April 15, 2013
What You Need to Know
Braving the East
The Weekend Takeaway
So, the Braves are sinking, watching their playoff odds erode as the Nationals fortify an early National League East lead, right? Not exactly.
Not exactly, because Justin Upton has emerged as a Most Valuable Player frontrunner with a league-high seven home runs and a .348/.415/.891 triple-slash line. Not exactly, because rookie Evan Gattis—defensive shortcomings aside—has more than compensated for McCann’s absence by compiling six extra-base hits in 34 at-bats in his stead. Not exactly, because, through 19 2/3 innings over three starts, Paul Maholm has yet to allow a run.
The Braves’ 9-0 blanking of the Nats in Washington, D.C., yesterday capped off a three-game sweep, during which the visitors outscored their hosts by a total of 18-5. Davey Johnson’s team, with the exception of Danny Espinosa—who is playing through a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder and left Sunday’s game after taking a pitch off his hand—is healthy. Fredi Gonzalez’s team is not. And yet, it is the Braves, not the Nationals, that are 11-1 and have raced out to a 3 ½-game division lead while winning a National League-high nine games in a row.
Gattis won’t finish the year with a .735 slugging percentage. Maholm’s ERA won’t be flawless for long. And the injury bug may not be done biting. But the Braves’ depth gives them staying power, and after favoring the Nats on Opening Day, PECOTA now projects the East division crown to land in Atlanta for the first time since 2005.
The 25-year-old has shown off his power, smacking a double and a pair of home runs, but his .244/.292/.400 triple-slash line also contains evidence of a still-unpolished approach. Brown struck out at least once in eight consecutive games spanning April 5-13, before snapping that streak in yesterday’s win, during which he went 0-for-3 with a walk. He has drawn only three walks to go with his nine strikeouts, a ratio that must improve for him to develop into an offensive asset.
Tonight, Brown and the Phillies travel to the hitter-friendly confines of Great American Ball Park, where they will lock horns with the Reds, whose starter, Bronson Arroyo, has been kind to Brown in their first handful of encounters. Brown has collected three hits in his first six career at-bats against Arroyo, each of which has gone for extra bases (two doubles, one homer).
Perhaps even more encouraging than the small-sample .500 batting average is the fact that Brown amassed it by solving each of Arroyo’s three primary offerings. His double on May 23, 2011, came on a changeup. His home run, delivered on the first pitch of his second at-bat on August 22, 2012, came on a fastball. And his second two-bagger, in his third trip to the box that day, came on a curveball.
Brown was just about the only Phillie that proved capable of doing anything against Arroyo in that Wednesday night game last summer, as the 36-year-old right-hander permitted only three hits in eight innings of two-run work. Brown finished the evening with six total bases, while his teammates combined for only two, in the eventual 3-2 Reds victory.
With little firsthand success to lean on, Arroyo will either need to devise a new approach to test on Brown or establish and pitch off of the hard stuff, as he did in Brown’s first at-bat last August 22, when a fastball-fastball-fastball sequence induced a popup. If Arroyo does opt to attack Brown with his four-seamer, he’d be wise to keep it away from the inner edge.
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