San Diego — Good afternoon to all from sunny San Diego, where the fish tacos are on the grill somewhere (and I’m about to go find them for a quick lunch), the scenery is oh-so-spectacular in every imaginable way, and the Braves have got to be a bit tired after losing (again) to the Dodgers on Sunday before taking a late-night flight across the country (thanks, ESPN).
The Bravos could certainly benefit from a possible return from Yunel Escobar tonight, because they need to at least win this series and possibly sweep three from the Padres to get back some of the momentum and upbeat atmosphere they’ve lost during consecutive series defeats against the Marlins and Dodgers.
With a four-game long-weekend series awaiting at Dodger Stadium, where it’ll be packed and the look-the-other-way residents of “Mannywood” (I cringe even typing that) will be in a noisy tizzy, the Braves can’t afford anything less than a series win at Petco Park before they bus up the crowded freeway to L.A. late Wednesday afternoon.
Not that one player is going to carry a team to a series win, but do you get the sense these Braves miss no one more than Escobar in a given series? Brian McCann, for a month or a half-season, would probably be their most difficult to replace, but in a three-game series, David Ross could handle the catching duties without any great falloff.
However, Escobar … this is a different team without him in the lineup. Similar to how they were a different team last season any time Chipper was out of the lineup.
Escobar, who’s been out since getting hit by a pitch in the right forearm Thursday at Florida. His replacement is rookie Diory Hernandez, a pleasant enough young fella who has never hijacked a train or anything like that that I’m aware of, but is just not anywhere close to the player Escobar is.
For example: Escobar leads the majors with a .427 average (38-for-89) with runners in scoring position, with 15 extra-base hits and a whopping .742 slugging percentage in those at-bats.
Hernandez? He’s last among current Braves with a .130 average (3-for-23) with RISP, with a .174 slugging percentage in those at-bats.
Escobar has hit .305 overall, with a team-high 58 RBI and a .370 OBP.
Hernandez has hit .146 (12-for-82) with six RBI and a .205 OBP.
Escobar has hit .336 with a .905 OPS against righties. Hernandez has hit .164 with a .485 OPS against righties.
OK, you get my drift.
When Chipper Jones out of the lineup, the Braves can slide Prado over there. When Escobar’s out of the lineup, they don’t slide Prado over there, because that’s Prado’s weakest position and because, well, that’s why Hernandez is on the team, probably until Omar Infante returns.
Man, do they miss Infante. Just like they did last season.
♣ Sweep won’t be easy: It’s always difficult to sweep any team, anywhere. Just the nature of the beast. You’re going to usually get one mediocre-or-worse pitching performance from your guys, or the opponent is going to get a huge pitching performance from one of its guys on a night when yours is just modest, etc.
Anyway, it won’t be easy sweeping the Padres, even though the Braves have won 14 of their past 17 games against them since late-May 2006. Yes, 14 of 17.
Thing is, these Padres, after losing 20 of their first 24 games in July, have been on a mini-roll lately, winning five of their last six (three in a row at Cincy, then two of three this weekend at home vs. Milwaukee).
After hitting .210 with a 5.04 ERA in that 24-game stretch through June 27, they’ve hit .322 with a 3.00 ERA in their past six games.
And tonight they’ve got young Mat Latos, a 6-foot-6 rookie who’s pitched quite well (2-1, 2.70 ERA in three starts) despite losing a “t” in a boating accident when he was young.
No, but seriously, the 21-year-old righty has allowed just one run and one hit — a Jerry Hairston Jr. homer — in seven innings of his last start at Cincy. Think about that, one hit in that ballpark? In seven innings?
Latos has a .164 opponents’ average (9-for-55) that includes an .091 mark (3-for-33) by right-handed batters. Four of the nine hits he’s allowed have been homers, two by lefties and two by righties.
The guy Latos will face tonight, Kenshin Kawakami, can attest to how great it is (or would be) to allow just one hit at Cincy. In his only start at that bandbox, Kawakami gave up eight runs, eight hits and two homers in 4-2/3 innings on April 26.
That remains his worst start, though his Wednesday start at Florida was pretty close to being that bad. K.K. gave up six runs and three homers in 4-2/3 innings against the Marlins.
Kawakami’s road ERA (5.70) is nearly 2-1/2 runs higher than his home ERA (3.28), thanks mainly to those two terrible starts at Cincy and unincorporated Dade County (Miami).
Kawakami is 1-2 with a 4.73 ERA in his past five starts, after going 3-3 with a 3.18 ERA in his previous 10 starts. He had 42 strikeouts with 20 walks in 56-2/3 innings during that 10-start stretch, and has just 16 strikeouts with 15 walks in 26-2/3 innings in his past five starts.
Still, he’s facing a Padres team that has hit .214 while losing 21 of 30 home games since June 1. So he couldn’t ask for a much better team and place to get things back on the right track, provided his shoulder is as healthy as he insists it is.
♣ Speaking of turnarounds: Braves need one, because the surge that stoked optimism and got them back in the thick of the wild-card race is fading from view, and optimism is waning a bit in Tomahawk Nation after two series losses.
They’re 2-4 with a .226 average and 5.60 ERA in their past six games, after going 17-8 with a .293 average and 3.06 ERA in their previous 25 games. The Braves have scored three runs or fewer in four of their past six games, including a total of five runs in the home series against the Dodgers.
Here’s a snapshot of erratic offense: In their past nine games, the Braves have totaled 10 or more hits four times, but had five or fewer hits three times. They’ve had four multi-homer games in that stretch, and four no-homer games.
♣ Padres’ Petco Park production primarily poor: It really is a bit mind-boggling to consider how much worse that Padres hitters are at their home ballpark than any other team in the National League’s hitters are at their home ballpark.
The Padres have hit .215 with a .308 OBP and .344 slugging percentage at home this season, worst in the NL in all three. Really, those are truly wretched numbers. The next-lowest home average in the NL is .251, the next-lowest OBP is .326, and the next-lowest slugging is the Nationals (.390). The Braves have the third-lowest home slugging percentage (.395).
And it’s not a lack of homers at their spacious park that’s kept the Padres at the bottom of the NL in all those categories. They actually have 42 homers at Petco this season, as many as the Braves and Dodgers have at home and more than the Nationals or Giants.
No, it’s just overall hitter where the Padres have been a travesty at home. They have 372 hits at home, while the league average is 485, no other team has fewer than 424, and the Diamonbacks have 519.
And while Padres hitters occupy the league cellar, their pitchers are only middle-of-the-pack in the NL with a 3.73 home ERA and 49 homers allowed at home. (The Braves are fourth in the NL with a 3.49 home ERA and a majors-low 27 homers allowed at home).
One more thing that’s hard to fathom is how well some Braves, past and present, have hit at Petco compared to how the Padres hit there.
Brian McCann has a .455 average with four homers and an .879 slugging percentage in 10 games (33 at-bats) at Petco, Chipper Jones has a .397 average with six homers and a .759 slugging percentage in 16 games (58 at-bats), and Adam LaRoche has hit .310 with six homers and a .676 slugging percentage in 19 games (71 at-bats) at Petco.
Former Brave Andruw Jones has a .319 average and stunning nine homers and .764 slugging percentage in 19 games (72 at-bats) at Petco.
Andruw has one fewer homer at the San Diego ballpark than the Padres’ Chase Headley, who has 10 homers and a .349 slugging percentage in 304 at-bats at his home park.
Even Padres all-world slugger Adrian Gonzalez has only 43 homers and a .445 slugging percentage in 1,046 at-bats at the ballpark, or one homer ever 24.3 at-bats, though he’s hit them more frequently in recent seasons.
♣ A Frenchy roll: For those who might have somehow missed it, Jeff Francoeur’s been hitting quite well since he was traded to the Mets on July 10.
He’s hit .301 with two doubles, four homers and 19 RBI in 19 games for the Mets, with a .325 OBP (only one walk) and .493 slugging percentage.
He has four homers and 17 RBI since the break, while no other Met has more than two homers or nine RBI in that period. (McCann leads the Braves with four homers and 15 RBI since the break, and Escobar has four homers and 14 RBI).
Ahh, how quickly we forget. How many here wanted the Braves to release or trade him for a bag of balls during his last couple of months with Atlanta? Raise your hands. Come on, now.
In his last 60 games for the Braves, Francoeur hit .235 with two homers, 19 RBI and a .268 OBP and .309 slugging percentage. Yes, half as many homers and the same number of RBI as he’s totaled in 19 games since the trade.
If you throw in his three-double, two-RBI game July 9 at Colorado, the night before he was traded, Francoeur has hit .325 with five doubles, four homers and 21 RBI in his past 20 games, with an .890 OPS.
In his previous 59 games, he hit .225 with seven doubles, two homers, 17 RBI and a .546 OPS. Yes, a .546 OPS.
♣ On the Kotchman trade: I keep getting asked why the Braves did Friday’s LaRoche-for-Casey Kotchman trade. (Including a lot of questions from e-mailers who’ve apparently not caught on to the blog yet. But that’s another story….)
Here’s my understanding of why the deal was made, and I also should add that can see why the Braves would want to swap Kotchman for LaRoche, given LaRoche’s second-half career performance and also his clubhouse impact, though the latter wasn’t overly important.
The Braves did the Kotchman trade for a few reasons: First and foremost, they wanted to get more run production from first base, and in LaRoche they got a guy who was a .295 career hitter with .900 OPS after All-Star breaks.
He’s had his worst season to date, and his OPS this season was still about same as Kotchman’s despite Kotchman’s career-best streak in past couple months.
Secondly, Kotchman was arb-eligible and stood to make more than $4 mill next season. The Braves figured if they’re going to pay $4 mill or more for a first baseman to get them through to Freddie Freeman in 2011 (or perhaps even sooner), they could get a free agent on a one-year deal for less than that, someone who’d provide more power and RBIs than Kotchman.
Kotchman probably would have have non-tendered, if not this winter then certainly after the 2011 season if they still had him then, as his salary would likely climb well above $5 mill in arb for 2012.
Third, if they don’t re-sign LaRoche, they’ll likely get a draft pick as compensation when he leaves as a free agent.
Fourth, Freddi Freeman’s coming as fast or faster than expected, and should be ready by 2011, even late next season if he’s needed then. He’s tearing up Double-A, despite being only 19 (turns 20 in September).
I had this stuff in here on the day of the trade, but it’s worth repeating, I think:
Kotchman had been hot lately — .317 with four homers and 15 RBIs in his last 30 games before the trade — and raised his average to .282 with 41 RBIs before the trade, but he still had only six homers.
Braves first basemen were tied for last in the National League with seven homers before the trade, and their .401 slugging was better than only Arizona’s first basemen.
The Braves got Kotchman from the Angels in the Mark Teixeira trade on July 29, 2008. Kotchman hit .267 with 24 doubles, eight homers and 61 RBIs in 130 games for Atlanta, with a .346 on-base percentage and .378 slugging percentage.
In that same span, LaRoche played the exact same number of games (130) and hit .258 with 37 doubles, 23 homers, 75 RBIs, a .330 OBP and .483 slugging percentage.
Some e-mailers and bloggers here say, but isn’t Kotchman what the Braves thought they were getting, a line-drive hitter with a high average, etc?
Well, yes, but they thought he’d have more power than he showed. I mean, the dude had four homers and a .475 slugging percentage in his last 30 games for the Braves.
But in his first 100 games for them, he had four homers and a .350 slugging percentage. Folks, it’s hard for a team that doesn’t have tremendous power at other positions to pay $4 mill for a first baseman who hit four homers with a .350 slugging percentage over 100 games, regardless of the defensive prowess.
♣ OK, let’s wrap it up. I saw the movie Adventureland on the plane to San Diego yesterday. Really good movie with one of the best soundtracks in motion-picture history, in my opinion. Replacements, Lou Reed, Husker Du, early INXS (I’m talking early as in “Don’t Change” early) … good stuff. Movie takes place in 1987, when the characters were all just finishing college. So I could relate to the time and certainly the great tuneage.
Also watched a great documentary, Tyson, late last night in my hotel room. Powerful, painful, disturbing at times … and absolutely compelling filmmaking.
Now, one from one of the giants, Mr. Waits, who was born in Pomona, Calif., and grew up in San Diego. (Another of the greatest living songwriters, Leonard Cohen, is playing the Fox in September, if any are interested and hadn’t heard. Got my tix this morning when they went on sale.)
I never saw the morning till I stayed up all night
I never saw the sunshine till you turned out the light
I never saw my home town until I stayed away too long
I never heard the melody until I needed the song
I never saw the white line till I was leavin’ you behind
I never knew I needed you until I was caught up in a bind
And I never spoke I love you till I cursed you in vain
I never felt my heart strings until I nearly went insane
I never saw the east coast until I moved to the west
I never saw the moonlight till it shone off your breast
I never saw your heart until someone tried to steal, tried to steal it away
I never saw your tears till they rolled down your face
I never saw the morning till I stayed up all night
I never saw the sunshine till you turned out your love light, baby
I never saw my home town until I stayed away too long
I never heard the melody till I needed the song