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what-went-right | June | 2008 Articles

2008 Archives

What Went Right?

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A lot has gone wrong for us this season. A lot has gone right, though. Following my hand-wringing and hair-pulling on Friday, and after a two-game winning streak -- our first road winning streak since April 11-12 -- I think it's worth examining the flip side of the coin. Though the positives have still been outweighed by the negatives in the won-loss column, our run differential is still quite good, and our Pythagorean record (for what it's worth) is a quite respectable 39-30. So what have we done well, other than luck into Chipper Jones's best half-season ever? We've gotten better-than-expected offensive performances from several players who aren't Chipper, and likewise have seen several non-star players on the bench and in the bullpen fill key roles as our team has sought to overcome its injury woes and other problems. We've had a bit of uncertainty at the top of the batting order, with 6 different leadoff hitters and 5 different #2 hitters. But for the most part the top two roles have been filled by some combination of Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson. Neither is exactly an ideal leadoff hitter as a stolen base threat, but both compensate with legitimate gap and double-digit home run power and OBPs above .350. Their continued offensive development is crucial, as they will both be cornerstones of the team for years to come, and (unlike Jeff Francoeur) both have been putting together strong campaigns. (Neither has done quite as well while leading off, however; our leadoff hitters have a combined .336 OBP, quite a bit less than what you'd like. Of course, our #2 hitters have been a good bit better.) Brian McCann has also been raking. His 2006 campaign was fluky, frankly; his BABIP was almost exactly equal to his final batting average of .333, while he'd never cracked .300 in any of his minor league stops. But he'd always demonstrated terrific power and good average and strike zone judgment. This year, while his average is lower than in 2006, his OPS is only 7 points off the pace (and currently 8th in the league; Chipper's the league leader). This year, he's batting .307, and his BABIP is still almost exactly the same as his batting average, so his performance may not be a fluke, but what he's truly capable of. But those are the guys we expected would do well. Before his back injury, Mark Kotsay was one of the year's more pleasant surprises, playing unimpeachable defense and returning to his offensive form of 2004, his last good season. His replacement, Gregor Blanco, has hit more like a 4th outfielder than a starting center fielder, but has been offensively adequate for the 8th hole, and despite a fringy reputation among scouts has tenaciously stuck at the major league level, both offensively and defensively. As I predicted, supersub Omar Infante, has been light years ahead of Chris Woodward, if not exactly a starting player. Admittedly, he's not a great outfielder, and he's not a great shortstop, but his ability to play just about anywhere, even if it isn't pretty, and hold his own with the bat (101 OPS+ so far), has been invaluable. And the bullpen has been surprising too. Roger McDowell seemed like an odd choice to replace Leo Mazzone -- he was known as a prankster on the field, and as the Second Spitter on Seinfeld -- but he has seen several pitchers blossom under his tutelage. Last year it was Peter Moylan; this year, it may be Will Ohman, who currently sports a sparkling 2.25 ERA and .208 BA against. Despite 4 closers or setup men on the DL -- Moylan, Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, and John Smoltz -- and only 11 saves in the first 69 games, our bullpen's collective ERA is a stunning 3.38. Bobby has abused Blaine Boyer's arm, and misused Manny Acosta, who has been terrible in high-leverage situations despite being designated the team's closer, but he's gotten a fine performance out of his pen. The starting rotation is starting to show signs of long-term viability thanks to a youth movement. Jair Jurrjens has had a terrific half-season of his own, much lauded here and elsewhere. (Get well soon, Jair!) Farm products Jo-Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton, who pitched tonight, have both overcome development issues -- Reyes, an inability to throw strikes at the major league level, Morton, an inability to throw strikes at any level -- to suggest that they are beginning to learn to harness their tremendous stuff and succeed at the major league level. If they can do so, they'll form the backbone of another formidable Atlanta staff. The trouble with this team this year has never been a lack of talent. It has always been an inability for that talent to produce at the same time. When we get great pitching, we seem rarely to hit, and when we hit, we rarely seem to be able to keep the other team from scoring. When we get runners on base, we can't seem to get them in; when we get two outs, we often aren't able to get out of the inning quickly. But the team absolutely has the talent to win the division. We just have to figure out how to get that talent to produce consistently, without pressing. Let's bring out the brooms tomorrow!

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