The 2011 Atlanta Braves stand at 8-12 as of Friday, April 22nd and a big reason for that is a struggling offense. All star C Brian McCann is the only regular hitting above .300(.338) while the pitching staff has the 6th best ERA in the majors. Overall, This team has too many good players and HITTERS for this continue. The baseball cards do not lie and even youngsters such as RF Jason Heyward(.188, 4 home runs, 7 rbi) and 1B Freddie Freeman(.254,3,7) are so talented that you expect rapid improvement. A good sign? All star 2B Dan Uggla, the Braves big offseason acquisition, has hit .259 with a homer and 4 rbis over the last 7 days. I liked this team coming out of the spring and believe they will not disappoint.
1- PUNISHING PEN: I loved the 1-2 punch of RH Craig Kimbrel(4 saves, 1.93 ERA ,15.75 Ks per 9 innings) and LH Jonny Venters(5 holds,0.93 ERA,0.52 WHIP, 8.38 Ks per 9) coming out of camp, backing that confidence when I drafted BOTH of them on my fantasy team!!! They have done nothing to disappoint me, Braves fans or 1st year Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez.
2- JAIR’S RETURN: An already strong rotation(4 starters with sub 4.10 ERAs) added another top flight starter with the return of RH Jair Jurrjens last week. The Netherlands native has tossed two great games, going 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA,0.92 WHIP and 10 Ks over 13 innings. Great to see this youngster back and contributing.
3- COACH CHIPPER: We all see and recognize the ON FIELD value of future hall of famer 3B Chipper Jones(.275,2,12) but his in game advice and work with younger players is often overlooked. A great example occurred in the April 14th game vs. the Florida Marlins. 2nd year man and RHSP Brandon Beachy(1-1,3.86 in 4 starts) was getting hit hard(4 runs in 1st two innings) and Jones paid him a visit, offering these words of encouragement: “Don’t sacrifice stuff for location. You start sacrificing stuff for location, you get whacked. You’ve got to let your natural ability work for you.” The youngster settled down, pitching into the 6th(5 and a third) while allowing 5 runs and striking out 8 while walking 4. That is leadership and being a good teammate. And a big reason why Chipper Jones is Mr. Brave.
The Atlanta Braves, 7-9 as of April 16th, have rode their arms out of the gate(6th ranked ERA(3.09) in MLB )and gained a key piece as well this weekend with the return of RHSP Jair Jurrjens(Oblique muscle strain) Saturday April 16th. Jurrjens allowed only 2 hits over 7 frames for the win. While the pitching has been outstanding, led by veterans righties Derek Lowe(2-2,1.82) and Tim Hudson(2-1,3.48) the offense has not. The team ranks tell the story: runs(21st), batting average(24th), On base(27th) and slugging percentage(19th). Atlanta has hit home runs(15) and does not allow them(8). Offensively, the team is led by C Brian McCann(.327, 2 home runs, 9 rbi) and future hall of famer 3B Chipper Jones(.321, 2,12). 2010 National League rookie of the year Jason Heyward is only hitting .240 but he has 4 homers and 7 rbi.
Braves Notes: CF Nate McLouth, who endured a horrific 2010 campaign(.190 average), has struggled(.212, 3 rbi)….. SS Alex Gonzalez has been a pleasant surprise, hiting .259 with 3 home runs…. Got to love the 1-2 punch out of the pen in closer LH Craig Kimbrel(0.00, 10 Ks, 4 saves in 6 innings) and RH Jonny Venters(1.13,7 Ks in 6 innings). Scary, scary good!!!
If the opening week of the season is any indication, the 2011 Atlanta Braves are going to heard from. Several early positives to focus on, led by their new slugging 2nd baseman and impressive pitching.
1- The Pitching, STUPID!!! Great, great opening outings from starters in 4 of 5 games(the lone clunker from RH Tommy Hanson). Sinker balling veteran RH Derek Lowe(1-1) lost a 1-0 game to the Brewers Tuesday night(April 5th) but has posted a 0.77 ERA over two starts(11 2/3 innings, 8 hits). RH Tim Hudson(1-0) was awesome in his first start, allowing 4 base runners(3 hits) in 7 vs the Nationals while 2nd year man RH Brandon Beachy(0-0,1.50) also pitched great, giving up 4 hits and a run over 6 frames vs a powerful Milwaukee lineup March 4th. But without question the most impressive member of the Braves -pitcher or position player- was co- closer RH Craig Kimbrel(with LH Jonny Venters). In 2 innings, he struck out 5 batters, earned two saves and did not allow a single base runner!!!
2- UGGGH as in Uggla! Not much offense early although the big name guys such as McCann(.333 average and 5 rbi) and Prado(hr, 10 total bases) look solid. 3B Chipper Jones(ACL surgery) looks healthy and has hit two doubles while 2010 Rookie of the Year Jayson Heyward is hitting .286. Amazingly, for the 2nd straight season, Heyward homered on the first pitch he saw, a major league record. The Braves major move of the offseason was trading for 2B Dan Uggla, an elite bat in the middle infield. Uggla has provided immediate results with 2 early home runs. All of the regulars outside of Jones and McCann are hitting below .300 but this club will hit and hit a lot. Solid team all around.
Jurrjens update: Braves RHSP Jair Jurrjens(right oblique strain) is scheduled to pitch for Triple A Gwinnett Wednesday(April 6th) as he hopes to return from a DL stint(April 3rd). Lefty Mike Minor, who was beaten out by Beachy for a rotation spot this spring, will start in Jurrjens slot Wednesday vs Milwaukee.
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