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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Braves’ offense so far: pretty much dysfunctional

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The Brewers have not lost a game since losing the first two of the season against the Braves in Milwaukee. And the Nationals have not lost a game other than the first two they lost to the Braves in the series last week in Washington.

That’s a positive spin on things for Braves fans.

Oh, and Braves starters do lead the majors with a 1.74 ERA, while the Brewers (2.44) are only other NL team with a starters ERA below 2.95. No small matter.

That’s obviously been the best and most encouraging thing from a team perspective for the first nine games for the Braves. And ironic, considering the staring pitching was what most folks were worried about entering the season, at least until the Braves would get some reinforcements for the makeshift early rotation.

Justin Upton hit two homers in Thursday's 6-4 loss to the Mets, the first time the Braves scored more than one run in any of their four losses through nine games.

Justin Upton hit two homers in Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Mets, the first time the Braves scored more than one run in any of their four losses through nine games And a bit ironic, considering starting pitching was the area considered the biggest concern entering the season, at least for the early going until the Braves could bolster the rotation.

But now for the bad part. The glaring problem so far with this Braves team: the offense. (The bullpen ERA has also crept above 4.00; more on that in a moment.)

The offense has been dysfunctional. It was dysfunctional for large portions of the 2013 season, and it’s been dysfunctional most of the time through the first nine games of this season, even if the Braves did score four runs in back-to-back games the past two nights, after totaling 15 through the first seven games.

The Braves have totaled 23 runs, fewer than every team except the Padres (20), and the situational hitting has been pretty much awful. The Braves just don’t manufacture runs, or at least so far they’ve shown no proclivity to do so.

Hitting with runners on base, and particularly in scoring position, is a bugaboo for the Braves, just as it was for most of the 2013 season. This is a team that wastes scoring opportunities as if there will always be plenty more where those came from.

Braves have hit .238/.289/.392 with nobody on base, .207/.237/.273 with runners on, and .213/.246/.262 in 61 at-bats with runners in scoring position, including 2-for-29 with RISP and two outs.

In close-and-late situations, the Braves are a league-worst 8-for-57 (.140) with one homer, two walks and 18 strikeouts.

They don’t move runners over well, whether by bunt or groundout to the right side. So if they’re not getting multiple homers in a game, the chances have been good that the Braves won’t score more than a run or two that night.

Only the Tigers, with 15 walks, have drawn fewer walks than the Braves (18). But Detroit has 44 strikeouts to the Braves’ 82, and the Tigers are OPS’ing at .791 with runners on base, compared to the Braves’ puny .509, which ranks 29th in the majors, ahead of only the Padres (.489) and significantly lower than the No. 28 Blue Jays (.583).

The Braves have become a right-handed dominant lineup, where they were a left-handed dominant team in recent years. It’s shown, too. Yes, very small sample size. Exceedingly small sample size.

Nevertheless, the Braves have hit .321 (9-for-28) with a .367 OBP and .500 slugging percentage against lefties, but just .215 (59-for-274) with a .258 OBP and .328 slugging percentage against right-handers. They have 74 strikeouts (16 walks) in 274 at-bats against righties. Bad.

And  so far, Chris Johnson, one of the two Braves who ranked among NL leaders with runners in scoring position a year ago (Freddie Freeman was the other), has struggled mightily in those situations this season while batting in the cleanup spot in the lineup.

Johnson is 0-for-9 with no walks and five strikeouts with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-4 with two outs. No. 5 hitter Justin Upton is 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and B.J. Upton is 0-for-5.

Freeman has ranked among the majors’ top hitters so far this season with a .419 average, .514 OBP and .677 slugging percentage, but he’s getting few opportunities to drive in runs — because they’re not getting on base in front of him, and when they do get on, teams are starting to realize they can pitch around him and take their chances with the hitters behind him.

The Braves have produced a .171 average and .293 OBP from the leadoff spot (almost exclusively Jason Heyward), and .189/.189 from the 2-hole (almost exclusively B.J. Upton).

They have hit .265 or lower at every spot in the lineup except third (Freeman). The fifth spot (.324 OBP) is the only other position where the Braves have higher than a .293 OBP.

Hey, it’ll get better. It has to. Too much talent for it not to. But this lineup doesn’t work in this configuration. In my opinion, B.J. can’t stay in the 2-hole. Just can’t. And as much as Johnson in the 4-hole made some theory when the decision was made during spring training, if he’s not hitting at closer to last year’s levels – particularly with RISP – than this year’s, that doesn’t work either.

Bottom line, it’s way early, as I said. And Fredi Gonzalez isn’t wont to make wholesale changes less than two weeks in. But the 2-hole needs to change, that much is clear. And the Braves, as we’ve said for what seems like years now, really need to start moving guys over and getting them in with less than two outs.

That, or keep waiting for two homers a night.

 • Home start: With two losses in the three-game series against the Mets, the Braves have as many losses after their first home series as they had last April, when they went 8-2 with a 2.20 ERA and 48 runs (18 homers) in 10 games at Turner Field.

That was part of a tear that saw the Braves storm to a 24-8 record in their first 32 home games, with a 2.28 ERA and 146 runs (44 homers) in their first 32 home games last season through June 17.

Also, Thursday’s 6-4 loss was the first time the Braves scored more than one run in a loss this season. In their previous three losses, they had been shut out twice and scored one run once.

  • Nats in town: After taking two of three at Washington last week, the Braves will need to do at least the same in the weekend series against the Nats that starts tonight, if they hope to avoid losing any more ground on the division leaders, who are two games ahead of the Braves entering Friday.

Tanner Boyle is not starting for the Nats in Friday's series opener. Tanner Roark is. And he's good. Julio Teheran and the Braves will have their hands full.

Tanner Boyle is not starting for the Nats in Friday’s series opener. Tanner Roark is. And he’s good. Julio Teheran and the Braves will have their hands full.

The Nationals (7-2) started the season with a sweep of the Mets in New York, and since losing the first two games against the Braves they’ve won four in a row, including the series finale against Atlanta and a just-completed sweep of the Marlins in D.C. in which the  Nats outscored them 22-8.

If you’re the Nats, you can either look at the following stat as one that’s daunting or one that’s overdue for a correction: The Braves are 19-7 with a 1.98 ERA in their past 26 games against the Nationals, going back to Aug. 22, 2012.

The Nationals have a 3.14 ERA in those 26 games, but they hit just .207 with 61 runs and 13 homers.

• Rendon on fire: Forget the concern or ire directed at Bryce Harper, who’s hit .219 with one extra-base hit this season and batted sixth and seventh in the lineup the past couple of games for the Nats. The guy to watch out for in Washington’s lineup, other than of course Jayson Werth, is Anthony Rendon who’s killing it for the Nats.

Rendon is 14-for-34 (.412) with six extra-base hits, eight runs and eight RBIs in the first nine games, and has hit safely in each of them including five multi-hit games.

By the way, Harper has hit .200 (11-for-55) with one homer and three RBIs in his past 17 games against the Braves, with nine walks and 16 strikeouts.

  • Teheran vs. Tanner: Tonight’s series opener features an attractive pitching matchup of Julio Teheran vs. Tanner Roark, who was not the shortstop in the Bad News Bears (that was Tanner Boyle.)

Roark is an impressive, late-blooming 27-year-old who is 5-1 with a 1.95 ERA in six career starts (1.19 ERA in nine relief appearances). He’s allowed only a .211 average, .257 OBP and one home run in 59 2/3 career innings, and has 26 strikeouts with seven walks in 37 innings as a starter.

Against the Braves, the right-hander has allowed just four hits and two walks with 12 strikeouts in 13 scoreless innings of three games (one start). The only Braves with more than three at-bats against him are Freeman (0-for-4, two strikeouts), Andrelton Simmons (0-for-4), Johnson (0-for-5), Justin Upton (0-for-5, three strikeouts).

Teheran is 15-9 with a 2.81 ERA and .238 opponents’ average in his past 29 starts, including 3-1 with a 3.23 ERA in five starts against the Nationals during that period. Overall against the Nationals, he’s 3-1 with a 2.92 ERA in six starts (team 5-1), including a win Saturday when he allowed three hits and two runs in seven innings, with four walks and six strikeouts.

