Posted: 2:00 pm Wednesday, May 7th, 2014
By David O'Brien
A few of the Braves downplayed it, said that last night’s win was big but that none of them were panicking. But others made it clear they really wanted to end that seven-game skid, before it matched the eight-game slide in 2012 and before the Nats could start to get even a little bit comfortable in first place (the Braves win and Nationals loss last night put Atlanta back on top by a half-game, for those who might not have been aware).
Mission accomplished. Gavin Floyd surpassed all expectations with seven strong innings in his first start since TJ surgery, Justin Upton shook off his four-strikeout hangover from the night before by hitting one halfway to Midtown, and slumping Chris Johnson got a much-neeeded game-winning RBI on a much-welcomed opposite-field hit, the kind he got so often last season and so infrequently through the first five weeks this season.
Now the next challenge: Beat Adam Wainwright tonight to win the series against the Cardinals, and try to get Mike Minor his first regular-season win since late August.
I bet you’re as surprised as I am by that latter fact, huh? I didn’t realize until going over his day-by-day lines today that Minor hasn’t won in his last seven regular-season starts, despite pitching quite well in several of them. His last reg-season win? It was against the Cardinals.
The Braves lefty is 20-14 with a 2.90 ERA and .222 opponents’ average in 48 starts since July 1, 2012, with 258 strikeouts and 64 walks in 304 1/3 innings. But he he hasn’t won a game in seven regular-season starts since beating the Cardinals on Aug. 25, 2013. He’s 0-5 with a 4.00 ERA since, and the Braves have gone 1-6 in those games and scored one or no runs in five of the seven games while Minor was the pitcher of record.
Minor is 2-0 with a 4.56 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals, including 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts last season. He gave up one run in seven innings of each of those games on July 26 at Turner Field and Aug. 25 at St. Louis.
Minor’s only win since then came in the division series against the Dodgers. This despite producing quality starts in five of his past six regular-season games, including two runs allowed on seven hits in six innings of his season debut against the Giants on Friday in a 2-1 loss. (He started the season on the DL, as most of you know, recovering from shoulder tendinitis that cropped up in the first week of spring training.)
Angel Pagan and Michael Morse accounted for the San Francisco runs with solo homers off Minor, who has surrendered two homers four times during his seven-start winless streak.
Breaking that seven-game schneid won’t be easy for Minor. Not with Wainwright on the mound for the Cardinals. The Georgia native and former Braves prospect was 5-1 with a 1.20 ERA and .157 opponents’ average in his first six starts this season before allowing 10 hits and six runs in five innings of a loss at Wrigley Field on Friday.
Wainwright’s .192 opponents’ average and .251 OBP includes .178/.229 by right-handed batters, who are 16-for-90 with one homer, five walks and 24 strikeouts against him. Lefties have fared slightly better at .207/.274, going 18-for-87 with one homer, eight walks and 22 homers. So don’t be surprised if Ramiro Pena is back in the lineup over Dan Uggla.
For those interested in such matters, all of Wainwright’s runs allowed have been in three day games. In two night starts he’s 2-0 with six hits in 16 scoreless innings. And after the sixth inning, hittters are just 2-for-28 against him, with three walks and 10 strikeouts. In close-and-late situations, it’s 1-for-10.
Wainwright has always pitched well against the Braves, who traded him to St. Louis in December 2003, along with pitchers Ray King and Jason Marquis, in exchange for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero. Drew had a career year and was instrumental in reaching the playoffs, but he left soon after, and Wainwright has been a decade-long reminder of why it should always be extremely difficult for a budget-conscious team to trade a top pitching prospect.
Wainwright is 7-2 with a 2.98 ERA in nine starts against the Braves, and 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA in five games (four starts) at Turner Field, where he usually has family and friends in attendance. That’s his most wins against any team that isn’t or wasn’t a Central Division foe.
The pride of Brunswick said there’s something special to pitching in Atlanta.
“Yeah there is, and it has nothing to do with the guys over there or anything else,” he said. “It’s just that, growing up a Braves fan like I was. I’m telling you I was the No. 1 Braves fan in the state of Georgia. There’s no doubt about that in my mind for many, many years and to pitch against them, one of my coolest strikeouts in my career was striking out Andruw Jones early on. My first year and my friends at home thought that was like one of the coolest things ever, and I did too. Coming here and pitching in this park is a neat experience.
“A lot of my friends moved here to work, my cousins live here, my brother lives here with his family. And so I get a good crowd here.”
Johnson has fared best against Wainwright among current Braves, going 6-for-18. Uggla is 5-for-25 with a homer, Jason Heyward is 3-for-12 with a homer, B.J. Upton is 3-for-6, Freddie Freeman is 2-for-10, Justin Upton is 0-for-13 with four strikeouts, and Andrelton Simmons is 0-for-8.
Again, despite Uggla’s relatively good numbers against him, it won’t surprise anyone if Pena is at second base tonight.
On the other side, here’s how some key Cardinals have fared against Minor: Matt Carpenter is 4-for-8 with a homer against the lefty, Allen Craig is 3-for-8 with a homer, Matt Holliday is 3-for-9 with a homer, and Yadier Molina is 2-for-10 with a homer.
• Scoring woes: They won, but it was hardly an offense outburst Tuesday for the Braves, who have hit .204 and scored 16 runs in their past nine games (2-7). Going back a little further, they’ve hit .214 with 32 runs and a 6-8 record in their past 14 games while posting a 3.10 ERA. Their only double-digit hit total in that stretch was 10 against Cincinnati in a 5-4 win on April 25 — also the only time in those 14 games that the Braves scored more than four runs.
Hey, I promise we won’t keep obsessing over the runners in scoring position with two outs stat for the entire season, because I know some don’t think it’s important (I do) and, more importantly, I know how quickly it can change. I fully expect the Braves to have a week or two soon where they get a bunch of hits in those situations and make this a mere footnote.
But for now, to me it’s worth noting simply because they have been inexplicably bad in those at-bats. I mean, far and away worst in the majors bad. And this despite having Freeman, who once again ranks one of the majors’ best individual hitters in these situations.
So here we go: The Braves are 13-for-111 (.117) with RISP and two outs, a full 91 points below the NL team average and 55 points below the league’s next-worst, the Phillies’ .172. The awful Astros (.139) are the only team besides the Braves batting below .164 with RISP and two outs.
Freeman is 5-for-10, which means the rest of the Braves are a combined 8-for-101 (.079) with 33 strikeouts with RISP and two outs. That’s astounding.
The Braves aren’t the only team at Turner Field this weekend that’s had trouble scoring runs. Consider the Cardinals, who are 8-12 in their past 20 despite a 2.70 ERA in that span. They’ve hit .247 and totaled 62 runs in those 20 games, including one or no runs eight times.
Believe it or not, the Cardinals have consecutive wins just once in that stretch.
Braves lineup Wednesday
- Heyward RF
- JUpton LF
- Freeman 1B
- Gattis C
- CJohnson 3B
- BUpton CF
- Simmons SS
- Minor P
- Pena 2b
• J-Up hit another one a long way: Justin Upton’s homer Tuesday, his ninth of the season, was another in his string of no-doubt-about it blasts. The kind where the outfielders barely bother to move because of the ferocity with which they leave the bat (ESPN’s Home Run Tracker measured his speed off the bat at just over 109 mph, one of the few this season to reach that speed).
“He crushed that,” Johnson said. “Man, that ball was way out of here. That was nice. It was also good for Gavin, getting a little breather and getting a lead.”
ESPN measured Tuesday’s drive at 457 feet, tied for ninth-longest in the majors this season. It was 20 feet shorter than one that he hit April 10, the third-longest in the bigs this season (Giancarlo has the leader at 484). But this latest J-Up longball was a line drive to left-center that sailed out further towards center field than his earlier, towering homer.
Despite his 1-for-15, 11-strikeout four-home-game stretch prior to Tuesday, Upton has hit .329 (28-for-85) with 14 extra-base hits (nine home runs), 19 RBIs and a .718 slugging percentage in his past 23 games.
His home-road splits remain stark: Upton has hit .383 (23-for-60) with seven homers, a .464 OBP and .783 slugging percentage in 17 home games, compared to .200 (11-for-55) with two homers, a .274 OBP and .364 slugging percentage in 14 road games.
Before Tuesday, Chris Johnson was 8-for-57 (.140) in 15 home games with one double, a .183 OBP and .158 slugging percentage. In 15 road games, he’s 18-for-53 (.340) with five doubles, a homer, a .357 OBP and .491 slugging percentage. His game-winning RBI Tuesday was only his second RBI all season at home. He’s now 3-for-20 with runners in scoring postion, but Johnson leads Braves regulars with a .304 average (7-for-23) in the late innings of close games. The fact that that averages leads the team says something about how the Braves have struggled in those situations, batting .209 as a team…. With Tuesday’s win, the Braves improved to 11-0 in which they had scored first. They also moved to 15-4 when they hit at least one home run, compared to 3-10 when they don’t.
• Here’s a great one from Van the Man, which you can hear by clicking this link.
“THESE ARE THE DAYS” by Van Morrison
These are the days, the time is now
There is no past, there’s only future
There’s only here, there’s only now
Oh your smiling face, your gracious presence
The fires of spring are kindling bright
Oh the radiant heart and the song of glory
Crying freedom into night
These are the days by the sparkling river
His timely grace and our treasured find
This is the love of the one magician
Turned the water into wine
These are days of the endless dancing
And the long walks on the summer night
These are the days of the true romancing
When I’m holding you, oh, so tight
These are the days by the sparkling river
And His timely grace and the treasured find
This is the love of the one great magician
Turned the water into wine
These are the days now that we must savor
And we must enjoy as we can
These are the days that will last forever
You’ve got to hold them in your heart.
About the Author
David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002, and previously covered the Marlins for the (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel for seven years. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism.