Philadelphia – Before the Braves take it south to Florida for a four-gamer with the Marlins that begins with the much-anticipated return of Tim Hudson on Monday, they’ve got some business to finish in Philly tonight. [NOTE: Kenshin Kawakami now starting tomorrow, Hudson moved to Tuesday. Please look down in blog comments at 6:01 p.m. for explanation on this late development.]
Jair Jurrjens will try to continue his success against the Phillies and his mastery of Citizens Bank Park, while Joe Blanton aims for an overdue win against the Braves. Winner takes the series and possibly more, as Braves try to whittle their wild-card deficit with Colorado or San Francisco.
If the Giants beat the Rockies again this (Sunday) afternoon, the Braves would be three games behind wild-card co-leaders Colorado and San Francisco before tonight’s series finale in Philly. If the Rockies win, the Braves will be four behind the Rockies and threee behind San Fran.
But before we consider tonight’s game, let’s take one more look at the unexpected beatdown the Braves put on Cliff Lee last night. I mean, he had been the hottest pitcher in baseball. It’s worth revisiting.
You probably know the lefty was 8-0 with an 0.97 ERA and .198 opponents’ average in his past eight starts before Saturday. That the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner was 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA and .175 opponents’ average since being traded to the Phillies, with 39 strikeouts and six walks allowed in 40 innings.
But did you know he had never allowed more runs in an inning than the five he gave up to the Braves in the fourth last night, when Garrett Anderson (he’s making it difficult for the haters, isn’t he?) and the so-hot-it’s-silly Matt Diaz drove in all the runs with two long balls?
Lee was charged with 10 hits and five runs in five innings, and Anderson’s three-run homer with none out in the fourth inning matched the total number of earned runs Lee had allowed in five previous starts since being traded from Cleveland to Philly.
Yes, Lee had given up just three earned runs (and no homers) in 43 innings since the trade, including the first three innings last night, before the Braves blitzed him for five runs and two homers in that fourth inning, including Anderson’s pivotal homer that turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.
Obviously, Anderson’s homer — the first by a lefty hitter off Lee since Hank Blaylock took him deep on opening day — was the biggest hit of the game.
But Diaz’s two-run homer later in the inning was also huge, as it served to let the Phillies and their sellout crowd know that the first homer in the inning was not just a fluke, and that Lee was hittable when leaving pitches up in the zone.
Yunel Escobar would add a third homer in the fifth inning against Lee, who hadn’t given up three homers in a game in 66 starts since a game at Cincinnati in 2007 (Cincy’s Great American Small Park … er Ball Park, and new Yankee Stadium might be the only two stadiums more homer-conducive than Philly).
The Braves hit .417 (10-for-24) and slugged .833 against Lee last night, which stands as his highest average and slugging percentage allowed against one team in the past two seasons.
”You put us in a very hitter-friendly park and we were able to take advantage and slug with one of the best hitting teams in baseball,” said Diaz, who has been able to hit with just about anyone lately, regardless of pitcher or venue.
I had asked him a few times in the past couple weeks about whether he’d ever felt this good at the plate, and he had reminded me that he tied an NL record in 2005 with hits in 10 consecutive at-bats.
”We can finally say ‘no,’” Diaz said last night, smiling.
No, as in, he’s never felt quite this good, even when knocking out 10 straight hits.
We’re talking sustained sizzle right now, beyond all expectations for a guy that one prominent major league manager once told, “You’ll never hit in the majors” with the free-swinging, unorthodox approach that Diaz takes.
That manager will remain nameless unless Diaz tells me he doesn’t mind me using his name (my only hint to you: it was while he was playing for one of his former teams, Kansas City or Tampa Bay).
Anyway, Diaz has obviously proven him and every other doubter wrong.
All he’s done for the Braves is hit .321 with 93 extra-base hits (31 homers), a .360 OBP and .473 slugging percentage in exactly 400 games for the Braves since they acquired him in a December 2005 trade from K.C. for — are you ready for this? — minor league pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez.
Before he came to Atlanta, Diaz had a .252 average, two homers and a .308 OBP in 48 games (119 at-bats) for the Royals and Rays during the 2003-2005 seasons.
Again, with the Braves: .321 average and .360 OBP in 1,070 at-bats.
And, of course, lately he’s taken things to a whole different level.
Diaz is hitting .329 with 10 homers, 44 RBIs and a .390 OBP and .521 slugging percentage in 98 games this season, including .398 (49-for-123) against lefties, with five homers and a 1.062 OPS.
As a leadoff man, he’s 11-for-20 (.550) with four extra-base hits and five RBI.
For the month of August, he leads the majors with a .416 average, including six doubles, a triple, six homers and 18 RBI in 26 games. (Adam LaRoche is fifth in the majors with a .375 average in August; more on him and his hip and Nate McLouth’s hamstring in a moment.)
In his past 13 games, Diaz has hit .500 with four homers and 13 RBI.
He has going a streak of seven consecutive multi-hit games, during which he’s batted .613 (19-for-31), including three consecutive three-hit games going into tonight’s game on ESPN.
And for as much as we’ve made of Ryan Howard’s demolition of Braves pitching, what about Diaz vs. Philly? I think he got booed more last night than Chipper Jones, which is understandable given Diaz’s performance against the Phils.
Diaz has hit .444 with five homers, 17 RBI and a 1.287 OPS in his past 21 games against them, a stretch that goes back to May 27, 2007.
This season, Diaz is 18-for-31 (.581) with four homers and 10 RBI in nine games against the Phillies, with a .606 OBP and 1.129 slugging percentage.
Howard is 17-for-53 (.321) with five homers and 11 RBI in 14 games against the Braves this season, with a .368 OBP and .717 slugging.
OK, just one more Diaz stat before we move on (sorry to bombard you with so many, but the dude is doing stuff lately that warrants it).
The Braves now have two of the top five qualifying NL hitters with runners in scoring position, Escobar (league-high .400 average in 105 RISP at-bats) and Diaz, who ranks fifth at .355 (27-for-76).
Chipper gives them a third in the top 10, with his .341 average in 85 RISP at-bats (he’s 10th).
The Braves also have three in the NL’s top 10 in RISP with two outs, or four if you count Casey Kotchman. Escobar is sixth at .364, followed by Kotchman (.361), with Chipper (.357) and Todd Helton tied for eighth, and Diaz (.355) at 10th.
♣ Lowe’s rebound: It was a much-needed rebound performance last night by Derek Lowe, who worked out of a couple of precarious spots in the second and third innings on the way to allowing just one run and eight hits in 5-2/3 innings.
Dude’s taken a lot of heat here lately, after being fairly awful during his previous two starts and completely awful during that five-start stretch earlier in the season.
But look at the bottom line, and Lowe is 6-1 in his past 10 starts, and the Braves are 8-2. Granted, his 4.06 ERA and especially his .322 opponents’ average in that span are unimpressive, but eight of the earned runs (and 11 hits) came in 3-2/3 innings of one horrid game at New York.
In the other nine of his past 10 starts, Lowe is 6-0 with a 3.00 ERA, and the Braves are 9-1.
Meanwhile, the big goofball (oh, yes, he is a goofy dude, but in a good way; got a irreverent, self-deprecating sense of humor) has done exactly what the Braves hoped he’d do against the rival Phillies.
Lowe is 6-09 with a 2.17 ERA in his past nine starts against them going back to 2005, including 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three this season. And he’s found a way to consistently tame Citizens Bank Park, where he’s 4-0 with a 1.60 ERA in five starts, with 17 strikeouts and only three walks (that’s key) in 33-2/3 innings.
Keep this in mind going forward: For his career, Lowe is now 25 games over .500 (67-42) with a 3.59 ERA after the All-Star break. Before the break, he’s 72-73 with a 3.96 ERA. His career strikeouts-to-walks ratio after the break is nearly 3-to-1 (600 strikeouts, 217 walks) while it’s closer to 2-to-1 before the break (762 strikeouts, 379 walks).
And should the Braves be fortunate enough to make it to the postseason, remember: Lowe is 4-1 with a 3.07 ERA in eight postseason games (seven starts) over the past five years, including a few memorable ones for those ‘04 World Champion Red Sox.