 • Etc. Braves rookie reliever Gus Schlosser has been charged with five hits and three runs in 1 2/3 innings in his past two appearances…. Justin Upton’s two-homer game Thursday was his first since Aug. 1 against Colorado. Before homering twice Thursday, he’d batted .233 (41-for-176) with five homers, nine RBIs and 55 strikeouts in his past 49 games, and had a .322 OBP and .358 slugging percentage in that period that began Aug. 10…. Evan Gattis’ past 69 games since May 31: .215 (51-for-237) with 10 HR, 34 RBIs, .258 OBP, .388 slugging percentage. Gattis in his first 49 games through May 30: .285 (39-for-137) with 12 homers, 32 RBIs, .333 OBP, .628 slugging.

• Music recs: If you’re a fan of Sun Kil Moon and don’t have his new album Benji, get it. It’s terrific. If you’re not a fan, get it. You will be. The song, “I Watched the Film ‘The Song Remains The Same,’” is particularly terrific. Couple other recent releases I just picked up that are outstanding: Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Mobb Deep’s new The Infamous Mobb Deep, Wild Beasts’ Present Tense, and Protormartyr’s splendidly noisy Under Color of Official Right.

OK, sit back, put on some headphones if you have them, and listen to this tune off the aforementioned Sun Kil Moon album. Can also listen by clicking here.

 

“I Watched the Film ‘The Song Remains the Same’” by Sun Kil Moon

I watched the film “The Song Remains the Same”
At the midnight movies when I was a kid
At a Canton, Ohio mall with friends
One warm summer weekend

Jimmy Page stood tall on screen

Mark Kozelek (aka Sun Kil Moon)

Mark Kozelek (aka Sun Kil Moon)

And I was mesmerized by everything
The Peter Grant/John Paul Jones dream sequence scenes
The closeup of the mahogany double-neck SG

And though I love the sound of the roaring Les Paul
What spoke to me most was “Rain Song” and “Bron-Yr-Aur”
And I loved the thunder of John Bonham’s drums
But even more, I liked “No Quarter” low Fender Rhodes’ hum

I don’t know what happened or what anyone did
But from my earliest memories, I was a very melancholic kid
When anything close to me at all in the world died
To my heart, forever, it would be tied

Like when my friend was thrown from his moped
When some kind of a big truck back-ended him
And when the girl who sat in front of me in remedial
Was killed in an accident one weekend
And quickly forgotten about at school

And when we got the call that my grandmother passed
The nervous tension I’d been feeling for months broke
And strangely, I laughed
Then I went to my bedroom and I laid down
And in my tears, and in the heaviness of everything I drowned

Though I kept to myself, and for the most part was pretty coy
I once got baited into clocking some undeserving boy
Out on the elementary school playground
I threw a punch that caught him off-guard and knocked him down

And when I walked away, the kids were cheering
And though I grinned, deep inside I was hurting
But not nearly as much as I’d hurt him
He stood up, his glasses broken and his face was red

And I was never a schoolyard bully
It was only one incident and it has always eaten at me
I was never a young schoolyard bully
And wherever you are, that poor kid, I’m so sorry

And when I grew older, I learned to play guitar
While everyone else was throwing around a football
Wearing bright colours the school issued them
Parroting passed-down phrases and cheerleading

I got a recording contract in 1992
And from there, my name, my band and my audience grew
And since that time, so much has happened to me
But I discovered, I cannot shake melancholy
For forty-six years now, I cannot break the spell
I’ll carry it throughout my life and probably carry it down

I’ll go to my grave with my melancholy
And my ghost will echo my sentiments for all eternity

And now when I watch “The Song Remains the Same”
The same things speak to me that spoke to me then
Except now, the scenes with Peter Grant and John Bonham
Are different from when I think about the dust that fell upon them

I got a friend who lives in the desert outside Santa Fe
And I’m going to visit him this Saturday
Between my travelling and his divorces
And our time not being what it was
It’s been fifteen years since I last saw him

He’s the man who signed me back in ’92
And I’m going to go there and tell him face to face,
“Thank you.”

For discovering my talent so early
For helping me along in this beautiful musical world
I was meant to be in

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