Monday, June 5, 2017

Monday Roundup: Krolling, Demeritte Rolling, Flowers Needs Extolling

Welcome to June and this week's Monday Roundup. We start with three out west to finish a six-game California swing and end with a trio of games in Cincinnati.

Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
May 29, 6-3 WIN @ Angels
The Braves scored all of their runs in the third with help from a pair of two-run doubles off the bats of the recently acquired Matt Adams and Danny Santana. Tyler Flowers, who had a pair of singles, and Rio Ruiz drove the other runs home. Ender Inciarte added two hits in the win. Julio Teheran went 6.1 innings and gave up three solo homeruns, including one to Andrelton Simmons and another, #598, to Albert Pujols. Jose Ramirez entered with the bases juiced in the seventh and got out of it. Arodys Vizcaino and Jim Johnson shut the door from there.

May 30, 9-3 LOSS @ Angels
The third inning from hell was the Braves' undoing here. Up 2-0 entering the frame, Bartolo Colon got a grounder to lead off the frame, but Dansby Swanson whiffed on the diving attempt. No foul there, it would have been a tough play. After an out was recorded (and a ball was nearly thrown away by Colon on a pickoff attempt), Kole Calhoun sent one up the middle. Jace Peterson bobbled and fumbled the ball, ruining a shot at two (and a sure out, at least). Pujols followed with HR #599 to put the Angels up. But the inning was just starting for the Braves. With a runner on, Simmons hit a grounder to - basically - his replacement at short, but Swanson completely whiffed (again) on what should have been out #3, maybe out #4. Up next was Ben Revere (yes, he's still in the bigs) who sent a weak grounder to first, but Matt Adams couldn't get the ball out of his glove. Another run scored. Next was Cliff Pennington, who sent another weak little nubber to the hapless Braves infield - this time to Colon. The runner was going, but nobody told Colon, who tried to throw to second and then, for reasons unknown, decided to try to go home instead. He slipped and his throw home was late. Jesus, this is a lot of writing. After a liner to center scored yet another run, another grounder went the way of Colon who attempted the third or fifth double play of the inning, but it got passed Peterson and went into center field. A bunt happened next because the Braves weren't being embarrassed enough. Peterson was late covering first and Adams' throw was late anyway. When it was all said-and-done, nine runs had scored and only two were earned. On the bright side...Matt Kemp and Tyler Flowers each homered and the bullpen tossed 5.2 scoreless innings.

May 31, 2-1 LOSS @ Angels
Jaime Garcia threw seven superb innings and allowed just an unearned run, but the Braves offense could only crank out five hits off Jesse Chavez and just one over Bud Norris. One of those hits was Matt Kemp's tenth homer. The game was decided in the eighth when another former Brave, Eric Young Jr., hit a homerun.

June 1, OFF

June 2, 3-2 LOSS @ Reds (10 innings)
Mike Foltynewicz pitched a gem, but the bullpen couldn't hold a 2-0 lead. Folty struck out ten over seven innings and scattered just a pair of singles, but after Vizcaino's sketchy eighth, the ninth was when things got really bad. Jim Johnson gave up a pair of doubles and a wild pitch on a ball that Tyler Flowers didn't get in front of led to a tie game and a blown save. In the bottom of the tenth, Devin Mesoraco homered off Jose Ramirez to end it. Inciarte, Flowers, Swanson, and the returning Adonis Garcia all had two hits with Swanson hitting his fifth homer of the year. Matt Kemp added three hits.

June 3, 6-5 WIN @ Reds (12 innings)
The Braves wasted a 5-1 lead, but the bullpen stayed strong late in this one as the Braves pulled out the extra innings victory. With R.A. Dickey on the mound, the Braves erased an early 1-0 hole with a monster fifth inning. After an error, a walk, and a hard single loaded the bases, Matt Adams smacked a Grand Slam. Later in the inning, Swanson singled in Garcia. Starting for the second consecutive game, Garcia had four hits, including a double, and stole a pair of bags. However, the Braves quickly gave the runs back in the sixth. An HBP, an error, and a walk loaded them before a single brought home a runner and chased Dickey. Jason Motte then walked home a runner before giving up a two-run single. It remained 5-5 until the 12th when Adams unloaded for the second time in the game and fifth time overall in the two weeks since the Braves acquired him. Jim Johnson, who blew a game the previous night, threw two solid innings in relief. The pen as a whole tossed 6.2 scoreless innings, though Motte did allow three inherited runners to score.