♣ LaRoche, McLouth concerns: The Braves are hoping really hard that Adam LaRoche is feeling better by the time he gets to the park and gets treatment before tonight’s game, because they can’t afford to be without his hot bat for long.
But I’m not so sure about McLouth and whether his impact is really that great.
He left last night’s game after three innings because of increasing pain in his right hip, which had been hurting him for several days but worsened after a couple of plays last night, including when he reached for Lowe’s errant throw.
”It got to the point where I couldn’t run on it at all,” he said after the game. “When you’re as slow as I am, the last thing you need is to get slower.”
LaRoche has played a major part in the Braves’ recent success, batting .375 with eight homers, 18 RBI and a .462 OBP and .682 slugging percentage in 25 games since being traded from Boston at the July 31 deadline. He makes the bottom half of the lineup much more effective. His bat down there changes the way teams look at the Braves.
He’s a big reason why the Braves have the second-most homers (56) in the league since the break (behind Philly’s 62), and the second-most runs (216, behind Milwaukee’s 218).
I asked him late last night if had any idea how long he might be out: “No clue. I hope I wake up tomorrow and it’s gone. I don’t want to miss a game.”
As for McLouth, I’m not sure his possible continue absence is as crucial. Don’t get me wrong — the Braves obviously want him back. But the way Diaz has performed in the leadoff role, it’s not as essential that they get McLouth back as it is to have LaRoche back. At least that’s how I see it.
McLouth reinjured his troublesome right hamstring Saturday night during the second game of his injury-rehab assignment at Double-A Mississippi. Braves weren’t sure of severity, but believed it to be only a mild strain. Or re-strain, if you will.
Anyway, I was a little surprised while ago when I broke down the numbers since the Braves got McLouth in a June 3 trade with the Pirates.
He’s hit .260 with six homers, 22 RBI, 10 stolen bases anda .344 OBP in 56 games for the Braves, who are 28-28 in those games. In the games he hasn’t played since they got him, the Braves are 14-7. That’s not a typo — 14-7 without him.
McLouth felt a twinge last night when he went into the gap to chase a ball. He took himself out of the Double-A game in the fifth inning, after going 0-for-1 with a walk. (He was 0-for-2 with a walk in his first rehab game Friday.)
The initial diagnosis was a mild strain, but the Braves wouldn’t know more until they see how he responds today.
McLouth was only going to play two games at Mississippi before joining the Braves in Florida on Monday, the day he’s eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list. He was there rehabbing after an injury to the hamstring, and Saturday’s pain was in the same location.
Before his injury Saturday, the Braves were already leaning toward not activating McLouth until Tuesday, when rosters can be expanded for the rest of the season. Now, he might not be ready anyway.
The team will have to make a roster move Monday to open a spot for Hudson, coming off the DL to start that night’s series opener at Florida.
“SELF DESTRUCTIVE ZONES” by Mike Cooley (Drive-By Truckers)
It was 1990 give or take I don’t remember
when the news of revolution hit the air
The girls hadn’t even started taking down our posters
when the boys started cutting off they’re hair
The radio stations all decided angst was finally old enough
it ought to have a proper home
Dead fat or rich nobody’s left to bitch
about the goings’ on in self destructive zones
The night the practice room caught fire
there were rumors of a dragon headed straight for Muscle Shoals
“Stoner tries to save an amplifier”
and it’s like the dragon’s side of the story is never told
When the dream and the man and the girls hang around long enough
to make you think it’s coming true,
it’s easier to let it all die a fairy tale,
than admit that something bigger is passing through
The hippies rode a wave putting smiles on faces,
that the devil wouldn’t even put a shoe
Caught between a generation dying from its habits,
and another thinking rock and roll was new
Till the pawn shops were packed like a backstage party,
hanging full of pointy ugly cheap guitars
And the young’uns all turned to karaoke,
hanging all they’re wishes upon disregarded stars
My Grandaddy’s shotgun is locked in a closet
and it never shot a thing that could have lived
An old man decided that you couldn’t choose your poison
till you’re nearly old enough to vote for him
They turned what was into something so disgusting
even wild dogs would disregard the bones
Dead fat or rich nobody’s left to bitch
about the goings’ on in self destructive zones