Three Cuts: Braves rout Phillies to snap losing streak
The Braves routed the Phillies 13-4 Saturday night to snap a three-game losing streak. Here are three observations from the game:
1. Kyle Kendrick’s success against the Braves came to screeching halt
The Phillies’ 28-year-old righty entered Saturday night’s game boasting excellent career numbers against his division rivals. He was 7-1 with a 2.86 ERA versus the Braves. Over the course of 85 innings pitched, he had allowed Atlanta batters just 20 extra-base hits on a .241 batting average.
But for the first time since 2008, the Braves handed Kendrick a loss — and they did it in painful, painful fashion.
Behind Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann, the Braves posted their highest-scoring game of the season at the expense of Kendrick and his fellow Phillies pitchers. Atlanta ran up 13 runs on 19 hits, including three home runs (Simmons, Heyward, Dan Uggla).
Kendrick never found a comfort zone and finished with a final line of five innings pitched, 12 hits allowed, six earned runs, two walks and two strikeouts. His career ERA versus Atlanta jumped up 44 points.
McCann (more on him in a minute) finished with one of his best offensive performances of 2013, going 4-for-5 with two runs — he’s now flirting with a .300 average after notching 16 hits over his past seven games. He has not hit the .300 mark since his 12th game of the season.
Also, speaking of players on hot streaks, Simmons continues to find his groove in the lead-off spot, logging a three-hit night. The franchise’s young shortstop has already run up nine hits this month (.409 average) after totaling just 27 in June. If this is the No. 1 hitter the Braves’ brass believed it had all along — recall: Simmons’ lead-off resume in 2013 was well below league average entering this month — then it’s clear why Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren stuck with him this long. Their patience is paying off right now.
(In other news: The “Tim Hudson never gets run support” storyline came to a screeching halt, too.)
Now, since this game was never in doubt, it’s on to the true discussion point of the night…
2. Craig Kimbrel is the only Braves player guaranteed a spot on the NL All-Star team, so expect “snub” talk to prevail over the next week
At 50-37 and holding onto a steady lead in the NL East since the first few weeks of the season, the presumption throughout the 2013 season was that the Braves would place multiple players in the All-Star Game. At least two, right? That’s how these typically work, after all: The better the team, the more players representing the league in the Midsummer Classic.
Well, the rosters were announced Saturday and closer Craig Kimbrel was the only Atlanta name listed among the National League reserves. The backlash from Braves supporters was understandable and immediate. A sample response to the nominations: How did the Cardinals place four players on the team when they aren’t even leading their division? Where is Mike Minor or Justin Upton or (especially) Freddie Freeman?
First things first, Freeman still has an opportunity to make the team via fan voting as he is one of five NL players eligible for MLB’s Final Vote (alongside Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Ian Desmond and Hunter Pence). Two Braves players were part of last season’s Final Vote — Chipper Jones and Michael Bourn — before making it as injury replacements, so Freeman’s chances are not exactly slim to none.
Justin Upton, on the other hand, was one of the leading vote-getters among NL outfielders until the final week or so, when he was eclipsed by Washington’s Bryce Harper. Mike Minor was on the outside looking in after a (relatively) off month in June.
But here’s the thing about this Braves team: Through the first half of the season, it is not a team composed of “All-Stars”. It is a team, period. Sure, you can make hit-and-miss arguments for certain players, but in the long run the Braves have thrived this season due to production from players Nos. 1-25 — and then some.
The pitching staff does not have a Matt Harvey or Adam Wainwright, but it’s consistently been very, very good. The franchise’s offensive stars were either sporadic in their month-to-month performances, split time or spent some time on the disabled list. The bench and bullpen produced excellent numbers as units — Kimbrel made the team but how many bench players make an All-Star team? So, for argument’s sake, let’s go through Atlanta’s possible snubs, but let’s not jump to the assumption that these are egregious errors (all stats entering Saturday’s game):
Freddie Freeman (.309/.385/.468, 9 HR, 1.4 WAR): There’s a reason Freeman is still alive in the voting process and not snubbed altogether. The 23-year-old is enjoying his best season and he’s been the team’s most consistently productive hitter, playing the hero on more than one occasion for one of the best teams in baseball.
