Scottsdale, Ariz. — I was sitting here digesting my huevos con masa (late breakfast; a great dish served with chorizo quesa served atop jalapeno cornbread) and wondering how to start today’s blog. And right at that moment, the Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” came up on my Ipod shuffle.
Appropriate for the Braves’ season, don’t you think? (Well, at least the rollercoaster part; not much love around here for the Bravos lately.) Certainly it was more appropriate than, say, the previous song that played, Yo La Tengo’s “Watch Out for Me Ronnie.”
But wait, now the Ohio Players’ tune is overand Uncle Tupelo’s “Outdone” is on, with the first line, Everything’s fine for now, no one’s really laughing. Everything’s just all right, or is it now….
Hey, I’m not making this up, folks. No writer’s embellishment required.
We need to crank out this blog and get to the ballpark, and I’m telling, it’s not too easy in this surroundings. I probably need to shut the blinds, because I have a view of the pool outside my window, and it’s close to 100 degrees here in Scottsdale, and, well, you can imagine….
Anyway, duty calls.
The Braves need a win in the worst way, folks. Season-long four-game road skid, and a loss tonight would match their longest losing streak of the season regardless of venue.
Fortunately for them, they have Jair Jurrjens pitching tonight. Unfortunately for J.J., the Braves, who haven’t scored runs for him in most of his brilliant starts this season, are REALLY struggling to score runs now.
How bad is it? The Braves have hit .177 and scored a total of seven runs and no homers while dropping the first four games of this seven-game trip. They are 5-for-30 (.167) with runners in scoring position on this trip.
This after they had hit .281 with 13 homers — not a lot, but at least some power — during a 12-5 run before this skid. They averaged more than five runs per game in that 17-game stretch, and posted a 3.93 ERA.
The offense has dried up and the ERA is 5.63 during the four-game losing jag.
Don’t’ know whether the bats will awaken tonight against Arizona’s imminently hittable Jon Garland, he of the 4.70 ERA and .290 opponents’ average and .353 opponents’ OBP.
But it’s a good bet that Jurrjens will pitch well. The kid is just 4-2 despite a 2.07 ERA, and Jurrjens has allowed more than two runs only once in 10 starts this season (when your worst start is five hits and three earned runs allowed in 5-1/3 innings, you’re doing serious work; that was Jurrjens’ worst, and it was his second start of the season).
”Wins are so non-indicative of how people pitch sometimes,” said Braves pitcher Derek Lowe (6-3), one of 30 major league pitchers, including 17 National Leaguers, who had more wins than Jurrjens before today. Yes, 30.
I’d say that no more than perhaps a handful of them have pitched as well or better than Jurrjens, who has the fourth-best ERA (2.07) among major league starters, and the second-best road ERA (1.30).
”I can’t say enough about him,” manager Bobby Cox said Jurrjens, who hasn’t allowed more than two runs in eight consecutive starts.
He has a 1.98 ERA in that time, but only a 2-2 record to show for it.
”He’s pitched way better than me,” Lowe said of Jurrjens, whose ERA is nearly 50 percent lower than Lowe’s 3.49, but whose run support is barely half that of Lowe and fellow Braves starter Javier Vazquez.
Vazquez (4-4, 3.80 ERA) leads the NL with 7.3 support runs per nine innings pitched, and Lowe is sixth at 6.3 runs.
Jurrjens has received 3.8 support runs per nine innings, which includes four games in which the Braves scored four or more runs while he was in the game. He won all four of those.
They’ve scored one or no runs while he was in four games, including three quality starts in which he got one no-decision and two losses.
”He never says a word” of complaint about the lack of run support, manager Bobby Cox said. “Yeah, everybody wants to win 20 and hit .300. He wants to win badly. But he’s a team guy all the way.”
Jurrjens’ .228 opponents’ average includes .122 with runners in scoring position, fifth-lowest in the majors. Zack Greinke (.135) ranks sixth.
Jurrjens’ .333 slugging percentage is sixth-best in the NL, just ahead of Adam Wainright (.339) and Dan Haren (.341).
When I mentioned the possibility that Jurrjens might not make the All-Star team unless he gets some more wins in his next few starts, Cox looked like he’d just heard awful news.
”Oh, he’s got to be on it,” Cox said. “If you look at the hits, innings, strikeouts-to-walks, ERA … damn, he’s got to be on it.”
Lowe said, “Just because you don’t have a lot of wins, doesn’t mean you’re not an All-Star or that you’re not having a great year. If he was 8-1 [with his other current stats being the same] we’d be talking about whether he should he be starting the All-Star Game over [Johan] Santana.
”You look around the league, there are guys with five or six wins whose ERAs are close to 6.00. So much has to go right the day you pitch, and even then, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll win.”
So, should Jurrjens be an All-Star?
”To me, it’s a no-brainer,” Lowe said. “Hopefully when it comes down to it, people will look past the [wins] and look at what he’s done. And they will, if in another month he’s still pitching like he has. You can’t ignore it.”
♦ Etc: Braves catchers, even though Brian McCann had a stint on the 15-day DL, still lead NL catchers in on-base percentage (.393) and slugging percentage (.506), and rank second in average (.296), home runs (eight) and RBI (29)….
• Braves outfielders, on the other hand, are last in the majors in homers (seven) and slugging (.339), after finishing last in the majors in both those categories in 2008. Only Padres and Diamondbacks have a lower average and OBP than Braves outfielders, who are hitting .243 with a .309 OBP…..
• Three of the Braves’ four outfield regulars have on-base plus slugging percentages of .617 or lower: Jordan Schafer (.612), Jeff Francoeur (.615) and Garret Andereson (.617). Among the Braves with considerably higher OBPs are streaky 2B Kelly Johnson (.754) and utility man Martin Prado (.759).
Compared with the other outfielders’ current stats, left fielder Matt Diaz is hitting a solid .288 with a relatively Ruth-ian .839 OPS….
• After his impressive first five games of the season, Schafer has hit .175 (24-for-137) with six extra-base hits (all doubles), five RBI and a .292 OBP and .291 slugging percentage in his past 42 games, with 23 walks and 55 strikeouts….
• Francoeur hit his last homer on May 1 vs. Houston. Since then, he’s hit .211 (20-for-95) with three doubles and five RBI in 25 games, with one walk, 19 strikeouts and a .228 OBP and .242 slugging percentage.
♦ First-pitch Frenchy: No major leaguer has swung at a higher percentage of first pitches than Francoeur (47.4 percent), who’s consistently ranked among the league leaders since arriving in the majors. He’s swung at 92 of 194 first pitches this season.
And that seems even less surprising when you consider this Astonishing Stat of the Day: Francoeur has hit .421 (16-for-38) when he’s put the first pitch in play, compared to .053 (1-for-19) when he’s put 0-1 pitches into play and .083 (1-for-12) when he’s put 1-0 pitches in play.
After getting behind in the count 0-1, Francoeur has hit .189 (17-for-90) in all at-bats, regardless of what happened after that first pitch. And after taking a first-pitch ball, he’s hit .222 (12-for-54) in all at-bats.
♣ OK, got to drive downtown to the ballpark. Braves just announced, by the way, that the makeup game with the D’Backs from the earlier rainout at Turner Field will be made up, as expected, on Aug. 17 at 4:05 p.m. That was a mutual off-day for both teams. Now let’s close this with something deep and rich. As Chipper said of his first four-strikeout game Wednesday, “savor the flavor.” Savor the flavor of this gem:
“THIN BLUE FLAME” by Josh Ritter
I became a thin blue flame
Polished on a mountain range
And over hills and fields I flew
Wrapped up in a royal blue
I flew over Royal City last night
A bullfighter on the horns of a new moon’s light Caesar’s ghost
I saw the war-time tides
The prince of Denmark’s father still and quiet
And the whole world was looking to get drowned
Trees were a fist shaking themselves at the clouds
I looked over curtains and it was then that I knew
Only a full house gonna make it through
I became a thin blue wire
That held the world above the fire
And so it was I saw behind
Heaven’s just a thin blue line
If God’s up there he’s in a cold dark room
The heavenly host are just the cold dark moons
He bent down and made the world in seven days
And ever since he’s been a’walking away
Mixing with nitrogen in lonely holes
Where neither seraphim or raindrops go
I see an old man wandering the halls alone
Only a full house gonna make a home
I became a thin blue stream
The smoke between asleep and dreams
And in that clear blue undertow
I saw Royal City far below
Borders soft with refugees
Streets a’swimming with amputees
It’s a Bible or a bullet they put over your heart
It’s getting harder and harder to tell them apart
Days are nights and the nights are long
Beating hearts blossom into walking bombs
And those still looking in the clear blue sky for a sign
Get missiles from so high they might as well be divine
Now the wolves are howling at our door
Singing bout vengeance like it’s the joy of the Lord
Bringing justice to the enemies not the other way round
They’re guilty when killed and they’re killed where they’re found
If what’s loosed on earth will be loosed up on high
It’s a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die
Where even Laurel begs Hardy for vengeance please
The fat man is crying on his hands and his knees
Back in the peacetime he caught roses on the stage
Now he twists indecision takes bourbon for rage
Lead pellets peppering aluminum
Halcyon, laudanum and Opium
Sings kiss thee hardy this poisoned cup
His winding sheet is busy winding up
In darkness he looks for the light that has died
But you need faith for the same reasons that it’s so hard to find
And this whole thing is headed for a terrible wreck
And like good tragedy that’s what we expect
At night I make plans for a city laid down
Like the hips of a girl on the spring covered ground
Spirals and capitals like the twist of a script
Streets named for heroes that could almost exist
The fruit trees of Eden and the gardens that seem
To float like the smoke from a lithium dream
Cedar trees growing in the cool of the squares
The young women walking in the portals of prayer
And the future glass buildings and the past an address
And the weddings in pollen and the wine bottomless
And all wrongs forgotten and all vengeance made right
The suffering verbs put to sleep in the night
The future descending like a bright chandelier
And the world just beginning and the guests in good cheer
In Royal City I fell into a trance
Oh it’s hell to believe there ain’t a hell of a chance
I woke beneath a clear blue sky
The sun a shout the breeze a sigh
My old hometown and the streets I knew
Were wrapped up in a royal blue
I heard my friends laughing out across the fields
The girls in the gloaming and the birds on the wheel
The raw smell of horses and the warm smell of hay
Cicadas electric in the heat of the day
A run of Three Sisters and the flush of the land
And the lake was a diamond in the valley’s hand
The straight of the highway and the scattered out hearts
They were coming together they pulling apart
And angels everywhere were in my midst
In the ones that I loved in the ones that I kissed
I wondered what it was I’d been looking for up above
Heaven is so big there ain’t no need to look up
So I stopped looking for royal cities in the air
Only a full house gonna have a prayer