Braves 7, Brewers 4

ESPN Box Score

The bats have been struggling. Well, that’s probably a bit of an understatement. The bats have been downright awful. Early on this season, Justin Upton carried the team when no one was doing anything. And because of Evan Gattis and later Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman, there were often other guys around that were doing something. Upton’s been petering off since mid-May, and now he’s out of the lineup. Freeman and Mac have kept on pluggin along, and it actually looked like Jason Heyward was joining BJ Upton in the realm of the no-longer-dead. But not these past couple weeks. Nothing’s worked. The pitching’s been fine (often great), but the Braves have consistently found a way to score just enough runs to lose.

The first inning started well with the Braves loading the bases, and just as Joe and Chip were ready to jump on the “See? No clutch hitting…” bandwagon, McCann went oppo for the slam. Oh, how great it was. And the Braves didn’t stop there. Chris Johnson (whom many were writing off as “regressing”) lead off the 8th with another opposite field job, and the Braves were really in business. Jordan Schafer joined the party in the 4th, hooking a ball around the foul pole in Left, and Dan Uggla capped the day with a single (to the opposite field, fulfilling Joe Simpson’s most erotic fantasy) that scored BJ. And it’s a good thing they continued to score, because Paul Maholm had a mediocre day at the office. Things were looking good through four, but that’s what you’d expect against this depleted Brewers roster. But Pauly began to struggle, giving up meatballs to the few guys in the Brewers lineup you don’t want to give meatballs to. The result were a double and a HR and four runs in for the Brewers. Maholm got pulled, and the combination of Luis Avilan, Anthony Varvaro, Cory Gearrin, and Jordan Walden was good enough to get through the next 3 innings with only one run allowed. Special thanks to Walden, who managed to clean up Gearrin’s mess (0IP, 2BB) in the 8th without a single Grybo. Then Craig Kimbrel came in with a 3-run lead and did Kimbrel things to salvage a single game in this Wisconsin debacle.

Couple of notes:
-It was clear that Fredi REALLY wanted a win here. I thought he would’ve stuck with Maholm in most other circumstances.
-Gearrin’s mediocrity is getting out of hand lately. I’m not sure if the solution is to let him try to work it out or send him down to AAA. Is there anyone down there at this point worth bringing up?
-Success! continues to excel. I’m not sure how sustainable it is, and I still wouldn’t trust him against a lefty, but he’s doing good things for the Braves this year.

137 thoughts on “Braves 7, Brewers 4”

  1. McCann has actually been pretty awful the last few weeks, hopefully today’s the start of a new hot streak for him.

  2. Not at all done writing off Chris Johnson, just so you know. Dude should not be starting.

  3. Gearrin isn’t mediocre right now, he’s far below that level. Fredi keeps thinking he’s Moylan.

  4. @3, But surely he’s worthy of a one-game reprieve? 2-for-3, a walk, a homer? No errors, no defensive miscues? No?

    Listen to your heart!

  5. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Chris Johnson is great. I’m just saying he’s not awful. Well, at least at the plate. And having a defensive caddy for him late-game seems like a reasonable approach to me. FWIW, I remain in favor of a Johson/Peña platoon. But let’s at least look at the offensive results so far and say, “Good job, Not-real-CJ!”

  6. But the problem is he’s not good either. Yes, he’s an ok hitter – and to this point has been, admittedly, a good one – but his defense counts too. In fact, as someone noted in the game thread, his poor defense has almost entirely erased his good offense in terms of value… which makes him not much more than a replacement player. And that’s with the good hitting. If CJ, for the rest of the season, hits at his career averages, then he will be not only not “great,” but not “good” either. He’ll in fact be bad.

    Everything that’s happened is done. His offense to this point is in the books. Great! But let’s now go get someone to replace him.

  7. Wren can give due credit to Johnson for his performance thus far and acknowledge that history shows he won’t be able to maintain it in one fell swoop — by selling high for a better player. Here’s hoping Wren can pull it off. Hell, let Johnson be the headlining piece in the package. That’d be flattering.

  8. There are so many players hitting like such crap right now, and you guys still can’t stop shitting on one of the few who’s not.

  9. FYI: Chris Johnson just edged past Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton for top OPS among regulars. He’s sporting an .830 as opposed to Freddie’s .822 and Justin’s .805.

    For comparison’s sake, Gattis has a .894 OPS, and Success stands at .876.

  10. Again, if all he had to do was hit, some of us might be singing a different tune.

    Right now, if I had to summarize this debate:
    -Chris Johnson isn’t very good.
    -But his offense!
    -His defense is bad enough to offset his offense, and there’s good reason to believe even his offense will drop off.
    -But his offense!

  11. @13, I understand where you’re coming from. If we could improve our standing at third, we should, especially since other positions which are worse off seem almost impossible to improve (Dan and, in our worst nightmares, a BJ Upton that stays at this level of production).

    In the meantime, though, he is one of our most productive hitters on a team that often struggles mightily to score runs.

  12. Didn’t Justin break in at SS? If he could play SS he should be able to play 3rd. Playing Justin at 3rd and Success in left solves our problems. Of course it will never happen, but I bet Justin could play better 3rd than Johnson. Put Gattis in left for Success when he gets off the DL.

  13. @17. That’d get Gattis in the lineup too. But yeah, our defense would be pretty rough.

  14. @17 Both BJ and Justin were shortstops at the time they were drafted; BJ played SS exclusively in the minors, and initially started at SS with the Rays before being moved to 3B, 2B and eventually CF. Justin played only OF in the minors, and (until this year) only RF in the majors.

