In case you hadn’t noticed, this is potentially a HUGE week in the NL East. First the Mets play the Braves for a three-game set, then host the Marlins. Meantime, the Braves travel down the Jersey Turnpike to play the Phillies over next weekend. On the one hand, the Braves — who have won five of their last seven — could take control of their destiny with a hot week, possibly even launch themselves to the top of the standings. On the other hand, they could just as easily play themselves out of the race by faltering over the next six games. For example, if they get swept in both series, they could fall to eight or more games out of first place, with only six more games left in the season against the Mets. Of course, the chance of that happening with both John Smoltz and Tim Hudson taking the hill is next to nil. In fact, it will be tough for the Mets to take two in this series.
Enough of my jibber-jabber. With an entire day and a half to wait for the series to start, I offer you the opinions of the enemy to chew on. Mac Thomason of Braves Journal was kind enough to answer ten questions regarding the Braves. Here they are:
1. The Braves play the Mets at Shea, then travel down I-95 to play the Phillies. Though the same cycle comes around again at the end of the month, do you see these next six games as “make or break” for the Braves? For the NL East in general?
Unless they get swept in New York, it’s too soon for make-or-break. It’s an important set of series, and it’s possible that Atlanta or Philadelphia could fall out of it in a week, but I don’t think so.
2. What’s your take on the Mark Teixeira deal? Good one for the Braves, despite losing some gems from the farm? What do you think are the chances of Teixeira signing a long-term deal with the Braves?
I think it’s a great deal. None of the players (including Jarrod Saltalamacchia) was likely to contribute to the Braves any time soon. The deal is better if Teixeira re-signs. I think that it’s more likely than not that he leaves after next season, but they have a reasonable chance of signing him.
3. Is Teixeira really an upgrade over Julio Franco … or Scott Thorman, for that matter? Just kidding. What happens to these two guys now?
Franco was designated for assignment and took a spot in the minors. He’ll probably be called up when rosters expand as basically a pinch-hitter/coach. Thorman is the top lefty pinch-hitter now, which isn’t a good thing but what can you do? I don’t see how he can have any future in the organization, since he’d have to sit on the bench all next year and doesn’t make contact enough to be a good bench player.
4. When Franco re-joined the Braves, was there any chatter about his time with the Mets? From our end, it sounded like he left with sour grapes.
That’s what I heard, but he never had any problems in Atlanta. Sometimes people just don’t mesh.
5. While Kyle Davies was something of a disappointment, he’s still only 23 years old. Was the price for a three-month rental (Octavio Dotel) too steep? Do you think Davies will ever develop into a middle-of-the-rotation starter? If so, was it still worth making the trade?
I don’t think Davies will ever develop into anything useful beyond a middle reliever. Some say it’s mental, but I disagree. He doesn’t have an out pitch. Even when he’s throwing well and his control is sharp he takes a long time to finish batters off.
6. Speaking of Dotel, will he be closing? What is the current state of the Braves bullpen?
Wickman’s reasserted himself as the closer. Dotel might have stepped up to eighth-inning work as Soriano has what looks like a tired arm, but in his last two outings he gave up a grand slam (turning a 6-0 game to 6-4) and a run to tie it in the seventh. He seems to be the seventh-inning guy.
7. Are you confident in the Braves’ starting rotation — beyond Smoltz and Hudson — to pitch the team into the playoffs?
Chuck James isn’t a bad pitcher, in fact he’s pretty good, but he isn’t worth much after the fifth inning. Buddy Carlyle is about as good as you can expect from your fourth starter. The fifth starter spot, though, is killing us. You can’t go into these games without a chance.
8. The way Yunel Escobar has been playing, the injury to Edgar Renteria seems a blessing in disguise. Is Escobar the real deal? Was he the reason the Braves were OK parting with Elvis Andrus?
Renteria is far superior to Escobar at the plate. Escobar is a .300 hitter, but that’s about all he does; he doesn’t hit homers and he doesn’t walk, and he isn’t a stolen base threat. Escobar is probably a little better fielder. The Braves are high on him, and they also picked up Brent Lillibridge in the LaRoche trade, so they have some depth at shortstop, allowing the Andrus deal.
9. Tie game, ninth inning, two outs, winning run on third. Which Brave do you want at the plate?
10. Same situation, but the Mets are at bat. Which Met would you least like to see in the batter’s box?
Thanks again to Mac for his insight. Be sure to check out Braves Journal for more intelligent talk regarding our enemies from Atlanta.