Series Preview: Mac Thomason Talks Braves

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 Carlos Gregor Blanco.

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.

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45 Responses »

  1. Thanks for these previews Geoff; I had no idea what was going on with the Marlins and Braves.

    Given the almost unwatchable state of the Padres I only have a marginally better idea of what’s going on with our own team. The only drama left in this season is when will the kids get called up and whether we bring in Jacque Jones.

  2. I’m ready for us to give up the season and bring up the youngsters. If I’m going to have to suffer through losing baseball, I might as well watch some exciting young kids to see what they can do.

  3. #3@Phantom: I’m not ready to give up but I am ready for change! I dont think calling up prospects and trading away some vets is giving up its recognizing that there is a problem and trying to find a solution for it. Giving up would be keeping this same roster together for the rest of the season and waiting until next year to make a run.

    This team will not be fixed with one move so its time so shake things up the worst thing that can happen is that they won’t do any better than they are doing now.

  4. What frustrates me about the FO’s plan for the season is the lack of hedging on Hairston and Edmonds. If both played up the optimistic views, great, but they are not. But there does not seem to be a Plan B. Maybe P-MAC or Myrow can get some time in left, and get a good defender in CF. Same offensive hole, but at least we can get some defense.

    What also frustrates me is this appears to be a half-ass version of re-building. Fill in some pieces cheaply, hope and wait for next year. If you are re-building, do it. Trade the veterans, build the minors base, give them some playing time. Like Oakland. They are amazing competing but with the trade of Haren and Swisher, they said “REBUILDING”.

    If you are going to compete, then fill in the holes intelligently and with depth.

    Maybe we’ll have a good series against the Braves, but I am not sure what I am even hoping for. Edmonds to start hitting? Nice, but really, what does that buy us? KG hitting would help and but it is unclear if he is part of our future as well. Closer to respectability, but no chance for this year, so what is the point?

    Another thing that has me concerned, is that while we have some talent in the system, I am not convinced it is D-Backs level talent. Those kids are going to need some FA support. My hope is that FO sees that and is planning to go get the FA support when they come up, presumably next year.

    But this year is feeling very lost. So, if it is, you want to preserve the arms of the guys we want to keep. Peavy should never pitch over 90. Bell should be used carefully. CY should view the season as an extended spring training to get his form back and try new pitches.

  5. #3@Phantom: I really dont think we have youngsters that are ready, unless you are talking about Jody Gerut.

  6. kt was on the morning show saying things are gonna change when the team returns from the Atl. He would not go into details because he wants to let the players know first.

    Probably a starter to the bullpen and a reliever getting to start. May see Edmunds released, which would be a shame because he has had a great career we all can agree, but we gotta win some games.

    Again, KT would not confirm anything, the above was speculation from Scott and BR.

  7. I want them to win some games and play some good baseball, but if they can repeat the experience of the 2002 Cubs, that might work out fine. The Cubs won 88 in 2001, then lost 95 in 2002, which gave them the chance to draft Prior. If we lose enough to get a shot at Stephen Strasburg, currently the best college pitcher in the nation (and a SD local who loves Jake Peavy), so be it.

  8. #7@PM: re edmonds: im ok with that. to be honest im pretty sure with the way mcanulty has played lately we could most likely send him thru waivers without anyone claiming him. but thats just me. any new outfield face would be nice to look at.

  9. i’d like to see headley play a lot when we call him up

  10. I think they should sign Milton Bradley. Wait, it’s too late.

  11. I heard Kevin Towers’ segment on XX Sports today. Definitely some things going down when they get back to town after Thursday’s game. You have to read between the lines because he’s not divulging anything at this point. As much as I thought Jim Edmonds had bought himself a few more weeks after the Philly game when he had two hits and two other hard hit balls, I now have to guess that he could be out of here in a few days. As nicely as he could possibly say it, KT said Edmonds definitely lost a step or two in the outfield and no longer could catch up to a good fastball at the plate. Later in the interview, he mentioned that Jody Gerut was capable of playing center field and he’d like to find a way to get him back to San Diego. Just reading between the lines …

  12. #12@JMAR: If anyone in Triple A deserves a shot at this point it’s Gerut. He’s tearing the cover off the ball, last week he hit to the tune of .421 not to mention 4 home runs in that span as well. And there weren’t your dinky shots either, each one was hit with authority, basically crushed.

    He’s proving right now that AAA pitching is a cake walk.

  13. #6@SDSUBaseball: #13@Rain Delay: The 30 year old Gerut definitely deserves another shot but lets not go overboard w/ our enthusiasm. He is hardly the answer.

  14. #14@JP: At this point, there is no “answer.” We’d be better off cutting our losses for the season and seeing what some of our young guys are capable of. As I said, if we’re going to lose, we may as well see what the kids can do.

    We need to give several guys a shot so that we can get an idea of what the future holds. If they can’t perform, then there are several moves that we’ll need to make. If they can, then we need to acquire the pieces necessary to complement them.

    We should dangle every player but Jake and Adrian right now to see what we can get. We should at least be listening to what people are offering. People have mentioned Pie for Khalil, and while I think this could be a great move, it leaves a hole at SS. This is just an example, but we shouldn’t trade anyone just because the season has gone to the crapper. We need to make sure that any move we makes fills a need and doesn’t create bigger problems than it solves.

  15. #15@Phantom: If Greene is traded to the cubs you would have to imagine that Ronny Cedeno is coming back in the deal.

  16. #16@Steve C: That’s what I’ve heard. Would KG be enough to net both Pie and Cedeno? Is Cedeno anything to write home about?

  17. Well according to most Cedeno can play some nice D at SS and has generally been a year or two young for his league before he reached AAA.

    That said we’re talking about a guy who is now 25 years old and over 688 AB’s with the Cubs is hitting .247/.277/.349 which hardly inspires confidence that he really knows what he’s doing with the bat.

    His minor league numbers for comparison: .276/.329/.395

    Cedeno seems an awful lot like a 2nd division player to me.

    I wonder if Maddux would waive his NTC to go back to Chicago and if the Cubs would want him bad enough to give up Pie.


  18. Greene is a tough call. If only he could hit just a little better. His HR numbers are off from last year I’m bettin, so his value is down.

    Agree, everyone is tradable cept AG and Peavy and maybe CY.

    I just think the Padres gambled on the vets a year longer then they should have. Now if AJ were running the Pads, we would be in this predicament.

  19. AJ has got of street cred in this town for never actually having won anything.

  20. Is there any word on Carillo?

  21. #17@Phantom: No The Pads would prob have to package Greene/Giles/(Garrision?)/Cash to the cubs to get that deal done IMO.

  22. Over the last two years, the fans have given Cedeno a ~51 fielding rating in Tango’s fans scouting report (that’s position neutral and there have been like 55 ballots). He’s a pretty bad player, imo.

  23. #20@Mark Ase: Taking a team from 4 – 12 with no probowlers to 14 – 2 with 11 pro bowlers in three seasons and doing it all through the draft will get you street cred.

    AJ has only been around for a few years and got the team to the AFC championship game last year and has them as the favorites this year I would not say that he has not won anyting just yet.

  24. #20@Mark Ase: In some ways that’s a sign of fan maturity. Maybe it’s easier in football, but a lot of fans understand that all you can really do is get as many of the best players as you can, and your season comes down to one game. One player has one bad quarter, even just one bad play (I’m looking at you, McCree, and you too, Florence) and it can all be over. Fans know that a healthy Chargers team probably beats New England last January.

    Smith has done his job. Maybe he can be faulted for hiring the coaches he did, who have seemed to blink in the playoffs, but he’s given them more talent than anyone else.

  25. AJ did not hire Marty and I would say Norv did a good job in the playoffs this year.

  26. #26@Steve C: The injured players were more important against New England, but I wasn’t that impressed with Turner’s planning when he knew that his two red zone threats were likely to be ineffective. Maybe they had a plan and New England countered it well, but they sure seemed lost down close.

    Smith didn’t hire Marty, but he had the political capital to get rid of him a lot sooner if he wanted to.

  27. #27@Tom Waits: Ha he and Marty had not been on speaking terms for a few years before he finaly got the chance to let him lose. I dont think it was his choice to keep marty around.

    OT: KT is going to be on with Ello on 1360 soon.

  28. #28@Steve C: That should an be interesting interview. Ello has been bashing the Padres pretty bad lately. Well, most everyone has been bashing the Padres but Ello has been especially critical of management.

  29. he’s on now!

  30. KT pretty much said Edmonds is done…

    Still says that speed is not important and if guys were hitting then it would not look slow (which is true).

    He Does not want to bring up a bunch of prospects yet because there would be too much presure on them and not enough protection for them in the lineup.

    Too early to make a trade for a young CF at this point because teams don’t know where they are at in the races in the season yet.

  31. With KT all over the radio today, saying Edmunds is finished. Is there any point in running him out there anyomore?

  32. According to XX Ledezma will get the start on thurs.

  33. Should the Pads also call an end to the Callix Crabbe experiment ? What does he do well really ? I believe his minor league stats do not really reveal many stolen bases. Though he plays all of these positions (which I suppose is his charm), he seems to be average defensively. I was disheartened yesterday to read that he is not necessarily fast either, possessing average speed. Why Crabbe ?

  34. #34@JP: With Robles in Philly who do they have to play the Utility IF role?