Strange homestand. The Braves were shut out twice and no-hit once and beaten by a guy who has never won the Cy Young Award but who roomed with Cy Young. And yet they won three of six against two playoff-caliber opponents.
At the same time, the Braves conjured up two walk-off wins, one among the more improbable in team annals — Troy Glaus? Nate McLouth? Seriously? — and still managed to look feeble for long stretches. Strange, strange homestand.
But it’s the kind we’re apt to see often, at least until Glaus and McLouth and Melky Cabrera start to hit. (Or, more probably, until Frank Wren gets around to making another round of deals.) The Braves are good at pitching but not very good at hitting. They can keep most games close enough to have a chance at the end. But Jason Heyward can’t work a wonder every night.
Stat of the series just completed: The Braves didn’t score an earned run against a Philadelphia starting pitcher. Not against Kyle Kendrick, who entered Tuesday’s game with an ERA of 17.47 but who worked eight scorless innings; not against Roy Halladay, who’s great, and not against Jamie Moyer, who took his first big-league bow three years before the aforementioned Heyward made his debut on Earth.
The only runs the Braves mustered in six innings against Moyer on Thursday came courtesy of double plays flubbed by Chase Utley. They’re not the first team to lose to a guy who’d lose playing burnout with your Aunt Minnie, but it’s never an endorsement of a team’s offense when it gets hog-tied by a 47-year-old and his 82-mph fastball.
And that, sad to say, is the lesson of this homestand: There’s no endorsing this offense. The Braves scored 20 runs in six games, but nine of those came against Colorado last Friday, and seven of the nine were in one inning. They were shut out twice and nearly a third time, which takes us back to Tuesday’s epic rally.
At that moment McLouth’s home run landed in the right-field seats, you’d have figured the winning team would have been so emboldened it wouldn’t have lost for the next week if not the next calendar year. Instead the Braves mustered three runs (one earned) over the next 18 innings. This, see, is baseball, the sport in which momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher.
You can’t hit if the other pitcher won’t allow it. This concept worked against the Braves the past two nights, but there’s a bright side here. They can pitch, too. They’ll hold up their end more often than not. Tim Hudson threw a nice game Wednesday but lost to the best in the business. Derek Lowe wasn’t effective Thursday, but he’s an adequate No. 4 starter.
Pitching will keep the Braves afloat, but the holes in this batting order could sink the vessel. Counting Lowe, the Braves started five men Thursday hitting .200 or less. They entered the game batting .227 as a team, second-worst in the National League.
The patches affixed by Wren over the winter haven’t held. Except for one big swing with two out in the ninth Tuesday, the Glaus Experiment has been a fizzle. (He struck out three times Thursday.) Cabrera has been worse. (Francisco Cabrera had as many RBIs in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS as Melky Cabrera in his first 2 1/2 weeks as a Brave.) Indeed, the Braves’ back line of defense appears to consist of Heyward and three fourth outfielders.
Yes, it has been only 2 1/2 weeks, but you wonder how much longer this can go. We were here a year ago, and Wren did quick work — importing McLouth and Adam LaRoche, exporting Jordan Schafer, Jeff Francoeur and Casey Kotchman — to make the Braves competitive over the second half. The bad news: Such a flurry of dealing might again be required.
The good news: It’s easier to find hitting than pitching. The cold truth: More hitting is needed, and soon. The team the Braves just saw, the team the Braves hope to overhaul, is good at both.