June 4, 13-8 WIN @ Reds
In a wild game, the Braves outslug the Reds to take the series. Atlanta went up 1-0 in the first inning but quickly fell behind 2-1. They would score the next eight runs and though the Reds didn't go away, the Braves would never trail again. Inciarte had his second 5-hit game of the year and hit his sixth homerun, matching his career high. Danny Santana added two doubles, a homer, and a single for a big afternoon. Johan Camargo doubled and walked while Flowers was on base four times and scored each time. The only real negative was Teheran, who gave up seven runs over five ineffective innings.

This week: 3-3
Season: 24-30 tied for 2nd in NL East, 10.5 GB

Upcoming Schedule: The Braves return home for a busy week of baseball in front of the home fans. The Phillies come to town for four evening games to begin the week. Next up is the Mets for another four games as Saturday will include a day/night doubleheader. Sunday's game is also a day game and as always, it's a Alumni Sunday game. On hand will be Denny Neagle, Alejandro Pena, Jose Alvarez, and 1995 NLCS MVP Mike Devereaux.

Three Last Things

Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
1) Let's Krol
Earned Run Average is a terrible thing for a reliever. Back in 2002, John Smoltz gave up eight runs in his second game of the year. It was his first full season as a reliever. His ERA would remain over 5 for the next two months and only went under 4 to stay in August. His ERA after that second game was 2.40.

Ian Krol's ERA stands at 5.48, but like Smoltz in '02, it doesn't tell nearly the whole story. Over his last seven outings since May 18, Krol has worked 7.2 innings. He's allowed just one hit, which happens to count for the only run he's allowed (a solo homerun). He's walked four batters and struck out ten. Few outings were more important than Sunday's. With a tired bullpen, Krol entered with the game still in doubt at 11-8. He missed Zack Cozart and Joey Votto, the best hitters in the Reds lineup, but still breezed through all six batters he faced while striking out half of them. The outing dropped his FIP an entire half-run.

Krol was excellent in 2016 with a 2.91/2.97/2.81 FIP/xFIP/SIERA. One of the developments that led to last season's success, beyond improved control, was the ability to induce grounders. Last year, it was 57%. Over his first 15 games this year, it was down nearly twenty points to 39%. Over his last seven, it's back up to 57%.

It's a long season and while early season struggles can wreck a reliever's ERA, Krol is trending in the right direction toward better full-season numbers.

2) His Name is Travey and He's Pretty Much a Big Deal
In his first season above A-ball, Travis Demeritte has done some interesting things. He's lowered his strikeout rate under 25% - no small feat for a player who routinely K'd a third of the time. While the batting average (.264) hasn't been where he wished it would be, his wOBA has been around .360/.370 most of the season. On Saturday, he bashed a pair of homers and added his tenth homer on Sunday.

But what makes Demeritte even more noteworthy is where he's been playing of late. On May 21, he shifted from second base to third base and has stayed there for the last thirteen games. While Ozzie Albies hasn't set the world on fire in Gwinnett, he remains the second baseman of the near future. Accepting that and seeing how Demeritte responds to third base is only natural for the Braves.

3) Just Look At the Flowers
Hitting fourth on Sunday was Adonis Garcia, a player who, despite six hits in two games since being activated off the DL, is not the type of player you expect to see in the cleanup spot. Two spots below him was Tyler Flowers. Before 2016, it would have been ridiculous to hit Flowers anywhere near the top of the lineup. Now, it seems absurd to continue to bat him in the six-hole.

Flowers reached base four times on Sunday. It increased his already stellar OBP to .475. It is the top OBP of any hitter that has stepped up to the plate at least 130 times this season. Yet, only twenty of those plate appearances have come while hitting higher in the order than sixth.

Flowers isn't going to hit .365 all season with a .475 OBP and .422 wOBA. But while he is, shouldn't the Braves be in position to take advantage of it? Flowers is currently one of the hottest hitters in baseball and even in a lineup that is producing at a much higher rate than expected, the Braves are failing to maximize that the production from Flowers. While it might be convenient to keep him there to keep the lineup alternating lefties and righties as much as possible, it's still a waste. Hit Flowers third or fourth and make the lineup even more dynamic.

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