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first-place-for-a-day | July | 2004 Articles

2004 Archives

First Place for a Day!

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The Braves have won 9 of 12 games so far in July, easily their best stretch of the year, which landed them in a tie for first with the Phillies for a single day before losing to the Expos last night and dropping back to a game out. Marcus Giles and DeWayne Wise are healthy again, but unfortunately for Wise getting injured was a bad career move, because Charles Thomas is performing so well that he's keeping the roster spot, and Wise was sent to AAA Richmond. Jesse Garcia was also optioned to the minors when Giles returned. Now that it seems the Braves are finally over .500 to stay and will put in a good run for the division title, it's time to figure out just how they've done it so far and what needs to happen for the Braves to stay in the hunt after so much has gone wrong. I can think of a few things. 1. JD Drew is now batting .313 with 21 homers, and he is among league leaders with a 1.050 OPS and about 75 runs created in only 79 games. He is definitely the Braves' MVP of the first half, picking up the offensive slack where injuries and slumps to Giles and the Jones boys slowed us down. 2. I still can't help talking about Johnny Estrada. The Braves' only All-Star (though Drew was more deserving than at least a couple of the NL's outfielders) has kept his batting average around the .330 mark, and he continues to drive singles and doubles past the opposition when runners get on base. His .448 average with runners on base and .452 with runners in scoring position still lead all MLB hitters. 3. What happened to Eli Marrero?! Injuries nagged him for the first two months of the season and held him to a .115 batting average, but he's batted .411 in June and July to bring his average over .340. The other Braves left fielder, Charles Thomas, has done an excellent job as well, batting .385 in his first 18 games as a major leaguer. Since May 31, the combination of Marrero and Thomas is batting .401 (57 for 142) with 14 doubles, 2 triples, and 7 homers (.676 sLG). Add 11 walks and 2 HBP, and they've got a .452 OBP, which helps translate to a 1.128 OPS. Their 39 runs created in only 155 plate appearances is also something worth cheering for. 4. Finally, our pitching has seen its ups and downs, but at least four of the Braves' six starters are showing signs of finding their groove for the home stretch. Russ Ortiz had allowed one run or fewer in three straight starts until giving up four to the high-octane offense of the Phillies just before the All-Star break, and he still won that game. Jaret Wright has become our #2 guy, with a 1.42 ERA in three starts in July, winning two of three starts while allowing only 13 hits and 3 runs in 19 innings. Paul Byrd has been very impressive -- since coming back less than a year after Tommy John surgery, he has pitched very well, allowing only 11 runs and 3 walks in 28.1 innings, but unfortunately has split his record at 2-2 in five starts. Mike Hampton and John Thomson, on the other hand, both had a horrendous June with ERA's over 6.00 and a combined 3-7 record. Only Travis Smith, now safely back in the minors, had a worse time on the mound, although Braves fans recognize that the worst time off the mound is probably spent by Horacio Ramirez, whose 2.28 ERA has been sorely missed since his last start at the end of May. There is still no telling when Ramirez might return; the tendinitis keeps coming back. 5. The last key ingredient to the Braves' success to this point is the bullpen. John Smoltz, Kevin Gryboski, Antonio Alfonseca, and Juan Cruz have been especially impressive, and Tim Drew and Sam McConnell look very good in limited time on the mound. If the bullpen can continue to slam the door as it has been doing most of the year (which might mean keeping the ball away from Chris Reitsma in game-crticial situations), the Braves will be in good shape. If Ramirez, Hampton, and Thomson come back strong and pitch consistently well in August and September, the Braves will be in great shape. If the lineup remains consistent and Chipper and Andruw start producing as we all know they are capable, the Braves will be unstoppable.

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