Three Cuts: Matt Adams playing role of Freddie Lite; Braves' third base debate
The Braves ended their nine-game road trip with an offensive eruption, scoring a season-high 13 runs against the Reds on Sunday behind home runs from Matt Adams, Ender Inciarte (for one of his five hits) and Danny Santana.
It was a positive spin as Atlanta claimed its first series in Cincinnati since 2009 -- and could have had a sweep if not for a wild pitch Friday -- and spoke to an offense that's still proved potent without Freddie Freeman.
A big reason why that lineup remains dangerous, the Braves' third base situation and Julio Teheran's recent road woes find their way into the team's top storylines for the week that was.
1. With Matt Adams performing like Freddie Freeman Lite, Braves offense hasn't lost a step
If his day in Saturday's 6-5 win wasn't enough -- that included a career first grand slam and a go-ahead home run in the 12th inning -- Matt Adams went deep again in Sunday's 13-8 victory over the Reds, a solo blast to right-center, and added a double.
That gives Adams 10 extra-base hits of his 15 since being traded to Atlanta (five homers, four doubles and a triple, the latter being his first since 2014).
He entered Sunday sporting an OPS+ of 121, the highest since a 129 in 2013, Adams' first full season in the majors and in the series finale pushed his wRC+ to 116, Adams' best since he hit that same number in '14.
Those numbers aren't exactly Freddie Freeman level, with the injured first baseman still sitting second in the majors in wRC+ at 208, but over the last 30 days -- backed by his going 14 for 54 with 12 RBI in a Braves uniform -- Adams' wRC+ is at 120. That put him between the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera and Cubs' Anthony Rizzo among all first basemen.
The combination of Freeman's MVP-level play and what the Braves have received from Adams has Atlanta tied with the Nationals for the MLB lead in wRC+ among first basemen (185) and second in offensive WAR (24.0 to D.C.'s 28.8).
Now, it helps that Adams spent the weekend at Great American Ballpark, where he has homered 15 times in his career and sports a 1.038 OPS. It also doesn't hurt that he's thrived at SunTrust Park (1.107 OPS with three HRs in eight games).
Those hitter-friendly -- or Adams' friendly parks -- helped make up for five games played against the Giants and Angels, Adams hit just .158 with a double in 20 plate appearances. But it's undeniable that the Braves have received serious value from a player who didn't have a defined role in St. Louis.
Over the last 18 games sans Freeman, the Braves are averaging 4.3 runs per game. Before the All-Star first baseman went down, Atlanta was plating 4.6 a game.
David KohlDavid Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
2. Who should be getting brunt of time at third base?
Adonis Garcia returned Friday after landing on the disabled list with left Achilles tendinitis that cost him 16 games, and in his first three games back, he made three starts at third base.
Garcia did get six hits in his first 10 at-bats, including going 4-for-6 with a double in Saturday's 12-inning win. Meanwhile, Rio Ruiz -- who started 12 of the previous 14 games at third with Garcia out -- was limited to two pinch-hit opportunities and went hitless in both of them.
There was the thought that manager Brian Snitker would turn the two into a platoon considering Garcia's issues against right-handed hitters. He returned from the DL hitting .230 with a .586 OPS against them compared to a .308 average and .976 OPS vs. lefties, while Ruiz hit .282 vs. righties at Triple-A Gwinnett (and .211 against lefties).
But that notion went out the window when Snitker stated that Garcia would again be the primary third baseman, with Ruiz serving as a bench piece. "I will try to do the best I can to get opportunities for both of them. Hopefully we’ll get a lot out of the position," Snitker told reporters.
It was only underscored with the Braves facing right-handed starters -- Bronson Arroyo and Scott Feldman -- and Garcia not only playing but thriving. It's akin to last season when he was sent down to Triple-A and returned after a 19-game hiatus and hit .276/.310/.430 with 13 homers and 27 doubles over 106 games.
Garcia's .280 OBP upon his return from the DL next-to-last among everyday third basemen and is tied for 27th among all players at the position with 78 wRC+. While he's improved defensively, he has minus-9 defensive runs saved the past two seasons at third.
Ruiz has a limited sample size, with 114 2/3 innings the past two seasons, but has been serviceable with zero DRS and has made seven out of zone plays this season.
At the least, wouldn't it be in the Braves' best interest to see what they have out of Ruiz and Garcia in a platoon and either provide third base play together (think what Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki are doing at catcher) or let one bubble up and seize the job?
Allowing the veteran to get his job back and sending Ruiz to the bench -- at least for now -- would seem to rail against that.
3. Suddenly, Julio Teheran's home struggles spilling into road starts
Julio Teheran, FOX Sports South color commentator Joe Simpson joked, should consider changing his name to Jul-ROAD-io with his drastic home/road splits.
Dad humor aside, he did have a point considering Teheran entered Sunday's start with a 1.42 ERA in five road starts compared to an ugly 8.40 in six outings at SunTrust Park. That road ERA was bested in all of baseball by only the Diamondbacks' Robbie Ray (0.64) and the A's Andrew Triggs (0.72).
But then Teheran went out and gave up seven earned runs on 11 hits in five innings, including two home runs, both of them of the two-run variety.
What's concerning is that comes on the heels of allowing three earned runs on three home runs in his previous outing last Monday against the Angels, because in total it gives Teheran five homers allowed in two road stats after not giving up a single long ball in four road starts before that.
Teheran's home struggles have been oft-dissected as he's yielded nine HRs in 30 innings, but since his April 9 road start in Pittsburgh, he's had an above league-average fly ball rate (44 percent) in each of his road starts -- led by 47.4 on April 26 vs. the Mets and 47.1 on May 13th against the Marlins -- and we're seeing his HR/FB percentage stand at 33.3 percent (Angels) and 22.2 (Reds).
As a barometer, a 9.5 percent HR/FB rate is league average.
Those numbers, unfortunately, look much more like Teheran at home, where he has a 21.4 HR/FB rate, has fly ball rates of 46.7 and 50 (twice) and sports the worst ERA of any starter.
A silver lining for Teheran is next time out (June 9) he's scheduled to face the Mets, against whom he has a 2.62 ERA in 18 games ... but in the last of those starts they did get to him for a career-worst eight earned runs.
Nothing with Teheran has been a given this year, as we're seeing as his home troubles have followed him on the road, where he'd been among baseball's best starters the past season-plus.