Inside Look: Atlanta Braves
The Mets subject themselves to a three-game series in Atlanta this weekend, and to get an idea on what’s happening with the Braves, I’ve called on fellow ESPN SweetSpot Blogger Peter Hjort of Capitol Avenue Club.
My questions are in bold, and Peter’s answers in the blue boxes.
1. With the retirement of Bobby Cox and transition to Fredi Gonzalez, do you see anything specific that has changed in game strategy, approach, execution, or philosophy?
Not really. The way I see it Fredi was brought in to continue what Bobby did, so there haven’t been many differences–at least of the noticeable to me variety. What Bobby did was obviously very successful, so there’s not a lot to dislike about wanting to keep doing it. However, Bobby wasn’t the greatest manager in terms of in-game strategy, and unfortunately Fredi Gonzalez isn’t an upgrade in that regard.
2. While the Braves’ record isn’t awful, it can be considered a “slow start”. Give us some insight on what’s going on, and how you expect the team to perform going forward.
The pitching and defense have been fine, it’s the offense that hasn’t performed. Offense was supposed to be this team’s strength. Only three players on the team have posted an adjusted OPS greater than 100: Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Jason Heyward. It starts with the top of the line-up, and the first two hitters–Nate McLouth and Martin Prado–have reached base safely in fewer than thirty percent of their plate appearances. I ultimately expect the hitting to be good, and I’ve urged Braves fans to be patient while these things sort themselves out. I’m a bit disappointed in what I’ve seen so far, but hardly discouraged.
3. How are Brandon Beachy and Craig Kimbrel looking thus far?
Craig Kimbrel has been great, virtually unhittable and more importantly throwing strikes. Beachy was solid in his first two starts and got roughed up a bit in his most recent one. He’s shown more to be encouraged by than to be discouraged by, though, and if he stays healthy I think he’ll be fine.
4. Freddie Freeman is struggling, but it’s still early. Will the Braves give him a long leash to find his stroke and if so, how long? What is the backup plan if Freeman proves overmatched?
There isn’t another first baseman in the system remotely close to ready, so Freeman has a long leash. He’s looked fairly good at the plate, so I expect him to be fine going forward. He doesn’t have a super-high ceiling, but he’s a good defender and should hit enough to stay in the line-up, which is really all Atlanta needs. If he does falter the team may turn to Eric Hinske, who they like as a pinch-hitter but the limitations of his game (defensive deficiencies, weak against LHP) really come to light when he’s forced into regular duty. They’d probably have to go outside the organization if the need for a first baseman arises.
5. Is there anyone in particular who most Mets fans aren’t familiar with, who might surprise us / have an impact on this series?
Not that we haven’t covered already. Freeman, Beachy, and Kimbrel are the three important rookies currently on the active roster. They also have Matt Young, a speedy and patient but punchless 4th/5th OF’er, and Brandon Hicks, an all-glove, no-bat SS, on the roster but it’s unlikely you’ll see those guys in any role other than pinch-running or serving as a defensive replacement.
Jair Jurrjens will be making his first start of the season on Saturday. He’s recovering from what I gather is an oblique injury, so you never know what he’s capable of in his first start.
Many thanks to Peter Hjort of Capitol Avenue Club for his insight — a blog absolutely worth checking on if you want to know what’s going on with the Atlanta Braves. You can see a similar Q&A with yours truly providing the inside scoop on the Mets at Peter’s blog by clicking here.