anything for the next week, the Braves won 4 in a row and climbed all the way back to .500, showing a lot of heart. Jair Jurrjens even pitched 7 innings last night, only the fourth time a Braves starter has done that all season. (Hudson's done it twice and Jair's done it twice.) I know that I've sniped at him for not having an out pitch, and complained all offseason that he wasn't ready for the bigs, but last night he was truly outstanding -- 7 innings, 3 hits, and 8 strikeouts. I'm ready to eat crow, as long as it's unleavened. We haven't been above .500 yet this season, and this is the first time we've even been at .500 since April 6. Of course, our run differential is still tremendous, and so our Pythagorean record is 12-6. We're a run behind the Chicago White Sox for theThe Braves had a very busy weekend -- while I was at a seder, eating delicious brisket and privately moaning over the fact that I can't eat
best second-best run differential in baseball, and we're tied with the Dodgers for the greatest differential between our actual record and our Pythagorean record. Our performance overall has been quite good, though our stats look a lot better in 9-inning averages than looked at game-by-game.
We have, as I see it, four main problems:
1) The Disabled List. 4 of our 6 main starting pitchers have spent time on the DL: Mike Hampton (who never was really going to help much this year), Tom Glavine, Chuck James, and John Smoltz. Our best three relievers are there now, Rafael Soriano, Peter Moylan, and Mike Gonzalez. Moylan's looking like a Tommy John candidate, Gonzalez will be trying to return from Tommy John surgery midseason (which means he probably won't be at full strength till the end of the year), and Soriano doesn't yet have a timetable for return. Moylan may be lost, and Hampton as well, but we'll really need major innings from Glavine, James, Smoltz, Soriano, and Gonzalez, and we'll need to monitor them closely to make sure they don't wind up on the DL again.
2) Injury-prone regulars. Our best hitter, Chipper Jones, and best pitcher, John Smoltz, are currently healthy, but with a caveat: they can't play too hard or too long, because their aging bodies are simply fragile at this point. Smoltz has only pitched 16 innings in his three starts, and while Chipper has played every day he's been removed midgame twice because of a balky quadriceps. We need them to stay healthy, but we can't ride them too hard.
3) Starting pitchers can't go deep into games. As I've said, in our first 18 games, we've only had 4 games in which a starter went at least 7 innings, and only 8 in which they went at least 6 innings. That's one reason that our relievers are dropping onto the DL like flies, and if it continues -- not at all unlikely, considering that we're going to be counting on Chuck James, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz's barking right shoulder for major innings -- our bullpen is going to be suffering from another case of collective dead arm by midseason, right in time for our annual midsummer swoon. We have some arms at Richmond who could help stock the pen with warm bodies when that happens, but unless they come on like Joba Chamberlain, that's not going to be a long term solution.
4) Offensive inconsistency. This is a soft category; our hitters are hitting, just not all at the same time. Matt Diaz and Mark Teixeira have been cold, though they're typically slow starters, but it looks like Diaz is already being platooned with Gregor Blanco. Kelly Johnson has been in a cold streak but showing signs of snapping out of it, and Francoeur is his usual maddening self. Still, while the team is averaging 5.3 runs a game, they've scored 3 runs or fewer 7 times already. It's hard to win those games, especially if our tired bullpen can't be counted on to prevent the other guys from tacking on runs in later innings. Considering our pitching woes and injury tolls, we're going to need the offense to win a lot of games for us, like the Detroit Tigers. They'll have to rise to the challenge.
We entered this year thinking we had a good team, possibly a playoff team. Starting 5-9 didn't help, but winning 4 games in a row and sweeping the Dodgers is a good way to get in a good mood in a hurry. We still have a good team, and we'll do well if everything breaks right. But it's not going to be easy.
Washington Nationals tonight; we'll get to face Matt Chico, who for some reason pitched a whale of a game against us last time. Tim Hudson will be looking to get his fastball velocity back, and I'll feel a whole lot better about our chances in 2008 if he pitches a solid game tonight. We simply can't afford to lose him too.
Let's make it five in a row tonight and get above .500 for once!