The Padres continue their East Coast swing with three in Atlanta starting Tuesday evening. To learn more about the 2008 Braves, I checked in with Mac Thomason, of the venerable and most excellent blog Braves Journal.
Ducksnorts: The NL East looks to be tight again this year. How do you like the Braves’ chances?
Thomason: I’d like it better if I was confident in John Smoltz’s shoulder or Rafael Soriano’s elbow. The Braves are going to score some runs; they’re outscoring the Phillies this year even with the Phillies’ park advantage. But right now the starting pitching is a huge mess (I realize that the Braves have been better at preventing runs than scoring them so far, but looking at this roster, I don’t see that holding up), and the only starter anyone seems to have confidence in is Jair Jurrjens. That’s not good. Right now, I think that the Phillies are the favorite.
Ducksnorts: The Braves appear to be playing better than their record suggests. One area where they’ve struggled is in one-run games. What’s going on there, and do you envision it improving?
Thomason: This problem in one-run games has been going on for some time; they were 18-25 in them last year, and 19-33 in 2006. In those years, you could generally blame the bullpen and the constant closer turnover (I call the Braves’ closer situation The Curse of Gene Garber) but the bullpen has actually been pretty decent this year. So maybe it’s just one of those things, but 0-9 is ridiculous.
Ducksnorts: How do Chipper Jones and John Smoltz (his recent trip to the disabled list notwithstanding) continue to avoid the decline phase of their careers?
Thomason: I don’t know. If I knew, I’d bottle it. It may partially be that the time they missed due to injuries has paradoxically helped them, keeping them from overexerting themselves. Chipper, as a hitter, has very few flaws, and I think that a lot of the time it’s less that the strengths go away than that they don’t stay strong enough to hold off the flaws.
Ducksnorts: You’ve got a few ex-Padres playing in at Atlanta. How are Buddy Carlyle, Royce Ring, and one of my favorites, Mark Kotsay, doing over there?
Thomason: Kotsay… has been better than I feared he would be. He’s played well defensively, and pretty much been a non-factor (positive or negative) on offense. The Braves seem to have a three-way rotation in left and center going on right now, with him sharing time with Matt Diaz and
I’m not sure what the deal is with Ring, who’s thrown only four innings this year. He got pounded in a couple of appearances against right handers, and Bobby seems to have decided to use him strictly as a LOOGY. His last four appearances have been for a third of an inning apiece. He’s got a 9 ERA, but has pitched better than that.
Carlyle’s doing pretty well in a relief role, even though he always seems ready to get his head handed to him. We complain about the bullpen a lot, but it’s been the work of guys like Carlyle that’s kept the team in games.
Ducksnorts: Along with the veterans that many of us grew up watching — Jones, Smoltz, Tom Glavine — there also are plenty of kids on this team. Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur have established themselves as big leaguers, and Yunel Escobar appears to be doing the same. Who are some of these other guys, and what should I know about them?
Thomason: McCann and Francoeur are the Odd Couple. They’re longtime friends, and roomed together when they came up. McCann (Oscar) is paradoxically the more disciplined hitter, a lefthanded-hitting catcher with power. His biggest weakness is common to the type — he’s painfully slow. Francoeur (Felix) is a tools guy who is slowing making himself into a good player. Every year, he seems to learn another pitch that he shouldn’t swing at. He’s got a really great arm, and eventually people will learn to stop trying to run on him.
Escobar may secretly be a clone of Edgar Renteria. He’s another right-handed-hitting shortstop with a high average, some pop, and good on-base skills. Some projection systems didn’t like him coming into the season, but a lot of that was that he had very little history entering the year (he was a Cuban refugee drafted in 2005) and he one full year in the minors was a bad one. He will annoy the hell out of you if you root for the other team.
Kelly Johnson, the second baseman, is the leadoff hitter, and the streakiest baseball player I’ve ever seen. One week, he will look hopeless, and the next week he looks like Chase Utley’s big brother. When he’s on, he will hit for power and average and walk 15% of the time. When he’s off, the one thing he’ll do is work the count.
Jair Jurrjens came over from the Tigers in the Renteria trade; he’s projected as a mid-rotation starter and has looked strong so far… Gregor Blanco was born 20 years too late, he’s a left-handed-hitting outfielder with no power at all, but a good average, some walks, and a whole lot of speed.
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There you have it. Thanks again to Mac for swinging on by and giving us the dirt on his team. As always, we wish the Braves luck once the Padres are out of town.