What happened to the Braves? Suddenly after nearly two decades of dominance they are one of the worst teams in baseball. Is it just that they can’t get along without Kasten? Was he was always the brains behind the operation, making Schuerholz look good? Eh, no.
In short, the Braves have simply stopped developing pitchers. Everyone still thinks of them as the factory of pitchers, churning out Smoltz, Avery, Millwood, Glavine… But those guys were a long time ago. The system has continued to produce position players, but the arms aren’t there. Jair Jurrgens is pretty talented, but the back end of their rotation has been a black hole and their bullpen has been spotty at best.
Bottom line, the Braves have won just five of their last 23 games. They haven’t won two in a row since August 8-9. They are in free-fall. If the Nationals aren’t careful, they’re really going to lose ground in the Strasburg Sweepstakes this week.
When the Braves Are Up
--At the start of the season, Atlanta had a pretty dangerous line-up. But now Tex is in Anaheim, Chipper's hurt, Yunel Escobar is day-to-day, and Kotsay's in Boston. Jones might return during this series, but without him it's a shell of the line-up we saw on Opening Night.
--Even in their depleted condition, Brian McCann has become the best offensive catcher in baseball. His .295 / .369 / .532 line is beastly.
--Kelly Johnson has put up above-average offense for a second-baseman this year with a .271 / .340 / .416 line, and he was even better last year, but he's slumped very badly over the last month. He needs to walk more and strike out less if he's going to take the next step.
--Casey Kotchman came over in the Teixeira trade and at 25 is still young enough to be considered an improving player, but right now he's a below par offensive first-baseman and has been awful in 21 games for Atlanta, putting up a .155 / .256 / .211 line. He was not missed the last two weeks while away with his sick mom. In fact Martin Prado
--Gregor Blanco takes a lot of walks and gets on base a lot but doesn't have any power at all (1 HR on the year). That's not good enough in left field.
--Remember when Jeff Francoeur was good? His OPS (.675) has been nearly Kearns-ian (though not quite--Kearns is pushing the envelope on corner-OF uselessness at the .627 OPS).
--Matt Diaz has some offensive upside and maybe you drafted him in the 25th round of your roto draft, but he was awful before getting benched and then hurt. He's probably done for the year.
--Otherwise, Bobby Cox has been filling up his line-up card with a list of names like Omar Infante and Josh Anderson, guys who probably shouldn't be in MLB at all, much less starting.
Shairon Martis: It's the debut of the Wowin' Curacaoan! Golly, I’ve been dying to start using that nickname. And he was born in 1987. Yes, you're old.
Martis was sent to us by the Giants' Brian Sabean, one of the few GMs Bowden has a chance to ace out, in exchange for a decrepit Mike Stanton. He's the reward of precisely the kind of trade I've argued we should have been doing from the time Bowden arrived in November 2004. Unfortunately from 2004-2006 we were way more often sending away young talents like Martis for declining vets like Stanton.
Martis has a low-90s fastball, a hard curve, and a change-up. That's much the same mix that Jason Bergmann brings, and Martis shares his flyball tendencies. His groundball-flyball ratio across AA and AAA is .73 (MLB average is around 1.3). However his biggest problem is command. He walked 3.48 per 9 over 119.1 innings in AA and AAA this year, which is a problem. But the upside can be seen in his strikeout numbers. He K-ed 6.87 per 9 in AA (a very good number), and that number shot up to 9.07 with is promotion to AAA (a great number). Bergmann doesn’t do that.
So don’t expect the second coming of Bert Blyleven, but he could be a good back of the rotation starter or maybe a valuable bullpen arm. Guys like this are valuable, and you’ll like them a lot more if you focus on what they are, not what they are not. For now, let’s just hope he doesn’t issue too many walks and leave too many cookies over the plate.
Jo-Jo Reyes: Still just 23 in his own right, Reyes is having a fairly rough sophomore season, posting a 5.49 ERA. Since the All-Star Break he’s been worse, giving up a 9.50 ERA in five games. (I got that stat from a most unlikely source—the Washington Post! My goodness, a relevant game preview stat from the hometown paper? And the team is winning? What did we do to deserve this? Don’t go looking for stats on Martis though. Apparently no one at the Post can find www.MinorLeagueBaseball.com.)
Reyes’s problem too is command. He's walking too many--11.3% this year (anything over 11% is a problem). But his stuff is pretty good. He throws fastball, change, curve, and slider, and he's striking out 16.5% and getting a very good 50.5% groundballs.
The Braves are letting him work out his stuff at the big league level in hopes that the can be a useful 3 or 4 down the road. But we got fat off of him back in July at a time when we weren’t hitting anyone. We should have a chance to continue it tonight if we make him throw strikes and punish the mistakes over the plate.
(Season record: 21-14)
Both young pitchers struggle a bit, and the game is decided by the bullpens from the fifth through the eighth. I like Manny's full bench and bullpen over the Braves' terrible collection of relievers. Nationals win, 9-6.