Not much time to crank out a blog today, so here are a few observations and facts while thinking how good the Braves must feel knowing they just endured an eight-game losing skid, and have hit just .183 with 29 runs in their past 11 games, yet are still just three games out of first place in the toughest division in the National League and one of the two toughest in the majors.
Yes, every team in the NL East has a record above .500 right now, with the Phillies bringing up the rear at 26-25. The Braves are 27-24, three games behind division leader Washington (29-20) and with three games awaiting against the Nationals this weekend in D.C. Three games against the team that just swept them in three at Atlanta.
It goes without saying, there may never be a better time for the Braves to show they can beat a tough division opponent, especially without Chipper Jones in the lineup, than this weekend. Nothing short of a series win is going to sit well with the Braves and their followers, who know the Nationals are even more beat up than the Braves, in terms of key players out for extended stretches.
The Braves should have Freddie Freeman back in the lineup for that series and possibly as soon as tonight against St. Louis, depending how today’s batting practice session goes with the big first baseman wearing his new goggles that were due to arrive today.
Fredi Gonzalez said it might take a day or two for Freeman to get used to hitting in them before he plays a game, but I’ve got to think Freeman, as frustrated as he sounded yesterday by his recent slump and then absence from the lineup for a dry-eye condition that’s rendered his contacts useless for baseball purposes, will try to talk his way into the lineup tonight so he can attempt to help the Braves capture a series win against the Cardinals after being swept by the Reds and Nationals and before they have a day off tomorrow to rest in D.C. before facing Washington.
How much have they missed his bat? Very much. That .183 average in the past 11 games has as much to do with Freeman’s troubles as it does with the absence of anyone including Chipper.
The Braves need a series win at D.C. before they head to Miami for their first series at the Marlins’ new ballpark. In case you’ve missed it, the Marlins (28-22) are are a league-best 20-8 in May and tied with the Mets – the Mets! – for second in the East, only 1-1/2 games behind the Nationals.
Oh, and the only other division in baseball with every team above .500 is the AL East, with Boston in last at 25-24 but only 3-1/2 games out of first. And guess who the Braves face after this tough six-game trip against the Nationals and Marlins? Why, the AL East, of course. They’ll have home series against Toronto, the Yankees and Baltimore, then a road trip to the Bronx and Boston. Fifteen games against AL East teams before getting back into NL play against Arizona on June 26.
The Braves made it through an eight-game skid without losing much ground. But now they’ve got to pick up their performance in every area before this six-game trip followed by 15-game interleague stretch against the other toughest division in baseball.
Even with all the injuries and illness, it’s hard to fathom how the Braves have hit .183 while going 2-9 in their past 11 games, with nary a double-digit hit game in that entire stretch, and three runs or fewer in eight of 11 games. This after they had hit .282 with 202 runs while going 25-11 in their previous 36 games (5.6 runs per game).
And their .183 average in the past 11 games includes 13 hits by Martin Prado. Prado has hit .333 in that stretch, while the rest of the Braves have hit .163. One-sixty-three!
Last night’s 5-4 win, fueled by homers by Michael Bourn and Dan Uggla (a three-run shot) overshadowed the fact that Atlanta had just five hits in the game, to the Cardinals’ 10. The Braves have hit .149 in their past three games, with five hits or fewer in each.
• Reconsidering Durbin… If you’re one of those who still says “game over” or “waving the white flag” when Chad Durbin enters a game, it’s time to put a moratorium on that until further notice.
Because the simple fact is, he’s been one of the Braves’ top relievers for a while now. Seriously.
Some can’t get past the fact that Durbin, a late addition to the team at the end of spring, gave up nine hits, six runs and three homers in 3 innings in his first three appearances through April 15.
But folks, since then Durbin has posted a 2.93 ERA and .170 opp average in 20 appearances, allowed nine hits and five runs in 15-1/3 innings. Yes, as many hits in 20 appearances as he allowed in his first three.
In his past nine scorless appearances, Durbin has allowed just one hit and two walks with eight strikeouts and .053 opponents’ average in 6-1/3 innings.
Big Three update: Closer Craig Kimbrel gave up a run in three consecutive appearances April 29-May 4, but has been back to his overpowering self since. He has allowed no runs, one hit and two walks in seven scoreless innings since then, including including four perfect innings with five strikeouts in his past four appearances
Eric O’Flaherty has allowed no hits and one walk with three strikeouts in 3-2/3 innings over his past five scoreless appearances.
Meanwhile, Jonny Venters has a 6.75 ERA in 13 May games after allowing another run on three consecutive singles Tuesday night. For the month, the lefty has allowed 21 hits, 10 runs (eight earned), three homers, four walks, four HBPs and a .420 opp average with nine strikeouts in 10-2/3 innings.
Last May Venters had a 0.47 ERA in 16 games, allowing 10 hits, one run, seven walks, two HBPs and a .164 opponents’ average with 16 strikeouts in 19 innings.
• Uggs through 51: Uggla’s three-run homer Tuesday was his eight of the season and third with a runner or runners on base. So where do Uggla’s stats stand compared to the same point last season? Glad you asked.
Uggla has hit .262 with a .379 OBP and .454 slugging percentage, with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 51 games.
A year ago through 51 games, he hit 180/.250/.335 with seven homers and and 15 RBIs.
The strikeouts/walks totals are interesting: He has 34 walks and 56 strikeouts through 51 games this season, after totaling 17 walks and 43 strikeouts at the same point a year ago.
The Braves were 28-23 through his first 51 games last season, and 27-24 this year.
• OK, out of time. Let’s close with a classic from Dire Straits, which you can hear by clicking here.
“SULTANS OF SWING” by Dire Straits
You get a shiver in the dark
It’s a rainin’ in the park, but meantime
South of the river you stop and you hold everything
A band is blowin’ Dixie double four time
You feel alright when you hear the music ring…
And now you step inside but you don’t see too many faces
Comin’ in out of the rain to hear the jazz go down
Competition in other places…
Oh but the horns they blowin’ that sound
Way on down south, way on down south London town
You check out Guitar George, he knows all the chords
But he’s strictly rhythm he doesn’t wanna make it cry or sing
They’ve said an old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing
And Harry doesn’t mind, if he doesn’t make the scene
He’s got a daytime job, he’s doin’ alright
He can play the honky tonk like anything
Savin’ it up, Friday night…
With the Sultans… with the Sultans of Swing
And a crowd of young boys they’re fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles
They don’t give a damn ’bout any trumpet playing band
It ain’t what they call rock and roll
And the Sultans… yeah the Sultans, they play Creole
And then the man he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last just as the time bell rings
‘Goodnight, now it’s time to go home’
And he makes it fast with one more thing
‘We are the Sultans… We are the Sultans of Swing’
by David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog