Wouldn’t you know, the Braves get a couple of high-profile newspaper stories written about them in the New York Times and USA Today, and they come just as they absorb their first series loss in 14 and are swept for the first time in two months.
At least they’re finally getting noticed though, right? I mean, they’ve had the majors’ best record for nearly two months, at 34-17 even after being swept in three games by the White Sox this week.
Still, the timing of today’s USA Today cover story must look odd to anyone who isn’t aware of how long ahead such stories are usually planned. That’s the problem that editors run into when they try to plan baseball stories well in advance. Because unlike football, where a team only plays one game per week, in baseball they play six or seven games a week and a lot can change in the week to 10 days that a story is put on a newspaper’s budget.
Bob Nightengale, the fine scribe who wrote today’s USA Today story, was out in Arizona doing the reporting on that when the Braves were there June 7-10.
If you haven’t seen the USA Today story, it’s accompanied by a posed shot of Martin Prado and Troy Glaus, each with a bat over his shoulders, both guys looking up toward the camera above them. It’s an odd shot, and I barely recognized Prado beneath the bill of his cap.
Anyway, to take the whole unfortunate-timing thing a step further: Glaus went 4-for-5 with two homers in a June 13 game at Minnesota. Since then he’s 4-for-28 with one homer in nine games, the first semblance of a slump for him since the end of April. It should be noted, he does have six RBIs and eight walks in the past nine games, including three two-RBI games.
As for Prado, he was 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the last two games of the White Sox series, his first back-to-back hitless games since May 22-23, and only the third time he’s had consecutive hitless games all season (or fourth time, if you count his three straight hitless games May 6-8 as two occurrences of back-to-back — know what I mean?)
Again, it’s all relative. Prado had a triple and a home run in the series opener against the Sox, and he’s been on one of his hottest stretches for the past four weeks.
Between his hitless games May 22-23 and Wednesday-Thursday, Prado hit .392 (47-for-120) with eight doubles, one triple, three homers, 22 runs and 11 RBIs. He had .956 OPS in that span, including a .550 slugging percentage.
♣ Georgia on their mind: After being swept by the streaking White Sox (Ozzie’s guys have won nine in a row), the Braves talked about how glad they were to be headed back home instead of on to another city.
Which is understandable, considering they’ve already had four road trips lasting seven games or more, and only one homestand that long.
Today’s game against the Tigers starts a nine-game homestand, two games longer than their previous longest this season.
After finishing up their interleague schedule with Detroit, the Braves will host division foes Washington and Florida. Monday’s series opener against the Nationals promises to bring a whole lot of buzz and a big crowd to Turner Field to witness the fifth start by Washington rookie sensation Stephen Strasburg.
Even more than being tired of the road, the Braves were excited to get home for another obvious reason: They are 14-1 in their past 15 home games, and 8-10 in their past 18 road games.
They’ve averaged nearly six runs at home during that stretch, more than a run higher that they’ve averaged in that road stretch. And their 3.40 home ERA in those 15 games is nearly a half-run below their road ERA in the past 18 games.
The Braves have scored two or fewer runs in four of their past eight road games, while they’ve scored fewer than three runs just once in their past 15 home games.
Jim Leyland’s Tigers came to Atlanta after losing two of three to the hot Mets in New York, but Detroit is 9-3 with a .300 team batting average in its past 12 games.
The Tigers won the series finale last night to prevent the Mets from overtaking the Braves in the NL East standings. The Braves, still a half-game ahead of the Mets, haven’t slipped from first place during June.
♣ Saito’s return: Appearing in his second consecutive game since returning from the DL, Takashi Saito gave up a decisive two-run homer by Paul Konerko in the eighth inning Thursday at Chicago.
It was the second homer allowed by Saito in his past eight appearances, and the second time he was charged with multiple runs in his past 10 appearances.
He has a 5.59 ERA and .263 opponents’ average in those 10 appearances, with 10 hits and six earned runs allowed in 9-2/3 innings.
In his 17 previous appearances, Saito had a 2.12 ERA and .133 opponents’ average, with eight hits and four earned runs allowed in 17 innings.
The Japanese veteran’s strikeouts/walks and strikeouts-per-nine-innings have been outstanding all season, and have actually improved in his past 10 games. Saito has 14 strikeouts and two walks in 9-2/3 innings in that period.
♣ Diaz update: After taking full batting practice a couple of times in Chicago, Matt Diaz could begin an injury-rehab assignment within the next several days, with a goal of returning before the All-Star break.
The outfielder’s been recovering from thumb surgery to remove a splinter that had caused an infection. The Braves hope he’ll be able to help improve their anemic .244 average and .349 slugging percentage vs. lefties.
In the NL, they are tied for lowest average vs. lefties and have the second-lowest slugging percentage.
Against righties, the Braves’ .269 is the NL’s third-highest, and their .415 slugging percentage ranks eighth, 14 points above the league average.
♣ FYI: Yunel Escobar is one of five qualifying major leaguers with a slugging percentage under .300. The homerless shortstop is slugging .298, second-lowest in the NL and better than only four lineup regulars in either league: Gordon Beckham (.251), Juan Pierre (.277), Chone Figgins (.277) and Pedro Feliz (.290).
♣ Alright, let’s close with a underrated gem from Mike Doughty, former frontman of the defunct (and largely underappreciated) band Soul Coughing. They were great. But his solo stuff’s also real strong. Oh, and I found this pretty cool video to accompany the tune. Check it out.
“YOUR MISFORTUNE” by Mike Doughty
When your faith in life is gone
Come and speak to me
When you’re down and all messed up
Seek my sympathy
When everybody says no, no, no
Your misfortune and none of my own
Wrong, wrong, wrong
Well it’s your misfortune that sweetens my song
I can be the friend you want
I can be your confidante
I can be the right reminder at the right time
Throwing out the lifeline
When your face is caked with mud
Come and speak to me
When the chill creeps in your blood
Seek my sympathy
I can be the air you drink
Every single thought you think
I can be the right notion in the meantime
Warm you like the sunshine
Stand in the light. Stand in the light. Stand in the light