Only one team in baseball has more wins than the Braves (34) entering today’s games, which seems rather remarkable to me considering some of the slumps the team has endured and especially given a lot of the comments I read on a daily basis both on my blog and on Twitter.
It really has been a crazy first third of the season for these Bravos, who’ve been as hot as any team in baseball at times, and the coldest team in baseball at others. That is the nature of a 162-game season, it’s just that these Braves have been a bit more extreme in both the highs and lows than we typically in a two-month span in most seasons.
But the criticism. I mean, it’s off the charts at times, for a team that’s one game out of first place in the toughest division in the National League and arguably the toughest in baseball.
I mean, if you didn’t know better and read some of the stuff said about this team just two weeks ago during its eight-game losing skid, you’d have sworn it was a hopeless case and that the manager, pitching coach and perhaps both hitting coaches should be fired, that at least four of the lineup regulars were overrated and would be lucky to start for most teams, and that the pitching staff was full of washed-up No. 5 starters and one-hit wonder relievers, with the exception of Craig Kimbrel.
Granted, the epic September collapse understandably left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, but are we as a baseball market ever going to get past the, for lack of a better term, football mentality by which so many of us (fans and media) judge a team by one series or one bad (or great) week, and sometimes even by one bad game?
Because it really is sort of pointless to make all these black-or-white declarations after a game or three games in a 162-game season, folks. Which most of you understand, but the at least a very vocal portion of the audience does not, judging from the never-ending diatribes and missives we get condemning the team, its players, even the people who cover it, apparently for not forcing our will upon team decision-makers and demanding that someone, anyone, be held accountable after the team starts out 0-4 or goes through an eight-game losing skid.
It won’t change, I realize that. But figured it was worth pointing out. There are a lot of people among us (fans and media) who genuinely think they know more about baseball than the guys being paid a lot of money to manage or assemble the team, which always strikes me as a rather bold attitude (I would say arrogant or absurd, but that’s a bit harsh on Sunday morning) to have about an endeavor that most of us played only at an amateur level.
But anyway, I’ll leave it at that. What made me think about it was the suggestion by someone on Twitter yesterday, after Hanson gave up a two-run homer to Jose Bautista in the sixth inning, that Fredi Gonzalez was an idiot for leaving Tommy Hanson in to pitch the sixth, even though Hanson was throwing a two-hit shutout through five innings.
The person told me it didn’t matter, that Hanson should have come out after five because Hanson had become a five-inning pitcher and his command always deteriorated after that, which was apparent if I’d check his past 20 starts. Nevermind that Hanson had pitched seven innings innings in his previous start, and given up no runs in the last six of those seven innings.
Gonzalez left him in Saturday, and after Hanson gave up three straight hits in the sixth including a homer to Bautista – who has 17 of them – he retired the last seven batters he faced in a career-high eight-inning outing that saved a weary bullpen. Hanson gave up five hits and two runs in eight innings.
Of course, there was never an “I was wrong” follow-up Tweet from the person who’d argued with me on the point.
• Rollercoaster ride: Anyway, as to our original point about the streaky nature of this team so far this season….
Since their 0-4 start, the Braves have gone 34-21. The only major league team with more than 34 wins this season is the Dodgers, who are 38-22.
But within that 34-21 period of games, check out some of the extreme hot and cold stretches.
After the 0-4 start, the Braves went 10-1 with a .293 average and 3.27 ERA in their next 11 games through April 21.
Then they went 5-6 with a .260 average and 5.09 ERA in their next 11.
Then then won 11 of their next 16 while batting .281 with a 3.51 ERA and 83 runs (more than five per game).
That 11-5 stretch was followed by the eight-game skid May 21-May 28, during which the Braves hit a pitiful .173 and totaled 20 runs while posting a 5.66 ERA.
Many in Braves Nation figured the September Collapse mentality was back and the end was at hand.
Well, since then the Braves have won eight of nine games while batting .271 with 48 runs (5.3 per game) and posting a sparkling 2.33 ERA, getting strong performances night after night from starters and relievers, many of whom had struggled mightily during May.
Better yet, don’t. As the Braves themselves are doing, better to keep an even keel. That’s something that Fredi Gonzalez and many of the current Braves learned under Bobby Cox.
“One thing’s for sure in this game, you just never know,” Gonzalez said after Saturday’s win. “You’ve got to ride out the good ones, and you feel like when you’re winning these games, you feel like you’re never going to lose. And when you’ve got a 5, 6, 7, 8-game losing streak you feel like you’re never going to win a game. Enjoy it. and hopefully tomorrow [Julio] Teheran will give us a good outing with a fresh bullpen and for us to keep swinging the bats.”
They looked awful during their eight-game skid. Looked like a team with little chance of competing for a playoff berth, even with the extra wild card added beginning this year. But in winning eight of nine including the past six in a row, the Braves have looked like a team capable of winning the best division in the NL.
“We’re right back where we were,” said Dan Uggla, who hit a three-run homer Saturday and has six homers, 17 RBIs and a .460 OBP and 1.199 OPS in his past 15 games, with more walks (16) than strikeouts (14) in that span.
“You’re going to go through stretches like that [slump] throughout the season. You’ve just got to battle and try to get them over as quickly as possible. Obviously that one lasted a lot longer than we wanted it to, but we’ve played an put ourselves back in the position we wanted to be in.”
Said Hanson: “On every team I’ve ever been on, you have your ups and downs. You can’t ride the rollercoaster. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. We didn’t do that. We know we’ve got a good team. Sometimes the ball’s going to bounce your way, sometimes it’s not. You’ve just got to keep working hard and grinding, and hopefully it goes your way more than not.”
It’s 162, folks. Not 16. A six-month grind. Strap in, because we’ve still got 103 games to go.
Love baseball. It’s epic. Not for those with short attention spans, either in its pace within a game or over the length of a season.
Even more reason to love it.
Potent duo: Uggla has moved up to fifth in the NL with 41 RBIs, and much of the reason is the continued surges by the Braves’ dynamic 1-2 duo at the top of the order, Michael Bourn and Martin Prado.
They’ve batted 1-2 in 53 of the Braves’ 59 games and lead NL 1-2 hitters with a combined .320 average and .376 on-base percentage.
Bourn has reeled off three consecutive three-hit games entering today’s series finale against the Blue Jays, going 9-for-13 with three doubles, a homer and four RBIs in that stretch, with one walk and no strikeouts.
Bourn has hit .338 with a .386 OBP and .882 OPS in his past 53 games, with 20 RBIs, 40 runs and 15 stolen bases in that span. During the Braves’ 8-1 tear, he’s gone 16-for-38 (.421) with six extra-base hits, nine runs and five RBIs.
As for Prado, his bat hasn’t cooled for any significant stretches since he heated up in the third week of April. He’s hit .333 with a .401 OBP and .898 OPS in his past 47 games, with 23 RBIs and 32 runs in that period.
In his past 29 games, Prado has hit .371 with a .421 OBP, .552 slugging percentage and 15 extra-base hits.
What’s been especially encouraging for the Braves is that they’ve won eight of nine while Chipper Jones has been on the disabled list. Until this stretch the Braves had been 7-19 without him in the lineup, and 19-5 with him.
Chipper’s been activated for today’s game after a two-day rehab stint at Class-A Rome, and he’s in the lineup batting third.
“I never like being away but the guys are playing some good baseball,” he said this morning. “We are getting good pitching. Uggla and [Heyward] are carrying us offensively. Those two are teaming up to give us a lot of offense. Mike Bourn has gotten back in the swing again. Whenever Mike is doing what he is doing, that’s when our offense takes off. When he was going through that little bit of a slide in between hot streaks, our offense struggled. It’s no secret what our secret to success is – Mike Bourn setting the table, good starting pitching, good defense. That’s been the right formula for the last week.”
• Rainy Sunday: OK, let’s get this posted before first pitch. You might have plenty of time to come back and finish it if you only skimmed over it now, because we could have some rain delays today. The Braves and Blue Jays really want to get the game in, though, because these teams don’t meet again this season and it’d be a pain to have to reschedule it on an off day.
We’re all interested to see what Braves prospect Teheran will do today in his spot start in place of Tim Hudson, who’s got bone spurs in his left ankle but is expected to be back to start Wednesday in the series finale against the Yankees.
Most of you know Teheran, 21, is generally rated among the top five prospects in baseball. He lost a spring-training competition with Randall Delgado for the final spot in the rotation when Hudson opened the season on the disabled list recovering from back surgery.
And when Jair Jurrjens went 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in his first four starts for the Braves and got demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, Delgado was the replacement, not Teheran.
Jurrjens has gone 3-3 with a 5.26 ERA in eight starts at Gwinnett, and the Braves want him to continue working on things and get more consistent before they bring him back to the majors.
Teheran was 5-2 with a 3.15 ERA in 11 starts at Gwinnett, with 43 strikeouts and 21 walks in 54-1/3 innings. He’s been inconsistent but is coming off his best start of the season, a seven-hit complete game at Charlotte on Sunday, when he allowed one run on a homer and had no walks with six strikeouts.
Teheran got his first big-league experience last season, going 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA in five games (three starts) for the Braves.
By the way, Heyward is getting a rest day against a tough lefty, Ricky Romero. Matt Diaz is in right field.
• We’ll close with a great tune done so well by Bobby Bare, which you can hear by clicking here.
“WHAT AM I GONNA DO” by Bobby Bare (C. King, T. Stern)
What am I gonna do girl what am I gonna do I love you so much what am I gonna do
What am I gonna do girl what am I gonna do I love you so much what am I gonna do
Sittin’ here and thinkin’ bout you so far away
Wondering what you’re thinkin’ wondering what you’d say
If you were sittin’ here beside me here alone beside me
Used to be so good with you baby baby
What am I gonna do what am I gonna do I love you so much what am I gonna do
You left me here alone said it all takes time
I should keep the place together keep everything in line
Why aren’t you sittin’ here beside me here alone beside me
Till you come back to me baby baby
What am I gonna do
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog