Posted: 2:40 pm Friday, May 16th, 2014

Braves in 1st despite lack of production atop lineup 

By David O'Brien

 

ST. LOUIS – You want the good news or the bad news first regarding the Braves’ weekend series against the Cardinals that starts tonight? The good news? OK, the good news is that they face neither Adam Wainwright nor Michael Wacha.

Wacha pitched seven innings for the win Thursday against the Cubs here in St. Louis, while the Braves were in town with a full day off after traveling from San Francisco following Wednesday’s day game. The ace, Wainwright, had his scheduled Sunday series-finale start pushed back after the Cardinals were rained out Wednesdayhave a three-game series against the Cardinals starting tonight.

Entering Friday night's series opener  against the Cardinals, the Braves' Ervin Santana in all but two starts this season had allowed one or no runs and six or fewer hits in six or more innings.

Entering Friday night’s series opener against the Cardinals, the Braves’ Ervin Santana in all but two starts this season had allowed one or no runs and six or fewer hits in six or more innings.

So no Wainwright or Wacha, and the Braves instead get to face veteran lefty Jaime Garcia on Sunday in his first big-league start since shoulder surgery 12 months ago.

Now the bad news: both weekend games are day games. If you haven’t noticed, the Braves, who’ve not hit much this season to begin with, have been particularly brutal in day games.

And since we’re a quarter of the way into the season already, the sample size is at least large enough to make note of what I’m talking about here and wonder aloud whether the Braves need to drink more coffee, get more sleep — something.

The Braves and Pirates have hit .199 in 12 day games, tied with the Pirates for worst average in the majors, and the Braves’ .578 OPS in day games is third-lowest in the majors ahead of only the Padres (.559) and Pirates (.550).

The league average for day games is a .238 BA, and six of 15 NL teams are hitting above .250. Which explains how the Braves can have a majors-best 2.22 ERA in 12 day games, yet only a .500 record (6-6). The next-best day-game ERAs belong to the Reds (2.43), who are 10-7 in day games, the Athletics (2.50), who are 11-6, and the Brewers (2.55), who are 9-5.

The Braves’ .245 team batting average in night games is just below the .253 NL average and tied for ninth in the league. Braves pitchers have a majors-best 3.01 ERA in night games and a 16-11 record.

Here’s something else to illustrate statistically how bad Braves hitters have been in day games: Of the 138 National League players with at least 25 plate appearances in day games, the Braves have six of the bottom 35 batting averages

More than half of the Braves’ regulars are hitting .200 or lower in day games, including their best hitter: Yes, Freddie Freeman has hit .200 (9-for-45) with with one homer and .288 OBP in 12 games.

The rest: Gerald Laird .182 (4-for-22 in seven day games); Justin Upton .179 (7-for-39 with one homer, 16 strikeouts, .273 OPB in 11 day games); Evan Gattis .167 (4-for-24 with two homers, .200 OBP in eight day games); B.J. Upton .150 (6-for-40 with one RBI, 16 K, .209 OBP in 12 day games) and Dan Uggla .147 (5-for-34 with no extra-base hits and .211 OBP in 11 day games).

The only Braves with an on-base percentage as high as .290 in 10 or more at-bats in day games are Chris Johnson (.286 average, 11-for-41, one homer, .326 OBP); Jason Heyward (.220 average, 9-for-41, one homer, .327 OBP), and Laird (.182, 4-for-22 with .333 OBP). Again, that’s OBP – just three Braves with an OBP as high as .300, which isn’t real good, in as many as 10 at-bats.

 •Bigger issue: Of course, it’s not as if the Braves have been blowing up the scoreboard in night games, either. This offense has simply been woefully underperforming so far, and there’s no bigger reason than the lack of production at the top of the order.

If the first and second spots in the lineup are considering the table-setters, then the Braves are operating with a relatively barren table on way too many occasions. Because they have the National League’s worst batting average at not just the leadoff spot, but also the No. 2 spot in the lineup. League-worst in both the top two spots in the batting order. That’s tough to overcome on a regular basis.

The Braves’ .213 average from the leadoff spot – Jason Heyward in all but two games — is 12 points lower than the next-worst in the NL. OBP is more important than average at the top of the order, and the Braves’ .305 OBP from leadoff hitters is the fifth-lowest in the NL, and includes a .304 OBP from Heyward, who has hit .205 (30-for-146) with three homers, 20 walks and 35 strikeouts  in the No. 1 spot.

Heyward isn’t a leadoff hitter, but the Braves don’t have any obvious better candidates. Or maybe they do now, if Tyler Pastornicky is going to get most of the starts at second base (And if Pastornick is going to get those starts, as Fredi Gonzalez indicated this week, then really, how much longer will this Dan Uggla saga play out before the Braves release or trade him and eat almost all of his remaining salary? Stay tuned.)

