The Atlanta Braves seem happy right now (Photo: Cincinnati.com/John Bazemore, AP)

Out of the NL East frying pan, into the fire. The Redlegs (17-16, 2nd place, 2.5 GB) begin a seven-game road trip tonight in Atlanta. After a sweep of St. Louis, the Braves (22-13, $82.4 million payroll) hold a slim half-game lead over Cincinnati’s most-recent opponent, Washington. It’s a brief two-game series: tonight (7:10 pm) and Tuesday (7:10 pm).

The Reds won three of their six contests vs. Atlanta last year, but only won one of three in a late-May series in Hot-lanta.

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
Mon: Homer Bailey (1-3, 4.93 ERA) vs. Randall Delgado (2-3, 4.54 ERA)
Tue: Johnny Cueto (4-0, 1.12 ERA) vs. Tim Hudson (1-1, 4.50 ERA)

Randall Delgado is a 22 year-old right-hander from Panama, and when he faces the Reds tonight, it will be his first appearance against Cincinnati. Delgado had a fairly impressive run as a rookie last year on the surface; in seven games started, he went 1-1 with a 2.83 ERA. However, his FIP was 5.14 and his control was inconsistent, at best.

Delgado’s ceiling is high, but he has some learning to do. Cincinnati will have to be patient and work the count. Not exactly their strong suit, is it?

We all know Tim Hudson; over an outstanding 14-year career, Hudson has won 182 games with a 3.41 ERA. He has made three All-Star teams, and has finished in the top 5 of the Cy Young Award voting three times (and finished 6th one other time). By anyone’s measure, Hudson has had a great career.

Now, however, Hudson is a couple of months shy of his 37th birthday. Of course, before this season, he showed few signs of slowing down. In 2011, Hudson won 16 games with a 3.22 ERA. Not bad for an old guy, huh?

Last November, Hudson had surgery on his back, and he has only recently returned from the disabled list. Hudson has made three starts, and his most recent outing was his best thus far: seven innings, one run allowed on five hits against the stupid Cubs.

STARTING POSITION PLAYERS AND LIKELY LINEUP
1. Michael Bourn (L) – CF
2. Martin Prado (R) – LF
3. Freddie Freeman (L) – 1B
4. Dan Uggla (R) – 2B
5. Brian McCann (L) – C
6. Chipper Jones (S) – 3B
7. Jason Heyward (L) – RF
8. Tyler Pastornicky (R) – SS

The Braves are second in the National League in runs scored in 2012, and fourth in OBP. Last year, Atlanta was firmly in the bottom half of the league offensively. What’s the difference this year?

Well, Uggla has started off better than he did last year (.282/.365/.450), and Chipper isn’t playing like a guy in his final season (.302/.365/.512). Most of the offensive surge, however, can be attributed to Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward.

Bourn has been a revelation in CF, hitting .333/.399/.422 with 11 SB to go with excellent defense. Heyward has begun to return to form after a miserable sophomore campaign; he has a 124 OPS+ (.252/.352/.468) with five homers.

For what it’s worth, the defense was expected to be pretty bad (especially on the infield), but it has been very reliable thus far in 2012.

BULLPEN
One of the primary strengths of this club is the talent at the back of the bullpen. Closer Craig Kimbrel (11 saves, 2.77 ERA, 1.26 FIP), the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year, is a 24 year-old dynamo who posted a 3.2 WAR last year. Lefty Jonny Venters is equally brilliant; he has a 2.19 ERA after posting a brilliant 1.84 ERA in 85 games (1.7 WAR) last year. Kris Medlen has also done outstanding work, with a 2.49 ERA over 15 appearances.

Chad Durbin, in his first year with the club, has been bad, although that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Durbin has an ERA over 8, and it’s looking like his career may be over. I encourage Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez — in my opinion, the worst manager in baseball — to use Durbin early and often over the next two days.

NEW ADDITIONS TO THE ROSTER
The Braves were very quiet in the off-season. Other than the free agent signing of Durbin mentioned above, the only acquisition of note is a name of which you will be familiar: 3B Juan Francisco. Atlanta, as you will recall, traded RP JJ Hoover to the Reds in exchange for Francisco after the big third baseman showed up to spring training overweight and out of shape. Francisco has been pretty much the same player we saw in Cincinnati, making errors, swinging at everything, but hitting the ball hard when he can get a bat on the ball: .224/.264/.469 with 3 HR and 10 RBI. I do not miss Juan Francisco in a Cincinnati uniform.

BRAVES ON THE DL
None. The club has been remarkably healthy.

In conclusion, this Braves team is pretty good. They have some solid pitching, and a resurgent Heyward gives the offense a nice look. After their 2011 September collapse — which was no less stunning than Boston’s, but was largely ignored because BEER!!! CHICKEN!!! — and losing their first four games of 2012, Atlanta has rebounded nicely. If Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t work his bullpen to death again, and if he’ll get Heyward up near the middle of the lineup where he belongs, the Bravos could be a formidable team come September.

