Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Roundup: Long Week Begins and Ends With Disappointment

With eight games at home on the schedule against division foes, last week had a chance of being a springboard for the Braves into a big June. Instead, it ended up a losing effort that included a disheartening doubleheader loss.

Jeff Morris. Follow on Twitter
June 5: 11-4 LOSS vs. Phillies
This one got away from Bartolo Colon early. He was charged with eight runs in his 3.2 innings. Not that it mattered, but Sam Freeman and Eric O'Flaherty each gave up homers as well. Johan Camargo had a big day at the plate with a double and a triple. Ender Inciarte and Brandon Phillips also had two hits a piece with Inciarte reaching ten doubles on the season. He's currently on pace for 26 doubles this season. His career high is 27 set in 2015. He's already tied his career-high in homers, also set in 2015.

June 6: 3-1 LOSS vs. Phillies
Atlanta got to Aaron Nola early with a double by Phillips and a RBI single by Nick Markakis in the first, but the offense managed just five hits the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Phillies were able to scratch three runs across against Jaime Garcia to pull out the win. Phillips led Braves hitters with two hits. Garcia went 7.2 innings in the loss and struck out four. Jason Motte stranded a runner while striking out the only hitter he faced. Jason Hursh, who was just called up to replace the DL'd Colon, tossed a one-hit ninth with a K. It was the fourth time he had been called up from the minors, but just the third time he had been used. He would be demoted and recalled again later in the week.

June 7: 14-1 WIN vs. Phillies
A 4-0 game entering the bottom of the seventh turned into a blow-out as the Braves set a new season-high in runs scored. Markakis doubled in Phillips for the game's first run in the fourth. An inning later, after Tyler Flowers reached on an error and Rio Ruiz worked a walk, Dansby Swanson unloaded for his sixth homer of the year. He's now tied for third on the team in homeruns. Markakis drove in five runs with three hits - all doubles. In addition to his big fly, Swanson singled twice to finish with three hits. Danny Santana had a pinch-hit two-run double and Matt Adams finished with three ribbies and a homer. Mike Foltynewicz didn't need much help, either. He finished with seven scoreless innings while allowing four hits, two walks, and picking up four K's. Jose Ramirez and Luke Jackson finished from there with Jackson yielding a run on three hits.

June 8: 3-1 WIN vs. Phillies
R.A. Dickey was masterful over seven innings, allowing just three hits and one run. More impressively, he walked nobody and struck out eight. Meanwhile, the Braves scored twice in the first to claim a lead they would not surrender. Phillips, Matt Kemp, Adams, and Flowers all had two-hit games with all but Adams adding a double. Flowers was catching Dickey for the first time this season and while he was charged with a passed ball, the results from Dickey seemed to indicate Flowers would get another chance to catch the knuckler. Arodys Vizcaino and Ian Krol teamed up to pitch the eighth before Jim Johnson closed the door in the ninth.

June 9: 3-2 WIN vs. Mets
Rio Ruiz followed up a Swanson hustle double with a pinch-hit single to score the shortstop and lead to a walk-off victory. With the score tied and one out in the ninth, Swanson sent a single up the middle that Curtis Granderson took his sweet time fielding. Swanson pushed the issue and beat the throw to second to set up Ruiz, who took the only pitch Josh Edgin threw to left field to score Swanson. Granderson had homered in the third to put the Mets up, but Swanson (a common theme here) doubled in two runs to briefly put Atlanta on top. Jason Motte couldn't hold it from there, allowing a homer. Julio Teheran was improved as he continues to try to turn his season around. He gave up four hits, walked three, and struck out three over six innings before giving the bullpen the game with a 2-1 lead. Other than Motte, the pen didn't allow a hit even though Braves manager Brian Snitker used five relievers to record nine outs.

June 10: Game 1...6-1 LOSS vs. Mets
Can't blame the rookie as Sean Newcomb was superb. He went 6.1 innings, allowed four hits, walked two (one intentionally), and struck out seven. His biggest mistake came in the second when he tried to do a bit too much and committed an error that would help set the stage for the Mets to pull ahead on a sacrifice fly. It was still 1-0 in the eighth when Luke Jackson allowed another sacrifice fly. He then loaded the bases in the ninth before surrendering the game-ender - a Grand Slam. The Braves offense was non-existent as they managed a half-dozen hits, including two extra-base knocks by Brandon Phillips. It was Phillips' eighth-inning homer that kept the Braves from being shutout.

Game 2...8-1 LOSS vs. Mets
Once again, the Braves offense didn't show up and picked up just five hits, including a RBI single by Johan Camargo, who had two hits. Swanson had the only extra-base hit, a double that preceded Camargo's seventh-inning single. Matt Wisler was good - until he wasn't. After four very impressive innings, he gave up a three-run homer in the fifth and another run in the sixth. Eric O'Flaherty surrendered four more runs to turn the game into a laugher.

June 11: 2-1 LOSS vs. Mets
Jaime Garcia went seven innings, allowed just two runs, and struck out nine - and it wasn't enough. Completing a weekend where they were missing in action, the Braves offense picked up six or fewer hits for the third consecutive game. They had a shot to plate what would have been the tying run in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, but Matt Adams hit an inning-ending double play. He was originally called safe at first before a replay challenge overturned the call on the field.

Trending Up:
Dansby Swanson (9-for-24, 3 2B, HR, 2 BB, 2 K)
Johan Camargo (4-for-13, 2B, 3B)
Ender Inciarte (8-for-27, 2B, 5 BB, 2 K)
Mike Foltynewicz (7 ING, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 K)
Ian Krol (3 G, 1.2 ING, 2 K)
Sean Newcomb (6.1 ING, 4 H, R, 2 BB,  K)
R.A. Dickey (7 ING, 3 H, R, ER, 8 K)
Jaime Garcia (14.2 ING, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 13 K)

Trending South:
Kurt Suzuki (0-for-12, K)
Matt Adams (6-for-29, HR, 4 BB, 7 K)
Bartolo Colon (3.2 ING, 8 R, 2 BB, 4 K)
Eric O'Flaherty (3 G, 3.2 ING, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, BB, 4 K)

This Week: 3-5
Season: 27-35, tied for 3rd in the NL East, 11 GB (lost a spot and a .5 game)

Upcoming Schedule: The Braves leave Atlanta for a quick trip to D.C. to face the division-leading Nationals. Monday and Tuesday are night games while Wednesday will be a 4:05 EDT start. After an off day, Atlanta returns home to welcome the Marlins into town. After a night game on Friday, Saturday's effort will be a 4:10 EDT start and will be Superhero Night at the ballpark. Sunday's game is another Alumni Sunday with a pair of former second basemen as Marcus Giles and Mark Lemke will be on hand. Former pinch-hitting extraordinaire Dwight Smith will also be at the game along with Jay Howell, who spent one season with the Braves back in 1993.

Three Last Things

1) Sean Newcomb Deserves to Stay for Now
I've been on the Sean Newcomb Bandwagon since about midseason last year. I was like many fans and it took me some time to warm up to the deal that sent fan favorite Andrelton Simmons packing. But once I saw Newcomb start to make some mechanical adjustments last season, I grew more and more excited about his potential. I ranked him second on my preseason Top 50 and went into this season ready to watch him force his way into the majors. I was a little shocked to see it happen so quickly.

Newcomb's going to have to throw his secondary pitches more frequently and for strikes - 70 of his 96 pitches Saturday were four-seam fastballs - but what we saw against the Mets was a kid unaffected by the major league bright lights. He threw his pitches with confidence and even control, hitting the strikezone on 53% of his pitches - over 5% over the major league average this year. His fastball ranged between 91.1 mph and 96.9 mph and he was nearly hitting 96 mph in the sixth inning. His curve was off-the-charts ridiculous and froze hitters left-and-right. The ones that did swing at it often missed.

