Hey guys and gals! I apologize for taking my sweet time between posts, but I guess that's just my way. Anyway, I thought it'd be a good time to look back at my last piece and give it a quick review. It was roughly three weeks ago that I published Five Reasons the Braves are Primed for a Good Run and it's looking better by the day. Follow me below the fold for some positive vibes and a slight bit of contortionism as I pat myself on the back a bit.
On July 2nd, I stated five reasons why I felt the Braves might be in for the better things to come that we fans are always looking for around the proverbial corner. Since then, they've each rung true and we've seen the team reap the expected benefits. Let's take a look at each of them individually, shall we?
- Nate McLouth: our new center fielder has played in every single game since my previous post and, while he hasn't been spectacular, he's still represented a significant upgrade at the position. Following nearly three full months worth of anemic production from CF (a sub-.600 OPS, to be more precise) his .254/.336/.450 line looks downright Pujolsian instead. He's batting a bit out of his comfort zone as our lead off man - and we've seen what that can do to some otherwise solid hitters - but he's still been effective and he might be expected to improve a bit from here on out. His defense is rough in center, but his bat has been a treat.
- Garret Anderson: the bargain-bin free agent acquisition that had been so disappointing early on has truly turned it around in a rather impressive manner. His traditional slow start was augmented by his spring training injury, but his second half surge seems to be equally magnified this year. After our left fielders posted a pathetic .634 OPS through June (of which Anderson was partly responsible for) he's been on fire in July with a .300/.348/.517 line. Though there is some reason to believe that his run has been fueled by some good luck proportional to the bad luck that held him down earlier, that .865 OPS is almost directly in line with his .851 OPS following the All-Star Break in the 2006-2008 time frame. I think we're all sick and tired of the term "professional hitter", but he's certainly shaping up to be a good one any way you want to say it.
- Martin Prado: he's yet to win over some of our membership here, but you can't fault him for his effort in doing so. He somehow surpassed his .922 June OPS by pushing that figure up to .930 in July. And while I typically steer clear of defensive metrics, I do believe his UZR/150 indicates that he'snot hurting the team at all in the field at second base. Under any circumstances, those numbers would bring a smile to any fan base's collective face, but the fact that he replaced the struggling Kelly Johnson and his .637 OPS makes it all the sweeter. Kelly's healthy now and could be given the opportunity to reclaim some of his lost playing time, but Martin's versatility assures him plenty of opportunities to continue to allow his play do the talking for him. He's probably the single biggest surprise on this team - if not in the division, league or all of baseball - this year.
- The Rotation: JavyVazquez has been downright unfair through three July starts (1.86 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 8.8 K/9 in 19.1 IP). Jair Jurrjenshas been to the mound five times this month andsomehow just about as successful (1.93 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 5.5 K/9 in 32.2 IP). Tommy Hanson continues to live up to the hype (3.79 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 in 19 IP) with increasing dominance in his three starts in July. Kenshin Kawakamicontinues to plug along (3.27 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 4.9 K/9 in 22 IP) with consistently solid starts up to four this month. Similarly, Derek Lowe has battled through some struggles andarrived at decent totals (3.47 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 4.6 K/9 in 23.1 IP) with four starts. Basically, we have three aces and to #3's; that may not be the "five of a kind, aces" that I had foreseen, but a full house with aces up ain't bad!
- The Bullpen: Above I said that Martin Prado was the Braves' revelation of the year, but now I have to admit that Eric O'Flahertyis giving him a run for his money; he has been utterly dominant in July. Boone Logan has given us a second effective lefty out of the 'pen this month. Rafael Soriano remains an exceptional closer and it appears he's finally - and deservedly so - consolidated his hold on that role. Mike Gonzalez, Peter Moylan, Manny Acosta, Kris Medlen and the Luis Valdez Experiment have been quite underwhelming in July, but (outside of Acosta and Valdez) they haven't been catastrophic. Some of our more effective relief arms have been worked pretty hard so far, so a slow down may well be expected, but typical variance with these guys may lead to others stepping back up to carry the load. There isn't a team in major league baseball that's perfectly satisfied with their bullpen, but I'm pleased with the back end of ours.
Well, there you have it: five reasons why we have now already been on a good run and why I believe the best is yet to come. This season is the first in a while that I've truly enjoyed following this team, at least since some fine-tuning was done a month or two back. Needless to say, Frank Wren has rewarded my faith in him with a team that I actually like. These guys have good chemistry and it's showing dividends in the win-loss columns. They have a ways to go before they get to where we all want them to be, but I believe in them and that's certainly not just n faith at this point.
As always, I welcome your views, comments, recs, etc. Tell me what I've overstated, overlooked or simply chime in with your two cents. I hope reading this gives you all an extra little boost in your cheering as we move forward together. Thank you very much for your time and attention. Go Braves!