  15. Was BJ moved to the OF because his IF defense was terrible? Or because there was D-Rays talent at those positions that pushed him out there?

  16. @23 – I suspect that, in a dire emergency, BJ could fake it on the infield. (2B or 3B; not SS.) There is no way on earth I’d put Justin, who is a mediocre defensive OF at this point, back on the IF under any circumstance barring “we had THREE guys die?!”

  17. It’s gotta be said, the more Fredi REALLY wants a win, to quote the writeup, the more he does to try to assure it. And the more he does- basestealing commandos, hit and runs, multiple relief pitchers in an inning- the less likely he and we are to succeed.

  18. I’ll just say this: Single-season estiamates for defensive WAR are very unreliable. Estimates based on less than half a year are even less so. There’s plenty of evidence that Chris Johnson isn’t very good defensively at 3B, but I don’t think he’s faults are as bad as current numbers make them out to be.

    Just remember that these same systems regularly said Chipper was horrible defensively and even didn’t like Vinny Castilla when he was here. For whatever reason, no one has ever played 3B in Atlanta and done well on defensive metrics. So I don’t quite buy that a guy whose among the top 5 in regulars at 3B in the NL plays the position so poorly as to be a replacement level guy.

    Chris Johnson: Probably a bit below average for his position.

  19. I’m wondering what it would take to pry Kyle Seager from the Mariners. That’s the best 3B trade target I can find on a team who might be willing to part with one.

    I hate to say it out loud, but, as you may have noticed, the Mariners can be taken.

  20. Aramis Ramirez. Signed through next season, $13m per, OPS of .901 last year. His slugging is down this year, so he’s at a .780. But his OBP is holding steady at .355 after being .360 and .361 the previous two years.

    Send them Joey Terds and a reliever. They’ll have their 1B.

  21. I thought about that. Do you really think he’s a significant upgrade? He’s just been around forever…

  22. 27 — He fails the eye test for me and most others too. Chipper and especially Vinny (who Bobby refused to take out of the lineup when struggling because of his defense) didn’t.

  23. Well, he is old. He’s 35, so you’d be paying for his age 35-36 seasons. And he’s playing with a hurt knee this year, but has managed to be just as good injured as Johnson has been healthy.

    The defensive numbers seem to go up and down on him, -5 runs this year, but +6 a year ago, and -9 the year before that. So I’d say that rates out as “below average,” which beats the hell out of “historically bad.”

    Offensively, his last 3 seasons average to .300/.360/.514 with a 162 game average of 28 HR and 46 doubles.

    The $13m per sounds sketchy, but they’ve already got enough socked away for this years pro-rated portion in the money they said they could spend but didn’t find a player to dump it in, and then next year you have McCann walking. Granted, there are some arb raises to pay next year.

    All in all, slow, below average defender who puts up professional ABs, lines .300/.350/.500 with 80 XBH a year… If you slapped the number 10 on his jersey you might just believe you still had late-model Chipper Jones around.

  24. Adam Wainwright has a 100/9 K/BB ratio in 110 IP. Holy crap. And his 2.37 ERA isn’t even the lowest on their starting staff.

    The Cardinals are the team to beat this year.

  25. we are too genteel, too nice…from now on we must draft for muscle, for temper…

    a whimsical approach to stats
    exposes several rookie bats
    we’d clearly overlooked.
    but now what’s got us hooked
    their appetite for brawls and spats.

  26. Segura…

    when did we last get to meet such a gifted young player who sets the field alight with his dazzling smile…unaffected, unassuming, no Harper he…just raw pleasure, delight at his rare skills that he instinctively wants to share…the smile does that…

  27. @27 – Prado usually got his best marks in UZR and DRS at third, if I’m not mistaken.

    I’m certainly not a fan of Johnson’s, but if you could possibly just sew him to Andrelton and call them the left infielder, you’d come up with an average bat (thanks to Johnson) and still have top notch defense thanks to Simmons. The Braves have one of the lowest allowed wOBAs on balls on play to the left side of any team, and that’s with the butcher Johnson out there. I think Simmons’ presence makes Johnson fairly tolerable, I think.

  28. All we need from any 3B is someone who makes the routine play. CJ mostly does that, except for a few that I can remember this year. Corner defense isn’t *that* important. We have 2 absolute statues in our corner infield and for the most part we’ve been fine. As long as he hits he is adding positive value – and so far he’s been hitting. Waiting/expecting for him to turn back into a pumpkin is fine, but criticizing him for a slump he hasn’t gone into yet (but might!) is borderline ridiculousness.

    There’s *so* many other guys that you can bash for not being good so far. I guess the context here is that we can’t do anything about our broken outfield, but maybe we have a chance to upgrade 3B? I can buy that line of thinking, but the guy has one of the top OPS on the team. He hasn’t been terrible at all.

  29. Chris Johnson fails the defensive eye-test miserably. But a 3rd baseman gets what, two or three chances in an average game? And even Chris Johnson succeeds at converting those chances into outs much more often than he fails. There’s no way that a defensive metric should quantify that, in such a limited quantity, his negative traits in the field could fully or even almost negate what, so far, has been a pretty good season at the plate.

  30. The thing with Heyward…. I’m convinced he’s going to break out and put up All-Star numbers on a consistent basis for like 5-10 years.

    I’m just not sure if that happens in 2013 or 2017 or sometime in between.

  31. I will say regarding Chris Johnson that I can’t recall him going to his left to get a ball in the gap at all this season. Since this play often involves cutting in front of the SS to make the play, I’m not necessarily sure that’s a bad thing.

    Also: I’ve seen Ryan Zimmerman throw away at least twice as many balls as Chris Johnson so far this year.

  32. @27

    “Just remember that these same systems regularly said Chipper was horrible defensively and even didn’t like Vinny Castilla when he was here. For whatever reason, no one has ever played 3B in Atlanta and done well on defensive metrics.”

    That’s a strong and sweeping statement. Why would you say that? Just a quick perusal of Baseball Reference reveals several players whose metrics over multiple seasons are excellent. Look up Boyer, Evans, and Pendleton. I’m sure there are others.

    Johnson’s miserable 2013 metrics are consistent with his career. There’s nothing he’s doing this year that’s exceptional in that regard. The eyes support what the stats reveal, which is a player whose fielding is significantly worse than “isn’t very good.”

    I agree about not overreacting.

  33. CJ certainly isn’t fluid in appearance, but on the list of Things to Fix, he’s close to last.

    The outfield is the elephant in the room, followed by the rhino at 2B.

  34. The good news is we’re up six games.

    The sobering news is that if we were in the NL Central, we’d be FOURTH and making early October tee times.

    Gonna regret not putting some more distance between us and the Nationals these last few weeks.

  35. @46, All that you said is at the core of my concern. I scratch my head at the “Why worry?” crowd after what this team went through just two seasons ago. I’m not happy that we’ve lost “only” 1.5 games in the standings the last two weeks. An excellent team would be creating more distance, not shedding.

  36. The sobering news is that if we were in the NL Central, we’d be FOURTH and making early October tee times.

    If we were in the NL Central we would have played a completely different schedule and so would have they. In reality, we’ve played our schedule and they’ve played theirs and the Cards have gotten really hit lucky to boot, and we’re up 6 in the division and if we hold that we avoid the play-in game and have equal odds to anyone in a short seven game series.

    Fuck the Cardinals.

  37. Our lead is awesome and we’re a good team, even if there are a few areas of concern. A lot of us are the worrying sort, which I think is pretty normal actually. None of the teams in the East scare me all that much. The Mets are going to be the toughest to take a short series from, but they are so buried it doesn’t matter. I think they will be thorns in the side of the Phillies and Nats too.

    Kinda bizarre scheduling that we haven’t played the Cardinals yet.

  38. I didn’t get to see the whole game, but had to remark on a part that I did see – that is, how bad Gearrin looked. I know that 0 IP, 2 BB is a bad line. But he had TERRIBLE command, was way off target, way too often. A couple of times, he missed by just a little – but even more often, but a ton. I mean, McCann would be set up inside, and the pitch would end up a foot outside. I don’t know if he would have had any strikes if he had not gotten some help from the hitters.

    I know he is not a (the) key component of the bullpen, but it looks like until he can get consistent he won’t be able to be counted on for anything other than mop-up time.

  39. @46,47 – While I agree that it would be preferable for the Braves to continue to excel and build up a huge lead in the NL East, the important thing is that we find some way to get our offense going in some kind of reasonably consistent manner by the time the playoffs roll around. Frankly, I’d be happy if the Braves take the East with a relatively low win total – say 92 wins – as long as we’re playing well come October. As the Cardinals and the Marlins and many other teams have shown us, it doesn’t really matter how you get to the playoffs so long as you perform when you get there.

    Also @46 I hope when you wrote that if the Braves were in the NL Central we’d be “making early October tee times” was meant as hyperbole, because the Braves would still be very likely to make the playoffs in that scenario. If you think the Pirates are going to be able to hang with the Braves and Reds for the rest of the season, then you must be a Pittsburg resident.

  40. If we were the Cardinals, everyone would be complaining about how horrible a lineup we have and how much regression we’re in for.

    It’s a long season, and it’s not like we’re interested in the Wild Card this year. (At least I hope not….)

  41. The Pittsburgh Tease followed by the Pittsburgh Swoon is a baseball tradition the last 20 years.

  42. The wildcard is unlikely to include an East team…but if it comes down to it then I would most certainly take it. All you need is a chance.

  43. As the Cardinals and the Marlins and many other teams have shown us, it doesn’t really matter how you get to the playoffs so long as you perform when you get there.

    Precisely. It is well past time the Cardinals won 100-odd games and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

  44. The wildcard is unlikely to include an East team…but if it comes down to it then I would most certainly take it. All you need is a chance.

    The predictions for the NL this year seem to have been off by two factors: first, underrating the Reds (again) and second, overrating the Nationals.

  45. I had a dream last night that we were in Game 7 of the World Series with a 3 run lead in the 7th inning. Whoever we were playing loaded the bases, then there was a grounder hit to Johnson and he threw it into RF while trying to turn the DP.

    Thankfully, I immediately woke up.

  46. There are so many players hitting like such crap right now, and you guys still can’t stop shitting on one of the few who’s not.

    Is there something wrong with you? Are you constitutionally unable to address what others have said, as opposed to calling people out for saying things they haven’t said?

    Let me try this again: Chris Johnson is an ok career hitter (104 wRC+) who has had hit well thus far (130 wRC+). That’s great, and he deserves credit for it. The Braves should also be thankful that he has consequently been average (.6 fWAR), and not replacement level, which is what he has been for his career.

    But in all likelihood Chris Johnson will ultimately regress to being an ok hitter for the rest of the season. And with just ok hitting, his awful defense will make him, again, a replacement level player. With that in mind, 3B provides the Braves with the best opportunity to upgrade before the trade deadline.