That being said, there’s no arguing with the inclusion of Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt over him. Notwithstanding defensive metrics — which can become a bit dicey — Freeman falls into the league’s second-tier of first baseman right alongside Gonzalez and Allen Craig. Craig made the team outright; Gonzalez, as previously mentioned, is in the Final Vote.
The argument goes both ways from Freeman-versus-Craig: Craig, who has played in nine more games, has the edge in hitting (.325/.368/.492), power (10 homers) and RBI (for what that’s worth). If we’re going by the numbers, I’d take Craig outright, too. Gonzalez is putting up another admirable season (.300, 13 HR, 1.6 WAR), but if there’s going to be a fourth first baseman on the NL roster, Freeman’s production, despite a stint on the DL, wins out.
Use the term “snub” with caution here.
Justin Upton (.248/.355/.450, 15 HR, 1.5 WAR): As my colleague Jay Clemons asked over the phone once the rosters were announced, how much money would someone (anyone?) have lost betting on Upton making the All-Star Game at the end of April? His slide from the top is nothing to scoff at. Then again, neither are his overall numbers in spite of his relative struggles — a testament to his fast start if there ever was one. All the same, after Upton was passed by Harper in the fan voting, there was never a real chance for him to make the team.
The four outfielders taken ahead of him by NL manager Bruce Bochy — Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen. Domonic Michael Cuddyer — rank first, second, 10th and 12th in terms of WAR among league outfielders. Upton ranks tied for 15th. There are bigger snubs out there, notably Shin-Soo Choo and Starling Marte.
Mike Minor (8-4, 3.15 ERA, 1.8 WAR): For the past month or so, I’ve written/said Minor is right on the cusp of getting an All-Star nod, but that he’s on the outside looking in. He never reached the 10-win plateau — which should not matter, but always seems to — and his stretch run was not overly impressive.
As it stands, he ranks t-17th in WAR and 19th in both FIP and ERA.
The only legitimate argument Minor could have here would be with Miami’s Jose Fernandez (5-4, 1.9 WAR) and Chicago’s Travis Wood (5-6, 2.1 WAR), but the Marlins and Cubs had to have somebody, right? Even with a true meritocracy-based selection system, though, it’s tough to envision Minor getting the nod.
3. If Brian McCann and Evan Gattis had not split time, one would have been an All-Star
The reasons for the two catchers splitting time with each other and Option No. 3 Gerald Laird are obvious.
Both McCann and Gattis have spent (or are spending) time on the disabled list and both performed well enough to warrant playing time. How could the Braves keep one of the best offensive catchers of the past decade on the bench? How could they keep Gattis, the rookie sensation who’s hit 14 home runs in 183 plate appearances, out of the lineup?
The strategy has worked out best for the team thus far, but it’s more than likely that the flipping and flopping of the two (and sometimes three) catchers cost either McCann or Gattis an All-Star nomination. Even though neither slugger logged 200 plate appearances — for perspective, NL All-Star catchers Yadier Molina and Buster Posey logged 330 and 329 plate appearances, respectively — they still finished 5th and 6th in WAR among NL catchers.
Conservatively combining their numbers, Gattis/McCann would be hovering around 20 home runs, 50 RBI and a 3.0 WAR.
Though Bochy elected to carry just two catchers, could he have justified leaving off McCann/Gattis for, say, his Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro (.313, two HR, 1.8 WAR)? No. He couldn’t. If he did, there would have been an Internet riot. It’s bad enough that Scutaro is getting the nod over the likes of Freeman or Desmond or Chase Utley.
Once again, team before individual seems to be a relevant theme here.