Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Roundup: Losing Streak, Bench Issues, O'Flaherty's Sinker

It's been quite awhile since I last updated this blog. Life and all have played a factor as it tends to do. But let's move on with this week's recap and three things to keep in mind for this upcoming week of baseball.

Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr (Original version)
UCinternational (Crop) (CC 2.0) via Wikipedia Commons
April 17, 5-4 WIN vs. Padres
The week got off to a promising start as the Braves finished off a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres to open up SunTrust Park. Freddie Freeman homered twice, including a solo bomb in the 8th to tie up the score after the Padres had wasted a 3-1 lead heading into the 7th. In the ninth, Kurt Suzuki singled with one out and was pinch-ran for. With two outs, Emilio Bonifacio had a bloop double that put runners on second-and-third. After the Padres walked Ender Inciarte intentionally, Dansby Swanson had some luck for a change. He got enough contact on a belt-high, inside fastball to loop it to left field and the Padres left-fielder came up short on a dive, which brough home a run for a walk-off single. This recap will be the longest of the week because things got steadily worse.

April 18, 3-1 LOSS vs. Nationals
The Braves never led and Max Scherzer outpitched Mike Foltynewicz to allow the Nats to become the first visitor to SunTrust Park to win a game. Folty went seven innings in the outing and allowed a pair of runs. he walked four and struck out three. Kurt Suzuki broke up the shutout bid in the ninth with a bases-loaded walk, but the Braves rally ended when Emilio Bonifacio and Chase d'Arnaud failed to reach. d'Arnaud failed twice, actually. After a swing-and-a-miss on strike three from Shawn Kelly seemed to end the game, Ron Washington used a Jedi mind trick to convince the umpires that d'Arnaud had actually fouled the ball off. He hadn't, but it was a fun little moment before d'Arnaud struck out again.

April 19, 14-4 LOSS vs. Nationals
Bryce Harper homered twice off Julio Teheran - including a Grand Slam - while Ian Krol surrendered a Grand Slam of his own as the Braves suffer their worst beatdown of the year. Freddie Freeman set a new Atlanta Braves standard by reaching base safely in a dozen consecutive plate appearances while also clubbing his sixth homer in the process.

April 20, 3-2 LOSS vs. Nationals
R.A. Dickey pitched well, but Ryan Zimmerman jumped on a knuckler for a two-run shot in the sixth to provide the edge in this one. Zimmerman's homer was one of just three hits Dickey allowed in the game. Matt Kemp returned off the DL and struck out three times.

April 21, 4-3 LOSS at Phillies
Dansby Swanson was demoted to the 8th spot in the lineup and Adonis Garcia, who replaced him in the two-spot, had two hits including a solo homer in a rain-soaked ninth inning, but the Braves couldn't pull even with the Phillies to force extras. Bartolo Colon allowed four runs on eleven hits while Freddie Freeman smacked his 7th homer of the early season.

April 22, 4-3 LOSS at Phillies (10 Innings)
The Braves coughed up a chance to put an end to their losing streak. After tying the game up in the ninth and pulling ahead by one the following inning, the Phillies started a rally with one out in the tenth with a single. Cesar Hernandez hit what looked like it would be a double play, but Jim Johnson deflected it and everyone was safe. The next Phillie sent a hard grounder to short, but Swanson couldn't make the play. After a strikeout, the struggling Maikel Franco took a sinker that got too much of the plate to right field for a walk-off two-run single. Brandon Phillips had homered in the ninth to tie up the game and Adonis Garcia's infield single in the tenth had given the Braves a brief lead. Jaime Garcia worked six impressive innings with six K's.

April 23, 5-2 LOSS at Phillies
A rough 8th inning would kill any hope the Braves had of salvaging a game in the series. With Mike Foltynewicz and Zach Eflin pitching to a seven-inning 1-1 draw, the bullpens became involved. The Phils got through the 8th, but Arodys Vizcaino's attempt to hold down the fort went like this. Double, homerun, homerun. He threw seven pitches before being removed. To add insult to injury, Ian Krol entered and immediately gave up another homer. Matt Kemp, who had homered in the seventh, singled in a run in the 9th and the Braves threatened for more, but Dansby Swanson and Tyler Flowers were retired with the bases loaded to end the game.

This week: 1-6
Season: 6-12, 5th in NL East, 7 GB

Upcoming Schedule: After an off day, the Braves start a three-game set with the Mets in New York. Two night games before Thursday's 1:10 start. Atlanta ends the month with three games in Milwaukee (8:10, 7:10, 2:10).

Three Last Things
By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
1) Swanson's Struggles

A lot has been made about Dansby Swanson's start. The rookie shortstop has reached base safely just 12 times in 74 PA with only a pair of extra base hits. Will he be okay? Does he need more time in the minors? To the first question, yes. As many have pointed out, had Swanson had a bad June or July, no one would have batted an eye because he would have some numbers built up over the first couple of months to keep his season totals from looking so abysmal. But because that's not the case here, all we see is atrocious numbers. With that in mind, a few things stand out that suggest Swanson is having some rotten luck or needs a mechanical adjustment. Or both. First, his .175 BABIP is among the ten worst in baseball. While it would be ridiculous to expect last year's .383 BABIP over a full season, the balls are bound to start falling in more for hits. His line drive rate remains solid, though his flyball rate has climbed about 15 points. That suggests a bit of a mechanical flaw, but it might just be the way he's being pitched.

Furthermore, for whatever reason, Swanson has been taking a lot of strikes - especially strike three. After another on Sunday, eight of his 19 strikeouts have been of the "just looking" variety. Last season, only eight of his 34 strikeouts were looking. Swanson is a patient hitter, but he's just not feeling it so far.

As for the second question - should Swanson go to the minors? Not yet. While there is some concern he'll press and adapt even worse habits, Swanson's body language and attitude during this season's first month suggest that he's not obsessing over his bad play just yet. Give him some more time.

2) Bench Woes

The bench continues to be a massive weakness for the Braves. On Sunday, they went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt and strikeout. Adonis Garcia left two runners on base and Tyler Flowers left the bases loaded to end the game. Atlanta's bench is now 2-for-29 on the early season with Bonifacio a spectacular 0-for-10. Atlanta cannot continue to do this for much longer. A National League bench has to give its manager options. Ryan Howard, who made his debut last weekend for Gwinnett, could help, but the Braves might be forced to make some other moves. Twenty-seven year-old outfielders Lane Adams (.333/.352/.588) and Xavier Avery (.386/.426/.614) have both jumped out to big starts in Gwinnett while Kyle Kubitza (.306/.390/.444) has some defensive flexibility and could help at third base while the Braves wait for Rio Ruiz to get going.

While Howard, who went 2-for-2 with a walk in his debut, seems destined to move up the ladder at some point in the coming weeks, Atlanta might need to be open to other moves to at least shake up things as well.

3) Eric O'Flaherty is Still Broken

A lot was written this offseason and spring about O'Flaherty returning from surgery to clean up his elbow. The belief was that O'Flaherty could still be an asset once he was able to throw the ball freely once again. So far, the results show that there has been little change. As Braves fans know, O'Flaherty's bread-and-butter is a sinker that generates a high number of groundballs. At its best, the sinker could drop 5-7 inches with good armside fade.

To this point, the pitch is getting comparable movement to his 2016 numbers, which is closer to 4 inches of downward movement. The result is that to keep the ball down low, O'Flaherty has to start the sinker lower than previous years. The hitter is more apt to give up on it and let it miss the strikezone rather than be enticed to swing. That forces O'Flaherty to too often pitch behind the count, which only benefits the hitter. While it's too early to make any definitive claim to O'Flaherty's future in the bigs, it's not looking likely that O'Flaherty will round into form as a productive bullpen member.

That's it for this week!

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Good to be back. Hoping to keep posting at least 3 times a week - more if I'm lucky.

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