  47. Kicking out the 11 game cup of coffee from 2009, Chris Johnson’s OPS+ for his career:

    121, 85, 108, 125

    It is beyond the data to state outright that Chris Johnson is hitting outside of his talent level. It is beyond the data to suggest, sans argumentative reasoning, that Chris Johnson “in all likelihood…will ultimately regress to being an ok hitter for the rest of the season.”

    Complain about his defense if you like. His defense is bad and if you take half season dWAR totals seriously…well, that’s your choice. But don’t pretend that a 125 OPS+ is a massive outlier for his career offensive numbers. This isn’t a Chris Davis type WTF explosion by any means.

  48. @58 – With a three run lead in the 7th inning of Game 7 of the WS, Ramiro Pena or Paul Janish would be playing 3B.

  49. What @60 said, plus who’s available that’s going to be a huge upgrade? Aramis Ramirez is old and hurt – plus he might actually be a worse defender. Nobody is going to just hand over a productive MLB 3B for a borderline prospect like Terdo.

    And nobody should take dWAR values seriously. Look at the year to year variance. It’s worthless.

  50. @47

    An excellent team has weeks where they play like crap. If you wanna sit around all summer giving yourself an ulcer over the fact that we have a 6-game lead over a team that has shown absolutely nothing so far, be my guest. However, it seems far more likely to me that the Nats have blown their best chance to catch us this week, rather than us keeping them in it for their inevitable triumphant rally from nowhere.

  51. Chris Johnson’s offensive peripherals, with the exception of BABIP, are very near his career averages. CJ’s BABIP this year is a crazy-high .401, higher than his 2012 rate (.354) and career (.355) and nothing in his batted ball profile indicates that CJ’s suddenly become a true .400 BABIP hitter. There’s just no precedent for predicting that his BABIP rate will continue to hover near the .400 mark; once it trends back down to .350 (which, it should be noted, is high relative to league average) then CJ’s offensive production will go back towards career norms (105 OPS+, 104 wRC+).

    All of that said, I am happy to roll with CJ for 2013, given the Braves’ lack of options. He’s definitely prone to streaky hitting… maybe he’ll start hitting line drives everywhere in the playoffs. When he’s on at the plate, CJ can look awfully good (see: April 2013).

  52. I’m not picking on Chris Johnson and I don’t think others are. He is definitely not our biggest problem, but he may be one of our only trading chips. He is playing well above his career averages and his defense is bad. I think the Braves value infield defense a little more than other teams, so we may be able to get some value for him.

    Who else can we realistically trade to upgrade our team? BJ or Uggla are the very definition of selling low and we couldn’t get teams to take on their contracts easily – Heyward is not going anywhere and most haven’t given up on him completely yet. McCann is a possibility, but most don’t see that happening. Trading Maholm is also feasible, but with Beachy’s health questionable, it leaves us with very little SP depth. If we were to trade Maholm, what would we want for him? Outside of trading for prospects, there aren’t too many huge holes that can be easily filled.

  53. There is only one “huge hole:” Uggla. BJ Upton is not going anywhere, nor should he. They brought in Chris Johnson because they thought his offense was worth his defensive shortcomings. They’re not going to trade a cheap option for Aramis Ramirez. Nor are they going to cut their SP depth to the bone without some assurance that Beach is going to come back this year. (Dude’s only 13 months removed from surgery, and it’s a “12-18 month recovery process.)

  54. I don’t think we have many holes that can be filled. Our holes need to patch themselves – Justin, BJ, Jason, Dan, etc. We need a couple of those guys to have really good second halves and we’ll be fine.

  55. Here’s a decent comparable for CJ – David Freese of the Cardinals. Both are contact-oriented line drive hitting 3Bs with moderate power – the only difference between Freese’s career offensive line and CJ’s is that Freese walks more: .294/.361/.438 (Freese) vs. .282/.321/.436 (CJ). The OBP gap actually leads to a fairly substantial gap in wRC+ (123 to 104), which just goes to show how much more valuable CJ would be if he could tack on, say, another 25 BB to his offensive line over the course of a season.

    Freese has also traditionally been rated as more or less average defensively, whereas CJ has been… less well thought-of. All in all, Freese has been a lot more productive than CJ, but I feel like both the similarities and differences between the two guys are instructive.

    @65 On the contrary, career averages are the default (and best) baseline for prediction of future performance, in the absence of data to suggest that those averages are not applicable to the player in question going forward. CJ’s in his (relative) prime and all of his statistics have been compiled in recent years, so I feel comfortable using his career stats to date as a basis for projecting what he’s likely to do for the remainder of 2013.

  56. @68 – spot on. Fix the OF and everything else is moot. Run out a line-up with both Uptons and Jason Heyward hitting “right,” Brian McCann and Evan Gattis behind them and Kronk Freeman in the middle of it all and the limited skill sets of 2B and 3B disappear into the ether. (Dream a little and maybe Uggla-with-new-eyes does a bit of a Matt Diaz resurgence, hits like his Day Game Self all the time, and turns into a real option for leadoff…)

    @69 – that’s a common fallacy, taking the type of analytical thinking that is appropriate and functional during the off-season and trying to map it onto in-season decision making. Those are two very different sets of questions and answers about players and skills. Add in the further variables of Johnson on a new team, with new coaches; Johnson coming into the theoretical “28 year old” happy zone. You can’t solve that problem set with the analytical tools of a GM evaluating talent in December.

