Phoenix – We’ve taken this roadie from the cool, crisp days and foggy nights in San Francisco to the 100-degree heat of Arizona, and the Braves can only hope their bats also experience a drastic warming trend.
How ugly was their offense in San Francisco? Very. The Braves hit .165 and scored five runs while being swept by the Giants at AT&T Park. Oh, it was bad.
This after they had hit .308 and scored 35 runs during a 5-1 finish to their homestand, including a sweep of the Blue Jays (which looks less impressive by the day, as Toronto continues to skid).
Chipper Jones, playing on a sprained right big toe, rarely looked as bad as he did during the San Francisco series, going 1-for-9 with six strikeouts, including his first four-strikeout Golden Sombrero last night, when he was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against Randy Johnson (he hit six homers in 33 at-bats against Big Unit before last night). It took him 2,060 games to get one; Jordan Schafer already has two.
Chipper conceded afterward that he can’t push off with his right foot when batting right-handed, so I’d be surprised to see him in there Saturday against lefty Doug Davis, who’s scheduled to start the third game of the Arizona series.
Whether manager Bobby Cox saw enough last night to decide Jones shouldn’t play at all tonight remains to be seen. The Braves are set to face righties in the other games of the four-game series, including Dan Haren tonight and Jon Garland tomorrow. Chipper’s 2-for-4 with a homer off Haren, and hasn’t faced Garland.
Does everyone realize how much the Braves have missed utility man Omar Infante and shortstop Yunel Escobar? They hope to get Escobar back during the D’backs series, perhaps as soon as tonight.
But yesterday, Cox didn’t seen too confident that Escobar would be back before the weekend, and even hinted that the Braves could only carry him a few more days before they’d have to consider the DL.
How much did they miss him in San Francisco? Consider: the Braves went a heinous 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position against the Giants. Escobar ranks fourth in the NL with a .439 average (18-for-41) with runners in scoring position, and fifth with a .458 average (11-for-24) with RISP and two outs.
Schafer, poor dude, is 4-for-42 (.095) with runners in scoring position, fifth-lowest among NL qualifers.
How much have the Braves missed Infante? As much as they feared they would after he broke his hand and player after player described it as a “huge blow” to the team. He probably won’t be back before the All-Star break.
Not only is Infante versatile and a professional hitter, he also had one of the highest on-base percentages in the NL as a leadoff man, and has the Braves’ highest (and NL’s 10th-highest) average against lefties at .385 (15-for-39).
The Braves lost against two lefty starters in San Francisco, without Infante or Jones in the lineup for the opening games against Jonathan Sanchez and with a hobbled Jones and no Infante in the lineup last night against Johnson.
Jones said Johnson caught him and the Braves at a good time, and didn’t seem too concerned by losing three games at San Francisco, given the circumstances.
”We’re predominately left-handed,” he said. “They had the pitching matchups on us this series. They saw the bottom of our rotation, and we saw the top of theirs. It’s gonna happen sometimes.”
♣ Matt Diaz said while the Braves hate to put pressure on Derek Lowe, he was glad that Lowe was the starter for tonight’s series opener against Arizona. Because the Braves need a stopper, need their veteran, big-money pitcher to beat Dan Haren tonight and snap the three-game skid before it goes any longer.
”That’s one of the reasons we got him, for situations like this,” Diaz said.
Lowe is 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his past six starts against Arizona, including 3-1 in five last season with the Dodgers. He was 0-3 in seven starts at Phoenix before pitching six scoreless innings to win in his last start in the desert.
He’ll face Haren, who’s 0-1 with a 4.95 ERA in his past three starts, and got no decision Saturday when he allowed five runs and four homers in seven innings of a D’backs win at Oakland.
Against the Braves, Haren is 2-1 in three starts despite a 6.88 ERA. He lost his only start against them in 2008, allowing 10 hits and six runs in 5-1/3 innings.
Tomorrow, it’ll be Jair Jurrjens, the Braves’ potential All-Star (if he can just get some run support to notch a few more wins before All-Star pitchers are selected), going against Garland.
Jurrjens is 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA in five May starts. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in eight starts in a row, producing a 1.98 ERA in that span. He’s 2-1 with a 1.30 ERA in five road starts, second-best road ERA among major league starters.
Meanwhile, Garland is 1-2 with a 6.32 ERA in his past three starts, with 24 hits (four homers) allowed in 15-2/3 innings, and more walks (six) than strikeouts (four).
The Braves won’t have pitching matchups as an excuse if they don’t win the first two games in this series.
They’ve also got a favorable matchup Saturday of Javier Vazquez (4-4, 3.80) against lefty Doug Davis (2-6, 3.77). Well, except for the lefty thing, unless Jones gets better in a hurry.
Then on Sunday, the interesting one — Kris Medlen (0-2, 9.72) against D’backs righty Max Scherzer (2-3, 3.38). If the Braves don’t replace Medlen for that start, it’ll be interesting to see if, in his third start, he can get through a game without having another of the alarming single innings that have undermined each of his first two starts. And if he walks or hits Scherzer with a pitch, well, then the Braves (or, rather, Medlen) might have issues to discuss.
♣ One other thing before we wrap this up and head to the ballpark: The Braves have now lost five in a row to the Giants going back to last season, when they lost to Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito in their last two games against the Giants. Those two games were in Atlanta in August.
Bravos hit .169 with a 5.36 ERA while being outscored 26-6 in that five-game stretch against the Giants.
Now, they turn attentions to a Diamondbacks team that has won six of its last eight road games, but lost seven of its past nine at the ginormous airplane hangar of a stadium known as Bank One.
♣ We’ll close with a gem by one of the great songwriters, Jimmy Webb. Johnny Rivers first sang this tune, but I love the versions by Glen Campbell, Isaac Hayes, and Nice Cave & The Bad Seeds (yes, this one definitely transcended genres). Oh, and I just saw that Lucinda Williams is playing in nearby Mesa, Ariz., on Saturday night. Gonna have to check into ticket availability. Hard to pass up a chance to see Lu.
“BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX” by Jimmy Webb
By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising
She’ll find the note I left hangin’ on her door
She’ll laugh when she reads the part that says I’m leavin’
‘Cause I’ve left that girl so many times before
By the time I make Albuquerque she’ll be working
She’ll prob’ly stop at lunch and give me a call
But she’ll just hear that phone keep on ringin’
Off the wall that’s all
By the time I make Oklahoma she’ll be sleepin’
She’ll turn softly and call my name out loud
And she’ll cry just to think I’d really leave her
Tho’ time and time I try to tell her so
She just didn’t know I would really go.