Winning Is Good

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The Braves have won 9 games in a row as of today.  Winning is good.  Winning is always good.  However, if you have read any of my Braves blogs you know I always look beyond the wins.

There are three reasons for the Braves recent win streak.  In the last 7 days, hitting has come around for several players.  This is mostly due to the very poor pitching of the teams they have faced.  The second reason is that the Braves pitching has been outstanding limiting these admittedly lower ranked teams to very few hits.  The third reason, the  teams the Braves have faced are not playing top tier baseball this season so far.  In fact, they are scraping the bottom of the standings barrel at the current time.  Three of the teams faced in this 9 game winning streak are 2-8 for their last 10 games.  The Astros are 3-7.  They are overall playing poorly.

Now to the good things the Braves are doing.  The pitching for the last 7 days has only 2 pitchers over a 3.00 ERA, Wood and Minor.  Minor is struggling at 8.31.  Wood is hanging in at 4.50.  Remember this is the last 7 days only.  Santana and Teheran are performing stellar pitching with 2.45 and 1.29 respectively.  The rest of the Braves pitching roster for the last 7 days have a zero ERA.  Relievers and closers are getting the job done and limiting these poorly performing teams to a close to zero sum production.  It makes it a lot easier to win when your pitching is so dominant.

For the last 7 days, the hitting has been dominant as well from most of the team.  Again, they are hitting against less than great pitching, but it is still worth mentioning as no matter what the circumstances a boost in confidence is always good and some of these hitters have certainly needed that with some less than great overall season numbers from some of them.  Two pitchers are hitting .500, Minor and Teheran.  Laird doing some catching duties and 8 at bats is also at .500.  Simmons, La Stella, Freeman, BJ Upton, and Bethancourt are all hitting over .300 for the last 7 days.  Justin Upton continues to struggle with 20 at bats and a .200 for the last 7.  Heyward is .217 with 23 at bats.

You know I cannot write a Braves blog without mentioning the following, RISP and LOB.  Unfortunately, even with this win streak, the team is still putting up abysmal numbers in both of these categories.  When I list LOB here it is TEAM LOB.  The overall LOB is much, much higher.  Yesterday’s game, yes a win, yes a big win, but there were 22 LOB total.  Against a better team, this would likely not have resulted in a win.  Over the last 12 games, the team has 32-129 RISP and 82 team LOB (the actual LOB is much higher).  The Braves average almost 7 players as their team LOB for the last 12 games.  Against better teams this would result in a lot more losses than wins.  Against teams where their pitching is lacking and the Braves pitching is overall great, leaving this many on base every game is not a detriment.

The Braves get the Mets for another series and then the Cubs before the All-Star break.  Again, these teams are not playing anywhere near well.  If the Braves pitching holds up, it shouldn’t be hard to get some more wins out of these two series.  It doesn’t eliminate the fact that the team will face better teams at some point.  That point is not in the near future though as it will be the middle of August before the Braves face a team that’s playing well in the Nationals.

When this will really matter will come in the playoffs.  If the Braves continue to win against poor teams they will most likely make the playoffs again.  This is where their inability to get the runners around the bases will come into play just as it did last year.

It’s all well and good to win during the regular season, but if you cannot get it done in the playoffs…you’re just a good regular season team without any titles.

Close

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In general, most stats say one thing about the Braves, close.  They are close to winning or losing games generally with just a run or two either way.  They are close to being in or out of 1st place with a game or two either way.  Close is a big risk the longer the season gets.

Close allows other teams to beat you in games and close allows other teams to push you down the standings with just a couple of losses.  As the season goes on close allows for no mistakes.  Close makes playing small ball even more important.  Close makes being 1-12 with runners in scoring position and losing a game by 1 run a very bad thing.

The Braves were in 1st place for quite a while but their margin of lead kept steadily shrinking with close game losses, a few blow outs, and the abysmal aforementioned RISP and men left on base.  The next thing you know they are losing 6 games in a row and leaving 1st place in the rear view mirror.  Being so close to the Marlins and Nationals in the standings and losing several games in a row allowed those teams to move up while the Braves were in free fall.

Of course being so close can work to your benefit as well if you find yourself falling down the standings but still with a game of the teams ahead of you.  The Braves win a couple of games, the other two teams lose a couple and just like that they are back in 1st place but once again ahead 1 game of the Marlins and 1.5 games ahead of the Nationals.  Any repeat of a run of losses and the tides could turn very quickly again.

For Braves fans, this is the normal way a baseball season goes for the last few years.  The team does well enough to win close games and they stay just ahead of the next closest team but it’s always a razors edge.  Up and down, close but no breathing room allowing for the inevitable losses that come with the inability to play small ball.

Close is a scary place to be for a Braves fan.

Numbers Game

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Unfortunately, for me, covering the Braves is like beating a dead horse.  The same numbers occur week after week and the team is apparently incapable of making changes to change the numbers.  This week, the numbers have resulted in the team moving backwards instead of forwards.

Yes, the team is still in 1st place in the NL East.  However, this first place spot is now down to 1/2 a game ahead of the Nationals.  The Braves have lost 5 games in a row.  For their last 10 games they are 4-6.  The numbers game proves why this trend has developed and unless they change how they play it will be the trend for the rest of the season.

In a Braves group on Facebook that I am a member of, I posted a lot of these same numbers I am about to post here.  I was greeted with the usual responses.  Those who compare these numbers to the rest of the league.  I do not care about league comparisons.  I am talking about the Braves period.  Those who think being in 1st place is all that matters.  These numbers show that it is not all that matters and the team is 1/2 a game away from not being in 1st place because of them.  Those who resort to profanity and troll behavior.  I couldn’t be forced to care at gunpoint.  Those who agree with me.  The minority to be sure.  Regardless, the numbers are the numbers and they will never lie about the true state of your sports team.  Not in comparison to anyone else…but inside your team and since it’s your team taking the field to play it is the numbers about them, only, that matters.  Comparison is not relevant.

Now, here are the numbers.  For the last 13 ONE RUN games (wins and losses do not matter, just games in which the outcome is separated by 1 run and one run games account for almost half the Braves season), the Braves are 14-83 RISP. Let that sink in for one moment.  With 83 runners in scoring position the team has only been able to get runs in 14 times.  The team does not play small ball, ever.  They are only concerned with home runs.  If they don’t get a home run, they are not working for anything else.  The numbers make that obvious.  You will lose more close games than win them if you miss 69 run scoring opportunities.  To think otherwise is ridiculous.

Still staying with the 13 ONE RUN games, the team has left 89 men on base.  Once again, let that sink in.  In 13 games, 89 potential scoring opportunities have been left on base.  In some of these games, as many as 12 men have been left on base in a single game.  One run games, losses by a single run, with 12 men left on base.  An absolute incapability of playing small ball has resulted in 13 one run games with just 11 short of 100 men being left on base.  It is almost unbelievable except that the numbers are the numbers.

The Brave finish up the series with the Giants today and then have two games with the Cardinals.  The Nationals finish up with the Phillies today and then get the Dodgers.  The spread in the NL East behind the Braves is 1/2 a game for the Nats to 2.5 games for the Marlins and Phillies.  That is very close and a couple more losses and the Braves could be looking at 3rd place in the blink of an eye.

Baseball is a numbers game and the Braves are on the wrong side of them.

Unchanged

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A week has passed since my last blog and as far as the Braves are concerned the season is unchanged.  The team continues along the same path and my views on that path are also unchanged.

First place, the only part of the past week that most fans will focus on because first place is all that matters, to most.  The Braves are in first place by 3 games in the NL East.  The Braves have the 2nd best record in baseball as a whole.  The team has won their last 3 games.  They are 7-3 for their last 10 games.  They have won 8 games at home and 8 games on the road.  They are +30 in runs scored/runs against.  All fantastically wonderful.

The hitting is pretty much the same as it was last week this time.  Jason Heyward, BJ Upton and Dan Uggla continue to under perform at the plate.  Between the three of them they have had 75 strikeouts.   In over 250 at bats, they have contributed 52 hits and 19 RBIs.  Not exactly stellar and unchanged over the last week.  Freeman, Justin Upton, Simmons, Gattis and Johnson continue to be run producers.

The pitching remains fairly unchanged as well with a couple of exceptions.  Avilan has shaved his ERA to 8.10 and there are now only 2 Braves pitchers with ERA’s over 3, Schlosser and of course Avilan.  Led by Harang at 0.85 the team ERA is a very good 2.14.

Fielding continues to be an issue with 17 errors now committed on the season.  Uggla has tacked on another two errors leading all fielders with seven now.  As we all know, errors = runs more often than not and especially since the Braves are masters of the 1 run game.

Speaking of 1 run games, almost every single game since my last blog has been won or lost by 1 run.  What this means if you haven’t been following along, one error, one opportunity for small ball, one (or 10) left on base, and all the 0 for (insert any number here) RISP in a 1 run game can swing the game from a win to a loss.  Luckily, the Braves have been on the winning side more than the losing this past week, but the odds over a very long season will not run so favorably.  And they always seem to run the other way when the word playoff is involved.

Of course, the small ball continues.  In just three games over the past week, the Braves were 0 for 25 RISP and 20 LOB.  Yes, they won some of those games by 1 run, but you cannot ignore this repetitive stat and think that at some point it’s not going to come back and bite you when you least need it to.  If the Braves continue their refusal to play small ball, winning another NL title or even going to the World Series is not something they will be able to do.  You cannot have those numbers in RISP and LOB and find yourself deep into the playoffs.

Another week, unchanged….Keep chopping chopheads!

Under The Surface

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Baseball is back and so is this blog.  It has been a long time since my last post but a full time job, family, full time college, and health issues have made it difficult to include a baseball blog in the mix.  All of that is still true, but it is also still true that baseball is still a love for me and I will never let it go.  I am back, hopefully more often than not, but back whenever I can be back.  And so is baseball.  And so are the Braves.

On the surface, the Braves season so far looks fairly impressive.  They are #1 in the NL East with a record of 12-6.  They are 7 and 3 for their last 10 games.  The pitching isn’t nearly as awful as one might have thought given the decimation of the rotation and rest of the pitching staff.  The home runs are still coming pretty regularly including a grand slam from one of the few truly maligned players on the roster, Dan Uggla.  Looks good right? Most fans would say so.  In fact, most other teams fans would say so.  But what remains under the surface?

Taking a deeper look, the bullpen is at times shaky at times and some of the time it is in total disrepair.  There are four pitchers with an ERA over 4.  While some of the hitters are performing as expected Freeman and Justin Upton.  Some are performing as expected in the other direction, BJ Upton, Dan Uggla most days.  And then there’s Jason Heyward batting a frozen .171 in 70 at bats.  The Braves have committed 13 errors, five of them were made by Uggla who should be made to field ground ball double plays until he can’t walk.

The Braves biggest problem under the surface is the problem they have had for the last few years.  Firstly, their manager is all about the long ball.  I don’t think the words small ball have ever occurred to him.  This of course leads to the big problem – RISP and LOB.  In a game the Braves won, 6-0 over the Mets, they were 1 for 11 in RISP and left 8 men on base.  I know they won, but the recurring problem rears its head at the most inopportune moments, which then leads to losses, especially 1 run losses.  When the pitching is working on both sides and games are close, it’s the guys you cannot or will not bat around and the guys you leave stranded.  The Braves are masters at both and it is why they have so many 1 run losses throughout the season.  You cannot leave men on base and not drop these games.

The reasons for this problem are multifaceted.  No small ball and some really poor hitting.  In a game the Braves lost 1-0 to the Phillies, they were 0 for 4 RISP and left 5 on base.  Heyward and BJ Upton were both under .200 for average well under. Uggla at .212 and Laird at .200.  And no small ball, no bunts, guys swinging away and striking out, caught stealing.

Yes, above the surface it looks pretty good.  Under the surface, it is the same old story.

Forty

The Braves have 40 games left in the regular season and only two of the teams they play in those games are over .500.  I like those odds.  The Braves have got to like those odds a lot.  Currently still sitting at 14.5 games in first place in the NL East, it is surely a great schedule of games.