Like I said, he's going to have to throw his slider and change more often in future outings, but as far as debuts go, Newcomb excelled. He gave us a glimpse into the pitcher he can be. What's he got in his left arm for an encore?

2) Markakis: A Platoon Option?
Before coming to the Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis definitely hit righties with more force than he hit lefties. While his batting average showed little platoon advantage, he walked nearly 3% more and sported an ISO that was 51 points higher. That gave us a difference in wOBA of .355 vs. .329. But that's not so bad. A general rule of thumb tells us that .329 is a bit between average and above-average.

But...and I bet you can guess where this is going...things have been a bit different since coming to Atlanta. Now, to be fair, his marks are down across the board compared to his Orioles days. To be equally as fair, his Orioles days includes a time when wOBA was much higher around the league so it's difficult to say that his decline with Atlanta has been significant. All of that out of the way, Markakis's wOBA as a Brave against righthanders is .340. That's an above-average mark and nothing to sneeze at. But his mark against lefthanders? .279. That's straight up awful and a detriment to the team.

I can't blame the Braves for playing him so frequently against lefthanders. They've rarely had better options. But it's time to accept that Markakis is now just a platoon hitter and if he's a Brave in 2018, he'll need a platoon partner - perhaps Dustin Peterson or the guy I'm going to talk about next.

Jeff Morris. Follow on Twitter
3) Acuna and Andruw
Ronald Acuna has done some pretty ridiculous things that 19-year-olds simply do not do. He played just 40 games at Low-A ball last year, but still received an extended stay with the major league club this spring and arrived in Florida for High-A ball with massive expectations. Those inflated expectations were already heightened after an absurd run in Australia during winter ball and a lot of eyes were on him as he began 2017 as one of the youngest players in High-A.

He didn't stay there long. Twenty-eight games. Sixty-eight total games at both levels of A-ball. On May 9, he was promoted to Mississippi. Less than a month later, he had already been named Southern League Player of the Month as he blitzed the league. Naturally, it's difficult NOT to compare him to another teenage outfielder who, back in 1996, jumped from High-A all the way to the majors with stops in Double-A and Triple-A along the way. Now, Acuna hasn't flashed the other-worldly power Andruw Jones did back then, but he's following a similar trajectory. Whether that gets him to the majors in 2017 remains to be seen.

But I want to concentrate on 2018 and what happened with Andruw Jones in 1997. We all remember how Andruw made a name for himself in the '96 World Series, but do you remember how the Braves treated the 20-year-old the following season? He played in all but nine ballgames, yet started just 91 games. He played a few innings in left, but cycled mostly between right field and center field. Kenny Lofton's lengthy DL stint helped open up at-bats for Andruw and Michael Tucker's need for a right-handed caddy to neutralized lefties also helped.

Why not do the same thing with Ronald Acuna? The Braves would enter 2018 with a returning outfield, though Nick Markakis has just one year left on his contract and Matt Kemp's deal runs through 2019. Both players have been pretty durable over the last several years, but each will be a year older in 2018. But the bigger advantage to bringing Acuna in for a year as the fourth outfielder is that he can fill a number of roles. As I stated in the second "Last Thing," Markakis has not shown the ability as a Brave to consistently hit left-handed pitching. Acuna could help there. He's also a capable defender in center field, something the Braves lack behind Ender Inciarte. Further, his defense could come in handy in late innings as a defensive replacement for Kemp without sacrificing too much offense. Finally, Acuna gives the Braves a solid replacement at any outfield spot during games in AL ballparks.

The belief is that Acuna won't be in the majors in 2018 if he's not starting and that won't happen without a trade. That's probably accurate, but giving Andruw a year as the fourth outfielder didn't hurt his development. Why not let Acuna follow the same course?

1 comment:

  1. You deserve kudos for your analysis of Sean Newcomb's progress. Virtually no other commentator realized how much he had improved.