I doubt many people stayed up and watched the entire thing but I watched a large portion of the Atlanta Braves’ controversial 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in 19 innings last night/this morning. I’m not going to discuss the controversial call that made my wife scream out “[That umpire] just wanted to go home. That’s what that call was.” I’m not going to discuss how the Pirates have already filed a complaint about it and MLB said “my bad.” I’ll let the experts talk about that to death.
What interested me most about that 19 inning affair was how it represented everything wrong with this Braves team to me. What interested me was how the Braves had 19 opportunities to pick up a hit with runners in scoring position but only connected twice (for those scoring at homes that’s a .105 batting average which makes Dan Uggla at his worst this season seem like an All-Star). What interested me was how the team combined for a .223 batting average during a night when they were facing a struggling Pirates team.
It was fitting to me that the individual who knocked in the winning run was the pitcher who proceeded to immediately fall down in the field after he made contact. The Braves have one of the best pitching staffs, from their No. 1 starter to the back of their bullpen, in all of baseball but their offense is abysmal. Even considering Uggla’s struggles, the Braves still are the hitless wonder with only four players (Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Martin Prado, and Chipper Jones) with over 150 at bats who are hitting better than the league average (.251). That reminds me, the best hitter on the team, McCann, strained his oblique during the 10th inning last night and is being placed on the disabled list. And Jones has played in three games with six at bats over the last 20 days and will probably get hurt again this year.
Out of the eight teams that, if the season ended today, would qualify for the playoffs, the Braves are last in batting average and next to last in runs scored, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. The Braves aren’t creating runs with small ball either because they’re second to last in stolen bases with the lowest stolen base percentage as well.
What this tells me is that the Braves need to make a move before Saturday’s deadline. This fact is made even more prudent because A) the Diamondbacks are making a run at the wildcard and B) the Giants have reportedly acquired a big bat in Carlos Beltran. There are several players available but they all have a price tag that require the Braves to give up one of its top pitching prospect (Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado, and Brandon Beachy).
While modern GMs resist trading away their top few prospects, I think Atlanta needs to pull the trigger. Currently, the AAA rotation in Gwinnett would be better than four or five rotations in the majors so I have no problem with them trading away a few of their gems. Let’s look at the Braves pitching rotation: Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, and Brandon Beachy. Hanson, Jurrjens, and Beachy are all under 25. The Braves also have Minor (potential No. 3 starter and the No. 26 minor league prospect by Baseball Prospectus), Teheran (potential ace and the No. 5 prospect), and Delgado (No. 2/3 starter and the No. 58 prospect) in the minors who should be ready to challenge for a big league spot next spring. That’s six potential starters under the age of 25 who should be ready for the big leagues next spring, not including Vizcaino who is should be ready by 2013 and is ranked the No. 50 prospect. Trade one (I would rather give up Beachy or Minor) and add a big bat in the B.J. Upton or Michael Bourn mold. Both of those players are outfielders that provide added speed and more consistent hitting at the plate, which would improve our odds of going deep in the playoffs greatly.
Either way, if this team wants to make a deep run, they’re going to have to add a bat. As I write this, the Braves just finished another extra-inning game, winning 2-1 in the 10th inning. Even then, they still went only 3-for-13 (a .230 average) with runners in scoring position and had runners in scoring position during six different innings. The Braves need help to overcome this anemic offense and they have to give something up.