Now it begins in earnest, the homestand that could feel a bit like a road trip against the AL East superpowers. Six games against the Yankees and Red Sox at Turner Field, beginning with tonight’s series opener against the damn Yankees.
While there’s nothing the Braves can do about the tens of thousands of Yankees and BoSox fans who’ll infiltrate Turner Field — nothing except count the money they’re spending, which sure helps the bottom line — there is one thing they can do to keep the opposing teams’ crowd noise to a minimum. And that’s win.
Yes, if the Braves just play well, jump out in front early and don’t the Yankees and Red Sox fans anything to get too pumped about, well, then it’ll feel like a homestand. So stop complaining about the opposing fans and silence them.
Yes, that’s perhaps easier said than done, particularly against the Red Sox. But it’s not as if the Yankees are some winning machine that’s coming in on a roll. Tommy Hanson and other young Braves need to forget about the uni, just view the Yankees as a team that’s 6-9 with a .240 batting average in its past 15 games, including losses the past two days at Florida.
Take them out of that bandbox in the Bronx, and they’re not nearly the same power-hitting lineup. They haven’t hit a homer in four of their seven road games this month, but they have seven multi-homer games in 12 home games this month.
By the way, the Braves are 9-10 against the Yankees in the all-time interleague series. They last played them in Atlanta in 2000, and the teams split six games at Yankee Stadium since then, in series during the 2001 and 2006 seasons.
Chipper Jones has always enjoyed hitting against the Yankees, and has a .355 career average with five homers, 17 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 19 regular-season games against them.
Longtime former American Leaguer Garret Anderson has a .322 average and 15 homers in 119 games (487 at-bats) against the Yankees.
♣ Tradition-rich foes: If the Braves hadn’t blown that game Sunday at Boston, they would’ve had a rare opportunity to pull off an unusual feat — beat the Red Sox, Cubs and Yankees in a three-day span. But they did blow that game Sunday, and were shut out Saturday by Josh Beckett.
So they would have to settle for beating all three of those tradition-rich franchises in a five-day span (they won Friday’s series opener at Boston).
After beating the Red Sox and since-DL’d starter Daisuke “Dice-K” Matsuzaka on Friday, and winning last night’s makeup against the Cubs behind another well-pitched game by Javier Vazquez, the Braves and Hanson face a pitcher tonight who’s been even worse this season than Dice-K.
If only Chin-Ming Wang were a notorious headhunting pitcher, then he could be “Chin-Music” Wang. How cool would that be? Alas, he’s just a bad pitcher. At least, he has been bad for the past year or so. Really, really bad.
Wang is 0-5 with a 12.30 ERA in nine games (six starts) this season, with a .410 average and six homers allowed in 26-1/3 innings. Seriously, that’s bad, and get this: As a starter, he’s 0-5 with a 16.69 ERA.
It’s a little hard to believe a team with the Yankees’ payroll would have a starter with those numbers toeing the slab in mid-June, but they do.
Wang hadn’t made it through the fifth inning in any start this season until his last one on Wednesday against Washington, when he gave up three runs and six hits in five innings, far and away his best start of the season.
Going back to late May 2008, Chin Music is 2-5 with an 8.73 ERA in his past 14 games (11 starts), with a .357 opponents’ average and not many fewer walks (27) than strikeouts (36) in 54-2/3 innings.
This could also bode well for the Braves: His .410 opponents’ average this season includes a .457 mark (32-for-70) by lefty hitters, who have a .519 OBP and .771 slugging percentage against him, including 13 extra-base hits. With runners in scoring position, he’s allowed a .455 average (20-for-44). On the other hand, Wang pitched well in his only start against the Braves in 2006 — eight innings, two runs and seven hits with one walk. He didn’t get a decision in the Yankees win.
♣ Coming around: While Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson continue to struggle, leadoff man Nate McLouth and the previously moribund Anderson have come around lately, with Anderson finally giving the Braves some decent production from a bottom half of the order that’s been terrible this season.
• McLouth is 8-for-21 with two homers and eight RBI in his past five games, and Anderson is 8-for-14 with two doubles and five RBI in his past four games.
• Going back to the end of May, Anderson has hit .328 (20-for-61) with three homers and 12 RBI in his past 18 games, with a .364 OBP and .508 slugging percentage. That’s the kind of production the Braves expected from the veteran.
Now if he could find a similar spark in his, well, sometimes lackluster defense.
♣ Speaking of 2B… Johnson has hit .145 (9-for-62) with two RBIs and a .444 OPS (.194 slugging) in his past 18 games, sinking his season average to .225 with a .297 OBP and .378 slugging percentage.
While the Braves are disappointed that Jeff Francoeur hasn’t snapped back from his poor 2008 season, it could be argued that Johnson has been even more disappointing, because he finished 2008 with a sizzling September, hit .287 with a .349 OPB, and seemed poised to take his game to another level in his third full season at 2B, or at least back to his .2007 level (.375 OBP, .831 OPS).
With 69 games down and 93 to go, he’s got time to go on a couple of the extended tears that he’s known for. But he’d better not wait much longer, because Bobby Cox’s famed patience has begun to wear thin. Johnson’s playing time could be further diminished after Omar Infante returns at some point after the All-Star break, giving them a steady backup infielder to go with Martin Prado.
• Speaking of … Prado has hit .368 (14-for-38) with three doubles, a homer and a .941 OPS in his past 13 games, despite playing recently on a strained groin that has to be wrapped tightly for every game.
♣ Diversions: Rented a movie last night that most of you will love, I’m sure. It’s called What Doesn’t Kill You, starring the always-great Mark Ruffalo, a surprisingly strong Ethan Hawke, and the gorgeous Amanda Peet. Based on a true story of two best friends, Irish tough guys who grow up poor in South Boston, doing petty crimes that turn more serious and end up landing both in prison. First film directed by actor Brian Goodman, a Southie (South Boston native) who did prison time himself. If the premise doesn’t sound original, the movie is. Gritty story, great acting, and I can’t believe it didn’t get wider release and box-office success. Something to do with the production company, from what I read when I first heard about the movie.
OK, let’s wrap it up. Whenever I’m asked about the music that hitters choose to have played when they come to the plate, I tell people I can’t believe no one uses the first chords of this great Cash tune.
“FOLSON PRISON BLUES” by Johnny Cash
I hear the train a comin’
It’s rolling round the bend
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when,
I’m stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin’ on
But that train keeps a rollin’ on down to San Antone
When I was just a baby my mama told me, Son,
Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry
I bet there’s rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a movin’
And that’s what tortures me
Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that’s where I want to stay
And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away