PHILADELPHIA – With only 12 games left to play in the regular season, Braves leadoff man Michael Bourn knows it’s getting late for him to get it going again, to restore the lineup spark he provided most of the first four months.
He doubled and scored in the first inning of Wednesday’s 3-0 win at Miami – just his second extra-base hit in 29 games — and the Braves hope it was a sign of things to come. But he also struck out twice and has piled up 13 strikeouts in 30 at-bats over his past eight games, with only three hits and three walks in nine games as his slump deepened.
The Braves are winning anyway, but that has more to do with their pitching and occasional timely hits from others. They’re 10-4 with a 2.38 ERA in their past 14 games, including six wins when they scored three runs or fewer. To put it bluntly, they’re winning lately despite Bourn’s performance atop the lineup, after winning for much of the season because of it.
After hitting .304 in his first 94 games, with 34 extra-base hits, 38 RBIs, 64 runs and a .359 on-base percentage and .445 slugging percentage, the center fielder has hit .211 in his past 55 games with nine extra-base hits, 18 RBIs, 27 runs and a .314 OBP and .282 slugging percentage.
He had an .804 on-base-plus-slugging percentage through 94 games, when Bourn was on pace for a career-best season in his free-agent year. He has a .596 OPS in his past 55 games.
It’s been worse lately: In his past 28 games. he’s hit .168 (17-for-101) with two doubles, five RBIs, eight runs and a .480 OPS.
“It’s all feel, man,” Bourn said. “That’s all it is. And my feel, it can be there one time and not the next. Even if I don’t feel good and I hit the ball hard, it’s going right at somebody, or it hits the mound or does something else.”
If he’s worried, it’s not showing. Bourn is the same upbeat guy he’s been all season, and his defense has remained strong. But he’s not the nuisance for opposing pitchers that he was in the first half, and that alters the entire offense. With the postseason approaching, when high-caliber pitching is the order of the day and runs are at a premium, the Braves want to get their table-setter back in a groove.
In the first half, Bourn and No.2 hitter Martin Prado were the league’s best top-of-the-order combination. Only Prado has kept up the pace.
“I’ve been through a slump before, numerous times,” said Bourn, whose average is down to .272 with a .343 OBP and a career-high 149 strikeouts, fifth-most in the National League and only nine fewer than teammate Dan Uggla, who has a franchise-record 158 strikeouts.
“You’ve got to continue to work, continue to battle, and just have confidence in yourself that you’ll come up out of it. That’s all hitting is, for the most part,” he said.
With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Braves hope he’ll get it back. They are a far better offensive team with Bourn on base two or three times a game.
“Those at-bats are getting better,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Wednesday’s game. “He had a couple of good at-bats. Those are good signs. I believe the groundball the other night, he beats that out or the call gets changed differently, those are good things that keep going and building.
“Good at-bats for Bourny [Wednesday], and we get a day off before three [games] against the Phillies.”
After an off day Thursday, they open a three-game series against the Phillies on Friday, with a favorable matchup for Bourn in right-hander Kyle Kendrick (9-11, 3.95 ERA). Against Kendrick, he’s 7-for-14 with two homers. Prado is 8-for-17 with a homer against Kendrick.
Last division stop on Chipper tour
With less than two weeks left in his final season, the Chipper Jones Farewell Tour makes it last NL East stop in Philadelphia. Then there will be just six more regular-season home games against the Marlins and Mets, and a season-ending series at Pittsburgh before the Braves try to go deep into the postseason one last time with their 40-year-old third baseman.
In his last game in Miami on Wednesday, Jones had a third-inning single that tied him with Yankees legend Lou Gehrig for 58th on the all-time hits list with 2,721. It wasn’t just another luminary on the list of many that Jones has caught or passed in various categories the past couple of seasons.
“Lou’s a big one — that’s the Iron Horse, man,” Jones said. “Just really honored to have as many hits in my career as one of the greatest in the game. Now we’ve got to work on passing him.”
For all the attention paid to Jones’ career exploits against the Mets, he’s been even better against the Phillies. He has a .332 career average against Philadelphia (.311 vs. the Mets) with a career-best 70 doubles, 49 homers, 151 RBIs and a 1.041 OPS in 243 games. His .442 OBP and .599 slugging percentage against the Phillies are his highs against NL opponents.
The 49 homers against the Phillies matches his total against the Mets as his high against any team, and Jones has one series left against each. The Mets play at Turner Field next week.
His three home runs against the Phillies in 2012 have all been at Turner Field, including a pair of dramatic game-enders.