The Tigers and Braves have already been in the news together this week, with the Wilfredo Ledezma-Macay McBride trade. How convenient that both teams will be able to save some money on airfare and shipping costs, as Ledezma and McBride can just switch clubhouses.
The Braves have been in something of a slump lately, losing 11 of their 19 games in June. Yet because the Mets have been playing even worse, Atlanta is only 1 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East. Their bullpen has been outstanding, so if Ledezma can help improve their starting rotation, and a couple of their bats can get going, their chances look pretty good.
To learn a little bit more about the newest Tiger, as well as Detroit's interleague opponent for the weekend, I sent some questions over to Martin at Talking Chop.
UPDATE: And you can read my answers to Martin's questions about the Tigers over there. (Once again, I got a bit long-winded. I must like the sound of myself typing.)
(1) What can you tell Tigers fans about Macay McBride? On your blog, you wrote about his frustrating outing against the Red Sox on Monday night. Had the Braves just had enough with him?
I'm not really sure, as are many Braves fans, as to why the Braves traded him. He's got a lot of upside, that's for sure, and he's a team player. There was a lot of talk a year or so ago from people (like Peter Gammons) who thought that McBride has the stuff to be a closer one day. He suffers through some weird periods of complete dead arm and loss of control - like this April when he walked 11 in just 3 innings of work. I've talked with Macay several times, you can read the interviews here, here, and here.
(2) Was Andruw Jones' benching on Wednesday night just a night off to clear his head or are the Braves trying to send a message? Why do you think Jones has struggled so badly this season? Is he really that worried about his pending free agency?
Jones' struggles actually started last year. He scuffled through the second half of the year - hitting around .250 - and began a bad habit of dropping to one knee on the follow through of his swing. That became more pronounced early this year and led to him becoming completely imbalanced on all his swings. From there, he has struggled to find his balance and some semblance of a swing that works. In the meantime the rest of the league saw these weaknesses and really took advantage of them, and Jones has been slow to adjust. Add all that to the fact that it is a contract year, and everyone keeps reminding him of it, and it equals a .202 batting average. There was too much made of him sitting out a game. Bobby just gave him an extra day to rest and clear his head.
(3) After a rough 2006, Tim Hudson appeared to have turned things around this season. He pitched well last week against the Twins, but hasn't put together a consistent stretch of games. Is this a slump or do the Braves have concerns about Hudson's future performance?
Much like Andruw, the league adjusted to Hudson and he's been slow to make a counter-adjustment. Also, many of his bad outings are sort of flukes. The hits he tends to give up are quite often bleeders or seeing-eye singles which just find holes - he's a serious ground-ball pitcher. His GO/AO is 2.70 this year - the highest it's been in his career. The Braves have a lot of confidence in Hudson, but at the same time he's not untouchable and they wouldn't be afraid to move him if the right deal came along.
(4) What are the Braves' long-term plans for Jarrod Saltalamacchia? Were his recent games at first base an attempt to get his bat into the lineup or is there some thought to moving him over there eventually? Or do you think the Braves will eventually see what they can get for him in a trade?
They just signed Brian McCann to a five-year contract, so one would think he's the catcher for the long haul. Salty is an incredible hitter - a switch-hitter at that - and an above average defensive catcher. I personally want to see the Braves keep him, but he seems blocked at catcher and perhaps even blocked at first base by Scott Thorman, who the team is committed to. He's perfect trade bait, but I think the team wants maximum return, especially now that he's proven he can be a .300+ hitter with power in the majors.
(5) The NL East has become a tight race, and looks like it could stay that way for the rest of the season. What kinds of moves do the Braves need to make to keep pace with the Mets (and Phillies)? What do you think is their greatest need right now?
They need to go get another top-tier starting pitcher. This is the trade they'll use Salty or Yunel Escobar in - both batters hitting around .300. They've got to have someone in that third spot who is better than any of the current options. Beyond starting pitching, they need Andruw to step it up, and they also need Francoeur and McCann to be a little more consistent. I think as a team we have to learn how to beat tough pitching again. We absolutely crush bad pitching or pitchers having a rough outing, but we can be dominated by good pitchers or certain kinds of pitchers. For instance, Oliver Perez of the Mets has looked like Nolan Ryan while beating us three times this year. But right now, if we get another starter we could win another game every week or two, and that might keep us closer to the rest of the league, or ahead by a few games.
Martin will also be one of the credentialed at Turner Field this weekend, thanks to some connections, so check with Talking Chop throughout the weekend for some first-hand accounts and interviews. In the meantime, you can read some more from him about the Ledezma-McBride deal, which include my usually long-winded thoughts.
Atlanta fans seem pretty sore about the huge numbers of Red Sox supporters that filled their ballpark earlier in the week, so it'll be interesting to see if Tigers fans can make the same sort of showing. Between road-trippers from the north, southeastern Michigan transplants, and maybe even people making the trek up from Lakeland, I'm sure we'll see plenty of Detroit caps, t-shirts, jerseys, and signs, as well as hear more than a few "Let's Go, Tigers!" chants.