB/FB split of Latos, he's no GB artist (41% FB). But it's Kawakami's other skills that need improvement if he's to improve upon his woeful start against Florida last week. In the last 22 1/3 IP, Kawakami has struck out just 10 batters while walking 12.

Tim Hudson pitched 4 scoreless innings at AAA Gwinnett on July 27th... Just saying.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Billingsley, Dodgers steamroll Braves

The Dodgers defeated the Braves 9-1 on Sunday night.

Starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens was done in by a 3-run HR by Matt Kemp in the fifth inning. The Dodgers wouldn't need to score again to win the game, but they went ahead and did it anyway.

Jurrjens pitched decently, especially considering the level of competition, throwing 5 innings in which he struck out five, walked two, gave up 10 hits, and allowed four runs to cross the plate.

It was the bullpen that blew the game wide open, giving up 5 earned runs in 4 innnings of relief, including three that were attributed to Boone Logan.

Dodgers pitching shut down the Braves offense on the strength of a performance by Chad Billingsley, who pitched five innings and struck out nine, walked one, and surrendered but two hits.

With the loss, the Braves fall five games back of the Wild Card-leading Rockies who beat the Rockies 6-4 in extra innings.

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta - but does he make the Braves any better?

In case you missed it, Casey Kotchman was traded to the Boston Red Sox on Friday for Adam LaRoche. So did the Braves improve their playoffs odds with this move, or are they just rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship?

Baseball Prospectus' remainder-of-season projections have LaRoche being an upgrade of 1.8 runs over Casey Kotchman with the bat. Fielding Runs Above Replacement has their year-to-date defensive performances being pretty similar.

The biggest difference between LaRoche and Kotchman? For the balance of the season, Kotchman is due about $1.07 million against LaRoche's $2.6 million. So the Braves are paying roughly $850,000 for just under two additional runs. The Red Sox are supposed to have included cash considerations, but those details have not been made available.

Also, LaRoche will be a free agent at the end of the season. According to an approximation of the Elias Sports Bureau rankings, LaRoche will fall just short of being a Type B free agent, meaning that the Braves will receive no draft pick compensation if LaRoche declines arbitration. Kotchman, on the other hand would have been cheap and under team control through 2012.

Though I've made no secret of my belief that Casey Kotchman is a severely inadequate first baseman, he still has his peak years ahead of him, and he's not so bad if you're thinking of him as nothing more than an affordable stop-gap to get you to the Freddie Freeman era.

Jurrjens and Billingsley in battle of precocious RHPs

The Atlanta Braves take on the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight in a game that will feature two talented young right-handed pitchers: Jair Jurrjens for the Braves and Chad Billingsley for the Dodgers.

Billingsley profiles as a strikeout pitcher, averaging 8.5 K/9 IP this season and 9.0K/9 IP in 2008. But control of the strike zone has eluded him of late, walking 11 batters in his last 26 1/3 innings. Much like Jurrjens, Billingsley is following up a stellar season in 2008 with something of a step back in 2009 from a skills perspective (-.5 K/9, +.4 BB/9, -5 GB% this year relative to last).

But it's been Jurrjens who has picked things up of late, with lights-out performances in his last two starts (13 2/3 IP, 14 K, 2 BB, 3 ER). Jair will need to be in top form on Sunday night if the Braves are to shut down the Dodgers' formidable bats. Los Angeles leads the National Leage in On Base Percentage vs. Right Handed Pitchers, with a line of .271/.344/.403. It's worth noting that those numbers include 50 games in which Manny Ramirez did not play.