(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
At this point, something, anything’s got to change to shake the Braves out of this nightmare funk. Waking up in their own beds this morning? Coming home to face the Astros, the last-place team in the Central? Connector paving projects to change their routes home?
Hey, whatever it takes to mix it up.
We already know about the worst road trip (0-7) the Braves just completed since the 1949 Boston Braves. Unreal.
That leaves the Braves in position tonight, in the start of a quick three-game home stand – to match their longest losing streak since dropping 10 in a row in June of 2006. (They lost 83 games that year and finished 18 games out of first place.)
I looked up that losing streak and I knew there would be something weird about it. Guess who the Braves were playing when it started on June 11? The Houston Astros. Guess who the winning pitcher was that night for the Astros? Wandy Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was originally scheduled to pitch tonight but because of back spasms he’s been pushed back. He’s a possibility for Saturday. (Some of the losing pitchers during that streak, to jog the memory? Horacio Ramirez, Macay McBride, Tyler Yates, Lance Cormier, Oscar Villareal.)
The Braves could have never imagined they’d be in a worse boat right now than how the Astros started this season, losing their first eight in a row. Again, I looked back over that streak for the Astros and it’s interesting what you see there. The Astros first three series were against the Giants, the Phillies and the Cardinals. There you might have the top three division winners. Their first win came at St. Louis on April 15. They followed that up by winning their first series of the season against the Cubs.
Sound familiar? Gulp.
Some of the pitchers who beat the Astros in that streak sound familiar too. Tim Lincecum. Jamie Moyer. Roy Halladay. Adam Wainwright.
The Braves knew their April schedule was going to be tough. Things are too far gone right now to blame just that though, and nobody is, including me.
Could tonight be the night?
Former Phillies right-hander Brett Myers is pitching for the Astros. He moved up a day to replace Rodriguez (back spasms). Myers is 4-9 with a 4.52 ERA in 28 games against the Braves during his eight years with the Phillies as both closer and starter. The Braves hit 22 home runs off him (tied with Florida for the most of any team) in 135.1 innings.
For the Astros, Myers is 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA in four starts. He’s getting hit at a .330 clip – including 11 hits given up in his first start against the Pirates and 12 hits in his last start against the Giants – but he gave up only six earned runs in those two starts combined. Also, he has pitched at least six innings in each of his four starts, including seven innings twice.
Tommy Hanson would love to do that. He has yet to pitch more than six innings in a game – which he’s done only once at San Diego on April 14. Rain shortened his last outing in New York a 1-0 loss in five innings, and he was pitching great. He’d allowed only one unearned run on five hits, walked two and struck out eight in five innings.
He might be just what the Braves need tonight. To get a little red-headed, a little hot under the collar (not that it fits his off the field personality at all, but from a redhead who knows, maybe a little fire can help). Hanson can draw on his only start against the Astros last season, Sept. 9, when he pitched eight shutout innings at Minute Maid Park, no less. He gave up only five hits, walked none and struck out seven. (The Braves still lost that game 2-1, but let’s not bring that up.)
Speaking of things not to bring up?
Former Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson has homered six times in the last seven games for the Diamondbacks, while the Braves have homered once – thanks to Jason Heyward’s solo shot yesterday. Johnson is leading the National League with nine.
(Along the same lines, former Brave Adam LaRoche homered twice on Thursday for Arizona, tied a career-high with five RBIs and came about six feet shy of his first career three-homer game. Yes, the win was blowing out at Wrigley. And maybe the Cubs are just bad. Maybe they gave the Braves false hope to open the season.)
Johnson, who is hitting .320, has his nine homers in 75 at-bats for the D-backs. He homered eight times in 304 at-bats all last year for the Braves, while hitting .224. The Braves non-tendered him since he was arbitration eligible and Martin Prado was ready to take his place.
Compliments of Jack Magruder on our notes group, here’s what Arizona GM Josh Byrnes had to say about Johnson’s acquisition and turnaround.
“He has always hit. Based on years of evaluating Kelly and after taking a closer inspection of 2009, we felt like he had a very good chance to returning to his normal self,” said Byrnes, signed Johnson to a one-year, $2.3 million contract. “I think most clubs have to learn to buy low. There is a shortage of teams that can buy high. When guys have down years, we take a good look at that to see if there is an opportunity for us or not. I think he had some mechanical issues, and the reality of Prado being there and his role changing.”
Johnson is hitting leadoff too. (Double ouch.) He moved into the injured Conor Jackson’s spot and has hit .395 (17 for 43) through Thursday) with four doubles, eight homers and 16 RBIs….Not that anybody can question having Prado as your everyday second baseman, but these numbers from Kelly. Wow.
“Of Mikes and Men”
I wanted to mention Pete Van Wieren’s new book that’s out, co-authored by former AJC scribe Jack Wilkinson “Of Mikes and Men.” I read it last weekend and really, really enjoyed it. It made me laugh out loud (try to say the Fawkeer Falcons without slipping), gave me chills at times (think David Justice at the plate in 1991 for first full-blown tomahawk chant), and a lot of insight into the Professor (you find out who he used to look up in the phone book of every hotel he visited.)
They’ve got three book signings coming up in case you want to attend: Saturday at the Braves Clubhouse Store at CNN center at 11 a.m., on Wednesday at Manuel’s Tavern at 7 p.m. (a personal favorite watering hole, where these two fellows did much of their collaborating for the book), and on Thursday, May 13, in Macon at the at the Barnes & Noble at 5080 Riverside Dr. at 7 p.m.
Speaking of broadcasters
As painful as it’s been to watch what’s going on around the team lately, I have to say I have enjoyed listening to John Smoltz during the broadcasts these last few days. I’m sure he’s taking his fair share of criticism on this blog – who the heck doesn’t – but I have to say he’s getting better and better as he goes.
To me he sounded so upbeat in an otherwise dismal St. Louis series. It was almost like somebody left the door open to the booth and he was all excited because he got to sneak in and start broadcasting.
You get the sense of what it must have been like to sit in the dugout next to him for all those years, and Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. How his mind will jump from “so have you ever been to the top of the St. Louis arch?” to the leg drive in Kawakami’s motion, to back stories on whoever it was for the Cardinals getting all Fs and one B on his report card, to on-the-money insight on whether to pitch to somebody, what to throw in a certain situation.
So hey, looking for something nice to say about what’s going on around this team right now, folks, and there you have it.
More from the ballpark this afternoon. Lineups, updates on injuries to Jair Jurrjens (hamstring) and Yunel Escobar (groin), etc. Construction northbound on the connector is supposed to go on all weekend starting tonight at 8 p.m., weather permitting. FYI.
1. Nate McLouth CF
2. Martin Prado 2B
3. Chipper Jones 3B
4. Brian McCann C
5. Troy Glaus 1B
6. Jason Heyward RF
7. Melky Cabrera LF
8. Omar Infante SS
9. Tommy Hanson P