Dark Days, Bright Nights: An Atlanta Braves Preview

ATLANTA - JUNE 19: Chipper Jones takes a little time mid-game to practice for his post-MLB career: Olympic Shotputting. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

A brief look at an opponent we play this week.

Offense: A potential lineup: Martin Prado-2B, Jason Heyward-RF, Chipper Jones-3B, Brian McCann-C, Troy Glaus-1B, Eric Hinske-DH, Yunel Escobar-SS, Melky Cabrera-LF, Gregor Blanco-CF.  Bench: Omar Infante-IF, David Ross-C.

Sox fans, welcome back to the real world.  The Atlanta Braves are coming into town riding a 5-game win streak and gain the benefit of the designated hitter.  Meet our litmus test.  Martin Prado is the man who made Kelly Johnson expendable.  He also has magic powers.  Prado has already mashed to the tune of 2.6 WAR so far, on the strength of his .373 BABIP.  He turns 27 this season, so the jump in his numbers aren't untrustworthy.  His OPS should remain north of .800 for the next few seasons.  Jason Heyward is the other National League East rookie who is making baseball look way too easy.  The man-child hit a monster homerun in his first at-bat and hasn't really slowed down since.  ZiPS expects him to come down to Earth a little bit, but I don't.  25 homeruns as a rookie is pretty nice, especially for someone who can't legally drink.  Its either going to be him or Stephen Strasburg who wins the NL RotY award.  Please do not throw this kid fastballs.  He murders them (14.5 wFB).  Chipper Jones is contemplating retirement after this season.  Larry, please don't.  I'm not ready for all the greats from my childhood to hang up their cleats.  It makes me feel old and I do not like it.  Amongst active hitters, he is third in WAR.  When he does decide the game has passed him by, he'll enjoy enshrinement a mere five years later.  His BABIP is considerably below his career norm, but this is to be expected somewhat in aging hitters.  He still has an amazing eye (19.1% BB% currently), but his power has begun to abandon him (.136 ISO).  His defense has also suffered, but he should still be able to remain at worst an average player for another year.  He should leave on his own terms.  Brian McCann is the best catcher in the senior circuit, and it isn't even really close (sorry Miguel Olivo, I know your history).  Even though his BABIP and AVG are down, his wOBA is only .009 below his career norm.  Is this likely to be a down year for the 26-year old?  Yes.  Will he bounce back?  Yes.  Our fast gentlemen on the basepaths should take advantage of his mediocre throwing abilities though.  His bat is still nothing to be trifled with.

Troy Glaus seems to have regained his formerly sweet swing (.382 wOBA).  This is good, because his defense at first has been terrible.  He provides a nice middle of the order presence and will easily be worth his 1 year deal.  He's doing a great job holding down the fort for Freddie Freeman.  The Braves clearly have lofty thoughts of the post-season, as they signed Eric Hinske.  And as we all know, Eric Hinske brings the rings.  He has been on Boston, Tampa, and New York's teams that have made it to the World Series.  Can he bring Atlanta back to the promised land?  If he keeps hitting at his current godlike pace (.397 wOBA), the answer is yes.  Of course, he can't keep this up, but he does offer a nice option for DHing, giving Glaus a day off, or playing the corners in the outfield.  Yunel Escobar had a great season last year (4.3 WAR).  This season, not so much.  His BABIP is down and his power is nowhere to be seen.  Unless he's hiding an injury, his power has to bounce back somewhat.  His defense has been stellar though.  Melky Cabrera was pretty much a throw-in part of the Javier Vazquez trade.  His bat is just about as worthless as always (.293 wOBA), and he has not looked good in left over the past two seasons.  The Melkman is officially nothing more than a fourth outfielder, though injuries will occasionally result in him becoming a starter.  Gregor Blanco has exactly one major league homerun.  He isn't as fast as he used to be, but walks a good deal and plays below average defense in center (though he hardly gets an playing time, so caveat emptor).

Pitching: A potential rotation and closer: Derek Lowe-RHP, Tommy Hanson-RHP, Tim Hudson-RHP, Kenshin Kawakami-RHP, Kris Medlen-RHP, and Billy Wagner-CL.

The only reason the Braves list Derek Lowe first on their depth chart is his large, cumbersome contract.  Lowe hasn't been good since 2008, and still has two years left on his contract.  His BB/9 are escalating and he's beginning to get less groundballs.  Lowe throws a high-80s sinker, a changeup, a slider, and the occasional cutter.  His sinker is his only plus pitch left.  Tommy Hanson, meanwhile, is the future ace of the team.  The 23 year old was worth 2.6 WAR in a mere 126.2 innings last season.  He currently has a 3.07 K/BB and will be the first pitcher we see.  He has a mid-90s fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup.  All four possess the ability to be plus pitches, especially his fastball and 12-6 curve.  Hudson is not having nearly as good a season as his 2.34 ERA would indicate.  His FIP is 4.37.  His K/BB is 1.21.  And this is with a .234 BABIP.  Ick.  The end is fast approaching for Timmy.  Hudson throws a low-90s fastball, a slider, a splitter, a curveball, a cutter, and a changeup.  I believe that makes him somewhat of a junk-baller.  His sinking fastball is still working for him.  Kenshin Kawakami is a fun name to type.  He is also a capable back of the rotation guy.  He's 35, so there really isn't anywhere to go but down from here.  He throws a high-80s fastball, a splitter, a curveball, and a cutter.  Apparently he has a fan section that dress as geishas at Braves' home games.  Kris Medlen moved out of the bullpen and into the rotation after Jair Jurrjens made his way to the disabled list.  Medlan has good control (4.08 K/BB) and seems to be handling the transition well.  He throws a low-90s fastball, a solid changeup, and a curveball.  Billy Wagner decided to put off retirement for another year to close for the Braves.  He'll pick up his 400th save sometime soon, potentially in this series.  The lefty still throws in the mid to upper-90s, and has a slider and a changeup.  His fastball and slider are still plus pitches.  See WU, some old people still provide value.

Outlook: I like our hot streak, but the Braves are probably better than us.  1-2 series.

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