July 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
Here are the earned run averages for Braves starting pitchers in July:
Tommy Hanson: 4.62
Jair Jurrjens: 3.81
Derek Lowe: 5.60
Tim Hudson: 2.96
Brandon Beachy: 6.32
All of those, aside from Hudson, are higher than their season totals. The starting pitchers are struggling a bit, which is to be expected out of every rotation at times. Thankfully, the offense has picked up the slack, scoring the third most amount of runs in the NL this month. Most of the improvement has come in the power department, where the Braves have the highest July slugging percentage in the league at .437.
Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, and Freddie Freeman having great power months are a large reason why the offense has come to life as of late. Freeman and Uggla both have six home runs and slugging percentages over .630 in July, and Heyward has four homers with a .350 wOBA. The on base skills are still down, but the team is hitting homers with regularity and are now tied for the league lead in home runs for the season with 112.
With the regressions that were expected and have started to occur from Jurrjens and Hanson, the offense picking up the slack was necessary. While searching for an upgrade of centerfield is still a respectable option, the offense may be able to hold its own without an improvement in center. Still, a right-handed bench player who can play centerfield is likely the ideal trade candidate at this time, along with a right-handed reliever.
Many have been upset with Heyward’s performance and some egregiously called for the Braves to consider sending him down or platooning him. Heyward’s wRC+ is now up to 107, which is far from the level of performance that was expected but still much better than that of any potential full-time replacement. His home runs over the past two days are hopefully signs that he is ready to rake, which would coincide with Uggla’s rebound and Freeman’s hot streak.
Martin Prado has also provided some unexpected pop, hitting 11.5% of his fly balls out of the park in comparison to the 7.9% he has for his career. That number will likely slide back down toward career norms, but the 10 home runs in 317 plate appearances have been impressive and would put him on pace for more than 20 if he were to net the 651 plate appearances he had last season — he won’t reach that total due to missed time.
Overall, the offense seems to be coming together at the perfect time. Ideally, the starting pitching is able to give a bit more than they have in July and the offense can continue to roll, so that the back-end of the bullpen can receive a bit more rest. Before the season, many thought the Braves offense would produce like one of the best in the league and they are finally starting to do so.