A couple thoughts on the Braves' current doldrums:
1. With an $85M payroll, the Braves cannot afford to waste money. With that in mind, it's telling to consider that almost half of the team's payroll is rolled up into three players:
Mike Hampton - out for the year.
Chipper Jones - out for the foreseeable future with another injury that will not heal.
Andruw Jones - currently hitting .224 (although he is leading the team in homers, he's drawn a bunch of walks that make his OBP a more respectable .329, and he's shown a bit of a renaissance in the outfield, including last night when he made several excellent plays).
2. I don't entirely agree with Mark Bradley's argument that the Braves' starting pitching is their main problem. For one thing, Bradley underestimates Chuck James (and I would have said that before last night's strong outing). James isn't great, but he seems to be a solid #3 starter. If Lance Cormier's first start last Sunday can be attributed to cobwebs, then he's a perfectly decent fourth starter. All that said, Bradley has a point that the Braves' starting pitching isn't great, but with pitching in such short supply in the majors, I'm not sure what the solution is. Coming back to the $85M payroll, it's a lot easier to find cheap hitting than it is to find cheap pitching. Compounding the problem is the fact that the Braves' system seems to produce a lot more hitters than it does pitchers. In sum, Bradley is right about the Braves' starting pitching, although he overstates the case, and the unfortunate reality is that the team's pitching shortage is going to be a hard problem to solve.
Conversely, the Braves' hitting has been suspect over the past several weeks, as the team is not hitting many home runs. Brian McCann has lost his power, possibly as the result of a nagging injury. Jeff Francoeur's OPS has dipped down under .800 after a hot start. Chipper is out of the lineup, which means that Pete Orr and Chris Woodward are getting too many at-bats. Scott Thorman is totally in the tank right now, raising the possibility that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is going to be the starting first baseman sooner rather than later.
The denouement of the team's hitting problems were painfully evident last night when they waved at Rich Hill's offerings for eight innings. The sum total of the Braves' 28 at-bats against Hill were an opposite field home run that snuck over the wall, a seeing-eye single, a blooper to right, two sharply hit outs, 11 strikeouts, and a variety of meekly hit outs. It was fun to watch a well-played pitcher's duel that took 135 minutes and got me home at 10:20, but the game confirmed a lot of my fears about the Braves' bats right now.