So we ink-stained wretches of the pressbox are watching Ricky Nolasco’s overpowering 16-strikeout performance against the Braves last night, marking each strikeout in our scorebooks while typing away at our stories and making note of the various announcements being made as Nolasco matched this franchise record or that one, or this Braves opposition standard or that one.
And it was announced that Nolasco’s 16 strikeouts tied Sid Fernandez’s 1989 mark with the Mets as the most against the Braves since the team moved to Atlanta before the 1966 season. Impressive, no doubt.
But there was one small word that was easily overlooked within that announcement. The “in” Atlanta part of it. And if I’d listened closer, and hadn’t been watching and scoring the game while also writing, I might have objected and said, “Yes, but what’s the record for strikeouts against the Braves since the team moved to Atlanta? Who cares if the mark was set here or in a road game?”
Because if Sid Fernandez ever had the mark for most strikeouts against the Atlanta-era Braves, he only had it for one year. That is, for strikeouts against the Atlanta-era Braves in a game, period. Home or road. And in this case, that’s what really matters, right?
As AJC reader Brian Huber of Atlanta pointed out to me this morning, he could distinctly remember staying up late while in college one night during June 1990 to see whether the Dodgers’ Ramon Martinez might break Roger Clemens’ record of 20 strikeouts, when Martinez was fanning Braves at an alarming rate during a West Coast night game.
Martinez didn’t break Clemens’ record, but he tied Sandy Koufax’s franchise record with 18 strikeouts in a complete-game, 6-0 win against the Braves and Tom Glavine. David Justice, Odibe McDowell, Jeff Blauser and Jim Presley all struck out three times that day against Martinez, and Dale Murphy and Ron Gant also whiffed a couple of time.
As L.A. Times writer Bill Plasche put it in the next day’s editions, “Like punch-drunk boxers, the Atlanta Brave hitters swung. And missed. And swung. And missed.”
So reader Huber’s alertness got me thinking … and I seemed to remember another pitcher striking out at least as many Braves as Nolasco did last night … in a game during my time covering the Braves since the early part of this decade ….
Ahh, yes. Of course.
None other than Milwaukee’s Ben Sheets. Sheets struck out 18 (and walked one) in a three-hit, complete-game, 4-1 win at Milwaukee.
Among his multiple-strikeout victims that day were Adam LaRoche, J.D. Drew, Johnny Estrada, Andruw Jones and Wilson Betemit (Chipper wasn’t in the lineup that day). Drew, Estrada and Betemit all whiffed three times.
Anyway, just wanted to clarify before we moved forward.
Nolasco’s performance was nonetheless impressive, especially given that he piled up 16 K’s in just 7-2/3 innings, and came within one of Tom Seaver’s major-league record of 10 consecutive strikeouts.
Oh, and Nolasco also did it against a Braves team desperately trying to keep its playoff hopes alive, in a game that meant more to them than it should have meant to the Marlins.
♣ Problems begin at home? Hey, all we’re going to say is this: Since Aug. 14, the Braves are 16-6 with a .270 team average and 3.15 ERA in 22 road games, including wins in the last 10.
During that same stretch since Aug. 14, the Braves are 10-12 with a .251 average and 3.53 ERA in 22 home games.
They averaged barely four runs per game at home in that period, and 5.6 runs on the road.
Why is this? Beats me. We’ve asked, since this was also a problem for a long stretch of last season. We heard theories at that time about how the Braves, especially the younger ones, didn’t focus as much on baseball during homestands, when they had family and other issues to deal with, rather than just waking up in a hotel and heading for the ballpark after watching SportsCenter and maybe getting something to eat.
Don’t know if there’s anything to that, or if they just don’t thrive in the home atmosphere, or what. But it’s something they might want to address in the offseason or before next season, if there’s anything to address. I don’t know. Just pointing it out.
I will add this: For whatever reason, leadoff man Nate McLouth has been particularly bad at Turner Field, compared to his road performance, since the Braves acquired him from the Pirates in a June 3 trade.
McClouth has hit .206 with 11 extra-base hits (two homers), 11 RBI, 18 runs, a .321 OBP and a .312 slugging percentage in 37 games at Turner Field.
In 43 road games, he’s hit .300 with 18 extra-base hits, 23 RBI, 37 runs, a .385 OBP and .483 slugging percentage.
In other words, he’s been exactly the player the Braves hoped they were getting – in road games. But at home, he’s been something else entirely.
While I’ve theorized in recent weeks that his lingering hamstring and back issues might have caused the decline in his performance with the Braves, that wouldn’t explain the great disparity in his home/road stats.
So I just undermined my own previous theory. Because as I noted, on the road he’s been the player the Braves thought they were getting. Well, except for a lack of stolen bases. But otherwise, he’s been solid in road games. Very solid.
That disparity has only increased the longer he’s been with the Braves, too. Since July 1, he’s hit .183 with five extra-base hits (one homer), seven RBI and a .583 OPS in 25 home games.
In that time on the road, he’s hit .305 with 14 extra-base hits (five homers), 16 RBI and an .881 OPS.
Nearly 300 points higher on the OPS on the road than at home since July 1.
♣ One more thing about McLouth: His .357 OBP as a leadoff man this season doesn’t rank among the National League’s top 10. It’s one point behind Stephen Drew and Jose Reyes, who are tied for ninth, and 37 points behind Florida rookie Chris Coghlan, who has a .394 leadoff OBP (and should probably be Rookie of the Year, by the way, if voters are really looking close at his remarkable numbers).
The lowest leadoff OBP among NL qualifiers remains Kelly Johnson’s .274.
The leadoff spot has been an inconsistent component again for the Braves, who got their best work at the spot, in all honesty, from Matt Diaz and Omar Infante in their limited duties there. Granted, they were quite limited in Diaz’s case.
Diaz was 18-for-41 (.439) with a .531 OBP as a leadoff man, and Infante was 30-for-93 (.323) with seven extra-base hits, a .404 OBP and a .441 slugging percentage in his stint there before the broken hand.
With the Braves, McLouth’s hit .259 with a .354 OBP, 28 extra-base hits and a .354 OBP and .403 slugging percentage in 313 at-bats in the leadoff spot.
Here’s how far the Mets have slipped. After the Braves swept the Nationals last weekend to drop their record to make the Nationals 9-28 with a 5.68 ERA over 37 games, the Nationals turned around and won three in a row this week against the Mets while holding them to eight runs.
The Mets have averaged 3.5 runs per game during their current 5-17 skid to oblivion … er, toward season’s end.
OK, outta time again. Wanted to throw in some comparisons between Jeff Francoeur and Garret Anderson (overall stats almost identical this year, except Anderson much better with RISP) and some other things, but I’ll do it later. Gotta get to ballpark.
This tune from The Boss seemed appropriate today.
“ONE STEP UP” by Bruce Springsteen
Woke up this morning my house was cold
Checked out the furnace she wasn’t burnin’
Went out and hopped in my old Ford
Hit the engine but she ain’t turnin’
We’ve given each other some hard lessons lately
But we ain’t learnin’
We’re the same sad story that’s a fact
One step up and two steps back
Bird on a wire outside my motel room
But he ain’t singin’
Girl in white outside a church in June
But the church bells they ain’t ringing
I’m sittin’ here in this bar tonight
But all I’m thinkin’ is
I’m the same old story same old act
One step up and two steps back
It’s the same thing night on night
Who’s wrong baby who’s right
Another fight and I slam the door on
Another battle in our dirty little war
When I look at myself I don’t see
The man I wanted to be
Somewhere along the line I slipped off track
I’m caught movin’ one step up and two steps back
There’s a girl across the bar
I get the message she’s sendin’
Mmm she ain’t lookin’ to married
And me well honey I’m pretending
Last night I dreamed I held you in my arms
The music was never-ending
We danced as the evening sky faded to black
One step up and two steps back