The Braves’ chances of reeling in the Nationals and winning an NL East title were reduced after they lost three in a row to the Padres and Phillies back on Aug. 29-Sept. 1 and again after they got swept in three at Milwaukee Sept. 10-12. But the hopes didn’t end until Monday night’s 2-1 loss to the skidding Pirates at mostly empty PNC Park.
The Pirates, who only a day before had lost for the 22nd time in 29 games to secure their 20th consecutive losing season, didn’t figure to be the team to drive the proverbial final nail in the Braves’ division-title hopes, especially with ex-Braves prospect Jeff Locke pitching for the Bucs. He of the 0-6 record and 7.08 ERA in nine previous career starts.
But in this often unusual and inconsistent Braves season, the unexpected happened once again. Locke allowed only one run and two hits (albeit with five walks) in six inning and the Braves mustered nothing against the bullpen in a 2-1 loss.
Wild Card game, here they come.
“We wanted to go out and win the division,” Chipper Jones said afterward. “It’s a little disappointing that we’re going to finish second. But we live on past Wednesday. It was going to be a tough row to hoe anyway – three down with three to play is never the situation you want to be in. But it is what it is now. We play Friday. Now our concentration should be getting ourselves ready for Friday night, or Friday afternoon or whatever it is.”
And so will your crusading everyman’s blog focus today be on Friday night, or Friday afternoon, or whatever time the Wild Card game will be against the Cardinals at Turner Field.
By the way, Turner Field was nearly sold out for Friday’s game by Tuesday, down to mostly standing-room only tix. Tickets remain for potential Division Series games 1 and 2, which would be Sunday and Monday in Atlanta if the Braves win Friday.
Since the next two games left in Pittsburgh became all but meaningless, other than to give some Braves bench players at-bats and rest some regulars like Chipper, let’s take a look ahead toward Wild Card showdown with the Cardinals in what amounts to a do-or-die, play-in game to see which team advances to a division series and which teams goes home after playing just one “postseason” game.
The Braves, as you surely know by now, will start Kris Medlen in the Wild Card game, and he is going to be a center of attention for his much-chronicled winning streak – 23 straight Braves wins in his starts, with Sunday’s win against the Mets moving him past Whitey Ford and telescope inventor (just checking to see if you guys are reading closely) Carl Hubbell for the live-ball era record.
(Be honestly – didn’t some of you folks wish he’d lost once rather than go into the postseason with so much attention focused on the otherworldly streaks and numbers he’s put up?)
The Cardinals will start righty Kyle Lohse, who has no decision and a 9.00 ERA in one start vs. Braves this season (five earned runs, nine hits in five innings), and a 16-3 record and 2.71 ERA in 32 starts against everyone else. Lohse is 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA in four career starts against the Braves at Turner Field, but that May 30 no-decision was his only start against the Braves anywhere since 2010.
In 10 career starts against the Braves Lohse is 3-1 with a 4.97 ERA, with the loss coming in a 2002 start against a Braves team that had only one player still playing for Atlanta. Chipper, of course. All nine of Lohse’s other starts against the Braves came in 2006 and later, and he’s 3-0 with a 4.11 ERA in those nine.
Against Lohse, Chipper is 6-for-13 with a homer, Freddie Freeman is 2-for-3 with a homer, Dan Uggla is 5-for-15 with a homer, and Martin Prado is 6-for-14. A couple of others of note: Brian McCann is 5-for-20 with a homer, Michael Bourn is 7-for-34 (.206) with one walk, and David Ross is 1-for-2 against Lohse.
We only mention Ross’ stats because, frankly, McCann appears to be struggling still at the plate with his balky shoulder, and lately a sore knee has affected him behind the plate.
McCann went 0-for-4 and grounded into a rally-killing double play Monday night, and since Aug. 1 he’s 25-for-132 (.189) with four extra-base hits, 11 RBIs and .520 OPS in past 38 games, along with five GIDPs. In his past 12 games, he’s 7-for-39 (.179) with one double, three RBIs and 10 strikeouts.
Ross since Aug. 1: 18-for-38 (.231) with eight extra-base hits, 11 RBIs, .707 OPS in 24 games. He has two homers and four RBis in his past five games.
• Scoring malaise: Not that McCann has been the only Brave scuffling at the plate. Not by a long shot. It’d be easier to cite the ones who haven’t been rather than list the Braves who’ve slumped lately.
The Braves have hit just .222 in the past 32 games, and have a 20-12 record in that span mainly because of their 2.67 ERA. Get this: The Braves have scored two or fewer runs in 16 of those 32 games, including one or no runs in nine. Think about that.
They scored five runs in three others during that 32-game stretch, meaning they’ve scored four or more runs in just 11 of their past 32 games, including four of the past 12.
The Cardinals are 11-3 with 2.46 ERA and .269 batting average in their past 14 games, and have scored four runs in all but one of those 14.
I asked Fredi Gonzalez again about the scoring/hitting woes after Monday’s game, and his answer was the Braves planned to rest some regulars and get at-bats for some bench guys in the last two games in Pittsburgh now that the Nationals have clinched the division.
“Play some of the bench and get those guys going,” he said. “They need some at-bats too. You don’t want to give [regulars] three days off before our next game Friday, but maybe we can get a couple of guys an at-bat here or there and get them out of the game.”
But what about the lack of offense? How much of a concern with the postseason looming?
“Lack of offense is always a concern,” Chipper said after the game. “But quite honestly you can’t control when you’re seeing it good, when you’re swinging it good. I can’t speak for the rest of the guys, they may feel great. I don’t feel particularly good at the plate. But it’s up to me to fix it before Friday.”
Chipper will be out of the lineup for one and probably both of these last two games in Pittsburgh. He started a season-high seventh straight game Monday and has gone 1-for-18 with six walks in the past six games.
After hitting three homers in back-to-back games vs. the Padres (two on his bobblehead night) and Dodgers Aug. 16-17, Chipper has hit .216 (24-for-111) in his past 34 games with four doubles, one homer, eight RBIs, a .348 OBP and a .279 slugging percentage.
A few bright spots have been steady Prado; Uggla, who is expected back in the lineup today or Wednesday after missing Monday’s game with a swollen hand around the cut he sustained in last week’s wild-card-clinching postgame celebration, and Bourn, who appears to be emerging from his long slump.
Bourn is 7-for-17 with three doubles, four walks, .524 OBP in past five games, after hitting .220 with 10 extra-base hits and .310 OBP in his previous 60 games. He’s 3-for-6 with a double and two walks in two games since returning from one-week absence for jammed thumb.
BRAVES LINEUP Wednesday
• More on Medlen vs. Lohse: You know about Medlen’s winning streak, but did most Braves fans realize how good a season Lohse has had?
He went 8-0 with a 2.29 ERA and .218 opponents’ average in 13 starts from June 21 to Aug. 27, but has cooled a bit since then, going 2-1 with a 3.89 ERA and .243 OA in his past six starts.
In his past two starts, Lohse allowed 13 hits, seven runs in 12 innings, including three runs in six innings against the Cubs and four runs (and eight hits) in six innings against the Nationals on Saturday.
Medlen is 9-0 with a ridiculous 0.97 ERA and .191 opponents’ average in 12 starts since moving to the rotation July 31, and has 84 strikeouts with 10 walks in 83-2/3 innings as a starter this season.
In 30 career starts, Medlen is 15-2 with a 2.81 ERA. He lost his first two starts in his first two major league games in May 2009, and since then he’s 15-0 with a 2.66 ERA in 28 starts.
We’ve probably gotten a bit jaded from reciting the numbers so often, but let me repeat: That’s ridiculously good.
Medlen has only five the Cardinals as a reliever, and has a 3.72 ERA and .229 opponents’ average in those five appearances, including two in 2010 and three this season. He was charged with two runs and four hits in 2-2/3 innings of a May 28 appearance against them at Turner Field.
The Braves went with Medlen because he’s the hottest starting pitcher in baseball since moving from the bullpen, and they can’t go to the division series if they don’t win the Wild Card game.
But it made sense for another reason, too: Tim Hudson is 3-4 with a 5.78 ERA vs. Cardinals, while Mike Minor has no decisions and 9.31 ERA in two starts vs. Cardinals. If the Braves advance to the division series, Hudson would start the opener and Minor is expected to get the Game 2 start.
The Braves might also be glad the Cardinals are starting Lohse instead of Adam Wainwright in the Wild Card game. Wainwright, a Georgia native and former Atlanta prospect, is 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA in his career against the Braves, including 3-0 with a 2.35 ERA in four games (three starts) at Turner Field.
• OK, let’s close this with a great old Lemonheads tune, which you can see them do live by clicking here.
“IT’S ALL TRUE” by Evan Dando
I haven’t cried baby since I learned to talk
Haven’t fallen down since I learned to walk
And I don’t get bored watching the tube
And I never had a rock in my shoe
And if I tried baby, would you mess me round?
Would we both get bored by the simple sound
Sorry about dropping that lude
It just seemed like the best thing to do
It’s all true
I got me
She’s got you
And we got time to share a few
You never get me down when I’m feeling blue
When I tell you lies you wont believe they’re true
Now I really should be on my way
Think I’m gonna stick around all day
It’s all true
I got me
She’s got you
And we got time to share a few
She’s so precise with her exacto knife
She’s gonna take her life
I don’t wake up with a sudden start
With some empty arms and a broken heart
And I don’t get bored watching the tube.
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog