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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Braves’ RISP weakness comes to the fore

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Before we examine the Braves’ biggest weakness and look ahead to the homestand that begins with a Friday night series lid-lifter against the Giants, let’s take a quick look back at just how much the tables were turned during the past three games at the Little Havana ballpark with the oh-so-bright green outfield walls.

The Braves weren’t just swept in three games at Marlins Park, they were pummeled. They hit .188 and gave up 23 earned runs in 24 innings. Braves starting pitchers, who had allowed just just 28 earned runs and seven homers all season in 160 2/3 innings over the first 24 games, got whacked for four homers and 17 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings Tuesday through Thursday in Miami.

Braves could be excused if this thing appeared in bad dreams the past few nights.

Braves could be excused if this thing appeared in bad dreams the past few nights.

Call it an overdue correction, wonder aloud whether the Marlins are stealing signs, however you wish to view it these are the facts: The Braves were 40-15 with a 2.19 ERA in their past 55 games against the Marlins before getting rocked and outscored 23-7 the past three nights at the retractable-roof ballpark where the Marlins now have a six-game home winning streak for the first time since the garish venue opened in 2012.

The Marlins have home-road splits that would’ve made the Rockies blush even in their Blake Street Bombers heyday. Get this: the Marlins are 12-4 with a .307 batting average and 2.50 ERA in 16 home games, and 2-10 with a .215 batting average and 4.66 ERA in 12 road games. What the …?

The Braves issue: Living and dying by the homer and unsustainably strong starting pitching is a tough way to go for an extended period. The Braves did it successfully for all of April … well, almost all of April. Those last two days of the month, it bit them a bit.

Which brings us to, The Braves Weakness.

• Situationally, it ain’t good: The Braves rank near the bottom of the league with a .217 average with runners in scoring position, and Atlanta players not named Freddie Freeman or Evan Gattis are hitting a combined .184 (28-for-152) with 46 strikeouts with RISP.

Freeman is 8-for-21 (.381) with one strikeout with RISP, although he has grounded into three double plays. Gattis is 4-for-11 (.364) with RISP, with two strikeouts. And then it gets ugly in a hurry.

B.J. Upton is 2-for-18 with six strikeouts with runners in scoring position, and Chris Johnson is 2-for-16 with five strikeouts. Andrelton Simmons is 2-for-14.

Justin Upton is 6-for-26 (.231) with 12 strikeouts with runners in scoring position although, remarkably, five of those six hits were home runs. He also has five walks and an HBP in those situations, giving him a .364 OBP and .808 slugging percentage with RISP.

(As a side note: the Cardinals, after hitting a robust .330 with runners in scoring position in 2013, are currently hitting .226 in 252 at-bats with RISP, ranked 11th in the NL just ahead of the Braves.)

For the Braves, things only get worse – a lot worse – when you add two outs to the equation.

With runners in scoring position and two outs, the Braves are dead last in the majors at .132 (12-for-91), with only six singles in more than 100 plate appearances in those situations. Second-lowest in the NL in that category? Arizona at .178.

A year ago, the Braves ranked sixth in the NL with a .230 average with RISP and two outs, paced by Freeman (.411 in 56 at-bats), Johnson (.390 in 59 at-bats), Brian McCann (.286 in 42 at-bats) and Jordan Schafer (.281 in 32 at-bats).

This year, Freeman is an NL-best 4-for-7 with two walks and an HBP with runners in scoring position and two outs, for a .700 OBP. The rest of the Braves are – brace yourselves – 8-for-84 (.095) with RISP and two outs, with 24 strikeouts.

Think about how many more runs they’d have by now, if the team was just average by league standards (.209) in that category. The Giants have a league-best .307 average (35-for-114) in those situations, followed by the Marlins at .273 (33-for-231).

Braves starters had been extraordinarily good until the three-game series at Miami, where Aaron Harang (pictured) and Alex Wood struggled mightily. (AP photo)

Braves starters had been extraordinarily good until the three-game series at Miami, where Aaron Harang (pictured) and Alex Wood struggled mightily. (AP photo)

Here’s what other Braves with at least five at-bats with runners in scoring position and two outs have done with them: B.J. Upton 0-for-9 with three strikeouts, Dan Uggla 1-for-10, Chris Johnson 1-for-9, Andrelton Simmons 1-for-9, Justin Upton 2-for-15 with two homers and eight strikeouts, and Jason Heyward 1-for-7.

In close-and-late situations, the Braves have the NL’s lowest on-base percentage (.271) and third-lowest batting average (.206), which is especially glaring considering all of their close games have resulted in them having the second-most at-bats (199) in the major leagues in close-and-late situations.

Heyward is a team-worst 3-for-25 (.120) with two walks and 12 strikeouts in close-and-late situations, and B.J. Upton is 3-for-22 (.136) with five walks and seven strikeouts. Freeman hasn’t been a lot better in those situations at 4-for-25 (.160) with six strikeouts, though he has a home run and three RBIs. Gattis is 4-for-20 with seven strikeouts and two homers in close-and-late situations.

Justin Upton has been the team’s most productive hitter in close-and-late situations, batting .286 (6-for-21) with four extra-base hits (two homers) and five RBIs.

Again, the homers. They offset a lot of ills when the Braves are hitting them. But when they aren’t, they better hope their pitchers aren’t giving up more than two or three runs.

That’s a stressful way to live over 162 games and six months.

 • Freeman slump: It’s not often that we see Freddie Freeman struggle for more than a few games, what with that compact, simple swing and his ability to get things corrected quickly. But since he started having trouble again with his dry eyes nearly two weeks ago, the big first baseman hasn’t been himself, to say the least.

In his past 10 games Freeman is 6-for-42 (.143) with one double, one homer, four RBIs, two walks, 13 strikeouts, and a .182 OBP and .238 slugging percentage. The Braves are 5-5 in those games.

In his previous 16 games, Freeman hit .441 (26-for-59) with six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs, nine walks, seven strikeouts, a .521 OBP and .797 slugging percentage. The Braves were 12-4 in those games.

  • JUpton continues surge: Mr. April doubled in the first game of May Thursday to give Justin Upton an extra-base hit in five consecutive games and a .379 average (25-for-66) with 13 extra-base hits (eight home runs) and 18 RBIs in his past 18 games, with a .447 OBP and .833 slugging percentage.

The way things are going for this offense, the Braves really, really need J-Up to keep it going instead of falling off sharply as he did after his 12-homer April binge a year ago.

 • Uggla back to struggla mode: Dan Uggla had two homers and five RBIs in an April 14 game at Philadelphia. He has one extra-base hit (double) and no RBIs in 13 games since them. He’s 8-for-48 (.167) with three walks and 17 strikeouts in those 13 games.

• Giants in town: The Braves had best be on their game with the Giants coming to town. San Francisco is 6-1 with a .273 average, 13 homers and a 2.91 ERA in its past seven games, a stretch that began with a six-homer game at Colorado followed by six home games with at least one homer in each.

Atlanta hit .204 while going 6-8 against the Giants during the past two seasons.

The Braves won't face former Atlanta veteran Tim Hudson in weekend series, which is probably good considering how well he's pitching. (AP photo)

The Braves won’t face former Atlanta veteran Tim Hudson in weekend series, which is probably good considering how well he’s pitching. (AP photo)

The Braves won’t face Tim Hudson in this series, which is probably a good thing: The longtime former Brave is 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA and .195 opponents’ average in six starts in his first season with the Gigantes.

One other Brave you might remember has had a big recent impact with the Giants: Brandon Hicks, the strikeout-plagued former Braves infield prospect, has become a lineup regular for the first time in his career, batting .213 with five homers and a .342 OBP in 61 at-bats. That includes four homers and six RBIs in his past seven games, with a walkoff homer in that span.

• Minor makes debut Friday: The matchup for the series opener is a good one, with Mike Minor making his much-anticipated season debut for the Braves against Tim Linceum.

Minor, who opened the season on the DL recovering from shoulder tendintitis, is 2-0 with a 2.92 ERA and .205 opponents’ average in four career starts against the Giants, with 28 strikeouts and four walks in 24 2/3 innings. Half of his eight earned runs against them came in one start last June.

The left-hander led the Braves in strikeouts and innings pitched last season and is 20-13 with a 2.90 ERA in 47 overall starts since July 1, 2012.

Against Minor, Georgia boy Buster Posey is 4-for-8, Michael Morse is 4-for-9, Hunter Pence is 3-for-12, Angel Pagan is 1-for-8, and Pablo Sandoval is 0-for-8.

Lincecum has one quality start in five games this season, and he lasted five or fewer innings three times and never more than six. He’s 1-5 with a 3.35 ERA in his past six starts against the Braves, and the Giants scored two or fewer runs while he was in five of those games, including none while he was in three. He was 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Braves in 2013.

Justin Upton is 11-for-49 (.224) with no homers and 17 strikeouts against Lincecum, a frequent opponent when Upton was a Diamondback. Heyward (4-for-14), Freeman (3-for-14) and Uggla (0-for-13, six strikeouts) are the other Braves regulars with as many as 10 at-bats against Lincecum.

• Let’s close with a gem from John Murry off one of the best albums from last year, The Graceless Age. You can hear the cut by clicking here.

“SOUTHERN SKY” by John Murry

I was asleep
I woke up to the sound of it
Sashaying down the hall
Remnants of secrets
Our precious lives
And I’m terrified of it all

I’ve got no past

John Murry

John Murry

There is no future
This sickness follows me around
I’ve got no time
The hour’s nearing
And I’m gonna burn this old house down

She knows my face
My broken body
And I still see it in her eyes
That crucifix
That bound our bodies
Underneath the Southern sky
Trapped in the crowd
Cheated by misfortune
I pray his light will be her guide
Into my arms
These crooked arms
Underneath the Southern sky

The devil’s paintbrush
Holds just one color
It pushes out your form
As you laughed and tell me
Playing with matches
Will only keep me warm

The stars were falling
All around us
In this filthy little town
And while I slept there
You screamed into your pillow
And I’m so sorry but I never heard a sound

She knows my face
My broken body
And I still see it in her eyes
That crucifix
That bound our bodies
Underneath the southern sky
Trapped in the crowd
Cheated by misfortune
I pray his light will be her guide
Into my arms
These crooked arms
Underneath the Southern sky

She knows my face
My broken body
And I still see it in her eyes
That crucifix
That bound our bodies
Underneath the Southern sky
Trapped in the crowd
We were cheated by misfortune
I pray his light will be her guide
Into my arms
Into these broken twisted arms
Underneath the Southern skies

 

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