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Atlanta Braves series preview

The first place Brave struggled on their West Coast road trip but are now sitting at home awaiting the last place Dodgers.

Norm Hall

The whiff kids are in first but not because they are great. The record is only 22 - 18 and at one time they were 12 - 1. So if you do the math they are 10 - 17 since the great beginning. When you break down the team they are even less impressive.

No team in the NL made a bigger upgrade via the trade route this past winter than the Atlanta Braves, when they acquired the baby Upton. In a trade that boggled most of baseball, the Braves picked up one of the great young talents in the game for a steady infielder/outfielder.

So far the Braves have taken that trade to 1st place. I'm sure the Diamondbacks are quite happy with the gritty production from Martin Prado, instead of the home run heroics of herculean Upton.

To bad for the Braves they went for both Uptons, and while the trade seems to have been a success the Free Agent signing of BJ Upton has been a disaster. We will go more into that when we delve in to CF.

Besides the Upton brothers playing on the same team, the other big story for the Braves and baseball has been Evan Gattis. Gattis is one of the unlikeliest players to be on the major league roster when you consider the fact he was already 23 before he ever played one professional game. Since Gattis had dicked away so many years after high school, he needed to make up time fast, and I'd say he did just that. Drafted in 2010, in the 23rd round, he was the starting catcher by opening week of 2013. He may have some warts, but the big kid can hit, and if you have never seen him, think of a right handed Adam Dunn. The kid looks much bigger than his 6'4 height would suggest.

I'm highlighting Gattis now because with the return of Brian McCann he's a man without a position. To get his bat in the lineup against LHP, he has seen six starts in left field and three at 1st base.

The Braves were banged up early. Brian McCann missed all of April but is now back. Freddie Freeman missed a few weeks but he's back. Jason Heyward hasn't played since April 20th, and will miss this series.

1st Base - 23 year old Freddie Freeman has not broken out but in the midst of his third season he's been quite consistent with an OPS+ between 113 - 116 each year. At only 23 he has plenty of time to make his move into an above average 1st baseman.

2nd Base - Dan Uggla can still hit a home run and take a walk. The man who has hit the most home runs as a second baseman in the 21st century looks to be on the decline. He has 52 k's in only 152 plate appearances.

SS - Last year at this time the starting shortstop was rookie Tyler Pastornicky but he did not pan out so they switched to rookie Andrelton Simmons who did. Will he did in 2012. So far in 2013 his OPS is 100 points light of what he did in 2012. Tyler still lurks

3rd - With future HOF Larry Jones finally retired, the Braves have turned to ex Red power man Juan Francisco, and ex Diamondback Chris Johnson to fill the hole. So far they have been outstanding, with Brian Chris providing batting average and Juan the power. At the moment It is a solid platoon.

Catcher- Brian McCann is back and showing no signs of rust, Only has 32 plate appearances under this belt but has a nifty 1.005 OPS at the moment.

Left Field - Justin Upton has hit 13 home runs. Last year Justin did not hit his 13th home run until Sept. He either likes playing in Atlanta, playing with his brother, or is simply happy to have escaped the Gibby Glare. At just 25 he has already hit 121 home runs. I wonder where that ranks him historically? How about number 22 in the NL and he still has all year to move up. I expect him to pass Miguel Cabrera by the end of the year.

Player               HR From   To   Age   PA   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS      Pos
Eddie Mathews       222 1952 1957 20-25 3807 .281 .388 .556  .943     *5/7
Mel Ott             211 1926 1934 17-25 4649 .316 .412 .554  .966  *98/745
Frank Robinson      202 1956 1961 20-25 3790 .302 .384 .561  .946  *738/95
Albert Pujols       201 2001 2005 21-25 3428 .332 .416 .621 1.037 *37/59D6
Orlando Cepeda      191 1958 1963 20-25 3849 .310 .352 .537  .889   *37/95
Andruw Jones        185 1996 2002 19-25 3971 .267 .342 .491  .833   *89/7D
Johnny Bench        179 1967 1973 19-25 3880 .268 .336 .479  .814 *2/93758
Hank Aaron          179 1954 1959 20-25 3866 .323 .372 .559  .931  *978/45
Prince Fielder      160 2005 2009 21-25 2804 .284 .381 .550  .931     *3/D
Adam Dunn           158 2001 2005 21-25 2783 .248 .383 .518  .901   *73/9D
Bob Horner          158 1978 1983 20-25 2716 .282 .341 .521  .862     *5/3
Willie Mays         152 1951 1956 20-25 2629 .306 .382 .584  .966       *8
Adrian Beltre       147 1998 2004 19-25 3818 .274 .332 .463  .794     *5/6
Darryl Strawberry   147 1983 1987 21-25 2747 .266 .366 .525  .890    *9/87
Miguel Cabrera      138 2003 2007 20-24 3072 .313 .388 .542  .929   *579/D
Ron Santo           137 1960 1965 20-25 3793 .278 .351 .471  .822     *5/6
Vladimir Guerrero   136 1996 2000 21-25 2373 .322 .378 .592  .971    *9/8D
Jay Bruce           134 2008 2012 21-25 2709 .255 .330 .483  .813    *9/87
David Wright        130 2004 2008 21-25 3048 .309 .389 .533  .921     *5/D
Vada Pinson         125 1958 1964 19-25 4228 .302 .349 .485  .833    *8/97
Justin Upton        121 2007 2013 19-25 3201 .278 .359 .483  .842    *9/7D
Cesar Cedeno        121 1970 1976 19-25 4126 .294 .351 .468  .819   *8/973

Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/16/2013.

Center Field - BJ Upton may be the worst hitter in the NL who still gets to play every game at the moment. He has all of 19 hits in 131 at bats, which would be great for a pitcher. This is the first year of a five year deal. He's hitting like Andruw Jones did with the Dodgers but the Dodgers were only on the hook for two years and 38 Million. I'm sure he will turn it around, but right now, he's a train wreck.

Right Field - With Heyward down, Reed Johnson and Jordan Schafer are platooning with Gattis getting a start once in a while. Just like at 3rd base the platoon is working, Reed can still hit left hand pitching, and so far Schafer has handled right hand pitching. Everyone knows about Reed Johnson so lets focus on Schafer. Around five years ago Schafer was a highly touted Braves prospect. He got hit with PED suspension, didn't hit much after that was traded to the Astro'sin the Bourn deal and sucked for the Astro's. They released him, Braves picked him up and boom, now he's rocking right field to the tune of a .817 OPS. Astro's can't catch a break.

Bench - With two platoons going, the Braves will have Reed Johnson, and Chris Johnson on the bench against right hand pitching. Juan Francisco and Schafer on the bench against LHP. Gattis lurks all the time. That is alot of power on the bench. Filling out the bench is Ramiro Pena and Gerald Laird (backup catcher).

Eric already highlighted the pitching matchups

Bullen - For the last few years this was one of the best one / two lefty/right punches in baseball, but just this week, Venters underwent surgery leaving a huge hole in the bullpen. They only have one lefty in the bullpen and that is Eric O'Flaherty who does sport a sterling 2.12 ERA. The Braves acquired Jordan Walden from the Angels and the one time flame thrower seems to be fitting in with 16 K's and 3 walks in 13 innings. He has however given up seven runs. Kimbrel has now become the standard of which all other closers are measured. Until April 23rd that measure was very high, however after nine appearances to start the year unscathed, he has been touched for runs in three of his last six appearances. Is the bloom off the Kimbrel? He's already given up three home runs, that was the amount he gave up in all of 2011 and 2012.

Series Preview:

The Braves are a good team, but unless both Uptons are hitting on all cylinders, Freddie Freeman moves his game up a notch, and Heyward comes back smoking they are not an elite team. Right now, they are beatable, the rotation they are sending at the Dodgers is beatable. If the Dodgers want to make a statement after taking two of three from the Nationals, now would be a good time. The question remains, are the Dodgers capable of making an offensive statement? They will need to, because Ryu/Cap/MaGill are going to give up some runs. At least the last two will.