Posted: 4:46 pm Monday, May 12th, 2014

Braves need someone besides Freeman, J-Up to carry big load 

By David O'Brien

  SAN FRANCISCO – Welcome to San Francisco, where the surging Giants are once again atop the National League West standings and the Braves will try to avenge getting swept by them in Atlanta earlier this month.

Suffice to say, it looks like the Bravos will have to hold the Giants to a couple of runs or fewer to win, since that’s become the formula for success in this rather odd early season for Atlanta. Six weeks into the season, the Braves have the rare distinction of allowing the fewest runs in the majors (106) and scoring the fewest runs in the majors (115).

Jason Heyward gets a hug from Freddie Freeman after Heyward's two-run homer in Sunday's win against the Cubs, which ended a homerless drought of more than 100 at-bats for Heyward.

Jason Heyward gets a hug from Freddie Freeman after Heyward’s two-run homer in Sunday’s win against the Cubs, which ended a homerless drought of more than 100 at-bats for Heyward. (Curtis Compton photo/AJC)

Entering tonight’s series opener against the Giants, the Braves are 4-1 in five games since a seven-game losing skid, and the reason for the turnaround is pitching. Again.

After putting up a 5.10 ERA during their seven-game losing skid, Braves pitchers have gotten back close to their normal by posting a 2.35 ERA in the past five games.

That’s clearly been more important than the fact they hit .197 with four homers and 13 runs during the skid, compared to .229 with three homers and 13 runs during the past five games. Negligible difference in the offense, though they have gotten at least a few big hits with runners in scoring position lately, after getting remarkably few during the skid.

During their 4-1 stretch through Sunday, the Braves’ run totals in their four wins: 2, 3, 2 and 5. Their opponents’ scoring totals in those games: 1, 2, 0 and 2.

So it’s simple, right? The Braves hold the opponent to two or fewer runs and they’ve got a real good shot at winning.

Oy.

Sustainable? Hey, we’ve said it’s not. But while we don’t think the Braves will continue to pitch at their current majors-best 2.64 ERA for the entire season or their current majors-best 2.55 starters ERA (a quarter of a run better than any other starters), neither do we believe they will continue to be the worst scoring offense in the majors.

But man, they sure haven’t put together many convincing offensive performances for nine innings, and particularly not for a bunch of games in a row. And you keep wondering just how long before they get all or most of the pistons humming and show folks that this is not an anemic lineup. I mean, with more than one-fifth of the season completed, when do you say, they are what they are?

Scoring the fewest runs in the majors while also allowing the fewest runs. We just don’t ever expect that from a team. Even the Padres (116) have scored more runs than the Braves, who’ve scored exactly half as many runs as the Rockies (230). Braves pitchers, meanwhile, have allowed just 96 earned runs, while the Cardinals (117) are the only other NL team that’s allowed fewer than 120.

In the AL, the A’s (113) and Tigers (113) are the only teams who’ve allowed as few as 130 earned runs, but the Astros (132) are the only team that’s scored fewer than 148. The Braves, to repeat, have scored 115 runs.

To me, the odd thing is just how bad Atlanta’s offense is in most games when Justin Upton and/or Freddie Freeman doesn’t have a big day. Particularly Freeman. I say that because we saw the offense have some impressive stretches last yeare when J-Up wasn’t doing much, but rarely have we seen them do that over past two years when Freeman was struggling.

And lately, since a recurrence of dry-eyes problem a few weeks ago, he’s just not been the same, save for a clutch hit or three.

Freeman hit .413 (26-for-63) with a .493 OBP and .746 slugging percentage in his first 17 games, with six doubles, five  homers, nine walks and eight strikeouts. At that point, he was leading the league in several major offensive categories.

But in 19 games since then, Freeman has hit .211/.268/.303 with four doubles, one homer, six walks and 17 strikeouts. With Freeman, that’s highly unusual. We’ve come to expect to not see him have more than a few sluggish games in a row due to that short, simple, compact swing that we’ve been told (and observed) almost makes him “slump-proof” for long stretches.

 

Tim Hudson had another strong start Sunday at Los Angeles. That means the Braves won't face the former Atlanta veteran again in this series at San Francisco, after lalso missing him earlier this month in a series at Turner Field.

Tim Hudson had another strong start Sunday at Los Angeles. That means the Braves won’t face the former Atlanta veteran again in this series at San Francisco, after lalso missing him earlier this month in a series at Turner Field.

Unfortunately for the Braves, it’s not been that  unusual to see several mostly unproductive weeks at a time from Jason Heyward.  By now, at this point in his career, we figured that Heyward would have be an absolute offensive force, not a guy batting leadoff who you hope can get on base a couple of times a game, a guy who might hit a big home run every few weeks like he did Sunday.

That two-run, seventh-inning homer in a 5-2 win against the Cubs was Heyward’s and first homers ince April 9, a drought of 109 at-bats that was the second-longest of his career. He had a homerless stretch of 115 ABs as a rookie in 2010, when a mid-season thumb injury reduced his power.

Nowadays, Heyward has stretches of 10-12 days, like he did recently, where he produces at a .400 OBP clip with gap power and speed to go with his exceptional defense. But think about this: Before Sunday, he hit .195 (25-for-128) over a 32-game stretch with one homer, 16 walks, 30 strikeouts and a .288 OBP and .273 slugging percentage. Thirty-two games, a .195/.288/.273 stretch.

A few years ago, you might have figured that would be just about impossible at this point in his career for Heyward. I did.

With Freeman still scuffling, the Braves hope that Sunday’s homer and a return to AT&T Park will again bring out the best in Heyward. The big right fielder is 15-for-38 (.395) with six home runs, 12 RBIs and a .477 OBP in 10 career games at San Francisco. Also, he’s 7-for-16 with five walks and a .500 OBP against Tim Lincecum, who starts Monday’s series opener against Gavin Floyd.

• Gigantes surging: After taking three of four from the rival Dodgers in  L.A., the Giants are 13-4 with a 2.84 ERA in their past 17 games. They’ve hit 24 homers and averaged 4.6 runs per game in that span, and improved to 23-14 overall, tied the Brewers for the best record in baseball. They’re a game ahead of the Rockies (23-16) and 3 ½ ahead of the Dodgers (20-18).

The Braves will again avoid facing longtime former Braves veteran Tim Hudson, who’s been the Giants best starter at 4-2 with a  2.09 ERA and .206 opponents’ average. Huddy has 38 strikeouts and only four walks in 60 1/3 innings. He got no decision in Sunday’s 10-inning win at L.A. after giving up two runs and eight hits in six innings.

It was the fifth consecutive start in which Hudson has allowed two runs or fewer and the first time all season that he pitched fewer than seven innings.

The Giants lost Brandon Belt to a broken thumb for about six weeks after he was hit by ex-Braves lefty Paul Maholm on Friday. And Michael Morse, the former Nationals slugger who hit .312 with six doubles, eight homers, 22 RBIs and a .356 OBP and .634 slugging percentage in his first 30 games, including homers in consecutive games against the Braves May 2-3, has cooled off since.

In eight games beginning with the May 4 series finale in Atlanta, Morse is 4-for-28 (.143) with two doubles, no homers, two walks and 10 strikeouts.

Tonight’s matchup: It’ll be Tim Lincecum against Gavin Floyd, who’ll make his second start for the Braves and second since Tommy John surgery in May 2013.

Floydmade a splendid return from the DL Tuesday against St. Louis, allowing one run and six hits in seven innings and getting no decision in the win. He’s 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two starts against the Giants, but last faced the in 2008.

Justin Upton's recent road performance has been on the upswing, after starting out the year as a hitting cold on the road and blistering hot in home games. He's quite familiar with San Francisco from his years with Arizona.

Justin Upton’s recent road performance has been on the upswing, after starting out the year as a hitting cold on the road and blistering hot in home games.

Lincecum (2-2) has a 5.55 ERA and .329 opponents’ average, and he’s produced only two quality starts in seven games. However, he limited the Braves to one run in six innings of a May 2 win in his best start of the season.

The former hard-throwing, former long-haired righty is 8-6 with a 2.89 ERA and .218 opponents’ average in 14 regular-season starts against the Braves, including 3-6 in his past nine. But that latter stat is a big misleading: The Giants scored two or fewer runs while he was in seven of those nine games, including no runs in four of them.

• Etc.

 Justin Upton is 7-for-21 with four extra-base hits (two homers) and six RBIs in his past five road games, after going 4-for-34 with no extra-base hits, no RBIs and 17 strikeouts in his first nine road games. The ex-Diamondback has a .235 average, two homers and 51 strikeouts in 45 games (166 at-bats) at AT&T Park, and he’s 11-for-51 (.216) with no homers against Linceum…. B.J. Upton is 4-for-26 (.154) with a .233 OBP and .269 slugging percentage in his past nine games, with three doubles, two RBIs, three walks and 12 strikeouts…. Sunday’s win made the Braves 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA in their past 10 games against the Cubs…. Dan Uggla has nine homers and a .567 slugging percentage in 90 at-bats at AT&T Park, but is 0-for-13 with six strikeouts in his career against Lincecum. He didn’t play against Lincecum earlier this month, and I’d be surprised if he does tonight.

• I’ll close with one from one of the best singer-songwriters alive, Alejandro Escovedo, a guy who came up in the San Francisco punk scene a long time ago. He’s gone to hell and back with health issues and came through it all with so much perspective, which he’s infused into more great songs and albums in the past decade. This is one of them. Click this link to hear it.

“SISTER LOST SOUL” by Alejandro Escovedo

 

Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo

Nobody left unbroken
Nobody left unscared
Nobody here is talking
That’s just the way things are

You had to go, without me
You wandered off alone
And all the neon reflects
Off the sidewalk
Home reminds me
You’re not coming home

Sister, lost soul
Brother, lost soul
I need you
Sister, lost soul
Brother, lost soul
I need you

Every last heart is pardoned
And every last tear’s been cried
Out on the street the water’s frozen
And I feel like the only one alive

Sister, lost soul
Brother, lost soul
I need you
Sister, lost soul
Brother, lost soul
I need you
I long to lay down beside you
Feel your breath in my ear
You’re not the first or last
I’ve lied to
I’m lying to myself right now
You’re still here

Sister, lost soul
Brother, lost soul
I need you
Sister, lost soul
Brother, lost soul
I need you

1361 comments
Biff_Pocoroba
Biff_Pocoroba

Heyward = bust

Uggla = done

B.J. = worst. contract. ever.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

Another problem is that the Braves lack a true leader to hold people accountable, it was once Chipper then McCann but now whose the leader to get in the other players face and hold them accountable. Fredi Gonzalez isnt gonna be a leader hes too busy tipping his cap, Freddie Freeman is too busy hugging men, so whose the guy to hold the team accountable?

Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

Here's my plan.  The D-Backs are done, so let's bring Prado home to play 2B.  And after a few months of listening to that playboy model rant on and on about God knows what, I bet Chipper is just about ready to accept a job as hitting coach.  


Problem solved.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

But lets be honest Greg Walker call to fame was Adam Dunn and all he did was set the single season strike out mark so maybe this team needs a better hitting coach as well.



_Murph_
_Murph_

Where's raleigh?  He hasn't been on in a few days.

Raleigh!  Raleigh?!?

CB_
CB_

We need Didi! We need Didi! Call up Arizona GM, they need some pitching. Maybe Harang or Floyd. :-)   Dang, give them both of them.


kenhotlanta
kenhotlanta

I wonder if Sidd Finch ever had a sore arm or TJ surgery? Anybody know?

DOB
DOB moderator

Andrelton Simmons remains the toughest NL hitter to strike out with one K every 13 plate appearances. Meanwhile, the Upton brothers are first and second in the league in highest strikeout rate at one every 3.1 plate appearances for Justin and one every 3.2 PAs for B.J.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

Give La Stella a chance already. He's earned a shot at the big show

DS1
DS1

I'd love to stay, but I have a better offer.


Bo Graves!

Mixxo
Mixxo

MLB TV just threw us under the bus. We earned it though.  :-(

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

MLB just teased a segment on the Braves coming up, with lots of Uggla video...

chipl1960
chipl1960

all this academia talk. Give me some Uggla rumors or who the new hitting coach is likely to be. Or tell me bird brain paid his wager or that zaz went away.

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

@Biff_Pocoroba  Sounds like you've got the problem all figured out, Biff.

Now ... whatcha gonna do about it?

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

theres just too many  vanilla personalities on the braves 

Rick_C
Rick_C

@CB_  Didi isn't much of a hitter, even in the minors.  I'd rather just roll with what we have and wait a year or two for Peraza, if that's the choice.

jim024
jim024

@CB_ Give away your strength to get somebody else's weakness

jim024
jim024

@Rick_C Does WAR mean here wins above the incumbent?

