We can only imagine if Atlanta’s professional-sports hopes still rode entirely with the Braves, who for so many years were the city’s only real viable playoff contender in any of the major pro sports.
While the well-managed Falcons really do appear to have turned a corner — although they still haven’t had consecutive winning seasons, which I find amazing — and the finally improved Hawks have advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs, the Braves have been out of the postseason for three consecutive years and are not off to a flying start this season, to say the least.
Hey, we’re only 25 games into a 162-game season, and the division doesn’t look nearly as tough as we thought it would, but still, these Braves have got to hope an infusion of Garret Anderson tonight and Brian McCann’s expected return Friday can get their stagnant lineup going.
Because it’s getting ugly.
The Braves have gone 6-13 since their 5-1 start, and they’ve hit exactly as many homers in those past 19 games (10) as they hit in those first six. Granted, those first six included a series at Philly, which might be second only to new Yankee Stadium as a long-ball haven this season.
But this Bravos lineup is awfully punchless as currently constituted.
During their current 2-8 slide at home, the Braves have hit .231 with a total of just three homers (as many as the Mets hitt off Javier Vazquez last night) and only 3.1 runs per game. That’s bad.
If not for the improved pitching staff, which even after last night has still given up by far the fewest homers in the NL this season, the Braves would be in dire straits by now (I know, some of you think they already are in such straits).
When you consider the production they’ve gotten out of the first, fourth and fifth spots in the lineup lately, it’s pretty easy to see why the Braves have struggled so mightily to score runs.
This is a lineup that has neither big power nor any real base-stealing threat to speak of. The Braves’ combo of 24 homers and stolen bases (20 homers, four steals) is the lowest in the league. The only teams with fewer homers are the Pirates (16 homers, 13 steals), Giants (13 homers, 16 steals) and Reds (19 homers, 12 steals).
While I’m not one to put nearly as much importance on steals as some here on the blog do, I do think it’s a pretty good indication of the lack of speed the Braves have, which coupled with a lack of power is just not a good combo. Particularly for a team that’s not adept at doing the little things that win games, like advancing a runner, bunting, hit-and-run, etc.
Anyway, back to the first, fourth and fifth spots.
♦ Leading off blues: Kelly Johnson has been the primary leadoff hitter, and he’s 6-for-47 (.128) with one extra-base hit, two RBI and a .241 OBP in his past 14 games, with no steals and three double plays grounded into in that span.
Omar Infante has fared quite well when filling in for KJ in the leadoff/2B position, but the Braves like him too much as a “super utility” player to put him at 2B on any sort of regular basis.
Seems to me that Martin Prado could play there more, but I think the Braves really want Johnson to hit his way out of a slump, since he’s a notoriously streaky hitter and almost always follows his skids with big surges that spark the team.
The problem, of course, is that a player who has such highs and lows is particularly conspicuous when struggling in the leadoff position.
♦ Cleaning up: Or not, as it were. Since McCann’s been on the DL, No. 3 hitter Chipper Jones has gotten precious few pitches to hit, because pitchers would much rather take their chances on Casey Kotchman or whoever’s hitting cleanup for the Braves.
The Braves have just three homers and 12 RBI from the cleanup spot, and two of those homers and seven RBI came from McCann, even though he hit only .200 in 40 at-bats before going on the DL for his vision problems.
From the No. 5 spot in the order, the place where the Braves planned for Anderson to play, the team has just one homer and seven RBI.
Jeff Francoeur had the homer and five of the RBI, while all other Braves have no homers and two RBI in 46 at-bats from the fifth spot. That’s terrible.
For those keeping score at home, that’s four homers and 19 RBI total from the fourth and fifth spots in the lineup. In 25 games!
That’s the fewest combined RBI from those two spots for any NL team, and only the Dodgers have as few homers from those spots as the Braves (and they have Furcal, Orlando Hudson and many in the first three spots in the order).
♦ Too left-handed? Remember all the hand-wringing this winter and spring about how the Braves’ lineup was too left-handed? Well, right now only three NL teams have a lower team batting average against right-handers than the Braves (.244).
Meanwhile, the Braves rank seventh in the NL with a .274 average against lefty pitchers, with a .349 OBP compared to their .345 OBP against righties. They have identical .401 slugging percentages against righties and lefties.
Among Braves regulars, check some of these averages against righties: Diaz (.243), Schafer (.235), Francoeur (.231), Johnson (.157).
Yes, the lefty Johnson is 8-for-51 against right-handers. Meanwhile, he’s hit .308 (8-for-26) with two homers and a .419 OBP against lefties. Go figure.
Against righties, Infante has hit a team-high .357 (10-for-28) with a .419 OBP.
♦ Those dastardly Mets: The Braves must be thankful the Mets are only in town for two games last night and tonight. Because several of the Metropolitans are just wrecking Braves pitching lately, and some for longer than that.
David Wright is ridiculous against them lately. The Mets 3B has hit .529 (18-for-34) with five doubles, seven homers and 13 RBI in his past nine games against the Braves. That’s not a typo, any of it.
He also has six walks in that span against the Braves, for a .600 OBP and 1.294 slugging percentage. Yeah, a 1.894 OPS in his past nine games vs. the Braves.
For their careers, here’s what some key Mets have done against the Braves: Beltran .314 with 17 homers, 49 RBI, .401 OBP and .605 slugging in 69 games; Delgado .304 with 19 homers, 75 RBI, .385 OBP and .566 slugging in 83 games; Wright .292 with 23 homers, 53 RBI, .371 OBP and .568 slugging in 86 games.
Beltran and Delgado both have more homers at Turner Field than at any ballpark except their past home parks, and Wright’s hit more homers against the Braves than against any other team.
Meanwhile, Chipper (.329, 40 homers, 124 RBI, .994 OPS in 191 games) is the only Brave with as high as a .380 OBP against the Mets, and he and Francoeur (.514 slugging) with as high as .460 slugging percentages against them.
OK, I’m out of time. Gotta get to the ballpark. Was going to talk about three great new CDs — Athens band Bloodkin’s Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again; the Thermals’ Now We Can See; and Art Brut’s Art Brut vs. Satan. All terrific. But we’ll get to that later. For now, here’s a link to Bloodkin’s website. Patterson Hood wrote the liner notes for the new CD, and Mike Cooley plays on the album, so you might imagine it’s got a lot of DBTs Southern-rock feel to it (if the title alone wasn’t enough to indicate that).
Let’s take it out with another Southern boy. I love Cash’s cover of this T.P. classic, so I’ll put The Man In Black’s photo here.
“SOUTHERN ACCENTS” by Tom Petty
There’s a southern accent, where I come from
The young’uns call it country
The yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talkin’
But everything is done, with a southern accent
Where I come from
Now that drunk tank in Atlanta’s
Just a motel room to me
Think I might go work Orlando
If them orange groves don’t freeze
I got my own way of workin’
But everything is run, with a southern accent
Where I come from
For just a minute there I was dreaming
For just a minute it was all so real
For just a minute she was standing there, with me
There’s a dream I keep having
Where my mama comes to me
And kneels down over by the window
And says a prayer for me
I got my own way of prayin’
But everyone’s begun
With a sou thern accent
Where I come from
I got my own way of livin’
But everything gets done
With a southern accent
Where I come from