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David O'Brien

To win series, Braves must end recent trends

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 MILWAUKEE – The Braves opened on the road for the eighth time in 10 seasons Monday, and from their perspective they probably couldn’t have picked a much tougher opponent, city, or pitcher to face in the season lid-lifter (there it is, the term you’ve been waiting for) than the Brewers in Milwaukee with Yovani Gallardo on the mound.

The Braves lost 2-0 to Gallardo and the Brew Crew on Monday, and fell to – brace yourself for these numbers – 2-8 with a .192 team batting average and 13 total runs in their past 10 games against the Brewers.

By the way, as I type this it’s 29 degrees here in Milwaukee and 75 degrees and sunny back in Atlanta. It’s supposed to be about 44 degrees at gametime here tonight (7:10 Central time), which means it should be just above 60 degrees inside Miller Park, since I’m told they can heat the retractable-roofed stadium up to 20 degrees above the outside temp.

That's old County Stadium below Miller Park. County Stadium has since been razed, and Miller Park has recently been a house of horrors for the Braves offense.

That’s old County Stadium below Miller Park. County Stadium has since been razed, and Miller Park has recently been a house of horrors for the Braves offense.

Speaking of cold in Milwaukee, I can remember covering games at old County Stadium when it was below freezing outside and felt nearly that cold inside the drafty pressbox. That ballpark certainly had a lot more charm than Miller Park, but given the roof and all, no question I prefer the new place to the old (and cold) joint.

Where were we?

Oh, yes, the Braves against the Brewers. Nasty numbers, folks. The Braves have scored 13 runs in those past 10 games against them, and seven of those runs came in one game! They’ve been shut ou in six of their past nine games against Milwaukee, and gone homerless in eight of the past 10.

And at Miller Park? Atlanta outscored the Brewers 28-7 while sweeping a three-game series there in 2010, but the Bravos are 2-9 at Miller Park since the beginning of the 2011 season. They’ve scored 18 runs in those 11 games, including seven in one game.

The Braves are 1-6 at Miller Park since the beginning of the 2012 season, and were shut out in four of those seven games.

They mustered five hits Monday including four in six innings against Gallardo, who improved to 5-1 with a 1.79 ERA and .176 opponents’ average in eight career starts against the Braves, including 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA in five at Miller Park.

See what I meant by couldn’t have faced a more difficult opener than the Brewers in Milwaukee with Gallardo pitching?

So now what? The Braves need to win the next two to avoid a series loss before their off day Thursday and highly anticipated weekend series at Washington. The matchups in the last two games of the Brewers might not look favorable at first glance for the Braves – young Alex Wood vs. Kyle Lohse on Tuesday night, and journeyman Aaron Harang vs. Matt Garza on Wednesday.

But dig a little deeper and things might look at least a little better for Braves backers.

 Tuesday’s matchup:

 Kyle Lohse is 4-1 with a 4.26 ERA in 11 starts against the Braves, including 4-0 with a 3.49 ERA in his past 10. He allowed seven runs and nine hits in four innings of his first start against the Braves, a loss in 2002. He didn’t face them again until 2006, and hasn’t lost in 10 starts against them since then, while receiving nearly 5.8 support runs per nine innings pitched in that span.

It should also be noted, his teams are just 5-5 in his past 10 starts against the Braves. Not that many of these Braves were part of most of those games. But still.

Oh, and Lohse was 7-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 16 home starts last season, compared to 4-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 16 road starts. Considering Miller Park favors hitters, that’s pretty strong.

Alex Wood starts Game 2 for the Braves, his 12th major league start.

Alex Wood starts Game 2 for the Braves, his 12th major league start.

Ryan Doumit is 6-for-21 (.286) with two homers against Lohse, a Braves team-high for ABs against him and half of the current Braves homer total against the right-hander. The only others with as many as 10 ABs against Lohse are Dan Uggla (5-for-18, one homer), Justin Upton (2-for-17, two walks, four strikeouts) and Chris Johnson (2-for-13).

Lohse faces Alex Wood, who had a stellar rookie season for the Braves just one year after pitching for the University of Georgia. The lanky lefty with the unorthodox delivery went 3-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 31 games, including 3-2 with a 3.54 ERA in 11 starts.

After moving into the regular rotation and getting into a rhythm, Wood went 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in five starts in August, the first and only month that he spent an entire month in the major league starting rotation.

Wood pitched in three games against the Brewers, all in relief, and allowed two hits and no walks with four strikeouts in 2-1/3 scoreless innings. Logan Schafer (0-for-2, two K’s) is the only Brewer with more than one at-bat against Wood.

Wednesday’s matchup: In a game that starts at 12:10 p.m. Central time, Braves fans can get their first good look at newcomer Aaron Harang, who gave up six runs against Detroit (including a Miguel Cabrera three-run homer) in his only Grapefruit League start after signing late in spring training when the Braves released Freddy Garcia.

Harang, 35, spent eight seasons with the Reds, so he’s faced the Brewers a lot. He’s 5-2 in 10 games (nine starts) at Miller Park despite a 4.86 ERA and 84 hits (11 homers) allowed in 63 innings.

The big right-hander is 6-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 25 games overall (24 starts) against the Brewers, including 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in seven games since the beginning of the 2010 season. He got no decision in his only start against them last season, allowing five hits and one run in seven innings, with two walks and seven strikeouts.

Aramis Ramirez is 21-for-63 (.333) with five homers against Harang, and Ryan Braun is 7-for-29 (.241) with three homers against him. (By the way, Braun got a huge ovation when introduced Monday. C’mon, Brewers fans.)

Harang will face Matt Garza, who is 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA in three career starts against the Braves, his highest ERA against any team he’s faced more than once.

Against Garza, Chris Johnson is 4-for-6 with a homer, Freddie Freeman is 4-for-8 with a homer, and Jason Heyward is 1-for-6 with a homer. Others who’ve faced him the most: Uggla is 4-for-15 with four strikeouts, and Justin Upton is 2-for-10 with four strikeouts.

 • Area of concern:  The Braves had five hits Monday and were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, continuing a couple of trends from last season.

In their past 54 games through Monday, including the division series against the Dodgers, the Braves have hit .232 and scored 177 runs, an average of just under 3.3 runs per game. They scored two or fewer runs in 23 of those 54 games.

That 3.3-run average is just not good, folks, and a big portion of those runs came via homers (41 in those 54 games). Manufacturing runs has not been a forte of these Braves, and it needs to improve this season if they hope to defend their NL East title against a Nationals team that almost no one expects to underperform like it did last season.

By the way, the Braves have scored two or fewer runs while Julio Teheran has been in the game in 17 of his past 28 regular-season starts, and no runs while he was in five of his past 13 starts including Monday. He’s 14-9 with a 2.82 ERA and 19 quality starts in his past 28 starts, and has 160 strikeouts and 39 walks in 175-2/3 innings in that period.

Teheran has faced the Brewers twice in his career, and both were Braves losses by 2-0 scores.

 • Lineup stuff:  Catcher Evan Gattis  was the only position player in Monday’s lineup who wasn’t also at the same position in the Braves lineup for the 2013 opener. A year ago, the Braves had five position players in the opening-day lineup who weren’t in the lineup for the 2012 opener, including four who were with other teams in 2012 (both Uptons, Chris Johnson, Gerald Laird).

With Justin Upton in left field Monday for the second consecutive opening day, it marked the first time the Braves had the same starting left fielder in opening day for two consecutive years, since Ryan Langerhans in 2006-2007. The starting left fielders in the years between Langerhans and J-Up: Matt Diaz (2008), Garret Anderson (2009), Melky Cabrera (2010), Martin Prado (2011), Diaz again (2012).

 Etc.

One more thing about Teheran: At the age of 23 years and 63 days, he became the youngest Opening Day starter for the Braves since at least 1914…. Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez in his past 10 games vs. Braves: 5-for-29 (.172) with two home runs, no walks and 15 strikeouts. But the Brewers are 8-2 in those games.

• Let’s close with a great one from Wilco, from their album Wilco (The Album), the cover of which was shot at Mader’s, a famous German restaurant here in Milwaukee. The cover is the right, and you can hear the song by clicking here.

“I’LL FIGHT” by Wilco

I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go for you
I’ll fight, I’ll fight, I’ll fight, I’ll fight for you
I’ll kill, I’ll kill, I’ll kill, I’ll kill for you
I will, I will, I will

I’ll go,I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go for you
I’ll fight, I’ll fight, I’ll fight, I’ll fight for youwilco_album-lg
I’ll die, I’ll die, I’ll die, I’ll die for you
I will, I will, I will

And if I die
I’ll die
I’ll die alone on some
Forgotten hill
Abandoned by the mill
All my blood will
Spring and spill
I’ll thrash the air and then be still

You’ll wake
With a start from a dream
And know that I am gone
You’ll feel it in your heart
But not for very long
You’ll rise each day as planed
Your will is your command
And stand each Sunday
A hymnal steady in your hand
You’ll sing to yourself
The rising-falling melody
That you could never read
Without the choirs’ lead
Still alone, and lost in deep
And your soul will not be free

I will go, I will go, I will go
And in wars waters
I will wade
And I will know
Without remorse or regret
The fairness of our trade
For you to live
I took your place
A deal was made
And I was paid
And the gold as I was told
Was a place where my body could be laid
And we will steal your life
And die old
In better homes
Surrounded by your peers
Without suffering or fear
Grandchildren far and near
And none will shed a tear
For the love no longer here

I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go for you
I will
I’ll fight, I’ll fight, I’ll fight, I’ll fight for you
I will, I will, I will
I’ll kill, I’ll kill, I’ll kill, I’ll kill for you
I will
I’ll die, I’ll die, I’ll die, I’ll die for you
I will, I will, I will

And if I die
I’ll die
I’ll die alone like Jesus
On a cross
My faith cannot by tossed
And my life will not be lost
If my love comes across

 

 

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