Braves 11 America Jr. 3

Conventional wisdom states that facing a knuckleball pitcher can screw up an offense not just for that game, but afterwards as well, as the altered hitting approach necessary to fend off the knuckler can echo for days on end. Well, we can only hope so, because the small-ball approach worked wonders tonight against Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey, as the Braves utilized 16 hits (13 of them singles) to notch an 11-3 victory.

This appeared to be the plan going into the game — of the four serial overswingers on the roster, three (Bupton, Heyward, and Uggla) watched from the dugout, and the fourth (Francisco) was sent packing for good. You’ll get no requiem for Fat Juan’s departure from me — he was brought in last year IMO precisely because he was neither an accomplished veteran deserving of an established role, nor a prospect whose development needed nurturing. He was a guy who could get jerked around based on whether or not Chipper could play that day, and who might run into a fastball now and then. Chris Johnson isn’t a world-beater, but he’s better than Francisco, and without radical batting splits he doesn’t need a platoon partner.

And if today’s lineup means more playing time for Ramiro Pena, especially against RHP, so much the better. Pena employed an aggressive but controlled approach, and singled in Evan Gattis (doing his own impression of a pesky waterbug with three singles of his own) three separate times on his way to a four RBI day. Not having a lefty reliever come in to face him while the game was still in some doubt in the seventh inning was a silly mistake by Jays manager John Gibbons.

Brian McCann reached base three times as well, and had some fun playing with the Jays’ overshift. I can understand the radical shift with the bases empty, but with a runner on first and less than two outs McCann is particularly incentivized NOT to hit a hard grounder to an infielder. BMac, of course, knows this.

Every position player had at least one hit (heck, every position player had at least one single) in support of staff ace Mike Minor, who was baffling the Jays hitters at first, but ended up giving up a few too many hard hit balls to a lineup so unimposing that Mark DeRosa batted cleanup and it almost, but not quite, made sense. Still, it was a surprise when an early 3-0 Braves lead didn’t hold up. Even more shocking was the way the Jays battled back — thanks in large part to some shaky defense by Andrelton Simmons. I blame myself for angering the baseball gods by comparing him to Ozzie Smith a few days ago.

The other highlight was the major league debut of Alex Wood, who pitched the ninth and looked good. He even appeared to give some stage direction to McCann at one point, which I like to imagine occasioned a bemused smirk from BMac behind his mask. I’m no prospect hawk, so I’ll not endeavor to write him up. He’s been a starter in the minors, and I gather some folks are concerned about his being used out of the bullpen. That’s just…dumb. Trying to win a pennant here, people.

Oh yeah, Fatty McChinstrap whiffed three times tonight. I wish him ill. The Nats arrive tomorrow — Teheran vs. Strasburg at 7:30. Teheran owns Strasburg.

94 thoughts on “Braves 11 America Jr. 3”

  1. Congratulations on your graduation, Alex! Now be the only Harvard grad I’ve ever known who didn’t work that fact into casual conversation in the first ten minutes, and you’ll have my undying respect as well, FWIW.

    Ah, Cambridge. Fun town. I’ve tippled there.

  2. Great writeup, Sansho. Thank you. And the cool thing about the lineup last night – everyone on here pretty much expected this to happen.

  3. @3

    I tried to come up with a description of his pitching motion but gave up. You captured it perfectly.

  4. the double play
    that got away
    O Andrelton
    what can we say
    the head, please keep it down
    there’s then no need to frown
    and little risk of DFA.

  5. I like big bats and RBI
    You statisticians can’t deny
    That when a hitter bats with a man on base
    And smacks that round thing into space
    You get sprung, wanna put in a PH
    ‘Cause you notice that pitch got crushed by your DH….

    My fan base don’t want none unless it plates runs hon.

    //came up with this in another context last night, but somebody’s gotta keep up with this guy….

  6. Congratulations Alex!

    Excellent recap. The description of Juan Francisco is spot on.

    @3 – I have to see that. Pence has to be one of the most un-athletic looking athletes I’ve ever seen.

  7. with Gattis three for four
    a waterbug?? ignore!
    and then he’s double switched
    we felt entirely bitched
    enough but always wanting more.

  8. This I don’t get….
    McLouth: .304/.383/.450 4HR, 17sb (1cs)

    Seriously…how is it possible that we had a younger McLouth and he was god awful for us?

  9. Felicitations, Alex. Inverting JFK’s famous statement (and improving its accuracy), you now have the best of both worlds: a Yale education and a Harvard degree.

  10. @3 – The player that came to mind for me watching Alex Wood was BJ Ryan, the former Orioles closer. However, I can’t find any footage of Ryan’s delivery to see if my comparison is apt.

  11. Nice effort, Spike, but good luck keeping up with blazon. I don’t see how it’s possible.

  12. Name some big FA players in recent years that’s are living up to their contract. Not extension players like Tulo or Cargo. The only one I can think of is Miguel Cabrera. There are far more flops like Werth Crawford, BJ, Uggla, Adrian, and Soriano type players. I guess Matt Holiday would qualify.

  13. @17

    Also add Hamilton and Puljos to the list.

    Sabathia hasn’t been terrible.

    I think you are going to see teams back off on big- long term free agent contracts

  14. Thing is, if we’d have Pujols or even Hamilton’s 2013 production out of Heyward or BJ, the reaction would be very much more muted than it currently is. Those guys are putting up bad numbers, sure, but the numbers our guys are putting up horrible.

  15. Starting to think the Nationals and Phillies are legitimately hovering-around-.500 teams (knock on wood.) Just hope they stay there.

  16. The Braves have a 5.5 game lead in their division. If they beat the Nationals 2 out of 3 at home this weekend, that lead grows. They’ve done horrifically against other divisions and the better teams in the AL, which bodes poorly for potential playoff play. But that assumes they go into a playoff scenario with Upton and Heyward as broken as they are right now.

    If you can’t beat everyone, beat the teams in your division. Get and keep a lead in your division and while you’re doing that, fix Upton and Heyward. If the Braves do that – fix BJ and Jason – and maybe replace Uggla with Pena at least on a platoon basis; or if Schafer doesn’t turn into a pumpkin – you have a division winner and a potential playoff run.

  17. @24, yeah I don’t really know how good we are compared to the rest of the good teams in either league, but thankfully we just have to be the best out of what looks like a very weak NL East. If we were in the AL East we might be below .500

    Make the playoffs and avoid the play-in game. Then we’ll see. We’re due for a little playoff luck.

  18. The Nats will improve. That rotation is too good. I think they’re still a 90 win team. Hope I’m wrong.

  19. What about the Nats’ rotation is “too good?” The fragile “can’t miss” prospect who hasn’t put it together yet? The lefty with one stellar season in his career, the rest of which is compilation stats accrued in Oakland Alameada? Ross Detweiler?

    The only established, truly great pitcher in the Nats rotation is Jordan Zimmerman. Everyone else is either potential, with known flaws, or guys people are projecting to be great without a lot of data to support.

  20. I agree Zimmerman is the best right now for sure. Strasburg is starting to put it together (and hasn’t been bad this year his ERA is 2.49). Haren and Gio have flaws but as the 3rd and 4th starters who also get to face the weak NL East plenty this season they will be more than adequate. Just my prediction.

  21. I think the Nats bullpen and bench suck. They need AT LEAST one more bat and maybe another starter.

    Finding bench bats isn’t too hard. Pen arms will not be cheap this year. There is some room to find a second baseman or something out there that can hit. Starting pitching will be the hardest thing to find.

    I imagine they will pick up a bench bat, a pen arm and MAYBE another bat. Even then, I am not sure they are 5.5 games better than us.

    This is the last time we play them until August. We need to put them down as far as we can now.

    If they are 8-10 games back at the end of July, they would have to make a lot of moves. Anymore than that, the play for next year.

    This weekend is big for both teams, but more so for them.

