ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 2: Chipper Jones #10 of the Atlanta Braves is congratulated by Manager Fredi Gonzalez #33 after hitting a three-run walk-off home run against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on September 2 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
The Mets travel back to Citi Field for a three-game set with the wild card leading Atlanta Braves that begins this evening. Atlanta sits in 2nd place in the NL East with a 78-60 record, 7.5 games behind the Washington Nationals. At the moment, the Braves hold the first of the two NL wild card slots. The Braves took three of four in a series with the Colorado Rockies earlier this week. Tony Almeyda of Talking Chop was kind enough to answer a few Braves questions for us.
Amazin' Avenue: Dan Uggla has had a down year at the plate. Considering he's already 32 years old and signed for 3 more years, is there any worry about his future?
Talking Chop: Uggla’s been very streaky, but there’s no doubt it’s to an extreme right now. He’s been so bad that he’s actually been benched. Since his four-hit game June 5, he’s hit just .151. He still leads the NL in walks, but he wasn't offered a huge contract solely for his walks; those BBs are the only thing keeping his OBP as high as it is. We’re all but certain there will be trade talks in the offseason, but considering the amount of money he’s to be paid ($39 million), there may not be a market for him. If that’s the case, we’ll just have to cross our fingers that he rights the ship next year.
AA: Kris Medlen has been outstanding in seven starts since joining the Braves' rotation. What have you seen from him all season and specifically during this run of dominance?
TC: I hadn’t seen Medlen pitch before last year, but he’s been amazing. He’s the kind that doesn’t take himself too seriously, but is incredibly focused once he’s in the game. What I think makes him so effective is that he’s been able to pound the strike zone and locate all his pitches; he’s also started to throw his curveball more as a starter to supplement his fastball and changeup. Medlen’s scoreless inning streak that ended Monday was the second-longest for the team since 2000, and that’s drawn comparisons to Greg Maddux. He’s definitely a big reason the Braves are still in the playoff hunt.
AA: Do you think Michael Bourn is a goner after this season? If he goes, who do you think replaces him in center field?
TC: I’ll be optimistic and say he stays, but all signs point to him signing elsewhere since he’s a Boras client. Players like him are highly valued and would demand a hefty salary since few of them offer the production he does. In the event he does leave, Atlanta doesn’t have many viable options. Jason Heyward maybe, but then there’d be a question mark in right field and Reed Johnson, in my opinion, is more valuable as a pinch-hitter and starter against LHP. Jose Constanza is best utilized as a fourth outfielder and pinch-runner; not as an everyday player. The minors are also thin on major-league ready outfield talent, so signing Bourn is undeniably the most vital priority this offseason.
AA: Miguel Batista: great pitcher or greatest pitcher? Has he called the Braves "the best team in baseball" yet like he said about the Mets a few months back?
TC: Many words describe Miguel Batista, but great is not one of them. If anyone on the Braves said they were the best considering the team’s crappy situational hitting lately, everyone would call him crazy, but no, he hasn’t.
AA: Which Braves players have been playing well over the last few weeks and which players have been struggling?
TC: Martin Prado and Jason Heyward have been the most consistent hitters lately. They were the two best hitters in the lineup in August and Heyward’s continued his good hitting into September; Prado’s fallen off a bit this month, but he’s still hitting .298 overall. Michael Bourn’s been on base 10 times in the five games he’s played this month, but has only scored three runs and that’s due to Atlanta’s situational hitting.
The Braves offense with RISP has been abysmal lately. In their most recent series against Colorado, the team whose pitching ranked 30th of 30 MLB teams, Atlanta was 3-35 in scoring opportunities and still managed to win three of the four games thanks to a couple of errors. An offense cannot have that lack of production and expect to win a lot of games.
In addition to Uggla, Brian McCann has been a huge black hole in Atlanta’s lineup. He hit .181 in August with exactly zero extra-base hits and insists on playing with a frayed labrum in his right shoulder. Many of us at Talking Chop agree that McCann is hurting the team by trying to play through the injury. David Ross isn’t exactly feeling 100% either, but he’s a better option than McCann at this point and the Braves need all the offense they can get the final three weeks of the season.
Thanks again to Tony Almeyda for giving us a preview of the Braves! Here are the pitching matchups for this series: