(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien.)
You know that nosy neighbor or “friend” who can pop in at the most unwanted times? Tonight’s Braves-Nationals series finale seems to have that feel to me. The ESPN trucks are here and tonight at 8:05 p.m. the national spotlight will be shining on the Braves, who just happened to be mired in their longest losing streak of the season at six games now.
The Braves are struggling just to get through games healthy right now, with Chipper Jones on the DL with a nasty calf contusion, Freddie Freeman battling dry eyes and blurry vision, Brian McCann trying to build his strength back after missing four of the past five games with a virus, David Ross nursing a strained hamstring, and Matt Diaz just getting over strep throat. So hm, take a breath.
And here the Braves are, having lost four in a row in Cincinnati and the first two games in this series against the Nationals, only to show up at the
ballpark tonight to face the guy who’s actually been the Nationals’ best pitcher all along this season: Gio Gonzalez, who is 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA.
If there’s anybody the Braves would hand pick to match up with him though, it’s the guy they have tonight in Brandon Beachy, who is 5-2 with a 1.77 ERA himself. The last time he pitched at Turner Field on May 17, he threw a complete game shutout against the Marlins, the first of his career.
In his last start Beachy gave up three homers at Great American Ballpark and took his first loss since his first start of the season April 9 in Houston. The four runs allowed total were a season-high for Beachy, who had allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of his first eight starts. Even so, he’s still leading the majors in ERA (1.77).
Gonzalez, 26, is third in the majors in ERA and he comes into the game on a four-game winning streak. The Nationals have won eight of his nine starts this season, since trading for Gonzalez and shortly thereafter signing him to a five-year $42 million extension this past winter. He’s coming off a 16-12 season with Oakland last year and his first appearance in the All-Star game.
Gonzalez shut out the Phillies for six innings in his last start on Monday, allowing only three hits, walking three and striking out nine. In his past three games he’s had nine, 10 and nine strikeouts. If there are any “complaints” from the Nats side, it’s the number of pitches Gonzalez is throwing – kinda like Stephen Strasburg on Saturday (five innings, 95 pitches) – Gonzalez had 108 pitches in six innings on Monday.
Gonzalez does have a tendency for a little wildness. He had 90-plus walks in about 200 innings in each of his past two seasons in Oakland. He’s had a four-walk and five-walk gave this season but is otherwise doing a better job of minimizing the free passes. Also, Gonzalez has allowed only one home run in 54 2/3 innings this season, after giving up 17 last year in Oakland and 15 the year before.
Backup shortstop Jack Wilson is the only Braves hitter with any experience against Gonzalez, from his days in the AL West with Seattle. Wilson is 2-for-12 with four strikeouts against Gonzalez. I don’t even think the Braves saw him in spring training.
Entering tonight’s game against the Nationals, the Braves’ team ERA was 4.14, 11th in the National League. This is after they finished last season with a 3.48 ERA overall, fourth in the NL.
As much as the Braves have shown improvement (though not so much lately) with their approach at the plate, they have sprung a few leaks on the pitching front. Much of it has to do with the struggles of Mike Minor and Randall Delgado, and you don’t figure Jair Jurrjens is going to be in Triple-A at this point in the season. (He pitched eight scoreless innings for Gwinnett on Sunday vs. Rochester, allowing only three hits, no walks, five strikeouts. Scout who said him said his fastball was anywhere from 89-93 mph, velocity was improved and threw some good sinkers. He was getting some ground balls. So a good sign for Jurrjens.)
But the bullpen has been victimized too. The Braves’ bullpen ERA is 3.68, eighth in the NL, compared to 3.02 at the end of last season which tied them with the Giants for first in the NL.
And who would have figured on May 27, the Braves would be fourth in the NL East and the Phillies’ fifth? Or is it more surprising is to see the Mets tied for second?
Things are still coming really tough for the Braves within the division. They were 4-9 in the NL East entering Sunday night, compared to 12-10 vs. the NL Central, 8-2 against the NL West and 2-1 against the American League (Tampa).
Right now they’d just take a win of any kind against any team, and it’s not getting any easier any time soon with the Cardinals coming in Monday and then the Braves traveling to Washington on Friday.
Braves-Cards pitching match-ups:
For the Cardinals series (everybody is right-handed): Tommy Hanson (5-3, 3.12) vs. Lance Lynn (7-1, 2.54); Randall Delgado (2-5, 4.53) vs. Jake Westbrook (4-3, 3.38); Tim Hudson (3-2, 4.12) vs. Kyle Lohse (5-1, 2.90).
This and that
So I’m thinking the Orioles are pretty happy they didn’t give Adam Jones up at the trade deadline last year, to the Braves or anyone else they entertained at least a casual conversation with – happy to the tune of $85.5 million over six years in a deal that was announced on Sunday.
The 26-year-old Jones has been the Orioles’ MVP this season and it’s been quite a season so far. Baltimore was 29-18 entering play Sunday, tied with Texas for the best record in the American League.
Jones was riding a 17-game hitting streak entering Sunday and leading his team in batting average (.309), homers (14), RBIs (31), on-base percentage (.351), hits (59) and stolen bases (eight).
Braves talks never got beyond the initial stages, even though on paper it seemed they could be a good fit, with young pitching the Orioles coveted. But the asking price, reportedly Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens in addition to some of that highly-touted young pitching, was more than the Braves were going to do.
Brian McCann did some running before the game and was close to getting back in the lineup but isn’t yet. Fredi Gonzalez said McCann could be back in there Monday but with a day game in the heat, he was leaving it up to him. (In other words, how much better is he going to feel 12 hours from now, and when it’s 90 some degrees for a day game.) But there’s a chance he’ll be back in there and if he wakes up feeling good. Having J.C. Boscan up now, though Fredi would be OK with McCann just going for a few innings if that’s all he can manage. As he puts it, any ABs from McCann is better than none.
1. Michael Bourn CF
2. Tyler Pastornicky SS
3. Martin Prado 3B
4. Dan Uggla 2B
5. Matt Diaz LF
6. Eric Hinske 1B
7. Jason Heyward RF
8. J.C. Boscan C
9. Brandon Beachy P