Posted: 2:09 pm Monday, April 14th, 2014

After dispatching Nats, Braves face rejuvenated Utley & Phils 

By David O'Brien

PHILADELPHIA – Now that the Braves have dispatched the Nationals yet again and bounced back from a series loss to the Mets to post a 4-2 record on their first homestand, it’s back on the road to face a couple of other NL East rivals in Philly beginning tonight and New York beginning Friday.

And while the Nats are the Braves’ primary, and probably only, competition for the division title this year, the Phillies and Mets have proven to be tougher opponents in head-to-head competition over the past two or three seasons than the Nationals, whom the Braves have beaten in 22 of their past 29 meetings

Not just beaten – the Braves have a 2.05 ERA in those 29 games against the Nats, who’ve hit just .216 while averaging about 2.5 runs in those games. One of those baseball things that you just can’t really explain. At this point there is no doubt the Braves are in the Nats’ noggins, but we know how quickly that can change and how things can balance out.

Justin Upton had four homers in the last four games of the Braves' homestand that  ended Sunday.

Justin Upton had four homers in the last four games of the Braves’ homestand that ended Sunday.

The Braves need to be at their best the next time they face the Nats, just as they were this weekend in Atlanta. Keep hammering them head-to-head and the chances of defending the division title look pretty good for the Bravos.

The Nationals will have two-plus months to think about it and try to get healthy before they face the Braves again in a four-game series June 19-22 in D.C. In the meantime, they can stew over how the Braves turned a two-game deficit into a one-game lead over the  Nats with the weekend sweep in Atlanta that also gave the Braves a stunning 10-1 record against them over the past two Aprils.

Now it’s on to face the Phillies, who had their half-decade run of the NL East but have just mostly old and ill-conceived as a unit for a couple of years. While the Braves haven’t dominated them quite like they have the Nats of late, Atlanta is 22-12 with a 3.23 ERA in its past 34 games against the Phillies, going back to the beginning of July 2012.

However, the Phillies won four of the last seven games between the teams in 2013, including a three-game sweep here in Philly Sept. 6-8. And the Phillies will be jacked up and ready to keep a good thing going after completing a Chase Utley-fueled sweep of the Marlins over the weekend to even their record at 6-6, one game behind the second-place Nats and two behind the Braves.

While the Braves have two of the majors’ hottest hitters in Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton, the latter of whom seems likely to win the NL Player of the Week award that will be announced later today, it’s the Phillies who have the major league leader in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage and OPS. All the same guy: Chase Utley.

He’s turned back the clock so far this season, finally healthy and playing like the Utley of several years ago. The second baseman is batting a ridiculous .500 with a .565 OBP and .875 slugging percentage, for a tidy 1.440 OPS.

Freeman is third in the majors in average (.442) and second in the other three categories: OBP (.519), slugging (.814) and OPS (1.333).

Meanwhile, Justin Upton has been even hotter the past week than both of them.

In his past past 8 games, J-Up has hit .552 (16-for-29) with 4 HR, a .629 OBP and a 1.034 slugging percentage, and in his past four games he has 11 hits, four homers and eight RBIs.

I would think he’ll be NL Player of the Week over Utley and the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez, who was a one-man wrecking crew with three homers and 10 RBIs in a three-game weekend sweep at Arizona. Thing is, Upton has a higher average, OBP and slugging percentage than Gonzalez over the past week, and the same number of doubles (two) and homers (four).

This series in Philly will feature hitters with three of the five highest OPS in the majors, with Upton fifth at 1.175.

By the way, in his past 15 games against the Nationals, Justin Upton is 28-for-60 (.487) with four doubles, six homers, 12 RBIs, a .543 OBP and an .833 slugging percentage.

• Other Upton: Older brother B.J. had an encouraging homestand for the Braves, and is 8-for-31 (.258) with three extra-base hits and a .452 slugging percentage over his past eight games. Only has a .281 OBP in that stretch and .208 (fifth-lowest in the NL) for the season, but considering from whence he came, the Braves will gladly take the recent progress from the center fielder, after his brutal 2013 season and whiff-plagued spring training and first games of the regular season.

Meanwhile, the Braves hope that Jason Heyward’s big double Sunday – and some well-struck balls for outs earlier in the series – are signs of him breaking out of his early funk. He had gone hitless in eight of his past nine games before Sunday, and for his last 10 games he’s still just 4-for-39 (.103) with two extra-base hits and a .255 OBP, with 11 strikeouts.

The other Brave whose numbers continue to lag is Dan Uggla, who is 6-for-33 (.182) with no extra-base hits, one walk and 12 strikeouts in his past nine games. Though he does have a sac fly and five RBIs in that stretch, including a couple of big ribbies.

• No “K” in Simba: Andrelton Simmons moved up to fifth in the lineup Sunday and responded with a triple and a home run. What he didn’t get was a strikeout, raised his major league-leading total to 40 plate appearances still without a strikeout this season.

Simmons is 9-for-28 (.321) with three extra-base hits and four RBIs in his past seven games. Something about that eight-hole with the Braves. Chris Johnson excelled in it last season before eventually moving up in the order, and Simmons has for most of this season.

Andrelton Simmons homered and tripled Sunday, and still hasn't struck out this season through 40 plate appearances.

Andrelton Simmons homered and tripled Sunday, and still hasn’t struck out this season through 40 plate appearances.

Next-best strikeout ration in the majors belongs to Toronto’s Dioner Navarro, who has whiffed just once in 50 PAs. Ranked second and fourth in the NL in that category are Utley (two K’s in 46 PAs) and Freeman (four K’s in 52 PAs). Yes, Utley and Freeman are hitting and slugging likes houses afire, all while rarely striking out. That sure bucks a trend in recent years, doesn’t it?

Freeman and Utley are also tied for second in the NL in two-strike batting average at .438 (each is 7-for-16 when putting the ball in play in those situations), and Simmons is right behind them, alone at fourth in the league at .417 (5-for-12). J-Up is eighth in the NL in that category at .367 (11-for-30).

• Tonight’s matchup: In the series opener it’ll be Ervin Santana making his second start for the Braves and facing another longtime former American Leaguer, Roberto Hernandez.

Santana is5-4 with a 2.81 ERA in 15 starts since the 2013 All-Star break, including eight scoreless innings of three-hit ball to beat the Mets on Wednesday in his Braves debut. He’s only faced the Phillies once, a 2008 win at Philadelphia in which he allowed just two hits and one unearned run in seven innings.

Hernandez had 14 strikeouts with only two walks in 10-1/3 innings over his first two starts, but his 10 hits allowed included a homer in each game. He got no decision after allowing seven hits and four runs (three earned) in five innings  Wednesday vs. Milwaukee. Hernandez’s only start against the Braves came in 2007.

• Let’s close with one from Bill Callahan‘s 2011 album Apocalypse. You can hear the tune by clicking here.

 “RIDING FOR THE FEELING” by Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan

It’s never easy to say goodbye to the faces
So rarely do we see another one, so close and so long
I asked the room if I’d said enough, no one really answered
They just said, “Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t go”
Well all this leaving is neverending
I kept hoping for one more question or for someone to say
“Who do you think you are?” so I could tell them
With intensity, the drop evaporates by law
In conclusion, leaving is easy
When you’ve got some place you need to be
I’m giving up this gig for another season
With the TV on mute, I’m listening back to the tapes
On the hotel bed, my my my apocalypse
My my my apocalypse
I realized I had said very little about ways or wheels
Or riding for the feeling, riding for the feeling
Is the fastest way to reach the shore on water or land
Riding for the feeling, riding for the feeling
Riding for the feeling, riding for the feeling
Riding for the feeling, riding for the feeling

What if I had stood there at the end
And said again and again and again and again and again
In answer to every question?
Riding for the feeling, riding for the feeling
Riding for the feeling, riding for the feeling
Riding for the feeling, riding for the feeling
Riding for the riding, for the riding and for the ride
Riding for the feeling, riding for the feeling
Riding for the feeling

Would that have been a suitable goodbye?

1418 comments
Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

How much do ya think Dan Uggla's confidence was boosted last night and will it pay big dividends?

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

Just think about the elegance of baseball, mathematically and perceptually. When BJ was in that run-down last night and Freddie was trying to make it to 2nd base, I thought, "If the distance between bases was two inches closer, he's safe." 

Vector, speed, velocity, weight, gravity, the pull of an entire planet, the curvature of time and space itself, wind, bat-speed, speed of the pitch, decades of dedication and hard commitment, body-memory, beer from a fan, the sun, a spouse, a need, a fear, a primal racial memory, (which has nothing to do with race, for those who don't know), desire, hope, faith, a love so deep and real  and all converging together . . . and the play is decided by two inches and a fraction of a second in how long BJ stays in a rundown.

DS1
DS1

@EMWTK I don't know if Uggla is fixed. 

 Now, that's getting WAY too personal.......

EMWTK
EMWTK

I don't know if Uggla is fixed.  It doesn't really make any sense that he should all of a sudden find a miracle cure, so he's going to have to play well for a long while before we can pronounce him cured.

But his decline never made any sense either. He wasn't hurt and he wasn't old. So maybe, just maybe, there's no sense to it. Just one of those weird things that has no good explanation.

In The Book, Tango et al argue that there's no such thing as a hot streak or a cold streak. The player is what he is, and everything else is a random fluctation. Maybe that's what we're seeing here--a great big fat sine wave with a very long frequency.

CobbBraveNightmare
CobbBraveNightmare

@Rick_C  

There's guys sputtering at all times of the season. Just differn't folks at differn't times..

EMWTK
EMWTK

@RabbitMaranville1914  Now you're getting into complexity theory. Gaussian distributions don't work so well here in the real world.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@EMWTK  Actually 30 and beyond is sort of old for a baseball player, especially with Uggla's body type and skill set.  So a decline makes sense.

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@EMWTK  

>>But his decline never made any sense either. He wasn't hurt and he wasn't old. So maybe, just maybe, there's no sense to it. Just one of those weird things that has no good explanation.<<

Are you reading this William Shatner? Sounds like a possible episode of "Weird, or What?"

noleee
noleee

@EMWTK  

what else is a streak but a random flux? Semantics to me, players vacillate several standard deviations back and forth over their careers centering around a mean that keeps drawing them back for the most part, folks choose to call that variation a streak, just like you could hit a streak of 10 heads in a row....

_DAP_
_DAP_

@EMWTK"He wasn't hurt and he wasn't old"

except he did have eye surgery last year. thats under the "hurt" category, in that its a physical issue.

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@ncscoots @RabbitMaranville1914  

Scoots, seriously, don't you just look at it in wonder sometimes? Even Nolies seeming pedantic description sounds like poetry. The distance between bases, the mound from home plate, the size of the ballpark which is almost completely in play.

Nobody got excited about Oso's first HR because a matter of inches in such a huge place makes the tale.

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@EMWTK @RabbitMaranville1914  

So you think this is the real world, eh? I figured you to be smarter than that? :-)

ncscoots
ncscoots

@ShaunATL @EMWTK  Actually 30 and beyond is sort of old for [many] baseball player[s], especially [some] with Uggla's body type and skill set.

Fixed it for ya, LOL.

noleee
noleee

@RabbitMaranville1914 @EMWTK  But his decline never made any sense either. He wasn't hurt and he wasn't old. So maybe, just maybe, there's no sense to it. Just one of those weird things that has no good explanation.


an extended voyage outside the third SD....the exception that proves the rule of regression....

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@noleee I think what Tango and company are referring to when they say there are no hot and cold streaks is that players themselves don't all of the sudden become better or worse than their true talent, aside from injuries, over the course of a few weeks.  And if it appears that way, it's random variation (or injury).  Also true talent obviously changes over time because of aging patterns, which is different from a player's baseline talent level changing over short stints.  


I think what they are arguing against is the idea that players actually become more or less talented over, say, a two week hot or cold streak; and it's actually just random variation.  

ncscoots
ncscoots

@noleee @EMWTK  Random fluctuation also implies variation from a constant, and anyone who has ever tried to hit or pitch will tell you that such constancy in either swing and pitch mechanics is anything but a reality. Yes, players are what they are, but there's some variability in the "are" that also contributes to variation in performance.

EMWTK
EMWTK

@noleee @EMWTK  I think when people talk about a player being "hot," they're implying that the player is doing something differently than he normally does. And the same when he's cold. So there's an assumption of some kind of active agent influencing performance.

Not really the same thing as a random distribution.

EMWTK
EMWTK

@Rick_C @EMWTK  Or maybe his failing eyesight contributed to his marital problems.

"Woman, if I had been able to see that you were such a raging bi*ch, I sure as hell never would have married you."

EMWTK
EMWTK

@_DAP_ @EMWTK  Placebo effect.

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@ncscoots @RabbitMaranville1914  

Yeah, been having that same experience quite a bit lately with the old portfolio, bio-tech wise, that is. Up 120% the last two years and down 25% since late Feb.

Very similar experience indeed. :-)

ncscoots
ncscoots

@RabbitMaranville1914 @ncscoots  haven't you ever had one of those rain showers come up from a sun-filled sky? The damp just cools you to comfort, but the sun is still warm on your face?

That's all that 8th inning was, LOL.

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@ncscoots @RabbitMaranville1914  

Ahh, but did you accept those five runs in the 8th inning last night? :-)

ncscoots
ncscoots

@RabbitMaranville1914 @ncscoots  Actually, I accept baseball just as I accept a glorious sunrise, and for the same reason: God happened to have a good day and we ended up as the beneficiaries. :-)

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@EMWTK @ncscoots  He did decline.  The Reds just apparently didn't realize a decline from Hall of Fame talent is still greatness, and worth holding onto.  


Also, there are questions about the real motives for the trade.  Seems like Robinson didn't get along with DeWitt.  Also, the Reds wanted to shore up their pitching and picked a counter-productive way to do it, and just misread the players they were getting in return.  There's a lot to suggest it wasn't as simple as them thinking Robinson was "not a young 30."  


http://www.redreporter.com/2013/11/23/5133726/revisiting-the-frank-robinson-trade

EMWTK
EMWTK

@ShaunATL @EMWTK @ncscoots  No, you can't get away with that. It doesn't matter which particular season was his best. The Reds dumped him because they expected a significant decline which didn't come for many years.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@EMWTK @ncscoots Yes, because Frank Robinson was just chugging along in his 20's and didn't become great until he hit 30, right?  Even Frank Robinson's best seasons were in his late 20's.  


Obviously if the starting point is hall of fame level talent, his decline years are more likely to equal greatness.  


Also, there are various factors that might cause a player to not have his best season when his talent actually peaks and he might have his best seasons before or after his talent has already peaked.  Injury is probably the most common.  

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@EMWTK Yeah, I think players's results can stray from their true talent for longer periods because of randomness.  Didn't mean to imply they can't.  Or at least their results can stray from their true talent, because of randomness, for a long enough period within a season to affect that season's final stats. 


With Brady Anderson, and others, obviously chemical assistance altering the player's baseline talent level comes into play as well.

EMWTK
EMWTK

@ShaunATL  But to say "a week or two" is an arbitrary limitation. Why not a month.? Or two? A whole season, maybe, a la Brady Anderson?

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@noleee @EMWTK @ncscoots  I think Tango and co. would say the human variability is the same as random variation.  There is a baseline level of true talent.  Human variability and other factors cause players to stray from that baseline throughout various periods.  It's why players and teams aren't consistent over the days, months and weeks of a season.  


This is something Braves fans who think the Braves are boom or bust, hit or miss, (or whatever the phrase) should keep in mind.  All teams are like this.  I think there is something about following a team day-to-day that makes you think your team is more prone to hot and cold spells than other teams.  But all teams and all players go through the same thing.  


I also think, for some reason, teams that strikeout a lot and hit lots of homeruns (as the Braves did last season) might be viewed as more prone to hot and cold streaks, though they actually are not any more prone than all other teams.    

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@noleee @EMWTK @ncscoots  

It is art and it is a reflection of us. Hank and Jackie and their Negro-league comrades looked for " Justice between the white lines." as did we all, still do in fact. That's why we want replay to work right.

noleee
noleee

@EMWTK @ncscoots  

which is what I am saying too, the bell curve of their performance which is why I am saying it is mostly semantics with the added spice of them denying the human variability since they dislike anything that can not be measured

EMWTK
EMWTK

@ncscoots  In Tango's world it appears that what they "are" is the sum and average of their track record. I mean it's all there in black and white, you know.

ncscoots
ncscoots

@EMWTK @noleee  So there's an assumption of some kind of active agent influencing performance.

I just emailed Bud with a proposal to rename the award "NL Random Fluctuating Performance Of The Week." :-)

noleee
noleee

@EMWTK @noleee  

amounts to the same, and I think that there is a difference. if in no other way than mental. confidence plays a huge part in any sport and it ebbs and flows for most players depending on their current performance and influences that performance

there are also usually mechanical problems that crop up like Hey's yearly out of sync-ness

the essense of stats is the mean and the standard deviation, whatever it is will waver back and forth across that mean. taking that bell curve as a whole defines the player more or less, so within those bounds is the player until something like age or injury or the yips changes it for good

but there definitely are variations withing those bounds at one time or another

the way they state it simply goes back to their belief that intangibles are meaningless imo, which I believe to be untrue. 

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@ncscoots @RabbitMaranville1914 @_DAP_ @EMWTK  

Well, in the words of Bob Monkhouse,

"They all laughed when I said I was gonna become a comedian. They're not laughing now!