(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this series.)
Washington – The ninth inning in last night’s game summed up the Braves recent offensive struggles, didn’t it?
They had runners first and third with nobody out, down 4-1, with a chance to make a real stink on the Washington Nationals and closer Tyler Clippard. Then Dan Uggla popped out in foul ground to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Brian McCann popped out to Adam LaRoche at first. Juan Francisco is the only one who got hold of a ball but flew out to end the game.
In a matter of five pitches, the scoring threat was over. .
“When you’ve got a couple guys who are struggling in the lineup, it seems like the big at-bats always find you,” Chipper Jones said when I asked him about that sequence last night and Uggla and McCann’s pop-ups. “They’re scuffling a little bit, they’ve got to just keep grinding out at-bats in hopes that they find a rhythm here pretty soon.
“But like I said, the guy out there on the mound in the ninth (Clippard) has got one of the best change-ups in the game and again, he’s got close to 30 saves on the season. He’s pretty good at his craft. That’s a solid ball club over there and they force you to play a perfect game to beat them, and we haven’t done it yet.”
Of the five pitches Uggla (four) and McCann (one) saw, four were change-ups and it’s what both of them popped out.
But it’s not just Clippard who’s been foiling the Braves’ boppers. Their previous time up, Drew Storen, needed only four pitches to get through those same three batters in the seventh inning.
McCann has been battling what he said was a cyst in his shoulder joint and a frayed labrum, and took a cortisone shot two weeks ago in Philadelphia. After showing a promising resurgence in July – hitting .296 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs, he’s settled back down in August. McCann is hitting .136 (6-for-44) with no home runs and one RBI this month.
Same deal with Uggla. Since he hit a three-run homer off Edinson Volquez on August 15, he has gone 2-for-23 (.087) with seven strikeouts. Since his three-hit game to help the Braves and Tim Hudson rally in Philadelphia on Aug. 8, Uggla is 6-for-38 (.158). Just when it looks like he’s about to take off again – most recently with his stretch of 12 RBIs in 11 games – he gets back into a rut.
Uggla is hitting only .208 on the season now, which is last in the National League among qualified regulars. The only every day players doing worse are over in the American League: Seattle’s Justin Smoak (.191), Tampa’s Carloa Pena (.194) and Chicago’s Adam Dunn (.206).
As a team the Braves have scored only seven runs in their past four games. For the month of August, the Braves are hitting .234, which is 12th in the National League, while the Nationals are hitting .267 which is fourth. The Braves have scored 86 runs this month, (averaging 4.3), to the Nationals’ 105 (averaging 5.0).
Medlen vs. Detwiler
The more games the Braves lose in this series the higher the stakes get for the next game and that’s so true for the finale tonight when Kris Medlen returns to the mound for the first time since Thursday, when he put up his finest outing as a professional with a complete-game shutout over the Padres.
Medlen is 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA in four starts since rejoining the rotation. And the Braves have now won each of his past 15 starts dating back to 2010 before his Tommy John surgery. That matched John Smoltz for the franchise record, which Smoltz did in 1996 when the Braves won 15 his starts in a row.
But none would be bigger than tonight. Medlen is making his first ever start against the Nationals. He’s faced them four times in relief this season and nine times in his career overall (2.77 ERA). He’s facing Ross Detwiler, whom Davey Johnson flip-flopped with Edwin Jackson, in part so he could throw a lefty at the Braves.
That four-game series the Braves split last trip here? The Braves won two games started by righties, Stephen Strasburg and Jackson, and lost both games started by lefties John Lannan and Detwiler. Detwiler gave up only two runs (one earned) in seven innings that day. But the Braves trailed by 4-0 after the first inning with Jair Jurrjens on the mound, so that changed the complexion of the game.
The Braves are 21-25 vs. lefty starters this season overall but have won their past two starts against lefties – Dodger lefty Chris Capuano gave up only three earned runs in 7 1/3 innings but the Braves came back to win 4-3 in extra innings. Before that, the Braves beat Padres lefty Clayton Richard, rolling up five earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.
Prior to that the Braves had lost three of their past four to lefties – the only exception was when they pounded Johan Santana for eight runs in 1 1/3 innings. (Otherwise, they lost to Eric Stults, one earned run in 7 2/3 innings, Jonathan Niese, one earned run in eight innings, and Cole Hamels, complete game shutout.)
Fredi Gonzalez said he was planning to sit McCann today against Detwiler but play him on Thursday night in San Francisco against Barry Zito.
Speaking of, the pitching matchups for Giants series are Tommy Hanson vs. Zito on Thursday, Ben Sheets vs. Ryan Vogelsong on Friday, Mike Minor vs. Madison Bumgarner on Saturday, Hudson vs. Tim Lincecum on Sunday….So the Braves do miss Matt Cain.
Johnson on wild card vs. division
I need to go on and file this thing, but wanted to pass along some quotes my friends the Nats hacks passed along from Davey Johnson last night. This is the Nationals manager talking about how much more pressure there is on teams to win the division now that there is a wild card playoff game:
“There’s really more pressure on you to win your division. There’s 10 times more pressure. Those guys know it. Getting the wild card before, you’re in the playoffs. Now you get the wild card and you’ve got a one-game playoff and that puts you really behind the eight-ball because you’ll probably use your best pitcher in that one-game playoff.
“Any time you go up against the club that’s fighting you for the division it’s more weighted. There’s more concentration. There’s more energy level. There’s more on the table. Atlanta. After yesterday they were very dejected. After today they were very dejected because they know. They’ve got a pretty good lead on the wild card but they don’t want the wild card. Believe it. Everybody was all excited about the new wild card being added. I wasn’t real keen on it. I knew right away that you could be the second club in your division and you’ve got a one-game playoff. It’s not a comfortable feeling for clubs fighting for the pennant. Same way with San Francisco and LA. There’s heat on them.”
1. Prado LF
2. Johnson CF
3. Heyward RF
4. Jones 3B
5. Freeman 1B
6. Ross C
7. Pastornicky 2B
8. Janish SS
9. Medlen P