  22. Dan Haren isn’t notably better than Tim Hudson (right now.)
    Ross Deitwiller isn’t notably better than Paul Maholm.

    Gio Gonzalez is probably a little better than he’s pitched this year, but he’s not as good as he pitched last year.

    The Nats rotation is good, but it’s not world shattering.

  23. If the Braves drop 2 of 3 this weekend, the lead in the division is 4.5.
    If the Nats drop 2 of 3 this weekend, the lead in the division is 6.5.

    If the Nats sweep this weekend, the lead in the division is 2.5.
    If the Braves sweep this weekend, the lead in the division is 8.5.

    The Braves need to avoid getting swept, and would be in great shape of they win 2 of 3. If they sweep, even better.

    The Nats need to sweep in order go get back into the division race, properly.

  24. @32

    I agree. The only pitching matchup I like for us is on Sunday. I think Saturday is a push. I think a win tonight would be huge for us.

  25. I suppose I concede it’s not earth shattering. But with 13 left with MIA, 16 with NYM and 16 with PHI it just has to be good and I think it’s a bit better than that. I was mainly responding to those suggesting the Nats would be a .500 team all season. I don’t see it.

    I realize we have just as easy a schedule (Actually moreso). We only have one more road series all year against a club currently over .500 (4 at STL in Aug). I think we’ll be fine, but it’s too early to write off the Nats.

  26. Thanks, sansho. I agree we should do what is needed to win that pennant. Hope Fredi doesn’t sit the bear tonight.

  27. McCann, Uggla, Heyward. and Freeman all have 15+ ABs against Strasberg and all have hit him well. Teheran looks great. No Werth, and a banged up Harper. WSH has a bad bullpen. I like our chances tonight.

  28. The only pitching matchup I like for us is on Sunday

    The Braves have handled Strasburg pretty well, Teheran has been pitching fantastically and the Nats offense has been horrible of late. I think tonight’s a push.

    Hudson has obviously been bad recently, but the Braves have decimated Gio Gonzalez this year. Again, a push for starters.

    I’m actually more concerned about facing the kid that no one has seen before (Karns) than Gonzalez.

  29. Pretty sure the Bear will sit tonight and Laird will catch Teheran.

    In other news, Lucas Sims in the month of May has 19.2 IP, 30K.

  30. #32, I remember similar variables being discussed a couple late Augusts ago. “If the Braves go 10-18 the rest of the way, the Nationals would have to go 22-7 to take over” or some such numbers. And guess what? We played much worse than that, and they played much better. And we didn’t make the playoffs.

    So this makes me want to win every damned baseball game we can. Losing games we ought to have won, especially from that “middle 54” that could go either way, remind me of that humiliation and make me angry. I want to win as many games as possible and skip the play-in round. We all should. And that’s why I don’t buy it when anyone reassures me about how well we’re doing despite three of our regulars posting sub-.180 BAs.

  31. Tough righty, probably going to start JUpton and Heyward in the OF, and yes, Laird will almost certainly catch Teheran. Gattis only gets in if Heyward sits again, or if they play Heyward in CF (which they won’t, as Schafer has earned the right to play CF when BJ is sitting, at this point.)

    You’ll likely see McCann and Gattis on the bench to start.

  32. “‘I think it’s lessened enough to where he feels a lot better about it,’ [Davey] Johnson said about [Bryce] Harper’s knee. ‘He says it doesn’t bother him to hit, but we’re not going to have a DH in Atlanta.'”

    Love NL baseball.

  33. @40 – I understand the emotional scarring from that collapse in 2011. But you really need to accept that such a thing was extremely rare. It was scarring because it’s so rare. Yes, the Nats could come back and sweep this weekend and close it up and make the divisional race much tighter.

    Or they could drop 2 of 3 and end the weekend behind the Phillies for third place.

  34. I think people have a tendency to always be looking over their shoulders, and living in the past.

    Last year, the Phillies stayed under .500 basically all year, but that didn’t stop some (and Simpson) from fretting that they were about to magically surge and become the 2009 Phillies.

