Peachtree Street has never looked sweeter as the Braves return home after a disappointing road trip. During the Braves road trip, the Phillies have surged winning 8 of their last 10 and gaining 4.5 games on the NL East leading Braves, squandering the lead to 2.5 games. After going 3-6 against the Marlins, Nationals and Reds, the Braves can only look forward and learn from this road trip as they return home. Using SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), we can evaluate both the positives and negatives of the dreadful trip.| Strengths |
Atlanta Pitching -- In each of the last nine games, the Braves starting rotation has given the team a chance to compete. With a combined 3.11 ERA on the trip, the five-man rotation led by Tim Hudson had 53 strike outs and only 12 walks (5 by Lowe in one game). However, not to be outdone, the Braves bullpen was phenomenal in their 22.1 innings of work. Led by Jonny Venters and Peter Moylan (see more below), the pen was worked in multiple extra inning games, including a 5 inning outing in the lone win against Cincinnati and 3 innings is each of the Marlins games. Whether or not you think the bullpen is over worked, they are dealing this year and apparently, Joey Votto agrees.
Jonny Venters and Peter Moylan -- Now I know the comparison may be insulting to some loyal fans but Jonny "High Socks" Venters is a close second for team rookie of the year, behind Heyward. Over this road trip he pitched 8.0 innings with resilient composure, striking out 7 and allowing only 1 run. Over the course of the year he has gained the trust of skipper Bobby Cox and with Eric O'Flaherty on the disabled list, he and Moylan have seen the most crucial innings. Moylan pitched 4.1 innings, struck out six and allowed only one run.
Sidebar: Venters gave up his first home run all year to Joey Votto during the first game of the series but returned the favor in the rubber match. Votto looked silly.
| Weaknesses |
Braves Hitting -- Besides the first two weeks of the season, this road trip was the poorest collective hitting by the team all season. From a long reliever blanking them in Washington to six straight hitless innings in Cincinnati, the Braves were terrible at the dish. During the nine game trip they left 78 runners on base and went 15 for 79 with runners in scoring position. It is widely known the struggles of Troy Glaus (4 for 30 on the road trip) but if he did not draw walks I'm not sure we would know he's alive. Glaus' bat is greatly needed in the middle of the lineup which struggled to drive in the first two hitters (Prado, Heyward) who accounted for 23 of the team's 74 hits during the road trip. Kenshin Kawakami is looking at Tommy Hanson saying "I know how you feel," after Hanson's last two starts where in total he received one run of support after giving up only 2 earned.
Heyward's Inside -- The Reds explored Heyward's strike zone the entire series and found he has a weak zone. He rarely swings at pitches inside because he likes to extend his arms and the Reds exploited this by painting the corner with fastballs and cutters. This is in the weakness category, yes, but I was tempted to put it under "opportunities" because he has already proven he can adapt his zone and ability to hit a variety of pitches in his young career. He can do it again. However, until he does, opposing pitchers are going to pound the inside on him.
| Opportunity |
NL East Leaders -- Despite the road trip woes, the Atlanta Braves are still atop the NL East. With more home games than any other team in the division remaining on the schedule and the best home record in the ML (34-13,.723), the status has not changed. Yes, Philadelphia is getting healthier, besides the recent Howard injury, but the pressure is on them to make a push.
New Faces -- Alex Gonzalez can hit home runs! Who knew? After his first knock of his Braves career and the acquisitions of Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth, the Atlanta lineup has fresh faces looking to make a chase at a title. Ankiel and Farnsworth are excited about playing "meaningful" games and, for Farnsworth, to rejoin the Braves. However, the biggest additions (or re-additions) were not through trade this year but off the disabled list. Jair Jurrjens and Matt Diaz have been dominant since returning to the roster. Jurrjens has allowed 15 earned runs and struck out 32 while contributing three quality starts. In July, Diaz had 5 home runs, a .340 batting average and a .736 slugging percentage.
| Threats |
Washington Nationals -- Seems silly to say as they sit 13.5 games out of first place but what the Braves saw on this road trip is a team building toward the future. The Braves played terrible in those three games, but the Nationals are not going to be a walk over team next year. After they dealt Atlanta a series loss, they were a swing away from sweeping the Phillies. With a developing star in Strasburg and a budding bullpen, D.C. has something to look forward to after hockey season next year. They had an aggressive off-season last year which backfired on them and it will be interesting to see if they can resign Dunn, extend Willingham or pursue another impact player.
Injuries -- As the season wears on and players get tired, injuries are bound to happen. Whether its a poor slide or a back tweaking swing, any stint on the DL changes a season for a player. After they return they have to redevelop their skills en lieu of their injury and play more conservatively. Hustle players like Diaz, Conrad and Heyward and older guys like Glaus, Saito and Chipper need to make sure they stretch properly and make good decisions on the field.
Chipper Jones -- I hate this part. That's why I saved it for last. Watching Chipper's at-bats and seeing the results are like finding out that your dad isn't as cool as you thought he was as a kid. It's embarrassing. Don't get me wrong: I still cheer for him harder than anyone else and I want him to be great. However, I could predict each of his ABs to be walk or lazy fly ball and be right 80% of the time. It hurts, especially after seeing good disciplined hitting third basemen like Scott Rolen and Ryan Zimmerman. They are the spitting image of Chipper in his prime.
Obviously, there are some things left off the list. Maybe you think the strength of our bench on the roadtrip was superb or that there is a potential threat of "over-platooning." Anything you learned during the road trip make sure to comment below.
Thanks for reading,