25 Responses

  1. dn4192

    Even with Johnny C. going tomorrow night I think a split would be incredible. Tonight as with it seems every time the Reds face a pitcher they have never seen, they will make him look CY Youngish, I suspect a 3-4 hit night with maybe 1 run. Meanwhile Homer needs a rebound after his last performance and needs to keep his head in the game. I doubt there is any other pitcher I have ever seen with the skills Homer has but the inability to control the mental aspect of the game. If I am Dusty I put Hannigan behind the plate tonight and give Mesco tomorrow night. Homer needs someone who can keep his mind in the game.

    • hokieneer

      Tonight as with it seems every time the Reds face a pitcher they have never seen, they will make him look CY Youngish, I suspect a 3-4 hit night with maybe 1 run.

      Yep, esp with someone who has good stuff like Delgado.

    • CharlotteNCRedsFan

      I doubt there is any other pitcher I have ever seen with the skills Homer has but the inability to control the mental aspect of the game.

      I will say that you must of missed most of Volquez’s starts last season. 😀

    • hokieneer

      I doubt there is any other pitcher I have ever seen with the skills Homer has but the inability to control the mental aspect of the game.

      You need to watch more baseball. There are dozens of guys at any point in time with live arms that can’t produce results for whatever reason.

    • dn4192

      @dn4192: How do you know Homer hasn’t been keeping his head in the game?

      How do you explain his struggles?

      • Greg Dafler

        How do you explain his struggles?

        He’s a back of the rotation starter. His stuff is not quite up to snuff to be the staff ace that folks want to see when they look at where he was taken on the draft board.

        Maybe he’s got some issues upstairs, too. I don’t know that he does or doesn’t. You just said it so matter-fo-factly that I thought you had some reason to believe it.

        From what Brantley and Welsh have been saying the games I’ve watched this year, Bailey has been much more composed on the mound this year and not let things bother him mentally. That’s their observation.

  2. steelheels

    I think the game is going to pump our boys up.We going to sweep the Braves you heard it here first!

  3. steelheels

    It’s suppose to say the game last night

  4. Steve Mancuso

    The Braves seem to have bounced back better than the Red Sox from their total collapse last September. I’ve heard analysts say that the reason they didn’t make many offseason moves was they were confident they could improve simply by their current players doing better all year. If Jason Heyward can keep up this pace he’ll have a huge year.

  5. Sultan of Swaff

    From baseball reference—similar pitchers to Homer Bailey thru age 25:

    Gavin Floyd
    Matt Clement
    Bob Walk
    James Baldwin
    Esteban Loaiza

    Kinda makes you want to reset your expectations, no?

  6. CharlotteNCRedsFan

    dn4192 – I agree with you but to keep the “hall monitors” happy it is probably better to rephrase it: “It appears Homer hasn’t been keeping his head in the game”. It would be nice to see if Hani would make a difference though.

  7. RC

    Haven’t seen this posted anywhere here – some Dusty quotes from Hal McCoy’s where he defends all the first pitch swinging that goes on with this team:

    “I’m telling you, I don’t know where people get this, ‘Why did he swing at the first pitch?’ They want to get ahead of you, especially with runners in scoring position,” said Baker. “We’re too deep in the counts, drowning deep.”

    My brain hurts.

  8. aml92

    @RC: im completely fine with the amount the Reds swing at first pitch. Granted, i get pretty upset when they swing at the first pitch and pop out or fly out, but when swinging at the first pitch, the Reds’ slash line is .336/.343/.614/.957

    i’d take that any day. i just hope they (BP is a big one) stop swinging for the fences every time and swinging at garbage on the ground (stubbs, bp)

    everyone complains about swinging at the first pitch. when the reds get hits, they dont realize it was the first pitch. and when they get out, its all they remember.

    • RC

      im completely fine with the amount the Reds swing at first pitch. Granted, i get pretty upset when they swing at the first pitch and pop out or fly out, but when swinging at the first pitch, the Reds’ slash line is .336/.343/.614/.957

      That, I assume, a slash line based on balls *put in play* on a 0-0 count, and does not account for all the swings and misses/foul ball that get hitters immediately behind in the count. What’s the line for ABs where the hitter was down 0-1… I don’t know how to tease those numbers out of the splits, but I presume they would be much less attractive. Admittedly, I could be wrong. 😳

      Nonetheless, after a game we won by working counts and getting men on base for our hammer, hearing that Dusty feels his hitters are getting “too deep” in counts is just an ice pick to my brain. (To be fair, I think the Dusty quotes are from before last night’s game, not after.)

    • Steve Mancuso

      @RC: im completely fine with the amount the Reds swing at first pitch. Granted, i get pretty upset when they swing at the first pitch and pop out or fly out, but when swinging at the first pitch, the Reds’ slash line is .336/.343/.614/.957

      i’d take that any day. i just hope they (BP is a big one) stop swinging for the fences every time and swinging at garbage on the ground (stubbs, bp)

      everyone complains about swinging at the first pitch. when the reds get hits, they dont realize it was the first pitch. and when they get out, its all they remember.

      Your explanation about the slash lines is erroneous. They only show the results of actionable outcomes. A foul ball doesn’t count. A swing and a miss doesn’t count. But both of those outcomes put the hitter behind in the count. Obviously, a hitter can’t strike out on the first pitch. Those numbers only show the percentages for the balls that are in play (safe or out). All that shows is that when a batter swings at the first pitch – and something actionable happens – the average of it being a hit is .336.

  9. aml92

    supposed to say “pop out or ground out”…

  10. dn4192

    According to Hal we are not the league leaders in K’s as a team…I found that kinda shocking…

    THERE IS NO DOUBT that the Cincinnati Reds are striking out enough to stir up their own tornado, or at least a windstorm.

    Amazingly, though, their 258 strikeouts entering Sunday’s game aren’t even close to being most in the National League. In fact, Arizona has 278, San Diego has 275, New York has 265 and Washington has 264.

    Pittsburgh has the same as the Reds, 258, Atlanta is only one behind at 257 and St. Louis has 253.

    Truly, it is the Era of the Whiff.

  11. aml92

    @RC: that is a very good point, completely forgot to think about that.. im unaware as to how to find that stat as well. i do like seeing batters work the count. if i was a brewers fan when Ishikawa popped out on the first pitch vs ondrusek after the previous batter walked, i wouldve went batshit crazy.

    im all for working the count, especially when pitchers are inconsistent (marmol..), but when they throw fast balls down the middle every time, let em hack

  12. Matt WI

    @aml92: According to baseball reference’s team splits for 2012, if I’m reading it correctly, the Reds are hitting .238/.278/.356 AFTER the count is 0-1. Specifically putting the ball in play on an 0-1 count, the team is hitting .298/.310/.430

  13. LWBlogger

    Regarding working the count, it is a matter of being selectively agressive. You look for a particular pitch for a particular situation. Usually that means a fastball in your sweet-spot but not always. Sometimes you may be looking for a hanging breaking ball or looking for a pitch you can hit the other way, or a pitch you can hit in the air. As the count deepens you either stay the course (if you are ahead) or you become less selective (if you are behind).

    I don’t mind the Reds swinging at the first pitch when they get a good pitch to hit. What’s frustrating is when it seems like they have their minds made up that they are hacking at the first pitch or when they are obviously badly fooled on that first pitch. Bad swings at 0-2, 1-2, or even 2-2 are more excusable than a bad swing at 0-0.

  14. LWBlogger

    @RC: When Dusty says stuff like that it drives the stats crowd nuts. It’s a very old-school way of thinking. The thing is, working the count is something that even a lot of old-schoolers have bought into. I’m pretty sure Dusty didn’t quite mean it as it came out but who knows? I think the hitting approach of the team could use a lot of work and it’s been that way for a while. Would different coaching help? I don’t know. A lot of times at this level players don’t adjust their approach much. I mean by this point their approach has worked for them all their lives, rather that approach be agressive or patient.

    The Reds tried to instill a patient approach in all their minor league hitters by instituting a rule against players swinging at the first pitch. This approach was horribly flawed as opposing pitchers would just pump a strike down broadway… So, how do you go about changing the approach of a MLB team filled with MLB hitters? A lot of organizations are only bringing in players with plate-discipline because they know it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Plus, there are very few guys out there like Vlad Guerrero who are really, really good bad-ball hitters.

  15. hokieneer

    “working the count” is not about taking vs swinging, it’s about getting a pitch you can hit well (given the situation, ie maybe a sac fly is needed) and putting a good swing on it. If the first pitch is a hanger, than freaking bang it.

    The problem for the Reds’ hitters is not about swinging versus taking on the first pitch, per se. It’s about recognizing what pitch they can hit. For example, Stubbs should probably swing at EVERY first pitch fastball that’s close to the zone, because he’s shown NO ability to lay off the breaking ball down and away.

  16. hokieneer

    As much as we (myself included) like to rip on Dusty, I actually agree with him on this:

    “You have to attack the fastball and that’s one thing we have to start doing as a unit,” he said. “Everybody is asking, ‘How come this guy is swinging at the first pitch?’ Don’t you want them to take a pitch?’

    “Man, we’re taking fastballs,” Baker added. “And they’re all getting ahead of us. This game is not designed for two strikes and four balls. If that’s the case, none of us would have hit.”