    In 2006, the Braves sucked and the Mets were great, but the Braves had that little stretch in, think it was July, where they won a bunch of games in a row while scoring 10+ each game (tying a major league record, or whatever.) And some Mets blogs went into panic.

    The Nationals…good in 2012, bad in 2013. But since all the “expects” predicted them to be the best NL team this year, people will be worrying about them every time they win four games in a row.

  35. @43, I am allergic to the complacency that sets in when you’re ahead, your opponents look weak, and all the statistical probabilities are in your favor. Dispirit, destroy, and demolish, I say. The only thing that matters is the magic number and the sooner you get it the better.

  36. The Nationals…good in 2012, bad in 2013. But since all the “expects” predicted them to be the best NL team this year, people will be worrying about them every time they win four games in a row.

    Yeah, there’s a healthy dose of confirmation bias and competitive paranoia at play here. Folks who will tell you two months of performance from 2013 is cause to cut BJ Upton from the roster entirely will in the same breath assert that two months of performance from 2013 isn’t indicative of anything with regards to the Nationals and they’re going to suddenly convert themselves into a 100 win juggernaut over the rest of the year.

  37. @22 Most of my time there has been spent on the MIT side, along Mass Ave between Central Square and the Charles. (I was working with a game developer near Central Square.) I remember the Field Pub; after that the names fade in an ale-induced blur. :-)

  38. @45 – I agree. Sweep them now. Put them 8.5 back and the next time they come in, reenact that scene from American History X with the curb and that guy’s face. Shank them. Shiv them. End them. Win the division by 20 games. Absolutely agreed.

    That said, perspective is often warranted, and even if you only take 2 of 3 this weekend, you’ve gained another game in the standings.

  39. Stephen Strasburg is basically the Nats’ version of Jason Heyward. He’s been very good but injury-prone in his brief major league career, and whenever he does anything less than perfectly, everyone flips out.

    Stephen Strasburg is a very good pitcher right now. How good? Except for W-L, he’s basically having the exact same year that Mike Minor is having.

    Mike Minor: 7-2, 2.48 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 0.92 WHIP, 8.17 K/9, 4.71 K/BB, 1.5 fWAR
    Stephen Strasburg: 3-5, 2.49 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 1.06 WHIP, 8.83 K/9, 3.38 K/BB, 1.4 fWAR

    Zimmermann is clearly the ace of the staff, but Strasburg is a hell of a pitcher. Underestimate him at your peril.

  40. If the Braves play .500 ball from here on out they win 86 or 87 games. The Nats have to go 60-48 to win the division in that scenario.

    If Atlanta continues to play at their current pace, a .600 winning percentage, which is supported exactly by they Pythag numbers, they win 97 games. In that scenario, the Nats have to go 71-37 from here on out to win the division.

    Early leads matter.

  41. Last Memorial Day Braves were tied for fourth in NL East with the Fish, 4 games behind the Natspros with a 0.520 record.

  42. our Father who lately begat us
    a word in your ear about Gattus
    pour Promethean fire
    on Fredi, inspire
    so never again is he sattus.

  43. Sam @46 I agree that some use SSS when it serves their purpose, though I hope that wasn’t directed at me. For one I think it’s way too early to give up on BJ though I don’t mind him seeing the bench occasionally during the slump. And I said I think the Nats would win 90 FWIW.

    Let’s bet a pint on it I’ll set the over-under at 89.5 wins for the Nats and take the over.

  44. The Nats would have to go 63 – 45 (.583) the rest of the season to win 90; certainly within the realm of possibility, but it would require their offense to get going.

    The Nats have a good starting rotation – by just about any measure, it’s been better than Atlanta’s so far in 2013. Their primary weakness so far has been a crappy offense – after producing a slash line of .261/.322/.428 in 2012, they’re all the way down to .231/.291/.376 in 2013, with nearly the same cast of characters. Some of the difference can be chalked up to a large BABIP drop year-over-year (.308 to .277) which should improve as the year goes on, but the Nats are got a ton of production last year from Ryan Zimmerman, Desmond and Espinosa that they haven’t (and likely won’t) get in 2013. The Nationals’ pitching in 2013 has also regressed slightly relative to 2012, but nowhere near as much as their hitting has.

  45. 49–Strasburg’s stats are helped by the fact that he likes to give up “unearned” runs. Also the stats you have cited do not take into account inefficiency. Having a 2.50 ERA loses some of its luster if you average fewer than 6IP per start and your bullpen is weak.

  46. Whatever wisdom and intelligence Alex has shown in his degree attainment is negated by his willingness to give me the keys to the website, even if they are revocable.

  47. BJ Upton really needs a week off. Put Heyward in Center tonight and have Gattis and Justin on each side of him.

  48. 39-What Lucas Sims is doing is damn impressive. He’s ready for High-A as a 19-year old. I said it a couple weeks ago but it is worth repeating that with JR Graham, Alex Wood and Lucas Sims I think we have three top-50 pitching prospects. And of these guys only Graham was included on many preseason top-100 lists, and even he was generally close to the bottom.

  49. @60 – Strasburg has thrown 72 1/3 IP over the course of 11 starts, which is roughly 6.5 IP per start, and it happens to be only 1/3 inning less than Minor has thrown over the same number of starts. It’s way too early in Strasburg’s career to brand him as a guy who doesn’t go deep in games. Moreover, while numerous unearned runs may have scored against Strasburg this year, there’s no evidence that a) it’s some kind of trend that systematically distorts Strasburg’s actual effectiveness relative to ERA, or b) that Strasburg has any control over the errors made by the fielders behind him.

    Over his career to date, Stephen Strasburg has thrown 323.2 IP with 384Ks and a 2.84 ERA / 1.08 WHIP. If that’s not a #1 starter, I don’t know what is.

  50. They make stats that can help inform this sort of discussion. Strasburg’s xFIP is 3.40, Minor’s is 3.63.

  51. Strasburg is the Nat’s Heyward?

    In what season did Strasburg post a 5.11 ERA? Because from where I’m sitting, the only thing Strasburg’s failed to do is be the best pitcher in baseball. His worst season was a 124 ERA+. Heyward has already had a below average season. And Jason’s been TERRIBLE for all of this one.

    Jason Heyward has done nothing to warrant comparisons to Stephen Strasburg. Except be talked about.

  52. @65 And you’ve cherry-picked from those statistics, Sansho. Stras’ career ERA/FIP/xFIP is 2.84/2.61/2.75. Minor’s is 4.00/3.85/3.96. In both cases, the career ERA aligns well with what the underlying pitching rates indicate.

    It looks likely that Minor has made a real step forward this season (by pushing is already-low walk rate down even further) but his career path to date indicates that he’s going to live and die based upon the vagaries of BABIP and HR/FB, since he’s a heavily flyball-oriented pitcher.

  53. I agree with you on rate stats, but what Strasburg has failed to do is pitch an entire season.

    IP per season – 68, 24, 159, 72.

  54. How could I be cherry-picking when I didn’t care what the outcome was? :) Just throwing a number out there to help clarify what those unearned runs might mean so far this year, insofar as how they’re really pitching.

  55. @68 – Point well taken. Though Jason has been no iron man. Strasburg had his innings managed, and then went down with Tommy John.

    I still say, Jason’s been no Strasburg. And until I see a shoulder issue from Strasburg, I’ll still take Strasburg over Heyward 100 times out of 100.

  56. Oh God the Phillies released Durbin. Please Frank no, god no. *Sobs in the corner*

  57. Bethany, I have to thank you. Inspired by your Eephus League scorebook, I sat down last night with the intention of scoring the game. my 11year old daughter asked what I was doing about 10 minutes before first pitch, so I ran a sheet off for her and there we sat for the next 2.5 hours together, scoring, talking, laughing and just having fun. I cannot wait to do it again, nor can she. Question, is it better for me (and you) if I go through kickstarter to order a book or through your website? btw, I’m in Canada.

  58. How long do you continue to start an OF player that hits .150? Assume for a minute that this continues all season. What do you do? I know it’s not likely to happen, but humor me. How would you manage that?

  59. 64-I put “unearned” in quotation marks because while Strasburg’s nine (!!) unearned runs this year may all have been technically unearned, seven of those runs were entirely the result of walks, HBPs and hits allowed, they just occurred after an error was made with two outs.

  60. FYI – Strasburg (and Minor) are on pace to throw about 215 innings this season. I’d peg Strasburg to finish the year with roughly a 3.0 ERA and a K per IP, putting him in the 4-5 WAR range.

  61. @73 Judging from past examples of batters with horrific batting averages over a full season (Nate McLouth, Dodgers-era Andruw Jones, recent-era Adam Dunn), teams typically don’t bench the players altogether but reduce them to less than full time ABs, typically platooning them a lot (I think) and waiting/hoping/praying for them to get going again.

  62. @72: Now that the Kickstarter is over, I don’t think you can go through it to order additional books; at least, that’s been my experience with previous Kickstarters. Bethany will correct me if that’s wrong, I’m sure.

  63. 64-But you are right, Stras has been much more efficient this year, especially in his most recent starts. I note that previous to this season however he has only averaged 5 and 2/3 innings per start, which is not great.

  64. Why don’t they platoon BJ AND Heyward. With a righty starter, Heyward and Schafer player. With a lefty starter, BJ and Gattis play.

  65. And to the original question… If they aren’t showing positive signs, the All-Star break is my deadline. If either isn’t hitting .270 or so for their last 14 games leading in to the All-Star game, they’re getting platooned. That lasts until September, when they become Chone Figgins.

  66. The key wisdom @81 is to look at their last 14 games, not their seasonal numbers. When you’ve dug a hole as deep as Upton and Heyward’s 2013, your regression to mean isn’t going to get you of it for the season very quickly. But if Jason Heyward is hitting 290/390/470 over 14 days at the AS break, you leave him in there. Same for BJ.

  67. @72 That’s so awesome to hear! Right now all I have on the eephusleague shop is the smaller original scorebooks (your daughter might really like those, since they have stickers and other fun stuff included). The HaflLiners aren’t going to be on the store for a few more weeks because I don’t get them from the printer till next week, then I’ve got to get out the books that are going to the backers. I can get you books even if you’re in Canada, I just have to ask for more shipping.

  68. @82 – Sam, I agree, its what have you done lately that counts. The challenge for Fredi is how long to ride the hot hands as opposed to getting the struggling guys enough at bats to get going. BJ, Heyward, Uggla can’t dig their way out of it on the bench, but recent evidence suggests that the team is playing better with Pena, Gattis and Success! in the lineup. What a quandary. The odds say that the aforementioned 3 won’t be THIS bad going forward and that Pena and Success! won’t be this good. Gattis is an unknown quantity but he is a rookie.

  69. I vote they can work on getting out of their slumps next week against the Pirates and Dodgers.

  70. I’d rather keep Carpenter around but Frank likes those vet arms down there. Durbin did an excellent job last year for us.

  71. @85

    I say sign him to a AAA contract and see if he is fixable. If he is, call him up in a few weeks. If not, he can play baseball all summer on the east side and mentor some kids.

  72. Fun with fan graphs leader boards… since the start of the 2012 season, Strasburg has the 5th-best FIP among starters, behind only Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw. Mike Minor is 45th.

    I’m pretty sure Strasburg is better than Minor, and better than Jordan Zimmermann, for that matter.

  73. @87 – I agree. I would go with a hard platoon of every position in the Nats series. Schafer, Heyward and Pena starts games 1 and 3 against the RHP. Gattis, BJ and Uggla game 2 against Gio. I’d think really, really hard about starting McCann ahead of Laird tonight, regardless of how well Gerald and Julio have been working together. Mac obviously starts games 2 and 3.

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