The Braves haven’t won four in a row all season, and we’ll assume they’re not going to get it done tonight when they go for a sweep of the still-division-leading Phillies. (Yes, bowing to those of you who’ve asked me to employ the renowned blog-lead reverse curse here.)
There are other reasons to believe they can’t win tonight, too, primarily the fact that Javier Vazquez is pitching and the Braves scored 11 runs last night. Given the lack of run support for Vazquez, particularly in home games, that means the Braves are due to score approximately minus-eight runs tonight.
Finally, the Braves are facing A.J. Happ, who’s 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA this season, including 3-0 with a 3.25 ERA in seven starts since moving from the bullpen. Happ pitched a five-hit shutout at Toronto in his last start.
And in his only game at Turner Field, he pitched six scoreless innings of three-hit ball to beat the Braves on Sept. 17.
That good enough for you all? Reverse-curse has been applied. So whatever happens tonight, it ain’t my fault.
♣ Now, about Vazquez: Major League Baseball announced the addition of a 33rd player to each All-Star roster, and it’ll be a pitcher. The goal is to help the managers avoid overusing any reliever if the game goes to extra innings.
But what it could possibly mean for the Braves is at least a slightly better chance that either Jair Jurrjens (6-6, 2.73 ERA) or Vazquez (5-7, 3.04 ERA, 125 strikeouts and 23 walks in 106-2/3 innings) could make the team.
Their modest won-lost records are the result of poor run support, and when All-Star manager Charlie Manuel picks that final pitcher to round out his staff, he’ll have a fresh memory of Jurrjens, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning last night against his Phillies, and Vazquez, who faces them tonight.
The extra pitched added to each All-Star roster is expected to be a starter, because he could eat a few innings if necessary to avoid overusing a reliever.
How bad has the run support been for Jurrjens and Vazquez? Glad you asked.
Last night, the Braves scored almost twice as many runs (nine) while Jurrjens was in the game as they had scored while he was in his previous five starts combined.
Jurrjens had been 0-4 with a 3.68 ERA in his past five starts before last night, and the Braves had scored a total of five runs during the 29-1/3 innings he pitched in those games, including zero runs while he was in three of those starts and one run while he was in another.
As for Vazquez, he goes into tonight’s series finale with a 1.90 ERA in his past six starts, with 47 strikeouts and eight walks in 42-2/3 innings.
He’s 1-3 in those six starts.
Yes, 1-3 with a 1.90 ERA over six starts. Astonishing.
The Braves scored no runs while he was in two of those games, one run while he was in two games, and two and three runs while he was in the other two during that period.
It gets better (or worse, actually): Vazquez has a 1.34 ERA in his past six home starts, with 48 strikeouts and eight walks in 40-1/3 innings. Yet he’s only 2-2 in those six starts, and the Braves have lost three of the past four, including games when he allowed one run (with 12 strikeouts) in eight innings and when he allowed one run in 7-2/3 innings.
Dude is 1-2 with a 1.27 ERA and four quality starts in his past four home games, including three Braves losses.
In two starts this season the Phillies, Vazquez is 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA and .184 opponents’ average, including three home runs allowed.
You think he might be a little relieved that Raul Ibanez is on the DL? Ibanez is 7-for-19 with four homers off Vazquez, including a homer in each of the two starts he’s made against the Phillies this season.
♣ Speaking of strikeouts… I talked to Vazquez this week about how that he and Tim “The Freak” Lincecum seem to be waging a battle for the NL strikeout crown this season, the lead changing hands just about every time one of them pitches.
Lincecum grabbed it back with his eight-strikeout, two-hit shutout a couple nights ago against St. Louis, and the Giants ace, who looks like he might have played guitar for the Allman Brothers when they were starting out, now has 132 strikeouts to Vazquez’s 125.
”Oh, he’ll get it,” Vazquez, dismissing the notion that he (Vazquez) could lead the NL in strikeouts.
The only other major league pitcher with more than 114 strikeouts is Detroit’s Justin Verlander (130). So why is Vazquez so quick to discount his own mention among the major league’s top strikeout pitchers?
After all, the man entered this season ranked second in the majors in strikeouts this decade with 1,763, behind Randy Johnson (2,096) and ahead of Johan Santana (1,587) and Pedro Martinez (1,583).
”I’ve always had a tough time considering myself a strikeout pitcher,” said Vazquez, who is well on his way toward a 10th consecutive season with 195 or more strikeouts.
He would challenge his career-high of 243 in 2002 with Montreal if he maintains something close to his current pace.
”It’s not because I’m being modest or anything,” he said. “I’ve just always been a control guy, always thought that control was better than being a strikeout pitcher.”
But he’s been both again this season. Vazquez not only leads NL starters in strikeouts per nine innings (10.55, ahead of Lincecum’s 10.42 average), but also ranks second among NL starters in strikeouts/walks ratio at 5.43 (behind Dan Haren at 7.53).
Something else really stands out about Vazquez compared to the other strikeout leaders. Age. He’ll be 34 on July 25.
Of the six major league pitchers with 114 or more strikeouts (Zack Greinke, Jon Lester and Yovani Gallardo all have 114), five of them are 26 or younger.
Five are 26 or younger, and Vazquez is 34.
”As I’ve matured and thrown harder, I’ve always had a knack for striking out people,” Vazquez said. “But I’ve never considered myself a strikeout pitcher.”
OK, we won’t tell anyone that you are one.
♣ Please let it end: You may not have heard, but Manny Ramirez returns tomorrow. You know, the Dodgers outfield, ‘roid suspension? Yeah, that guy.
Anyway, how long before the first writer or broadcaster uses the tired-arse cliché, “He’s baaaaack.” Hate, hate, hate that.
Speaking of tired, Tony Romo interviews bring me down. Excruciating to watch. The antithesis of Shaq interviews.
♣ Streaking sans McLouth, Escobar: The most impressive aspect of the current three-game winning streak, besides the fact it’s come against East Division Leaders Boston and Philadelphia, is that it’s included a 1.61 ERA by Braves pitchers against two of the better lineups in baseball (even without Ibanez).
That, plus the fact that the Braves have hit .303 with five homers in three games, and scored 16 runs in the past two, all without Nate McLouth or Yunel Escobar in the lineup.
♣ Off to Washington: Braves head to D.C. after tonight’s game, and a few Braves have got to be looking forward to hitting at Nationals Park (if that’s what it’s still called; if it’s not, then whatever-bankrupt-corporation-is-sponsoring-it Park).
Hot-hitting Martin Prado has a .412 average in nine games at the D.C. park, where he’s 7-for-17 with three doubles and a homer.
Casey Kotchman is 8-for-22 with four doubles in 11 games there, and Brian McCann is 11-for-38 with three doubles and two homers in 11 games there.
Then there’s Chipper Jones, who has a .326 average, four homers and a .698 slugging percentage in 11 games at the new park, continuing his usual torrid hitting against the Nationals regardless of venue.
Beginning with his three-homer, five-RBI game at old RFK Stadium on Aug. 14, 2006, the old third baseman has hit .352 with 15 homers, 42 RBI, 40 runs, and a 1.095 OPS in his past 48 games against the Nationals.
♣ OK, time to get to the park and see if McLouth and Escobar are playing and, oh yeah, something about whether someone wore turkey underwear to the ballpark.
Let’s close this out with a simple tune, a title cut from an unreleased Neil Young album (he put out Tonight’s the Night instead), which also could be a song about the preferred way that many on the ol’ blog would like the Braves to go in the future.
By the way, as I said a few days ago, the Braves will make try to make a move for a bat before the trade deadline, if they believe they’re right in the mix for a division title and there’s a good change it’ll help put them over the top.
But if they don’t think they have a good shot at the playoffs this season, the Braves will begin aiming for the 2011 season and beyond. Not because they don’t think they have any chance next season, but because they have several top-rated prospects due to start arriving in another year or two and they believe the foundation’s in place for a good, long run of success.
They’re not interested in making another multiple-top-prospects-for-a-rental-hitter trade that would not only add significant payroll this year, but could hurt their chances of competing for years to come, when that talent’s on the way from their own system.
“HOMEGROWN” by Neil Young
Homegrown is the way it should be.
Homegrown is a good thing.
Plant that bell and let it ring.
The sun comes up in the morning,
Shines that light around.
One day, without no warning,
Things start jumping up from the ground.
Well, homegrown’s all right with me.
Homegrown is the way it should be.
Homegrown is a good thing.
Plant that bell and let it ring.