Pastornicky had a couple of infield hits Wednesday in his first game at the leadoff spot, with Heyward out of the lineup for only the second time to get a rest against a lefty and in a day game after a night game. Heyward has struggled against lefties, and you might think Gonzalez would consider batting Pastornicky leadoff against lefties, but so far Fredi has indicated Heyward will stay atop the order.

The only other Brave to bat leadoff this year was Andrelton Simmons (1-for-5), who doesn’t strike out, but also doesn’t draw walks and isn’t a base-stealing threat.

Meanwhile, the 2-hole problem has been painful to watch again lately. The Braves rank 29th in the majors and last in the NL with a .214 average from the second spot in the order, where B.J. Upton has had two-thirds of the at-bats. The Braves’ .297 OBP in the 2-hole is fourth-lowest in the NL, and their .325 slugging percentage from 2-hole hitters is the league low.

B.J. Upton has hit .213 with a .303 OBP and .324 slugging percentage and 34 strikeouts in 108 at-bats in the 2-hole. Five other Braves have hit there at some point this season, and Justin Upton (.207, 6-for-29) is the only other one with more than eight at-bats in the position.

B.J. isn’t a 2-hole hitter, certainly not the way he’s going now. Simmons is a better fit there because at least he puts the ball in play and thus has a better chance to advance a runner.

Something needs to be done atop the order, because to ask a lineup to produce consistently when the first two are getting on base so infrequently is a bit of a reach.

Braves Friday lineup

  1. Heyward rf
  2. Jupton lf
  3. Freeman 1b
  4. Gattis c
  5. Johnson 3b
  6. BUpton cf
  7. Simmons ss
  8. Santana p
  9. Pastornicky 2b

Opponent’s praise: The Braves on Wednesday got seven hits and four runs against Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner (and in a day game, no less!). Bumgarner had held the Braves to one earned run over 20 innings in his previous three starts, including six shutout innings in Atlanta earlier this month. After Wednesday’s game the lefty gave Braves hitters a lot of credit for knocking him around: “They made good adjustments. They looked like a different team out there. They’re a first place time. They’re good. They’re no slouches out there.”

Oh, yes, it’s easy to forget that fact, what will all the consternation about the Braves office. The team is in first place, folks. Again.

• More from Walker: Braves hitting coach Greg Walker believes the Braves must, can and will get better than what they’ve been so far this season. I wrote about that in this story in the Thursday AJC and online, but there wasn’t enough room to run Walker’s quotes in full, so here are a couple more from an interview with the candid coach before Wednesday’s series finale in San Francisco.

GREG WALKER: “We’re going to get better, there’s no doubt in my mind. We’ve pitched good enough to keep us in the fight. We’re not bad; we’re in first place. You’ve got to tip your cap to the way we’ve pitched, and we (hitters) have got get better. And we have a chance to get better. The same guys, basically… If you look at our misses, we’re getting impatient and swinging at balls out of the zone. Which doesn’t work….

“We’ve had some games where we were bad. Really bad. Some guys have been frustrated and swing at balls out of the zone. We’re giving away way too many at-bats. I think we’re good, but we’re not good enough to do that (swing at pitches out of zone). Got to get the ball in the zone, and got to take our walks. We’re going to hit the ball hard, and we’re going to strike out. So what are the variables? The variables are (getting strikes, letting bad pitches go). We’ve got to trust the guy behind you….

“We’ve got to get better, and we will. I really believe we will.”…

Madison Bumgarner gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings Wednesday and praised the adjustments made by Braves hitters.

Madison Bumgarner gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings Wednesday and praised the adjustments made by Braves hitters.

“I think (the poor results with runners in scoring position) has been a little bit flukey. You look at hard-hit balls with runners in scoring position, we’ve hit as many of the balls hard as any other team. Some of it’s just been bad luck. And that’s an excuse, and hitting coaches don’t talk about bad luck, because you start feeling sorry for yourself. We can’t feel sorry for ourself. Got to keep fighting. We’ve got a lot of swing-and-miss streaky guys, and as a hitting coach you always look to get better. How can you get better? And that’s why we’re so dynamic when we get two or three guys going. We get two or three guys going, I mean, we play slow-pitch softball (big power). We get everybody going, it’s unbelievable. But how do you create consistency? Take our walks, use our athleticism, run on guys you can run on. Win games. When you’re not going good as a team, if you can find a way to win a game….

“This guy today (Bumgarner) is tough, but we know going in if we get two or three runs early we’ve got a pretty good chance to win because our guy (Teheran) is really good. And as bad as it seems, we’ve scored more than the other team, what, 22 times? That’s a good thing. And as bad as we’ve been – and we’ve been bad – we find a way to win some games. Mainly because of pitching.

