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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Braves starters dominant, but need some support

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In the modern baseball era, you will not often see a team go through a stretch like the Braves have this past week. I refer to the fact that they had a 1.38 ERA in the past six games before Wednesday, yet only a 3-3 record in those games.

Nor will you see a pitcher named Noodles. But more on that in a moment.

The Braves allowed one or no earned runs in four of those six games before Wednesday, and three earned runs in each of the other two. All three losses were in games decided by one run, including one that went 14 innings and two that were 1-0 shutout defeats with Alex Wood starting both times.

Even Freddie Freeman has gone hitless in the past couple of games for the Braves, who were shut out 1-0 by Jose Fernandez and the Marlins on Tuesday.

Even Freddie Freeman has gone hitless in the past couple of games for the Braves, who were shut out 1-0 by Jose Fernandez and the Marlins on Tuesday. (Curtis Compton AJC photo)

Oh, yes, young Mr. Wood has had the proverbial buzzard’s luck this season. The dude from UGA is 2-3 despite a 1.54 ERA and 35 strikeouts with seven walks in 35 innings. It’s not a stretch to say he could easily be 5-0 and a candidate for NL Pitcher of the Month.

The lefty got a combined total of one run while he was in the game in his three losses, including 1-0 losses at Philly against A.J. Burnett and Tuesday night at home against the Marlins and phenom Jose Fernandez, whom I’ll say again is the best and most dynamic pitcher – not just young pitcher – in the game.

When the 21-year-old Fernandez and 23-year-old Wood combined for 25 strikeouts (without a walk) in Tuesday’s game, it was the first time that two under-24 starters each struck out more than 10 in the same game since July 31, 1901, when Cincy’s Noodles Hahn and the Cubs’ Long Tom Hughes. (Now that I think about it, safe to say we also won’t see anyone named or nicknamed “Long,” at least not formally or for publication. But anyway….)

Over the past six games we’ve seen the Braves’ all-or-nothing offense in full effect. They were shut out while totaling four hits and three hits  in the first and sixth games of that period, and they got 10 hits in 14 innings of the 4-3 loss at New York. The Braves won the three games in which they homered during that six-game span, and lost the three in which they did not.

For the season, the Braves enter Wednesday with a 12-1 record in games when they hit at least one homer, and 1-6 when they don’t.

With no runners on base, the Braves have hit .254, tied for fourth in the NL. With runners on, they’re hitting .231, third-lowest in the NL ahead of only the lowly D-backs and and Padres. With runners in scoring position, the Braves’ .215 average also is third-lowest, ahead of those same two squads.

• Improbable Big Four: After Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy went down in the spring, what would you have said if someone told you the Braves would have four starters among the NL’s top 10 in ERA three weeks into the season? Well, they do.

Four in the top 10, including NL leader Aaron Harang, who brings a 0.70 into Wednesday’s noon game against the Marlins. The others are Ervin Santana (0.86), who’s tied with Cincinnati’s Alfredo Simon for second; Wood (1.54), who is eighth, and Julio Teheran (1.80), who is 10th.

Braves starters lead the majors with a miniscule 1.50 ERA, more than a run ahead of any other team except St. Louis (2.20). There are 23 teams with starters ERAs above 3.00, including 13 teams above 4.00.

And despite some shaky bullpen work, Braves pitchers lead the majors with a 2.16 overall ERA, well ahead of second-ranked Milwaukee 2.59.

After the Braves lowered their team ERA for the fifth consecutive season in 2013, I thought there was no way they’d do it again this year. Not after losing Tim Hudson and Eric O’Flaherty, and certainly not after Medlen’s season-ending elbow injury in spring training.

Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe they can do it again. It’s way, way early, but maybe they can.

By the way, here’s how it’s come down for five consecurive seasons: From 4.56 (12th in NL) in 2008, to 3.57 (third in NL) in 2009, 3.56 (third) in 2010, 3.48 (fourth) in 2011, 3.42, (fourth) in 2012 and 3.18 (first) in 2013.

They led the majors in overall ERA and bullpen ERA (2.46) in 2013, while the starters’ ERA (3.51) was fifth in the NL.

  • Today’s matchup: It’s Harang against the Marlins’ Nathan Eovaldi in the series finale and rubber game. Harang has been the most surprising pitcher in the majors, but Eovaldi (1-1, 3.55 ERA) has been tough on the Braves. The hard-throwing righty is 1-1 with a 2.19 ERA  in six career starts against ATL, including 1-0 with an 0.62 ERA in his past four.

As for Harang, what else can be said about the 35-year-old resurgent journeyman, who is 3-1 with an 0.70 ERA and has taken a no hitter through six and seven innings so far this season?

With runners on, hitters are 3-for-31 (.097) with three walks and 10 strikeouts against Harang, including 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position, with no walks and six strikeouts.  With two strikes, hitters are 1-for-47 (.021) against him, with seven walks and 22 strikeouts.

Right-handed batters aree 4-for-48 (.083) against Harang with four walks, 16 strikeouts and a .104 slugging percentage.

Against the Marlins, Harang is 5-4 with an unsightly 6.26 ERA in 13 starts, but none since 2012.

Braves lineup Wednesday

  1. Heyward RF
  2. Simmons SS
  3. Frreeman 1B
  4. Johnson 3B
  5. Doumit LF
  6. Uggla 2B
  7. Schafer CF
  8. Laird C
  9. Harang P

Let’s close with a great one from the ’80s and Marshall Crenshaw, which you can hear by clicking here. I used to always look for the cynical girls.

“CYNICAL GIRL” by Marshall Crenshaw

Well I’m goin’ out
I’m goin’ out lookin’ for a cynical girl
Who’s got no use for the real world
I’m lookin’ for a cynical girl
Well I hate TV

There’s gotta be somebody other than me MC1
Who’s ready to write it off immediately
I’m lookin’ for a cynical girl

Well I’ll know right away by the look in her eye
She harbors no illusions and she’s worldly-wise
And I’ll know when I give her a listen that she
She’s what I’ve been missin’
What I’ve been missin’
I’ll be lost in love

And havin’ some fun with my cynical girl
Who’ll have no use for the real world
I’m lookin’ for a cynical girl
Well I’m goin’ out

I’m goin’ out lookin’ for a cynical girl
Who’s got no use for the real world
I’m lookin’ for a cynical girl

Yeah I’ll know right away by the look in her eye
She harbors no illusions and she’s worldly-wise
And I’ll know when I give her a listen that she
She’s what I’ve been missin’
What I’ve been missin’
I’ll be lost in love

And havin’ some fun with my cynical girl
Who’ll have no use for the real world
I’m lookin’ for a cynical girl

 

 

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