  57. @ajcbraves: #Braves Tue. starter Kris Medlen is 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA in four June starts, with 23 strikeouts and 1 walk in 26-2/3 innings.

    …and some think he’s the best option for the bullpen.

  58. It’s still completely within the realm of the probable for a couple of players on any team to perform *better* than their career averages. The mean is not a fixed target, and age certainly plays a big factor.

    I would like to see that happen with the Braves at some point. We’re forever lamenting our guys that are playing below expectation. We should get to experience the flip-side of that as well (Success!!?).

  59. We have a six game lead over a team that is below .500. We have won five of our last ten and managed to pick a game up on them.

    Not sure about all the panic on here.

  60. @70 – The commonly-accepted wisdom is that baseball players typically peak at age 27, though the timing of a player’s “happy zone”, as you call it, varies from player to player.

    Aside from that, while there is good reason to resist applying career averages to predict rest-of-season performance in some cases, I don’t see any cause to do that with CJ.

    As has been stated many times on here, the stats say that 2013 CJ is identical to Career Average CJ, with the exception that the inflated BABIP. CJ’s current BABIP would place him in the top 10 BABIP seasons of the modern baseball era, which is by and large comprised of excellent hitters and high-contact speedsters. With specific respect to BABIP, what makes you think that CJ can keep up his current pace?

    Having looked more closely at CJ’s stats, my prediction is that CJ will start hitting more flyballs as the season goes on, which will cause an uptick in extra-base hits (HRs, especially) while simultaneously depressing his BABIP. It’s certainly possible that he’ll still be a 125 OPS+ hitter at the end of this year, but odds are CJ won’t be able to generate enough extra secondary offense (ISO and SLG) to offset the drop in BABIP.

    @72 – Schafer’s a good example of someone who can’t really be projected using his stats prior to this season, for several reasons: his track record is short and stats affected by injuries, and his peripherals this season look significantly different than previous years. We may be witnessing something of a breakout from Schafer.

  61. @73 – I can’t speak for everybody, but I just can’t believe the Nationals are going to stay this bad when Roy Hobbs, er, Bryce Harper comes back.

  62. I know it seems crazy to suggest putting a sub-.200 hitter at leadoff, but (on this team at least), Uggla might actually be the best solution.

    Wouldn’t mind seeing Success! in that spot for an extended stretch, either.

  63. I’m not panicking, nor do I have an ulcer. It’s just that I’ve yet to be convinced that it’s all smooth sailing from now on, we have the NL East all but wrapped up, this is a special team that’s gonna make hay in the playoffs, and that it’s absurd to think otherwise. I also think it’s unwise to think Washington is down now and so that means they will stay down. That way complacency lies.

    I do feel pretty good about our chances of winning the division and thus avoiding the play-in that screwed us last year. But it’s almost July and our outfield has yet to congeal, our defense is haphazard, playing time for our most dynamic hitter is blocked by underperformers and a weird three-catcher rotation, our bullpen is still pieces and parts, and our manager has a sense of strategery that defies any kind of analysis beyond “well, we’re in first place which means he must be doing something right”. We should all expect more than to just make the playoffs.

    This team is doing some things plenty well right, but there are big question marks that not only bear discussion, but make this place a more interesting place to be.

  64. @73 — I don’t think it’s panic. I think most here would stipulate the following:

    – That clearly the Braves are a very talented team, with particular strengths in power, bench (especially when Gattis and Pena can play), bullpen (even with the losses we’ve sustained), and, at a number of spots, defense. The starting rotation is top-tier, even if it lacks a true ace.

    – That the character of the offense (high power, high strikeouts, middling OBP at best) lends itself to streaks — which is to say, at times this team looks like no one can beat it, for several games in a row, and one or two hot sluggers (Justin in April, Gattis in April-May, Fab Five Freddie in May and into June) is sufficient to make that happen — but by the same token, when no one is particularly hot (most of June thus far), what you get is a ton of whiffs and few runs. (Holding the MLB lead in getting shut out is exhibit A.)

    – That the Braves are a very young team on the whole, with a number of players who have tremendous potential but have yet to quite put it together (Heyward, Simmons), and with so much money tied up in the two free agent signings (Dig Dug, Melvin) that even when they approach replacement-level in any one area, we all feel disappointed because the expectations were much higher. And the huge sunk costs in those two means we’re stuck with them for the foreseeable future — which would be great if they were performing consistently well, but they’re not, so far. (And neither has in a couple of years, which feels ominous.)

    – That their schedule thus far has been punishing, what with all the road games, the trips of 10+ games, the 31-games-in-31-days stretch they’ve just completed, etc. They’re exhausted, and as a result their offensive play over the last two weeks has been terrible. They need the rest they’re going to get this week.

    – That this bad stretch also coincides with Evan Gattis going on the disabled list, which, if nothing else, shows how vital even the threat of him is to our offense.

    – That, as a result of the previous three points, we who love this team feel an urgent need to fix what has felt, for it seems like weeks, like a broken offense, and as such are focusing on the spots we know are potentially fungible. Which is to say, Chris Johnson. (Nobody else is going anywhere; that much we know for certain.)

    One reason baseball is such a tremendous metaphor for life, in ways both exquisite and exquisitely painful, is that it plays out over such a long period of time. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the emotional micro-moment and lose all sense of the wider perspective. This is a human frailty, hard-wired by millions of years of evolution. We cannot escape it, and we should not berate ourselves or each other for being prey to it; at the same time, though, we should remind each other regularly (and do) that how it *feels* at any given moment isn’t necessarily how it *is*.

    Nobody said it would be easy. Love means Melvin Junior never having to say he’s sorry. ;-)

  65. @78 I think it makes a lot more sense to bat Success! in the leadoff spot than Uggla, given that Schafer’s best offensive attributes are his speed and willingness to take a walk, while hitting Uggla leadoff would limit the value of the 30-odd times this year that he’ll yank a hanging breaking ball to left field for a homer.

    @80 Well said!

  66. @80, You said essentially what I said except more eloquently and in triple the word count! (Longer word counts and eloquence often don’t correlate, so well done!)

    I agree with pretty much everything you said except I think our defense is not “very talented” in “a number” of spots. I can count three areas of excellence in our defense: Andrelton at SS, Heyward in RF, and the picking and receiving ability of Freddie at 1B. Everywhere else is either rank incompetence (Johnson at 3B), bafflement (Justin in LF), abiding mediocrity (Uggla at 2B) and inconsistency (BJ in CF). Surprisingly, our catchers as a unit are doing pretty well, especially if you subtract Laird’s throws back to the pitcher.

    I also think the jury is still out on the bullpen (other thank Kimbrel), but their overall performance has been pretty solid of late.

  67. 1. The problem with the “Success! as leadoff hitter” is that you have to find him a spot in the OF, and as much as I’m astounded and entertained by 2013’s New And Rousing Success! I’m not prepared to bench either of the starting three OF’s just to get him in the lineup every day.

    2. There’s no rule against leadoff home runs. Rickey! was great at that (and every other aspect of leading off.) If Uggla’s the best OBP on the team (and quite possibly he is) he should bat leadoff. If he cranks a solo shot then Heyward is the new “leadoff hitter” with 1 already on the board. (Not sure why Uggla’s solo shots would be worse at leadoff than his solo shots in the 7-hole.)

    3. Regardless of what you’re getting from whatever set of laughably inconsistent defensive metrics you’re looking at, BJ Upton is a top rate defender in CF. One over ran ball and hijinks ensuing doesn’t change that.

  68. @82 LOL I almost posted to you that you had said what I said, only in a much pithier way. :-)

    Also, three is “a number.” I’m pretty pleased with B.J.’s D thus far, as well. Less so Justin’s. And I think BMac, while not Yadier Molina, is more than adequate. But on this we can quibble.

    However, I’d say the jury has rendered their verdict on the bullpen. Atlanta is tied with St. Louis for best team ERA at 3.21, which includes the top bullpen ERA in baseball at 2.77. Even if you want to sort by other statistics, I don’t think you can argue our bullpen isn’t a strength. The jury has gone home.

  69. I don’t suppose it would do any good to point out that it doesn’t matter at all if we get complacent, so long as the players don’t. If I as a fan think this division is locked up, there’s no downside other than being disappointed if the team loses it. My complacence means nothing.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t say we have the division locked up, but I would place Washington’s chances of coming back at this point at about 1-in-10, tops. If they do start playing as well as people think they’re capable of, they do have a chance. But chances are way better that it’s already too late, because we also probably have a couple more streaks in us, as well. And if they don’t start playing like that, they have precisely zero chance.

  70. Regarding the bullpen, I like Wood, Walden and Kimbrel as the new 7-8-9th inning guys – behold, the glory of Woodenbrel.

    Avilan has a good ERA so far but his lack of strikeouts continues to be disturbing; it appears that he’s throwing far more two-seam fastballs this year in an attempt to generate groundballs – it’s working, but at the expense of nearly halving his K rate.

  71. Another (unspoken) underlying theme is that we all know at some level that next year’s team is going to be missing some key contributors and those that are disappointing will still be here.

    So this year better, by golly, be the year.

  72. @86

    His ERA is under 2, his WHIP is under 1, he’s giving up almost two fewer hits per 9 than he did last year. Isn’t it possible that turning into a groundball pitcher has actually made him better, especially given the situations he’ll be entering the game to face? I’m having a tough time fretting over his strikeout rate, I can tell you that. At the very least, you said yourself that it was working. So why complain?

  73. @87 – I assume you mean Hudson and McCann?

    Here’s a list of the contracts coming off the books in 2013:

    McCann – 12.00 mil
    Hudson – 09.00 mil
    Maholm – 06.50 mil
    EOF – 04.32 mil
    Ayala – 01.00 mil
    32.82 mil

    Also likely to come off the books:

    JVenters – 01.625 mil
    RJohnson – 01.600 mil
    03.225 mil

    Round it, shine it up, call it $36 mil off the books. Cut a third of it for arbitration increases. Call it $24 mil to spend.

    Here’s a list of the positions the Braves will be going into 2014 with a uncertainty:

    Setup men
    Fifth starter(?)
    Third base(?)

  74. One other thing. This might be just me, but I bet many of you can relate.

    Ever since 1991, I’ve lived with the gnawing certainly that the Braves will come up short at the most important moments. All those World Series we lost — ’91 by a hair in Game 7; ’96 when Wohlers grooved one to Leyritz and turned what felt like a certain series victory into the death of dreams — and all the other NLCSs and NLDSs and, last year, for crying out loud, a WC — it just seems like they always have it in them to get close, sometimes very close, but never to quite pull it out. I actually once wrote a TV pilot about a sports bar in Macon in which this fear was a central theme.

    And so often it’s seemed like the losses came not as a result of terrible play on the Braves’ part, but rather of spectacular bad luck or crap officiating or cheating. Kent Hrbek. Eric Gregg. The Infield Fly Rule.