The team has been playing well of late excepting Saturday nights extra inning 1 run loss to the Nationals.  Previous to that, they were winning and winning a lot.  They are still living off the homerun ball and luckily for the team they are getting the long ball from the leadoff spot on down.  Dan Uggla and BJ Upton are still languishing below .200.  The rest of the lineup is performing admirably however and that is keeping the team on the winning side in most of their games.  Uggla recently underwent Lasik eye surgery to improve his vision and it remains to be seen if that helps him or not.  As a team this season, the Braves have hit 137 homeruns….that’s a lot of long ball baseball.

The Braves pitching is still holding up.  The extra inning games are not something they want to make a habit of as they wear on a bullpen and the Braves will need to keep those arms as fresh as possible after an entire regular season for the post season.  Braves starters are working the 3 to close to 4 ERA range at present.  The middle relievers are mostly in the 2 range.  Craig Kimbrel has converted 38 of 41 save opportunities.

The Braves finish up the series with the Nationals today.  A win would give them the season series win.  Coming up this week, it’s the Mets and the Cardinals.  The Cardinals are one of the two teams over .500 that the Braves will face in the next 40 games.  Another sweep of the Cards would just about be ideal.  In just over a month, the post season will be upon us and the Braves may be sitting in one of the best spots they’ve been in years to start.

I am still working on trying to temper my excitement and the counting of the chickens……

Sweep City

sweepAtlanta fans everywhere are wearing their brooms out with all the sweeps the Braves are putting up.  Broom makers everywhere are rejoicing.  Braves fans are as well and even some are starting to think the Braves have this season sewn up.  Given the recent play, it is hard to contain the excitement.

The team swept the Cardinals.  The same Cardinals who were leading the NL Central.  The same Cardinals sports media talking heads only a few short weeks ago were using the words “red hot” and “unbeatable” to describe them.  The Braves made short work of them and what’s more they made it look easy.

Next up, the under .500 Rockies who were swept so badly it was almost sad, almost.  The Braves were hitting home run after home run.   Players were having multi-hit games.  The pitching was simply amazing.  Mile High stadium is known for giving up the long ball, but the Braves were putting on a show, a baseball exhibition really.  In the last game versus the Rockies, the Braves totaled up 14 hits, 3 home runs, and only 3 strikeouts.  They also were 4 for 11 RISP and had a team LOB of just 8.  The strikeout number is the one most promising.  Getting this down is key for the Braves to keep winning, especially close games.  Braves pitching combined for only 2 earned runs, 14 strikeouts and only 9 hits on the game.

The Braves will take on the Phillies this weekend and it presents yet another opportunity for a sweep.  The Phillies are at the weakest they have been in a very long time.  They are 13.5 games back of the Braves in the NL East.  The more room the Braves can put between themselves and the Nats and Phillies the better.  There is no need to rest on the 7 wins in a row.  The Braves should continue to press on working on keeping down the strikeout, RISP and LOB numbers.  These are key for the looming post season and for close games that will require crucial hits to win.

The Braves are exciting.  The 7 wins in a row are exciting.  The sweeps are exciting.  There are about 2 months until the baseball post season begins.  The Braves have about 16 games out of the NL division, the rest of the remaining games are in the NL East.  Outside the division, it is the Cubs, Indians, Cardinals and Padres….games the team should win.  But until the next 2 months are over, I hope I can keep my excitement in check.

Happy To Be Here

This should be the Braves mantra considering how they have been playing the last month.  The team still remains 5 games up in the National League East.  The play over the last month however lends itself to a feeling of being thankful for still being here.

The team has suffered a rash of the infamous 1 run losses.  They are playing very badly on the road at 20-24.  Two in their lineup are batting below .200 and one of them is getting a team high salary that is going to keep increasing over the next 4 years.  The RISP is beyond abysmal.  And the shutouts just keep on coming.  How then are they still in the top spot?

The rest of the NL East with the exception of the Marlins is 6-4 over the last 10 games including the Braves.  This keeps things at the status quo as it were because everyone’s win-loss line is the same over the last 10 games.  The Braves however have lost 3 games in a row.  The latest game against the Phillies was another 1 run loss.  The failure to capitalize on RISP is costing the Braves game after game.

Back to the less than .200 high costing hitter.  BJ Upton is down to a .175.  When he comes to the plate in a game tying or winning situation, there are not many at this point who are holding out hope that he can get the job done.  He has 94 strikeouts and many of them coming in critical situations.  BJ and Dan Uggla are carrying the worst batting averages in the majors.  Uggla has seen a bit of an improvement but not so for BJ.

The Braves have managed to keep their heads above .500 on the season and to keep the team ahead of the other NL East teams including the Nationals who are the team now in 2nd place at 5 games back.  They should be happy to be here and should also be hoping they can stay there and find a way to improve their game.

Kings of K Street

The Braves have shown so far this season that they have plenty of power at the plate.  They are a league leading, not just National League, but the entire league, team in homeruns with 47.  With great power comes great…..strikeout totals.  Thought I was going to say something else didn’t you?

The Braves are second only to the Astros in total strikeouts so far this season.  The Braves have amassed 304 strikeouts as a team.  That’s a lot of bat swings.  Power hitters traditionally strike out more than other hitters because their first instinct is to try and hit the ball every single time out of the park.  Sometimes they do, and that’s why the Braves have so many homeruns, but many times they don’t.

It’s okay to be the kings of K street as long as you win the games.  The Braves have won games where they had a lot of strikeouts.  in the Interleague play so far, it hasn’t been a good thing for them.  Their strikeouts in those games may have been the difference in winning and losing.  And against the Nationals when they lost by small margins having 7 strikeouts from your power hitters had the team shut out.

Patience and power hitters are not two things that naturally fit together.  I don’t think that Uggla and the Upton brothers, three of the highest strikeout totals on the team, are going to all of a sudden grab hold of some patience at the plate.  If they did that too much or too often then their homerun totals would start decreasing as well.  Power hitters are aggressive free swingers.  They can’t let doubt or fear or worry about strikeouts creep in.

Too many times on the last national broadcast of the Braves on television the announcers brought up the Braves strikeout totals.  If the team’s power hitters are smart they aren’t listening to any of these talking heads or reading any negative commentary or maybe even any commentary on the team’s strikeout totals.  As I said, the only time it becomes an issue is when your team loses because of it.  If you’re winning it’s okay to be the kings.

Going Cold

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Kind of like the weather here in Montana, the Braves bats have been going cold over the last 6 games.  The team was on a scorching hot streak winning 10 in a row and then the cold front seemed to dip down and engulf them.  Now some old habits have come back to haunt them.

The Braves took on Kansas City on the heels of one of the best starts they’ve ever had.  They won the first game and lost the second in a 1-0 pitching duel.  They then moved on to the Pirates for a 4 game series.  The team was able to get a win on the first night of the series but lost the next three games even getting shut out on Friday night 6-0.  It seemed like someone had dipped the bats into ice cold water.

On closer examination of the box scores, we find a familiar friend has stuck its head back into the game.  The dreaded RISP and team LOB.  This was a real problem for the team last year and contributed to many a loss.  It does not matter if you get men on base if you can’t get them around to home to score runs.  In the past 6 games the Braves have left 38 men on base….yes you read that right….38.  That’s an average of just over 6 per game.  Now let’s examine this, if you have an average of 6 men LOB per game and you’re only losing by 2 or 3 runs or less, guess what getting those 6 men across would have won you the game.

The other thing that has come back to haunt them is the dreaded RISP.  Just as bad as LOB but even a tiny bit worse since the LOB could be left on first base, but RISP are on 2nd or 3rd base.  Those are guys you have to get home to win games.  A total of 35 RISP over the last 6 games.

Granted, they have faced some very good pitching in some of these games.  In the game that they were shut out by the Pirates 6-0, the Braves managed 2 hits zero walks and 7 strikeouts.  That’s some very good pitching and some ice cold bats.  Just like Montana, the Braves need to hope for a nice high pressure system to bring some warmth and hopefully some renewed heat back into those bats!

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