2009 Record: 33-36 (.478)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 33-36 (.478)
2008 Record: 72-90 (.444)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 79-83 (.488)
Manager: Bobby Cox
General Manager: Frank Wren
Home Ballpark (Park Factors): Turner Field (99/99)
Who’s Replacing Whom:
- Casey Kotchman replaces Mark Teixeira
- Nate McLouth replaces Mark Kotsay
- Garret Anderson replaces most of Gregor Blanco (bench)
- Matt Diaz reclaims playing time from Josh Anderson
- Diory Hernandez is filling in for Omar Infante (DL)
- David Ross replaces Corky Miller, Clint Sammons (minors), and Brayan Peña
- Derek Lowe replaces Tom Glavine and Mike Hampton
- Javier Vazquez replaces Tim Hudson (DL) and Chuck James
- Kenshin Kawakami replaces Jorge Campillo (DL) and James Parr (minors)
- Tommy Hanson replaces Jo-Jo Reyes (DL) and John Smoltz
- Eric O’Flaherty replaces Will Ohman
- Mike Gonzalez reclaims his innings from Vladimir Nuñez
- Rafael Soriano reclaims his innings from Julian Tavarez and Jorge Julio
- Peter Moylan reclaims his innings from Blaine Boyer
- Kris Medlen is filling in for Buddy Carlyle (DL)
1B – Casey Kotchman (L)
2B – Kelly Johnson (L)
SS – Yunel Escobar (R)
3B – Chipper Jones (S)
C – Brian McCann (L)
RF – Jeff Francoeur (R)
CF – Nate McLouth (L)
LF – Garret Anderson (L)
R – Matt Diaz (LF)
R – Martin Prado (UT)
L – Gregor Blanco (CF)
R -Diory Hernandez (IF)
R – David Ross (C)
R – Derek Lowe
R – Jair Jurrjens
R – Javier Vazquez
R – Tommy Hanson
R – Kenshin Kawakami
L – Mike Gonzalez
R – Rafael Soriano
R – Jeff Bennett
L – Eric O’Flaherty
R – Peter Moylan
R – Manny Acosta
R – Kris Medlen
15-day DL: PH – Greg Norton (hamstring), UT – Omar Infante (broken hand), LHP – Jo-Jo Reyes (hamstring), RHP – Buddy Carlyle (upper back strain/Type-1 diabetes)
60-day DL: RHP – Tim Hudson (TJ), RHP – Jorge Campillo (shoulder tendonitis)
L – Nate McLouth (CF)
R – Yunel Escobar (SS)
S – Chipper Jones (3B)
L – Brian McCann (C)
L – Garret Anderson (LF)
L – Casey Kotchman (1B)
R – Jeff Francoeur (RF)
L – Kelly Johnson (2B)
I won’t lie to you guys. Fatherhood combined with an attempt to return to work (at the day-job, that is) is kicking my behind this week. Fortunately, I’ve already written several pieces on the Braves elsewhere that can help stand in for a more detailed series preview here.
First stop, the Braves chapter of Baseball Prospectus 2009. The key idea in the essay is that the Braves had (and largely still have) the prospects in place both in the minors and with young players such as 25-year-old Brian McCann and 23-year-old Jair Jurrjens in the majors to build a perennial contender for the coming decade, but they seemed a bit too concerned about taking advantage of their weak division in 2009 with a likely-unsuccessful playoff run. That was written just after they flipped one of their top trading chips, slugging soon-to-be-former backstop Tyler Flowers, for 32-year-old Javy Vazquez, but before they signed 36-year-old Derek Lowe and 34-year-old Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami.
When they signed Lowe and Kawakami, I wrote a piece for SI.com evaluating the Braves’ chances now that it was clear they were indeed going for broke with the team they had rather than going for the gold with the one they could build. My conclusion at that point:
If Kotchman can bounce back to his 2007 form after a season interrupted by a trade and a family illness, center field prospect Jordan Schafer can progress quickly at Triple-A and join Hanson in the majors by midseason and/or Jeff Francoeur (.239 BA, 11 HRs) can fix whatever ailed him last year (that last being the least likely), then there’s no reason that the Braves can’t thrust themselves into the wild-card picture. An actual playoff berth still seems like a long shot, though.
The returns on those “ifs” thus far: Kotchman is hitting .264/.324/.376 and lost some time to the DL, Schafer broke camp as the team’s center fielder and then played himself back to the minors, and Francoeur has actually been worse this year (.249/.284/.340) than he was in his disastrous 2008 campaign, something I didn’t think was possible.
With Schafer having failed his initial trial in center, the Braves went out and dealt their next most marketable (and expendable) trade chip, center field prospect Gorkys Hernandez, in a deal that netted them Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth. I analyzed that deal and its impact on the Braves still foundering playoff hopes in another piece at SI.com.
My review there acknowledged the success the success the Braves had had with their rebuilt rotation:
The additions of Lowe, Vazquez, and Kawakami, along with holdover Jair Jurrjens, have turned the Braves rotation, which was 20th in ERA in 2008, into one of the best in the majors (the Braves starters’ 3.93 ERA ranks fifth in the majors this year).
But continued to doubt the offense and bet against the Braves making the postseason:
McLouth is merely a competitive advantage given the defense-first position he plays, not a game-changing force. McCann, 80 percent of Chipper Jones, a few solid soldiers (with McLouth now among their ranks) and two black holes [Francoeur and the left-field platoon of Garret Anderson and Matt Diaz] does not add up to a division-winning offense, which is why I have to continue to pick against the Braves in the NL East.
Indeed, since acquiring McLouth, the Braves have gone 7-10, dropping below .500 and slipping into fourth-place in the division (thanks in part to the Marlins’ series win over the Yankees this past weekend).
Tommy Hanson, who starts against Chien-Ming Wang tonight, is a reminder of what the Braves are risking with their win-now approach. The big Oklahman righty is the top pitching prospect in the Braves organization and a potential number-two starter, if not more. In 11 Triple-A starts before his promotion, his first work at the level, he had a 1.50 ERA and 5.29 K/BB ratio. He’s made three major league starts thus far, and each was better than the last, with him shutting out the Reds over six innings on three hits (but four walks) in his last turn.
Finally, the Braves middle infielders are both hurting, shortstop Yunel Escobar with a hip problem and second-baseman Kelly Johnson with leg cramps. If neither can go tonight or in this series, it’s a split decision. Johnson isn’t hitting and backup Martin Prado, who filled in at first base when Kotchman was on the DL, is, but Escobar is both solid and one of the Braves’ few right-handed bats, while slick-fielding rookie Diory Hernandez has an OPS+ of -16. Fortunately for the Yankees, it seems more likely that Johnson will play than Escobar, and Prado can’t play shortstop.
As for the Yankees, Johnny Damon sits again due to pain in his calf, so we get Sunday’s lineup again for the first eight spots. I’m sure Wang in the ninth spot has strict instructions to do nothing but take pitches and bunt without running to first. Damon, Escobar, and Johnson are all listed as day-to-day.