With the series win against the Washington Nationals over the weekend, the Atlanta Braves staved off what could have been perceived as early elimination from winning the division. The dream is still alive for many Atlanta fans, even though the team is about to go through the hardest spot in their home stand against the Athletics and Dodgers. So what are the top ten things the Braves need to do this week to keep that playoff flame burning? I detail that in this week’s edition of Magic Numbers.
- Somebody besides Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Freddie Freeman needs to start hitting. I don’t really care who it is. In the month of August to his point, everyone aside from those three guys is hitting around .700 OPS or worse. That is (obviously) average as grits, and won’t get the job done over the long haul.
- B.J. Upton needs to be out of the leadoff spot. It was a nice experiment, but it’s over now for good. The Braves aren’t leading the division anymore, and he’s an anchor weighing this team down. B.J. is hitting .080 in August with an OBP of .179. That’s pathetically useless out of a leadoff hitter. Leadoff men should excel in getting on-base, but instead, we have one of the worst hitters in baseball getting the most plate apperances in the lineup, mainly because the team and manager can’t afford to throw him off the club. Honestly, with the way BJ is swinging, he should be a greeter at Target instead of a MLB player. I thought BJ would turn it around this year to at least a .235 average. I’m going to be dead wrong. He’s another Dan Uggla contract, and we’re all going to suffer as fans while we wait for his money to leave the books, and for the team to get enough guts to cut him.
- Emilio Bonafacio needs to play more, and lead off. I hear BJ’s spot might be open because he’s been terrible? Maybe put two and two together on that one, huh Fredi Gonzalez? Bonafacio is hitting .304 in August with two runs scored. He’s only had 23 ABs in that stretch, which makes it all the more impressive that he’s also stolen three bases. We need a guy like that as the true lead-off hitter since his OBP is .360. Can you imagine the difference? We’re talking almost a 200-point difference between Emilio and BJ (at least in the short term), and I think Fredi realizes now is the time to make that change.
- Mike Minor needs his next start to be his best of the year, or he needs to move out of the rotation. I’m giving Mike Minor basically one more start to prove he’s functional. Two starts if he gives up three runs or less in the first start. Why? Because we can’t afford to lose every fifth game he pitches due to Minor’s lack of command. Everything is up in the zone, and stuff that’s up in the zone tends to find windshields in the parking lot. So, Mike gets to pitch against the Dodgers to prove he can still hack it. If he can’t, we’re going to have to move on to Hale as the fifth guy in the rotation, and Mike will have to work out his stuff in long relief.
- Evan Gattis needs to get his homer stroke back. Gattis has hit exactly zero homers in August. He’s looked completely different at the plate, and as a result his production is terrible. I would have him back in the sixth spot in the lineup the way he’s hitting, and it looks like Fredi Gonzalez may be thinking the same thing.
- Starting pitchers need to go deeper into games. The bullpen has been overused in many extra inning games during the losing streak. The starters need to think that anything less than 6+ innings pitched is a failure on their end. That’s as much of a mental thing as it is a decision by the manager. The last game with Alex Wood really highlighted the Fredi seems to be willing to let guys go further when needed. I like that for the staff, because the bullpen has been shaky on short rest.
- Stop walking people. The Braves pitching staff has the most walks in the month of August so far in the NL. That is an absolutely fantastic way to lose games, and to make me pull out what remaining hair God has seen fit to give me. More base runners only increase the pressure on a pitching staff that has an ERA in the 4.00 range for the month. If you get beat on your best pitch by a hitter, fine, but you have to make the guys put the ball in play. Opposing hitters are 11th in slugging against the Braves in August, so there’s no reason to be walking people. Make them hit it.
- Score by any means necessary. That means being able to bunt, which I believe Fredi Gonzalez should make the pitching staff practice daily. Move runners if you can’t produce hits. Make the sacrifice hits when you have runners on third and nobody out. None of those things were getting done in this losing streak, and the RISP numbers were horrible as a result. You can’t win every game with the bomb, so you have to be able to get timely hits, walks, and sacrifices down when you’re the worst scoring team in the NL for the month.
- Stop swinging for the fences when a single will do. There are several hitters who seem to walk out to the plate with no idea what situation they are in. Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson are the worst about this. They are free-wheeling at the plate regardless of who is one base. When there’s a guy on second and two out, you don’t need a bomb. You need a simple single with the runner moving. Yet, our hitters will try to pull the ball with a power stroke that has them almost falling over. Does everyone on this team hate going the other way? Hitting it where it’s pitched? Because I have news, if you don’t do that as a team, this scoring drought isn’t going away for the rest of the year.
- Play .500 baseball. We don’t need to win every series in August to keep this race with the Nationals in check. We just need to win the remaining series with the Nationals, and play .500 baseball in the toughest month. Right now the Braves are 2-6 in August. If the team can just go 3-4 over better against the Dodgers and A’s for this home stand? That sets them up for some more manageable games in the latter half of the month against the Reds, Pirates, Mets, and Marlins. After that, September will look like a cakewalk. What we can’t do is go 2-5 or worse, and make the hole so deep that we’re digging wells in the outfield.
There you have it. Ten not-so-simple ways the Atlanta Braves can really make this week count. Frankly, I think most of them are completely within the player’s control except for the .500 winning record. A lot of this stuff is just management and mental sharpness. We’ll see if the Braves extend their winning streak to two games on Monday. That would serve as the first winning streak since July 28th against the Padres. Man, that’s a long time.
Next week, I’ll discuss a little bit about the division and wild card race, including some information on the major opponents in the Braves way. Don’t miss it!
Tags: Atlanta Braves