Washington, DC – Yes, the morning came up pretty fast here in DC. And I dreamed the Braves played a game last night that lasted forever and nobody was there by the end of the game, maybe 40 people, and the Braves lost, and hey, wait….
Well, believe it or not, the sky has some blue in it here today – at least for the moment – and the Braves should take some heart in that.
Hey, I wasn’t there for the back-to-back shutouts in Pittsburgh, but things are pretty dismal if you look at this 1-6 stretch.
How dismal? Let’s break it down, shall we?
During the Braves’ 5-1 start, they hit .300, averaged 6.3 runs per game, hit 10 home runs, had a 4.17 ERA and two saves. During the 1-6 stretch, they’ve hit .228, averaged 2.9 runs per game, hit four home runs, and had a 5.25 ERA with no saves.
For the most part, the pitching – like last night with a quality start from Derek Lowe – has been good enough. The offense has not. After Matt Diaz’s two-run homer off Jordann (just kidding) Zimmermann in the fourth inning, the Braves did not get another hit. They drew three walks and never got past first base.
The hitters know this comes down to them.
“When our starters throw well, we need to get wins,” Jordan Schafer said. “Hopefully tonight we’ll get them on and get them over.”
I don’t know what it was, maybe it was being in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, where the Braves lost quite a few last year, or thinking about how this kind of streak never happened in run of 14 division titles, or if it did it’s a road trip you remembered forever– I still remember a road trip in ‘99 when the Braves went to Chicago and San Francisco and went like 2-4 and it was such doom and gloom, because they never did that.
I was wondering if this was going to be just another one of those years where the Braves have stretches like this and it becomes part of the norm. I posed that question to Diaz last night (or should I say earlier this morning) to gauge if I was the only one thinking this had a feeling like last year in some ways.
From what Diaz said, based on where the clubhouse stands, that’s a big fat no.
“We had a very energetic meeting, if you will, at the very beginning of the season before the first game,” Diaz said. “And we’re not going to let that happen. It’s not, ‘Oh, it’s just one game, we’ll tip our hats.’ We’ll yeah, we’ll tip our hats, (Zimmermann) did a good job, but we need to look in the mirrors too to see what we can do better every time out. We’re going to learn from every defeat this year. And we’re going to hopefully not have any win one out of 10 streaks, even though we’re kinda working on one right now.”
You’ve got to figure they’re not going to lose two in a row to the Nats, which is what it would take to fall to 1-9. I think we saw the best they got last night in Zimmermann and I don’t imagine he’ll be the fifth starter for too long. Anyway, Diaz said the reason the Braves feel different this year is because of their starting pitching, and that sounds at least a little more like the Braves of yore.
“We know we’re competitive every time out there with our pitching staff,” Diaz said. “The old cliché is we’ll get them tomorrow. We truly feel every night going to bed that we’ll get them tomorrow because we like our pitching matchup against whoever.”
Of course this time, it was more like “we’ll get ‘em later today.”
There’s a 50 percent chance of rain tonight, but we’re not even going to think about that.
And yes, today I do expect to have a Brian McCann update for you. He was to visit an eye specialist this morning.
And now, before I head out to go for a run and enjoy the mall, I’ll share some stuff I gathered in the clubhouse yesterday afternoon, before things turned dismal again last night. They were coming off the 11-1 win in Pittsburgh Sunday.
JORDAN SCHAFER: Jordan Schafer didn’t panic during his really rough stretch - his three-hit day Sunday in Pittsburgh snapped an 0-for-14 streak. So you shouldn’t either. Know why? Here’s what’s going on between his ears:
“I know I can hit, and I know I can compete, and I know I can play here,” Schafer said when I asked him about it Monday afternoon. “It’s just me being able to make adjustments faster than I did.”
So what was the adjustment he made heading into Sunday, when he went 3-for-5 to raise his average to .267.
“Stop swinging so damn big,” he said.
He also “swung” small, with his first bunt for a base hit, I believe, and something he said he had only one of all last year in the minors.
It’s something he’s been working on since spring training when he worked on it with special instructor Jimy Williams.
“I’m still not 100 percent confident,” Schafer said. “But it’s getting better.”
And yes, Schafer has been playing with a sore left wrist, which he’s been getting iced and wrapped every day. It’s something he said he hurt on a checked swing in the home opener on April 10. Somehow he managed to go out and have his first three-hit game in the majors the next night.
“It bothers me, but it’s going to just nag for a while,” he said.
JEFF FRANCOEUR: Coming into this Nationals series, Francoeur was tied for third in the majors with seven two-out RBIs. That sounds more like the old Jeff we know. He now has 127 two-out RBIs since the start of the 2006 season which is ninth in the major leagues over that time. Brian McCann was 10th with 126.
“I feel more relaxed,” said Francoeur, who pointed out he didn’t sweat it after a couple of fruitless at-bats on Sunday in Pittsburgh. “It’s not like I’m panicking. Last year I started thinking I’ve got to get it done. I’ve been relaxed. And when there are people on base, I’m getting myself in good counts to drive them in and get the big hit.”
Francoeur has hit safely in 10 of 12 games and had four multi-hit games in his last five coming into Washington. He’d hit safely in six out of seven games to raise his batting average from .190 to .333 coming into this series.
“Just having fun playing,” Francoeur said. “I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. Saturday I was 0-for-3 and the next day I came back and got two hits and helped the team win. That’s the difference. Last year, once I’d go 0-for-3, 0-for-4, it’d kind of just keep going.”
And unlike last year, he’s finding some holes with some bloops and even that can be a sign of good things.
“I’m swinging at good pitches and when you can swing at good pitches and put it in play you’re going to have a chance to succeed,” Francoeur said. “That’s what I’m doing right now.”
ROTATION: An FYI, because of the off day Thursday, the Braves will skip left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes and put him in the bullpen. The Braves will come back with Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami this weekend in Cincinnati.