Cincinnati – Not sure which was more brutal – my run this morning, on little sleep, a couple of pretzels and in the heat, or the way the Braves are playing.
Braves are stumbling through this road trip 1-3. Nothing much to feel good about since Tommy Hanson got a shaving cream pie in the face on Friday night. How long ago does that feel now?
The Braves haven’t led in a game since Eric O’Flaherty and Peter Moylan gave up the six-run inning on Saturday night in Baltimore. They went 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position last night against the Reds, and frankly it didn’t seem that good. Maybe that’s because two of those hits were infield hits by Casey Kotchman and Jeff Francoeur.
The Braves are fourth in the NL East behind Florida now, 6 ½ games behind the Phillies. And it seems now everybody, fans, maybe players, everybody is waiting for the other shoe to drop.
A trade of Francoeur or Kelly Johnson might be on the horizon. But that could take some time. And the Braves would have to sweeten it with some nice-looking prospects to go along with the struggling hitters.
For those of you (maybe all of you) looking for a shakeup, I’d say there’s a good chance you’ll get one of some kind, before long. If it’s like the last road trip – 2-5 through San Francisco and Arizona, when the Braves got home, they had Jordan Schafer sent to the minors, Tom Glavine released, Hanson called up and Nate McLouth traded for within two days of their return.
Say this for GM Frank Wren, his offseason was tumultuous, he might not have done enough to bolster this offense, but he doesn’t sit around and wait for things to happen. I doubt he will now.
That’s not to say a trade is imminent. I think the Braves were doing well to work out the McLouth deal this early. Now we’re at the point where teams have to figure out whether they’re contending and which trade pieces might bubble up.
Meanwhile, though, I took a look at McLouth’s numbers since he was traded here, because he’s seemed kind of quiet lately – like the rest of this lineup, really. He’s hitting .239 (11-for-46) in 11 games with the Braves. He’s had two doubles, a homer, two RBIs and he’s scored seven runs.
He was hitting .256 in Pittsburgh with nine home runs, 34 RBIs, seven doubles, a triple, and scored 27 runs in 45 games.
McLouth’s career batting average is .260, so it’s not like you’re looking for him to be hitting .290 or anything, but his on-base percentage in Pittsburgh was .349. It’s been .300 so far for Atlanta. His slugging percentage was .470 for Pittsburgh. It’s been .348 for the Braves.
I’m sure some of this is just part of going through a transition from playing for the only team he’s ever played for to a new one. To me, his swing looked a little long last night. Or maybe since he’s gotten over here, he caught whatever is ailing the whole Braves lineup right now.
He did make a heck of a catch against the wall in the first inning last night. Kudos for that.
VAZQUEZ ON THE MOUND:
Tonight’s game feels big to me, relatively speaking of course. If the Braves are going to regain some momentum of any kind on this trip, this is the one they need to win. It assures them of staying alive in this series, and gives them something to build on with this daunting interleague stretch looming just a couple of days from now. Red Sox – Yankees – Red Sox.
Tonight the Braves run Javier Vazquez back out there, and that’s been a good thing. He’s leading the league in strikeouts with 105, he’s second in the NL in WHIP (1.03). He struck out 12 his last time out against Pittsburgh and allowed only a run in eight inning but took a no-decision.
And he’s been surprisingly good at Great American Ball Park considering he’s a flyball pitcher. He’s 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts at GAP, allowing only two earned runs in 14 innings and no home runs.
Offensively, the Braves need to remember where they are.
Entering this series, the Braves had seven players hitting .300 or better at Great American Ball Park. Brian McCann (.385), Martin Prado (.375), Matt Diaz (.357), Chipper Jones (.344), Casey Kotchman (.333), Garret Anderson (.333) and Kelly Johnson (.328).
Thanks in part to the Braves’ struggle to hit for power, last night’s game featured zero home runs. That’s happened only 38 times in the 516-game history of Great American Ball Park. Back-to-back homerless games? It’s happened only once – August 6-7, 2005 vs. the Marlins.
RED SOX PITCHING MATCH-UPS:
For this weekend at Fenway….Get ready for a full press box Friday night, DOB. Interesting for D Lowe to get to pitch against his former mates, and Sunday we’ll see if JJ can catch a break. 5-5 with a 2.89 ERA is just ridiculous.
Friday: RH Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-4, 7.55 ERA) vs. Braves RH Kenshin Kawakami (3-6, 4.54)
Saturday: Red Sox RH Josh Beckett (7-3, 4.15) vs. Braves RH Derek Lowe (7-4, 4.08)
Sunday: Red Sox RH Tim Wakefield (9-3, 4.39) vs. Braves RH Jair Jurrjens (5-5, 2.89)
And with the news yesterday that John Smoltz will start Thursday June 25 against the Nats and not face the Braves either this weekend or next, it dawned on me (I know, I know, right on top of things with this observation) that that means we’ve likely seen Smoltz in his last game at Turner Field.
There was a very real chance of that, of course, when he signed with Boston. But I guess I figured it would work out where he’d still pitch against Atlanta in June. He had six games for it to happen, that’s right about the time he was scheduled to be back, and baseball just seems to always give you those little gift match-ups.
But this time, it sounds like Red Sox manager Terry Francona made sure it didn’t happen, realizing that facing his old team would be more than John Smoltz needed on top of trying to get back from shoulder surgery and with a new team.
Smoltz has said all along he didn’t really want it, and the Red Sox didn’t make him do it. And as weird as it might sound, and despite all the yip-yapping back and forth between Smoltz and the Braves in recent months, I think that’s a compliment.
Smoltz doesn’t want it to come down to him vs. the Braves on the field because in the grand scheme, that will always be his team.
More from the ‘yard as we go….