Rick_C
Rick_C

4. Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta (Profile)

PABB%K%HRwOBAWAR5507.9%10.4%4.3212.1

While Dan Uggla has had some unarguably excellent offensive seasons and a considerably more substantial career than anyone would have expected, he doesn’t entirely resemble the best version of himself right now — nor has he for a while, probably. Given his limited power, La Stella has a lower ceiling; given his fantastic control of the strike zone, however, his floor appears much higher.

ComaToes
ComaToes

@DOB   Runs in the family apparently.  If we get Kate, she will probably strike out one out of every one time up.

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Mixxo  Did they call you first, for a comment? You being so good at that "under the bus" thing, and all.

kenhotlanta
kenhotlanta

@VeniceJim  And Tom Hart provided no new info except we have a black ugly hole at 2nd Base.

_Murph_
_Murph_

@Rick_C @CB_  LaStella has "stop gap" written all over him.

Release Uggla, promote LaStella, win a couple WS titles, and then decide what to do from there.

Rick_C
Rick_C

Click the article if you want that little table to make any sense.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@ncscoots @Jetiredo  296 avg and 11 strike outs in1 25 ABs hows about that.............certainly better numbers than what StrUggla is rocking now a days

ComaToes
ComaToes

@VeniceJim @chipl1960  AND Rabbit has been run off by the usual bunch.  Those numbers are adding up fast, wonder if DOB is keeping tally?

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@ncscoots @Jetiredo  hell I might wanna play with 7 instead of having Uggla. But LaStella has progressed each year and hey I believe in competition and maybe getting another young guy up here will push these guys. Who knows but what we have now isnt working and any move would be a better move than standing pat 

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Jetiredo @ncscoots  Okey-dokey. So, it's not really that La Stella is forcing the team to find a spot for him, just that you'd rather play with 8 than play Uggla. :-)

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@ncscoots @Jetiredo  Yea I do and yet he would STILL be a better option than StrUggla hell you would be a better option than Uggla 

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Jetiredo @ncscoots  You are aware, of course, that he's never played as many as 100 games in a season? Or had as many as 400 ABs in a season? Stuff like that?

ncscoots
ncscoots

@EMWTK @_Murph_ @YogiBare @ncscoots  You're all hopeless in your quests to be "kings of the bloggers"

Well, the jig is up, boys. I thought we might have had him fooled for a moment, but you can't put anything over on...whatever name is showing up currently.

ComaToes
ComaToes

@EMWTK @ncscoots @YogiBare @_Murph_   You guys are real "comics".  You have a problem with "stupd" but not "misunderstandinged" by your fellow blogger, VJ.  That's cute. You're all hopeless in your quests to be "kings of the bloggers"

ncscoots
ncscoots

@EMWTK @YogiBare @_Murph_  Exactly how stupd are you?

Could someone this "stupd" actually have a grasp of relative "stupdity"? This strikes me as a nuance undecipherable to such a person.

But that's just me.

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

@YogiBare You are even more stupid than I thought...quite an accomplishment - well done!

ComaToes
ComaToes

@_Murph_ @YogiBare  Here you go:  Dictionary.com

solecism----any error, impropriety, or inconsistency or an ungrammatical usage          

Dead on,   I'm not that stupd !

EMWTK
EMWTK

@Rick_C @ncscoots  He finally figured out that "solecism" didn't quite mean what he thought.

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Rick_C @ncscoots  Probably realized he was using the speech and cadence of another moniker. Too late. :-)

ComaToes
ComaToes

@VeniceJim    "misunderstandinged"  ?  Is that CA talk or what?  Geezzzz,  your solecism gets worse everyday!  

ComaToes
ComaToes

@Rick_C @YogiBare  What I saw was a question he asked of HZH that was ignored, and he wasn't included at times by others, so he said "buh bye".

Rick_C
Rick_C

@YogiBare Care to explain in your own words who ran him off, and how they did it?  I honestly have no clue.

ncscoots
ncscoots

@YogiBare @VeniceJim  Ah, there we go. Others had determined that this is just one of your many monikers, but I was unsure until this post. 

_Murph_
_Murph_

@YogiBare  Who needs DOB when we have you, the blog mom, to keep tally for us?

Go ahead and add a +1 for when you get run off.  It won't be long now.


EMWTK
EMWTK

@VeniceJim  If indeed Rabbit is gone, it appears to me it's because he didn't get attention he wanted, not that he got unwanted attention.

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

Sigh - a complete fabrication referencing Rabbit...who was misunderstandinged off...