The deadline passed with only one major move for the Braves, but the team looks almost unrecognizable from the Opening Day squad all the same.
Our Opening Day 1-2 punch in the batting order, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson, have missed time due to injuries and a bizarre platoon where Kelly has sat against many left-handed pitchers despite hitting lefties better than righties this year. Our #3 hitter (Chipper) is on the DL, as is the #6 hitter (McCann), as is the #7 hitter and starting left fielder (Matt Diaz), as is the starter (Hudson), as is that game's closer (Peter Moylan). One pinch hitter we used that day, Brayan Pena, was designated for assignment. Largely as a result of all the upheaval, of course, our cleanup hitter Mark Teixeira was traded a few days ago to the Angels. Of the other players in the game, our other pinch hitter (Martin Prado) spent time on the DL, as did our starting CF and #8 hitter, Mark Kotsay.
In fact, the only players in our opening day lineup who are still in the organization and haven't yet missed significant time due to injury are pinch runner Gregor Blanco, now our starting left fielder; Jeff Francoeur, who has been so terrible that he was demoted to the minors earlier this year; and Will Ohman, whom the Braves were unfortunately unable to move at the deadline, and who holds the dubious distinction of being about the only Braves reliever this year who hasn't collapsed. (As Mac Thomason and JC Bradbury have pointed out, it will be a miracle if he makes it to the end of the season without either getting injured or giving up a few runs and watching his ERA soar, in order to attempt to attain Type B free agent status and net us a draft pick.)
With McCann out, our new backup catcher Clint Sammons had a wonderful day at the plate yesterday, matching Corky Miller's wretched production for the year in a few short swings. Sammons isn't a good hitter either -- his line in AAA this year is worse than Francoeur's in the major leagues, and he's a year older than Frenchy -- but he receives rave reviews for his defense, which would mean he does at least one thing better than the woefully useless Miller.
Our new first baseman, Casey Kotchman, hasn't made much of a splash, opening his Braves career with a couple of ohfers, but it's not like these games matter. Far more important will be getting his abnormally low walk rate back to its usual level. Hopefully, now that he's away from the walk-allergic Angels, he'll get back to slightly better hitting habits. We'd better hope he does, because he's our starting first baseman for the next 3 years.
Tonight we'll go against the Brewers, and on the mound for us will be another left-handed blast from the past, Chuck James. He's had a miserable year in the majors, but has continued to pitch effectively in the minors, and with Hudson's Tommy John surgery impending and Jo-Jo Reyes's control troubles he'll get yet another chance to recapture his 2006 form. His biggest problem, of course, has always been stamina: in 13 minor league starts he's gone 73 2/3 innings, which works out to 5 2/3 a start. I've always liked the guy, so I'm rooting for him.
His opposite number on the mound is the Brewers' Jeff Suppan, whose ERA is over 5 and whose WHIP is a robust 1.61. Translation: he will give up lots and lots of baserunners. Against the Braves his career stats are even worse: 1-5 in 6 starts, only 33 2/3 IP, 5.61 ERA, 27 K, 12 BB, and 41 H. (Suppan's career ERA is over 5 against 10 different teams. It's over 6 against 5 different teams.)
Today's the first day of the rest of the Braves' season. We are officially also-rans, having sold Tex at the deadline, and the Brewers are playoff hunters, having bought C.C. Sabathia and Ray Durham. Our role is spoiler. So now we'll have to see what we can spoil -- or how high our draft position can go.