    And then there are the games we lost simply by dint of usually good defenders suddenly forgetting how to catch or throw. (Looking at you, Larry Wayne Jones of 2010 and 2012.)

    I know, we won in 1995. But would you believe Game 6 of that World Series is the only postseason game I *didn’t* get to see? I had to work that night. And, me being poor and this being before TiVo, I had to settle for watching highlights on ESPN. So I enjoyed it, obviously, but I didn’t get to experience it the way most did. Which may account for my point…

    Which is this: I don’t know about the rest of you, but I carry always in the pit of my stomach the nagging certainty that they’re going to find a way to blow it. Maybe all fans feel that way. Maybe Cubs fans have felt that way since 1908. Maybe Pirates fans have felt that way since 1992. I’m not sure Mariners fans (whom I live among) feel it, because they never got that close. But the Braves have, over and over, and except for that one magical year where I didn’t get to watch the clincher, they’ve always fallen short.

    So that ridiculous emotional conviction, completely ungrounded in reality or any kind of rational thought, dogs my mind through periods of poor play such as the one we’ve been experiencing. It’s not right, but it happens. Nothing I can do but try and keep the beast at bay by whispering sweet empirical nothings into my own ear. :P

  75. @91

    Chipper didn’t play in the 2010 postseason. But Brooks Conrad did, and his story alone could be the basis of a tearjerker filled with “Oscar clips.” But your general point is valid, at least from my seat. When it matters most, I expect the worst. And somehow I am still let down.

  76. @89 Here’s my issue with Avilan in a nutshell: his K/BB has dropped from 3.3 (2012) to 1.42 (2013). His shiny ERA and WHIP have been greatly helped by luck in the BABIP and HR prevention departments. His 2013 BABIP-against and HR/FB rates are .193 and 0%, respectively; for reference, Kimbrel’s career rates are .290 and 7.2%, Venters’ rates were .289 and 10.3%, Mariano Rivera’s .264 and 6.0%.

    It behooves Avilan to miss more bats and walk fewer batters, because soon enough the batted balls are going to start landing in play for hits and over the fence for homers. It’s hard to get a good take on Avilan’s true talent level, because he has such a short track record as a reliever. That said, he’s been walking a tightrope in terms of run prevention this season.

  77. @89- I dunno. Maybe it’s because I’m also a big Gators fan, but I don’t have this problem.

  78. @87 I’m sorry, but what the hell are you talking about? This is one of the youngest and most talented cores in the league. This team will be getting better for years to come.

    @91 Every team but one will “blow it” every single year. So, statistically speaking, it’s much more likely you’ll see what you expect to see: disappointment. But personally I just don’t see what the point of being a fan is if that’s your attitude. I mean, I get it if your team sucks, but if you can’t even enjoy relative success…what’s the point?

  79. @91 Right. What year am I thinking of?

    @96 You misunderstand me. I derive incredible enjoyment from the journey and the many successes along the way. The hope they inspire is priceless, and for me carries over into the other parts of my life. I was simply trying to explain (to myself as much as anyone) where that occasional tendency to go all Cassandra comes from, for me at least. In a general sense, if I wasn’t having fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.

  80. @95- Confession may be good for the soul, but there are some things to which you should never admit.

  81. Hotspur (91)
    Makes sense. I feel the same way. Too many bad things happened in too many postseasons for the Braves. Yankees fans used to have the opposite feeling – despite being down, they would come back. Yankees fans lost that feeling probably around 2004 in the ALCS loss to Boston, and subsequent postseason disappointments from their magic men.

    What bothers me more though is the overmanaging of the Braves under Fredi. Their best hope is to walk and hit home runs and be ok with that. Instead, I still get the feeling that nobody embraces that, and want them all to be bunters and “other way” hitters. As if winning games via 3 run home runs were still bad. The main problem with the Braves hitters is probably not enough walks. When they walk and make the other pitcher work, they tend to win.

    I just read Moneyball. Tell me where the Braves are being smarter than other teams? Possibly the bullpen. They’re getting a lot for a little money there. Would have more if not for the DL.

  82. I don’t have a lot of concern about the division race. If the Nationals haven’t made their move by now, their move will probably come too late.

    As for the playoffs, they’re a crapshoot. Most years, one of the four best teams wins, but you don’t have to go back any farther than last year to find that rule being broken. Even if the Braves finish as the weak sister of the National League, they could easily get hot at the right time and ride it to a championship. All you can ask for as a fan is the opportunity to watch your team compete on the big stage.

  83. @100- There is that, but what price should one affix to his soul?

    However, four WS titles might be tempting.

  84. So, if we only win when hotspur can’t watch the post-season, then who’s volunteering to go hold him hostage for October?

    I mean, it’s for your own good hotspur. We won’t even smash your TV, unless you get ‘frsiky’ right? I mean, accisdents ‘happen’ you know….

  85. @105 That’s an angle I confess I hadn’t considered. If *I’m* the bad luck charm for my favorite team, I think I’m gonna cry. (And give your plan my seal of approval.) :P

  86. When I have my Bama hat on, I assume the best will happen. It took a run of two championships in three years to get my head there, but during the A&M game last year, even down 21, I was thinking “eh, we’ll be fine, Saban will adjust to them at halftime and our line will grind their defense down.” And that’s totally what almost happened and we almost won except for some poorly timed turnovers in the second half.

    Then after that game, I thought “eh, K-State and Oregon and ND will get caught up in the pressure now,” and the very next weekend K-State and Oregon lost.

    Then during the SEC Championship when we were down double digits in the second half and some Georgia fans I was with were starting to razz me a bit, I pulled out Omar’s famous line from The Wire – “Come at the king, best not miss.” And UGA missed. It’s liberating, being able to watch a team with that level of serenity. (Although there’s only one Nick Saban and you can’t have him, so most of you will have to find out another day how that is.)

    But when I have my Braves hat on, I just assume something terrible is coming. The wild card game was like a clip show of everything – it had the defensive lapses of 2010, the umpiring of 1997, the inferior opponent on a roll of 2003, the blow-a-lead-to-the-damned-Cardinals of 2011, just every way the Braves have ever broken your heart rolled up into one neat little game. The sad thing is it didn’t surprise me at all and we all walked out of the ballpark (three Braves fan and one Cardinals fan) like “welp, that’s about right.”

    So yeah, I get that, @91. The only cure is lots of championships.

  87. Tell me where the Braves are being smarter than other teams?

    There are 16 teams with bigger payroll, and only 3 of those have with more wins. Seems pretty Moneyball to me.

  88. @101- I seriously considered putting a stop to baseball-watching completely when the 2000 Yankees, who lost something like 27 of their last 30 to end the regular season, mowed through the playoffs like it wasn’t anything. I remember those jokers getting monster hits from Glenallen Hill and Luis Sojo and like 80 other Keith Lockhart clones they had trolling through the dugout. Ridiculous.

    The next season, though. Rivera telling Joe Torre that the Game 7 9th was “in God’s hands,” and then proceeding to soil himself. I could’ve bathed in that moment’s essence for years.

  89. Also on the Moneyball-ish front – Braves have only 3 – THREE – long term contracts,and 2 of those expire in 2015

    Salary commitment by year in $M –

    2014 $44.808/ 2015 $42.958/ 2016 $16.050/ 2017 $17.050

    Haven’t looked but there is no way that isn’t waaaay low compared to the league.

  90. @112 – That’s the thing, right? If the Braves thought it was a wise investment of funds, they could absolutely resign Brian McCann next year. It’s just that that doesn’t seem to be a wise use of funds, given the whole Evan Gattis thing.

    The Braves have the funds to extend Jason Heyward, but it might be a wise move to wait until he gets his shit together for more than 6 months at a time before dropping that cash.

    If the Braves had the Cardinals payroll they’d have even more – $25 mil more – to play with.

  91. @113

    If Gattis could learn to play third, then signing McCann would be a great move.

  92. “and like 80 other Keith Lockhart clones they had trolling through the dugout.”
    like Clay Bellinger?

  93. @ 91

    I have always thought that the only reason the sports god allowed the hated city of Atlanta to win a championship in ’95 was that they faced the city of Cleveland, which he hates uniquely for whatever arcane grievance they committed against him.

    He is a cruel and petty god who must be appeased. So, thank you, sports god, for last year’s SEC Championship Game, which finally gave me a sporting experience more painful than the ’96 World Series.

    @99 and @104 make me feel a little better though.

  94. Seattle won’t be trading their best hitter who’s only 25 and still under team control for a while. We don’t need a rental anyways. What we need is for the outfield to start hitting.

  95. Let’s hope Wren doesn’t end up making a blunder like the J.D. Drew or Mark Teixeira trades.

  96. Aside from 3b, there’s no real trade solution for this team as it seems we are stuck with letting our stars play through slumps. Options, some probably not very realistic, as i see them…

    1.Selling low on Uggla and bringing in a 2b rental, letting Pena and Pastor platoon next year.

    2. Packaging C. Johnson with some real talent and snatching a real 3b.

    3. Small move for a reliever.

    Anything I’m missing?

  97. Someone posted on TC that Jordan Schafer only has 13 PA against LHPs this year. Looks like Fredi is doing something right here.

  98. If the Braves *were* going to trade someone to fill a hole, Jordan Schafer is the obvious “sell high” candidate.

  99. @125 SUCCESS! is filling a big hole in Atlanta. SSS is a reason that someone DFA by the Colt 45s would not get a big return.

  100. If Uggla made $5M/yr, then there might be a chance to trade him for a bucket of baseballs.

  101. @129
    There’s no doubt we would have to either take on an equally poor contract or eat the majority of his salary.

  102. We’re five games away from the halfway point of Uggla’s contract. At least we can say it’s all downhill from there!

  103. @129 I think there’s a decent chance that at some point prior to the expiration of his Braves contract, MLB teams will value Uggla as having neutral (or positive) trade value, especially if he can approach the 30 HR mark again this season. Dan has tons of power, he takes walks, and he’s durable – those attributes are quite valuable. I don’t mean to be an knee-jerk contrarian here, but as Braves fans I think we have an unrealistically negative view of him due to the fact that his bad attributes (inability to make contact, extreme lack of defensive range) really get annoying after a while.

    Dan’s month by month OPS: .621, .757, .779. I bet he puts up a couple of .800+ OPS months before the year is out.

  104. @129 I hope you’re right that he continues to trend upwards OPS wise. Right now, he’s exactly where I expected him to be for the season. Next year, I’m willing to bet that he won’t break .700 OPS, and if that’s the case I don’t know why any team would be willing to pay $13M for that.

  105. Thanks, Game. I actually *am* a knee-jerk contrarian (some would omit the “knee-” and “contrarian” from that characterization.) I still see skills in Dan… useful skills.

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