MILWAUKEE – From a city where it was 32 degrees when I woke this morning, let’s begin this blog with a statistical note about heat. The kind that Craig Kimbrel delivers.
Folks, this is one of the more remarkable stats I’ve come across recently, and I found it while crunching numbers this morning: In his major league career, hitters are 0-for-20 with 15 strikeouts against Kimbrel in close-and-late situations (regular-season only).
Think about that — 0-for-20 with 15 strikeouts. Oh, and three walks. Just because he’s actually human, and not the laboratory-conceived, 97-mph fastball-and-curveball strikeout machine that he sometimes appears to be.
Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth inning of Monday’s 2-1 win against the Brewers, making it five consecutive strikeouts he’s recorded since giving up a flyball out by Adam LaRoche in his first appearance of the season.
The 23-year-old Braves rookie closer has made two perfect appearances this season, struck out five of six batters, and actually raised his career strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio from 17.4 – what he had last season, the highest ever in a minimum of 20 innings – to 17.9.
Brewers veteran Craig Counsell was asked after Monday’s game who impressed him more, Braves rookie starter Brandon Beachy, who worked out of several jams in his six-inning stint, or Kimbrel.
“The starter was really impressive,” Counsell said. “He settled down as the game went on. He’s got a really good arm. The kid at the end [Kimbrel] has got a special arm. That’s pretty special.
“Today, we faced a young starter we’ve never heard of and they’re throwing a closer — not to say we’ve never heard of them — but they’re rookies, basically in their first or second year in the league, and we haven’t really seen them. They’re impressive.”
Kimbrel has struck out 45 of the 94 batters he’s faced in 23 regular-season appearances, and has a 0.40 ERA and .115 opponents’ batting average. He has allowed nine hits, one earned run and 16 walks with 45 strikeouts in 22-2/3 innings.
Those numbers are just about ridiculous.
Right-handed hitters are 3-for-41 (.073) with 25 strikeouts and nine walks against Kimbrel, while lefties have hit .162 (6-for-37) with 20 strikeouts and seven walks.
He gave up three walks and an earned run in his third major league appearance last May, and was charged with two hits and an unearned run in his fifth appearance, on June 5 (he shuttled back and forth between Triple-A Gwinnett and Atlanta a few times last year).
Since then? Pretty much sheer dominance. After that fifth appearance, hitters have not had much of a chance against Kimbrel, other than working a walk. In 18 regular-season appearances since then, he has allowed five hits and 10 walks with 37 strikeouts in 18-1/3 innings.
Opponents have hit .083 (5-for-60) against him in that 18-appearance stretch. Coincidently, that’s also what Giants hitters hit against him in four division-series games, when they went 1-for-12 with one walk and seven strikeouts against Kimbrel.
We talked to Martin Prado after the game last night, and he was praising Beachy for his toughness and for working out of all those jams. Then I asked Prado about Kimbrel and noted that he hasn’t had to work out of any this year because nobody’s reached base.
“I couldn’t even see the ball from left field,” Prado said, referring tohow hard Kimbrel was throwing. “Every time he pitched. It’s just so hard. I looked up and saw 91 [on a scoreboard radar-gun reading] and I was like, no way. No way it’s 91. The next pitch [it said] he threw 97, and I said, now we’re talking.”
For the record, the gun readings I saw had Kimbrel’s fastballs at 93-97 mph.
Braves lineup Tuesday
♣ More on pitching: Of course, it’s not just Kimbrel who has shone among Braves pitching during the first week of the season.
Atlanta leads the NL with a 2.06 ERA, a half-run ahead of the Padres (2.57). Braves starters have a 2.01 ERA, second in the league to the Giants (1.82). Of course, just to remind everyone that this is an extremely small sample size, consider that Pittsburgh starters (2.55) are third in the NL.
Opponents are a puny 3-for-33 against the Braves with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-8 by the Brewers on Monday.
Braves pitchers have allowed a league-low .111 average (2-for-18) in close-and-late situations, with one walk and nine strikeouts.
♣ Chipper near milestones: With four more hits and seven RBIs, Chipper Jones will have 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBIs and would join Eddie Murray as the only switch hitters in history to reach both of those standards.
With three games left on this trip, and Fredi Gonzalez planning to rest Chipper on Thursday, there’s a good chance that he will reach one or both milestones at Turner Field during the nine-game homestand that begins Friday against Philadelphia.
Murray finished with 3,255 hits and 1,917 RBIs, but some other great switch-hitters fell short including Mickey Mantle, who had the RBIs (1,509) but fell short in hits (2,415).
For those wondering, Pete Rose had an amazing 4,215 hits and 1,314 RBIs.
Chipper is hitting .353 (6-for-17) through four games and has hit safely in eight consecutive games going back to last season, including going 1-for-2 in the Aug. 10 game at Houston in which he blew out his left knee.
During his eight-game hitting streak, as it were, Jones is 14-for-32 (.438) with six doubles, a homer and a .719 slugging percentage.
♣ Still the cardiac Braves? They made a habit of pulling out late-innings wins last season, and the Braves are hitting this season like they have designs on a similar modus operandi.
To wit, through four games they have hit .195 with a .322 slugging percentage, two home runs and six RBIs in the first through sixth innings, and .333 with a .569 slugging percentage, three homers and 10 RBIs in the seventh inning and later.
The Braves have the same number of hits (11) in the seventh inning and later (11) as they have in the first six innings.
By the way, there’s a reason they continue to look for a right-handed bat. The Braves are hitting .267 with a .563 slugging percentage in 86 at-bats against right-handed pitchers, and .212 with a .231 slugging percentage in 52 at-bats vs. lefties.
♣ Cookin’ against Brewers: The Braves have won nine of their past 12 games against the Brewers, including their past five in a row at Miller Park.
During that 12-game stretch, Brewers slugger Prince Fielder is 9-for-46 (.196) with three extra-base hits (two homers), two walks and 12 strikeouts. The 9-3 Braves run began May 7, 2009, a day after Fielder’s two-homer game in a Milwaukee win Atlanta.
Martin Prado has four homers and 12 RBIs in his past 11 games against the Brewers.
♣ Good matchup tonight: In the second game of this four-game series, we get streaking Derek Lowe vs. Yovani Gallardo, who has had some big games against the Braves.
Lowe has won six consecutive starts and has a 0.99 ERA in that span going back to the beginning of September. He has allowed more than one run just once in those six games (two in six innings of a Sept. 19 road win against the Mets).
He has 35 strikeouts and only five walks and one homer allowed in 36-1/3 innings during his winning streak.
Against Milwaukee, Lowe is 5-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 11 games (nine starts), including 3-0 with a 3.63 ERA in his past three (two last season).
Gallardo is 2-0 with a stingy 1.27 ERA in four starts against the Braves, who’ve hit just .147 against him in those games. They have 14 hits and one homer in 28-1/3 innings against him, with 25 strikeouts and 13 walks.
♣ Etc. The Braves play a night game Tuesday, finally. They opened the season with four consecutive day games for the first time since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966…. The Braves are 3-1, after going 32-23 in day games in 2010, second-best in the NL.
♣ Let’s close with a tune sung by Bobby Bare, one of the most underrated country singers there ever was, in my view. I like the music of his son, alt-rocker Bobby Bare Jr. But Sr. was the stuff. Shel Silverstein penned this, and you can hear Bobby Sr. sing it by clicking here.
“MARIE LAVEU” by Shel Silverstein
Down in Louisiana, where the black trees grow
Lives a voodoo lady named Marie Laveau
Got a black cat’s tooth and a Mojo bone
And anyone who wouldn’t leave her alone
She’d go (growl) another man done gone.
She lives in a swamp in a hollow log
With a one-eyed snake and a three-legged dog
She’s got a bent, bony body and stringy hair
If she ever seen y’all messin’ ’round there
She’d go (growl) another man done gone.
And then one night when the moon was black
Into the swamp come handsome Jack
A no good man like you all know
He was lookin’ around for Marie Laveau.
He said Marie Laveau, you handsome witch
Gimme a little a little charm that’ll make me rich
Gimme a million dollars and I tell you what I’ll do
This very night, I’m gonna marry you
Then It’ll be (growl) another man done gone.
So Marie done some magic, and she shook a little sand
Made a million dollars and she put it in his hand
Then she giggled and she wiggled, and she said Hey, Hey
I’m gettin’ ready for my weddin’ day.
But old handsome Jack he said goodbye Marie
You’re too damned ugly for a rich man like me
Then Marie started mumblin’, her fangs started gnashin’
Her body started tremblin’, and her eyes started flashin’
And she went (growl) another man done gone.
So if you ever git down where the black trees grow
And meet a voodoo lady named Marie Laveau
If she ever asks you to make her your wife
Man, you better stay with her for the rest of your life
Or it’ll be (growl) another man done gone.