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8/12 Game Thread: I'd Rather Watch Francoeur Than the Olympics
I've been on vacation the past week and a half, so I've missed a lot of the recent sporting events: the Braves' terrific first three games against the Snakes, the Adam Dunn trade -- we needed a working corner outfielder earlier this year, and waiver-passers Brian Giles and Adam Dunn would have been awfully tasty, but now that we're out of contention I'm glad we didn't bite -- and, oh yeah, the Beijing Olympics. But since I really don't care about athletic events that don't involve a ball, I'm gonna pretty much ignore this Olympiad, like I do every two years.
The Braves' recent series against the Diamondbacks provided yet another data point: the Braves are 5-2 without Jeff Francoeur (now at .228/.286/.347) in right, and 50-61 with him out there patrolling the field. He's now .202/.282/.260 with 10 walks and 23 strikeouts in 117 PA since the boneheaded minor league recall. His BABIP is down to an incredible .259 -- luck or not, he was a much better hitter when he made less contact and struck out more.
His replacement in right field on Saturday, Gregor Blanco, continues to do the same thing he's done since he came up: bunt, walk, and slap his way on, then steal the occasional base. He has no arm and even less power, but he's what the old-timers call "scrappy." He's been getting a bit lucky -- his .262 BA is propped up by a .328 BABIP -- but he seems to know what he's good at, as his 24.4% LD% and 50.8% GB% indicate that he's keeping the ball low to the ground, dumping singles either in front of or just behind the infielders. And he has a ridiculous 4.01 P/PA, so he wears pitchers down, and of course works a ton of walks. He probably shouldn't be a starting outfielder, but he's almost exactly offensively average. (His EqA is .257; completely average is .260.)
Pitching tonight is a guy who's three months older than Jeff Francoeur, but has two fewer years' experience in the major leagues: Charlie Morton. Morton's rookie year has had its ups and downs, but he may have benefited from pitching in the lower-pressure environment of a team that isn't in the hunt, and is coming off his two best starts of the year. The two were nearly identical: in both, he went 7 innings, and racked up 4 strikeouts against 1 walk. On August 2, he gave up 4 hits and threw 96 pitches; on August 7, 5 hits and 98 pitches. The major difference was a homer to Prince Fielder he gave up on August 2, which he corrected on the 7th by holding the D-Backs scoreless.
Tonight he'll face a tougher lineup, the Cubs, 7-3 in their last 10 and clearly smelling blood. The Cubs are starting the Fragile Wonder, Rich Harden, who gave up 3 runs in his first 4 starts in the National League, though he's coming off a bit of a stinker in Houston, 5 runs (4 earned) in 5 1/3 innings. He doesn't do that often, so we'll have our work cut out for us. There's no shame in losing to him: he's one of the best pitchers in the division when healthy, and the Cubs are one of the best teams in the league.
We'd have a much better chance if we let Gregor play right field again, though.