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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Remember when Braves lineup was too left-handed?

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SAN FRANCISCO – It was only a few years ago that Braves officials were concerned about how left-handed dominant their lineup had become and how changes needed to be made.

Now it sure seems like the Braves have gone a bit too far the other way. They are so right-handed dominant and/or so weak against righty pitchers that on any given night even a run-of-the-mill righty can make them look feeble. As Tim Lincecum did Monday, when B.J. Upton was the only Brave to get a hit in 7-2/3 innings against the once-great but now entirely mediocre Giants pitcher.

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Tim Lincecum limited the Braves to two hits in 7 2/3 innings Monday, the latest right-hander to make Atlanta’s offense look feeble.

Granted, things are a bit different when Freddie Freeman is his usual self, rather than struggling as he has in recent weeks. Freeman has hit .215 in his past 20 games with two homers, a .279 OBP and .342 slugging percentage, after hitting .413 in his first 17 games with five homers, a .493 OBP and .746 slugging percentage. The team was 12-5 in his first 17 games, and 9-11 in his past 20.

But if the Braves are that dependent upon their big first baseman to carry the load, particularly against righty pitchers, then that’s a real problem.  Right now, if Freeman and Justin Upton don’t have big nights, there’s a pretty good chance these days that the Braves will get dominated by any decent righty. They have just been a bad offensive team so far this season, period.

And worse than bad lately: In their past 14 games, Braves have hit .203 and totaled 29 runs. They’ve scored two or fewer in nine of those 14 games, and haven’t had a double-digit hits game in that span. That’s extremely bad.

But all season against righties, the Braves are particularly vulnerable. Tonight they face a righty starter, Ryan Vogelsong, for the sixth consecutive game. There’s a lefty on deck for the Giants in Wednesday’s series finale. Then again, facing Madison Bumgarner (2.83 ERA) can hardly be viewed as a relief.

Still, they’ve got to be thrilled just to see a lefty on the mound to start a game. (We know Dan Uggla must be; he’s been out of the lineup for five consecutive games since the Braves last faced a lefty.)

The problem with struggling against righties, of course, is that the Braves face far more righties than lefties. Especially right now, when there aren’t nearly as many lefty starters in NL East rotations as there were just a few years back.

The Braves’ .221 batting average in 1,007 at-bats against right-handers is second-lowest in the NL, barely ahead of the bottom-dwelling Padres (.220). The Braves’ .278 OBP vs. righties is also second-lowest in the league ahead of only the Padres (.268), and Atlanta’s .353 slugging percentage vs. righties is fourth-lowest in the NL.

Meanwhile, the Braves’ .272 average in 232 ABs vs. lefties ranks fourth in the NL behind the Rockies, Nats and Phillies, and their .345 OBP vs. lefties ranks the Braves second in the NL behind only the Rockies (.360). The Braves’ .470 slugging percentage is also second in the NL to Colorado’s .508.

Those disparities for Braves hitters are huge, particularly a 117-point difference in slugging percentage against righties and lefties.

The Braves have only two regulars (Freeman and J. Upton) hitting above .250 against right-handers, while five regulars – six if you count Ramiro Pena – are hitting .300 or higher against lefties.

Lefty-handed Jason Heyward is only batting .220 (24-for-108) against righties with two homers, and .339 OBP and .324 slugging percentage. B.J. Upton had a double and homer off Lincecum Monday but is still hitting just .212 (21-for-99) against righties with six walks, 35 strikeouts and a .255 OBP.

Uggla’s .172 vs. righties (15-for-87) is fourth-lowest in the NL, and his .241 slugging vs. righties is third-lowest in the NL.

Four of five Braves bench players are hitting below .155 against righties: Pena is 5-for-32 (.156), albeit with two doubles and a homer; Gerald Laird is 4-for-26 (.154) with no extra-base hits or RBIs; Jordan Schafer is 2-for-20 with a double and no walks, and Tyler Pastornicky is 0-for-8.

Braves lineup Wednesday

  1. Pastornicky 2b
  2. JUpton lf
  3. Freeman 1b
  4. Gattis c
  5. Johnson 3b
  6. BUpton cf
  7. Doumit rf
  8. Simmons ss
  9. Teheran p

• Braves’ woes vs. Gigantes:  The Giants are 14-4 with a 2.79 ERA and 25 home runs in their past 18 games, including 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA and eight homers in four games this season against the Braves.

In their past 10 games against the Braves, the Giants are 8-2 with a 1.53 ERA. The Braves have posted a 4.50 ERA in those 10 and contests while hitting a puny .176 and being out-homered 14-5 by the Giants.

Tonight’s matchup: It’s Mike Minor against Ryan Vogelsong, with Minor making his third start of the season and trying to snap an eight-start winless streak going back to late August.

After spending April on the  DL recovering from shoulder tendinitis, Minor was solid in his season debut May 2 vs. the Giants, allowing two runs (on solo homers) and seven hits in six innings. But then he got rocked in his second start Wednesday against the Cardinals, allowing 11 hits and six runs in 4-1/3 innings.

That made him 0-6 with a  4.74 ERA in his past eight starts. He’s allowed 10 homers  in 49 1/3 innings over those starts, and the Braves have scored one or no runs while he’s been in the game in six of his past seven starts.

Mike Minor won a game in the division series against the Dodgers, but was winless in his past eight regular-season starts entering Tuesday's game against the Giants.

Mike Minor won a game in the division series against the Dodgers, but was winless in his past eight regular-season starts entering Tuesday’s game against the Giants.

Before the winless streak, Minor was 20-9 with a 2.71 ERA over his previous 41 starts going back to July 1, 2012.

Minor is 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA in five career starts against the Giants, including a May 2 loss when he allowed two runs and seven hits including two homers in six innings.

Morse is 6-for-12 with a homer against the lefty, while Pablo Sandoval is 0-for-11 with four strikeouts against him.

Vogelsong is 1-0 with a 0.89 ERA and .176 opponents’ avereage in his past three starts, including a May 3 win in Atlanta where he he allowed five hits and one run in six innings. He’s 2-1 with a 3.81 ERA in five career starts vs. the Braves, with 27 strikeouts in 26 innings.

Against Vogelsong, Freeman is 5-for-13 with two homers, Schafer is 3-for-6 with a homer, Heyward is 3-for-8 with a homer, and Justin Upton is 6-for-19 with 10 strikeouts.

  • More Lincecum: After Monday night’s win, Lincecum is 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA and .167 oppoents’ average in two starts against the Braves this season, and 1-2 with a 6.37 ERA and .344 opponents’ average in six starts against everyone else. The only other team he’s faced more than once is Arizona, and he’s 0-1 with a 9.90 ERA and .349 OA against the Diamondbacks.

Lincecum had not allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in any start until Monday, when he gave up two hits in 7 2/3 innings against the Braves. His 11 strikeouts were four more than he had in any previous start this season.

• Etc.

During a five-game road losing streak through Monday, the Braves have hit .178 and scored 12 runs while posting a 5.78 ERA. They’ve allowed at least four runs in each of those games, and scored as many as four runs in only one (and only four runs in that one)…. B.J. Upton two-hit game Monday was his fifth multi-hit game this season and first since April 18. Seven of his past eight hits have gone for extra bases (five doubles, two homers)…. In his past eight games vs. the Giants, Justin Upton is 2-for-30 with one RBI, four walks and 12 strikeouts…. 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…. Freeman’s homer Monday was just his second in his past 21 games…. Since only three of four runs charged to Gavin Floyd on Monday were earned runs, it qualified as a “quality start” (six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer) and gave the Braves a majors-leading 29 quality starts for the season.

• Here’s a good one by Frank Turner from a few years ago.

“I STILL BELIEVE” by Frank Turner

Hear ye, hear ye, friends and Romans, countrymen.
Hear ye, hear ye, punks and skins and journeymen
Hear ye, hear ye, my sisters and my brethren.
The time is coming near.

Come ye, come ye, to soulless corporate circus tops.

Frank Turner

Frank Turner

Come ye, come ye, to toilet circuit touring snobs.
Come ye, come ye, to bedrooms, bars and bunker squats.
The sound is ringing clear.

Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all.
And who’d have thought that after all, it was rock ‘n’ roll.

Hear ye, hear ye, now anybody could take this stage.
Hear ye, hear ye, and make miracles for minimum wage.
Hear ye, hear ye, these folk songs for the modern age,
Will hold us in their arms.

Right here, right now, Elvis brings his children home.
Right here, right now, you never have to feel alone.
Right here, right now, teenage kicks and gramophones.
We hold them in our hearts.

Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all.
And who’d have thought that after all, it was rock ‘n’ roll.

And I still believe (I still believe) in the saints.
Yeah, in Jerry Lee and in Johnny and all the greats.

And I still believe (I still believe) in the sound,
That has the power to raise a temple and tear it down.

And I still believe (I still believe) in the need,
For guitars and drums and desperate poetry.

And I still believe (I still believe) that everyone,
Can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won.

So just remember folks we not just saving lives, we’re saving souls,
And we’re having fun.

And I still believe.

Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all.

Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something so simple, something so small.
Who’d have thought that after all it’s rock ‘n’ roll?

 

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