A new day dawns as the baseball season enters its traditional second half. The Mets are riding high on a two-game winning streak and they swing by Atlanta for a four-game series this weekend. To see what's up with the Mets' old rivals I sidled up to Martin Gandy from SB Nation Braves site Talking Chop.
You can read my answers to his questions here.
Please: tell me why Mets fans should be hopeful about Jeff Francoeur?
Blank stare... staring at screen for a while... wow, that's a tough one. Braves fans lost the hope a while ago. Maybe HoJo can get through to him where no one else has. HoJo was a bit of a free swinger as a player, so he might be able to affect how Francoeur approaches his at-bats... but I doubt it. Keep hoping.
Who has been the biggest surprise for the Braves this season? The biggest disappointment?
The biggest surprise on the pitching side is likely a tie between Tommy Hanson and Javier Vazquez. Those two guys give the Braves two power strikeout pitchers to compensate for the loss/retirement of John Smoltz (I know he didn't retire, but whatever). These are the kinds of pitchers who can come up big in big games, especially in the playoffs.
On the hitting side of the ball, the biggest surprise is definitely Martin Prado. He has filled in at third for Chipper, first for Kotchman, and he eventually took the second base job from Kelly Johnson. Prado might actually be our MVP so far this year.
The biggest disappointment? He's a Met now. I kid, I kid, Francoeur is not really our biggest disappointment since no one really expected him to do anything this year. The biggest disappointment is probably Kelly Johnson. We thought he would turn the corner and move to the next level as a second baseman, but he regressed, lost his job to Martin Prado, and then got hurt.
David Wright's power failure has received a lot of press but Chipper Jones's power is also way down this year and he doesn't have Citi Field to blame. Are all of the years and injuries finally catching up to him or is something else going on?
Chipper is older than Wright, so a decline like that is not as unexpected as it is for Wright. Chipper started out with good power this year, but for some of the year he had Garret Anderson and Jeff Francoeur hitting behind him, and now, even though he has Brian McCann hitting behind him, he's not getting a lot of pitches to hit (another symptom that could be affecting Wright). He's getting walked a lot, but admittedly he's been in a funk for the past two months. I don't think we can say it's long term decline just yet, right now it's a normal baseball funk -- of course, I'm sure a lot of people would love a funk where you're still hitting around .300.
Do you sometimes feel like a jealous ex-girlfriend now that the Phillies are the Mets' biggest rivals while the Braves still like to cling to the Mets as their own?
The Mets and their fans perceive a rivalry with any team that's ahead of them in the standings. If the Marlins keep winning, then I assume you'll assume a rivalry with them. The Phillies have won the East for the last two years, so they have established themselves as the big dogs in the division and everyone is gunning for them, just like they were gunning for the Braves for a decade and half. So yeah, I'm so jealous the Mets don't love us...
Bobby Cox's keister has seen more Atlanta pine than a Georgian lumberjack. What are his strengths and weaknesses as a manager?
He's a player's manager, and in a recent poll of major leaguers, he was the manager more players wanted to play for than any other current manager. His patience is a strength and a weakness. On one hand, he will give a player time to play his way out of a slump, and players love that about him. On the other hand, that can be frustrating for fans to watch, and it can get the team into trouble when he runs a guy like Francoeur out there every day over a far superior hitter like Matt Diaz.
Players like that he stands up for them -- as evidenced by more ejections than any other manager in baseball history. He also roots for players more than any other manager in baseball. If you've ever watched a Braves game then you've probably heard Bobby shouting encouragement between every pitch when his hitters are at bat. He's tireless when it comes to rooting for his players.
Like any manager, he makes some questionable moves, and he tends to vastly overuse his bullpen. He may also rely too much on his coaches for much of the day to day baseball teaching. Still, there's no other manager I'd rather have in charge of the Braves.