The Braves’ pitching has been an overall disappointment and the team has been exploring all potential possibilities to improve the starting rotation, with Sunday’s signing of Ben Sheets only the first of what the team says could be a couple of starting pitchers added before the non-waiver trade deadline.
No one realistically expects Sheets, who’ll be 34 this month, to be the overpowering game-changing type of pitcher he was in his Milwaukee heyday. Not after two elbow surgeries in two years and after not pitching in a game for nearly two years. But according to those who watched him pitch last week at Georgia Tech, he can be an improvement over what the Braves currently have at the back end of their rotation.
First, swap him for Mike Minor or Randall Delgado, which the Braves plan to do soon after the All-Star break, as long as Sheets is healthy and looks ready after a few minor-league starts.
Then trade for another pitcher in the next four weeks, whether it’s Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Zack Greinke (whom I still think is unlikely given the multiple prospects it’ll cost to get him and the huge contract it’ll take to re-sign him next winter) or even a Francisco Liriano. All of a sudden, the Braves’ Brandon Beachy-less rotation would look a whole lot more reliable than the current situation, which is three days where the Braves have a pretty good chance to win, then two days when they have absolutely no idea what they’ll get from the two young starters.
And for those who wonder why the Braves are interested in Minnesota lefty Liriano, given his 2-7 record, 5.40 ERA and 44 walks in 76-2/3 innings over 18 games (13 starts) this season, consider these numbers since he moved from the bullpen back into the regular rotation on May 30:
In his past seven games (all starts), he’s 2-2 with a 2.95 ERA, .170 opponents’ average and 18 walks with 46 strikeouts in 42-2/3 innings. He has five quality starts in that seven-game period, and the Twins scored no runs while he was in the two losses, and one run while he was in two of the three no-decisions.
And did we mention, he’s left-handed? Also, he’s making $5.5 million this season, which means Liriano is only owed about half of that amount for the rest of the season. The Braves can afford him. And, unlike what it might take to get a Dempster (that is, if they want the Cubs to eat part of the $6 million or so he’ll still be owed on his $14 million contract) or a Garza (he’s making $9.5 mill this season and is still under contractual control for another year), the Braves probably wouldn’t have to give up a couple of good-or-better prospects to get Liriano.
Dempster, who has a strained lat muscle and is expected back from the DL after the All-Star break, also makes sense for the Braves because of his experience and clubhouse reputation, which Braves GM Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez both know from their days in the Marlins organization when Dempster was coming up with Florida.
• But about the hitting: OK, so the pitching is one disappointing area the Braves are trying to improve. But what about the offense? Specifically, the Braves’ continued inconsistency with runners in scoring position. (And actually, that’s not accurate in that they are pretty consistent in that area lately – consistently bad.)
The Braves are now tied for 24th in majors with a .235 batting average with RISP, and their .681 OPS with RISP is 25th, ahead of only the Marlins, Cubs, Royals, Giants and Padres.
Can the Braves just stick with what they have and expect it all to come together in the second half? So far, they’ve only had the one early season stretch where most of their hitters were healthy and productive at the same time. And lately, the RISP thing has been particularly costly given the pitching woes and the early deficits the team has faced in many games.
Tough to come from behind when you waste so many scoring opportunities. (Not to mention when you can’t count on the bullpen to be the lock-down, majors-best unit it was last season.)
The Braves have lost three of their past four games, and in those three losses here’s what they did with RISP: 1-for-8 in Sunday’s 8-4 loss to Washington, 2-for-10 in Friday’s 5-4 loss to Washington, and 0-for-8 in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to Arizona.
No Brave has hit above .292 with runners in scoring position this season, and the three Braves with the most RISP at-bats are all at .236 or below: Dan Uggla (.236, 17-for-72), Freddie Freeman (.211, 16-for-76) and Brian McCann (.179, 12-for-67)
The Brave with the fourth-most at-bats with RISP is leadoff man Michael Bourn, who’s tied for team lead with a .292 average (19-for-65) in those situations.
BRAVES LINEUP Monday
• Home-field advantage? So much for the notion that plus-100 temperatures might give the Braves a home-field advantage. But then, anyone who’s been to D.C. during a heatwave knows that the Nationals have played in more uncomfortable conditions than this weekend, when it was absurdly hot (106 degrees Saturday, 104 on Sunday) but not nearly as humid as it usually is during the summer here in Atlanta or Washington.
And so the Braves’ odd home/road disparity continues. Now granted, it’s only a half-season, and we’ve seen these sort of things turn around suddenly, without warning. And we really have no explanation for why this particular Braves team would play so much better on the road, where in the recent past they’ve had seasons where they ranked among the majors’ best home teams and struggled on the road.
That said, here are the numbers so far, and note how they reversed after the first few games at home and on the road:
The Braves swept their three-game opening home series against Milwaukee, but since then they’ve gone 15-20 with a 4.50 ERA and 155 runs in 35 home games (4.4 runs per game).
The Braves lost the first four games on the road to start the season, but since then they’ve gone 23-13 with a 3.56 ERA and 173 runs in 36 games (4.8 runs per game).
The Braves are 4-9 with a .258 batting average and 4.15 ERA in their past 13 home games, and 7-3 with a .276 average and 3.41 ERA in their past 10 road games.
For the season, the Braves are 18-20 with a 4.43 ERA at Turner Field, and 23-17 with a 3.67 ERA on the road.
The only NL East team with a worse home record than Atlanta is Philadelphia (17-24), while the only division team with a better home record than Atlanta is Washington (20-14).
• Hudson vs. Nats: Tim Hudson has faced the Nationals twice this season, and in both games they scored four runs in the top of the first inning. The Nationals went on to win 7-4 in the May 25 game, and won 8-4 on Sunday when Huddy again got rocked by the visiting Nats in the opening frame.
“For the second time in a row they ambushed Huddy early,” Chipper Jones said after Sunday’s loss. “They did it to him the last time they were in town, and today was just like his first inning the last time. We’ve got to get that ironed out, because that team’s in first place for a reason – they’ve got really good lock-down starting pitching. They’ve got a real good back end to the bullpen. It’s tough to string stuff together against them.
“I thought we did a good job once again of seeing a lot of pitches from their starter and getting him knocked out of the game early. But when you fall down early and then you make mistakes late in the game to give up a couple of runs late, it takes a lot of the wind out of your sails.”
The Braves got within 6-4 on Sunday after Freeman’s three-run homer in the sixth inning, but Jonny Venters stumbled again in the two-run eighth inning.
Since May 1, Venters has a 6.14 ERA and .348 opponents’ average in 29 appearances, with 32 hits, 17 runs (15 earned) and 12 walks allowed in 22 innings.
With Hudson, the odd thing is that his 0-2 record and 8.53 ERA in two starts against the Nationals this season comes against one of the teams he dominated for most of his career. Before this season, he was 14-3 with a 2.05 ERA in 23 starts against Washington.
• Catching oddity: Speaking of strange numbers, get a lot of the day/night splits for Braves catchers McCann and David Ross.
In 15 day games, McCann is a team-worst 4-for-49 (.082) with one homer, two RBIs, .291 OPS.
In 12 day games, Ross is team-best 14-for-39 (.359) with two homers, four RBIs, .996 OPS.
In 47 night games, McCann is 49-for-185 (.265) with eight homers, 33 RBIs, .782 OPS.
In 15 night games, Ross is a team-worst 6-for-33 (.182) with one homer, three RBIs, .553 OPS.
Freeman has hit .323 (21-for-65) with 12 RBIs, .366 OBP and .477 slugging in 18 games since June 5, including .378 (14-for-37) with two homers, .622 slugging and 10 RBIs in his past 10 games, and .476 (10-for-21) with six RBIs during a six-game hitting streak….
Chipper has hit .357 (10-for-28) with four doubles, one homer, five RBIs, six walks and .471 OBP during a six-game hitting streak….
Uggla has hit .208 with four homers, 46 strikeouts and a .358 slugging percentage in 120 at-bats (37 games) at home, and .252 with seven homers, 46 K, .450 slugging in 151 at-bats (40 games) on the road…
Uggla with 2 strikes: .116 (17-for-147) with four homers, 30 walks, 92 strikeouts. Uggla in day games: .200 (16-for-80) with four homers, 16 walks, 27 K, .340 OBP…
The Braves are 10-14 with a 4.50 ERA in day games, and 31-23 with a 3.86 ERA at night.
• Let’s close with “And it Shook Me” from the great Graham Parker, which you can hear by clicking here.
“AND IT SHOOK ME” by Graham Parker
And it shook me, it shook me up, it shook me up, yeah
I remember the way you looked when we first met
There are some things in this world you can`t forget
You were standing underneath the light I lost my heart, It felt all right
And it shook me, and I’m still shaking now.
I remember rainy nights I thought I`d drown
Was it London New York Paris or Amsterdam
I forget the details no I must admit But you were there through all of it
And it shook me, and I’m still shaking now.
Will you hold on and hope our grip don’t fail
Sometimes lovers hammer in their own coffin nails
I just read how universes start, continually they blow apart
And it shook me and I’m still shaking now.
Some believe in a heaven up above
With a God that forgives all with his great love
Well I forgive you if you forgive me, hey! Who needs the third party anyway
And it shook me and I`m still shaking now.
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog