Braves Must Stop the Second Half Skid
By Fred Owens
As much as I hate to carry bad news, since the All Star break Braves pitching has been mediocre. Our 11-11 record allowed the Phillies – who have now won nine in a row – to vanish over the horizon and the DBacks and Giants to creep within 3.5 games in the Wildcard. We are now 10th in ERA (ahead of Mets,Cubs, Nats, Astros, Rockies and Pirates) and 9th in WHIP (same group +St. Louis). Making this even worse is the fact that with the exception of the Pirates at the time we played them, we’ve been playing teams out of the post season race and whom we should have easily beaten – Pirates included. The pitching that put us in second place in the first half has returned rather sharply to earth and must take a portion of the blame for this.
Derek Lowe’s woes have been recounted so many times I don’t even want to look at the numbers again. Prior to Saturday’s game Jair Jurrjens went on the 15 day DL with a strained knee he’s had for a while but been trying to pitch through. Mike Minor was called up and will start today. I guess the knee explains JJ’s up an down performance (0-1 6.26 ERA, 1.522 WHIP). What it doesn’t explain is why he was allowed to do that. A pitcher’s legs are essential to his success. A strained knee – the one he had operated on last year – is not going to get better when it’s put under game stress every 5 days. An every day player can work around a weak knee, a pitcher cannot. To make things worse Tommy Hanson has a new nickname. Home Run Hanson. Good for a hitter, not so good for a top of the line starter.
Entering the game Saturday, Hanson’s second half included a 1-2 record, 6.56 ERA, a 1.586 Whip and 4 home runs allowed. Last night he went 3 1/3 innings, allowed 7 runs on 8 hits and 4 homers. Yep that’s right, he doubled his home runs allowed total in under 4 innings. His numbers as he went to the shower are 1-3, 8.10 ERA and a WHIP of 1.762. Not pretty and it wasn’t fun to watch.
The lineup did break out in the third against Jon Niese scoring 5 and with plenty of men on base. Instead of an early shower that opened a shaky Mets bullpen, the left ducks on the pond and Neise escaped that threat and one in the fourth to settle down to take control of the game.
The good news from the night was that recent additions Michael Bourn – 3-4 with a walk and a run scored – and Jose “Georgie” Constanza – 1-4 with an RBI – continued to play well. Bourn fits the leadoff spot perfectly and Constanza has done everything asked of him including stealing extra base hits from Jose Reyes twice on Friday night.
Chipper Jones returned and went 1-4 with an RBI though I thought he looked less than comfortable after grounding out early to drive in that run. He’s not in the lineup tomorrow to let the sore quad recover. Alex Gonzalez even drove in a run with a ground out in the 5 run third. Jason Heyward had the night off but struck out pinch hitting for Chipper in the ninth. His swing prompted Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez to comment that he thought Heyward was pushing the bat not swinging freely because the shoulder was still sore. It could of course be the “bad habit” they’ve been trying to get him to break. In any case he still looked lost at the plate.
The remarkable hitting streaks of Dan Uggla (27) and Freddie Freeman (20) continued – Uggla amazingly had two infield hits – to carry the Braves since the break. Without them even the wildcard would be a fantasy.
The Braves trouble isn’t power, we’re still third in the league in homers (122) and lead the league in pinch hit homers (8). Our problem remains hitting with RISP. How bad is it? Compared to the rest of the NL the Braves are:
- Last in making productive outs
- Fourth is grounding into double plays
- Last in scoring from third with less than two out
- Last in advancing a runner from second with no one out
- 10th in hits with RISP
- 14th in BABip
If we did those things at even the league average, we would be nipping at the Phillies tail instead of trying to stay far enough ahead so the Diamondbacks can’t strike. We’re not in a position to give away any more games to teams we should beat.
Monday we head to Florida and that’s followed by a visit from the suddenly streaking Cubs. On the 15th we begin a big series with the Giants followed by an equally big series with the Snakes. Losses in those could make the post season a memory. Even after they depart the schedule remains a challenge.
Somehow we have to shrug off this season long funk with RISP. Key players have to produce. The bench has to be strengthened and ineffective middle relief replaced or not used in critical situations. Derek Lowe should be in the bullpen and Minor or Julio Teheran added to the rotation. We can’t give anymore away if we want to play in October. I’ll include the standing and projected wins at current w/l ratio chart. It gives things a little perspective.