“We haven’t been absolutely zero; sometimes it hasn’t been as bad as the numbers look. I think we’re all disappointed in how many at-bats we’ve given away this year. That’s the thing I look at. I’m talking about non-competitive pitches. When you’re swinging at pitches … pitching today is as good as it’s ever been. Everybody’s scuffling (offensively). I mean, at one time or another almost every team in baseball has scuffled in the first six weeks. We’re kind of the poster child for it, because we’ve done it more than anybody. But we’re going to get better, and there’s no doubt about it. And we’ve set ourself up. As bad as we’ve been, we’ve been good enough to be in first place. And hopefully we get better.

“We’re one of the youngest teams in baseball. We’ve faced a tough of right-handed pitching with a ton of right-handed at-bats against right-handed pitchers. And we’ve been challenged with – pitchers don’t want to throw us strikes, and we’ve allowed them to get away with that. They don’t want to throw us strikes, because we’re dangerous. We’ve got a lot of dangerous guys. They don’t want to throw us strikes and we’ve allowed them to get away with it. We’ve got to get better at getting the ball in the zone. That’s the one thing that sticks out to me. You always look at deception – he swung at a slider in the dirt. OK, that (pitcher) is good. That’s deceptive. It looked like a strike and turned into a ball. But we’ve swung at way too many non-competitive pitches this year. And when I see that I say, OK, that’s probably a frustrated hitter. He’s pre-determining swings: ‘OK, he’s going to throw me a strike here.’ The pitching coach is now – they’ve got his game plan. ‘OK, I’m going to pitch backwards, I don’t have to throw this guy a strike.’ And I don’t care what kind of swing you’ve got, I don’t care what kind of talent you’ve got, it’s impossible to hit a non-competitive pitch; you’ve got to take it. And we’ve not done a good job with that. Coaching or watching the other team, I’ve never seen a team swing at so many non-competitive pitches.

 “A lot of it’s out of frustration. ‘He’s going to throw me a heater here, I’m going to cheat and I’m going to get to it.’ And they’re smart enough to know that. And we’ve fell into the trap. We’re swinging at balls that are, out of the hand, they’re balls. That’s when you’ve got to look in the mirror and say we’ve got a wrong mindset. As a  hitting coach I’m not smart enough to think along with pitchers. But I am smart enough to know  that if I go up there and I fight through my at-bat, if I go up there with the mindset — this guy is not going to get me out, I’m going to put a professional at-bat on this guy, I’m going to swing at strikes, I’m going to be ready to hit, but if he doesn’t throw me a strike I’m going to trust my brother behind me – I believe that takes care of all this numbers stuff that everybody worries about. But when you just start giving away at-bats by just predetermining swings, well guess what, they’ve got too much info. They go in with a gameplan, and we fall into the trap of let them beat us without throwing strikes.

“I’ve coached teams that were bad and had bad streaks, but most of the time it was because we were hurt or just weren’t that good. But our guys are healthy. There’s no excuse for being as bad as we’ve been. But the good news is, we’re healthy. We’ve got a chance of getting a lot better. If I looked at us every day and said, ‘we’re not very good,’ I’d be real worried. But we’re not this bad. We’re  not this bad. The pitching’s giving us a chance. If we get in the fight, we’ll get better.”

  • Etc.

Among major league rookie pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, the Braves’ David Hale is the ERA leader at 1.65…. Before losing Wednesday after scoring first, the Braves were 14-0 this season when they scored the first run of a game. And going back to the 2013 season they had won 18 consecuttive games in which they scored first. Elias says that had been the longest active streak in the majors until it ended Wednesday, and the second-longest such streak for the Braves since they moved to Atlanta in 1966. They won 19 consecutive games when scoring first during the 1983 season…. Thirty of the Braves’ 39 games have been decided by three runs or fewer. They are 9-7 in one-run games, 4-4 in two-run games, and 5-1 in games decided by three runs. The Braves have been held to two or fewer runs nine times in the past 16 games and 17 times all season (6-11 record in those games).

Here’s a tune from DBT frontman Patterson Hood‘s excellent solo album Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance.

“BETTER OFF WITHOUT” by Patterson Hood

I’m better off without her holding me down
Driving me crazy when she’s not around
Better off without pacing back and forth
Taste of ocean water leaves me wanting more

And if salty is what she craves, why am I so bitter?

Patterson Hood

Patterson Hood

She’s so sweet it rots my teeth every time I kiss her
If I’m better off in fifty ways, why do I still miss her?
Misty eyed and tossed about
Thinking about things I’m better off without….

I guess I’m better off without all she was about
Her mood swings so violently it’s tough to stand my ground
It’s so tough to stand around, pacing back and forth
Lonely is awake alone, four in the morning

While She’s off to better things, better off without me
I would only hold her down until she stopped fighting
And my skin is underneath her nails since she came unbound
It’s too late to turn around

Thinking about things I’m better off without….

d

Thinking about things I’m better off without (x3)

4419 comments
Teddy_B
Teddy_B

Even with a few key players ice cold most of the season we have still managed to stay on top of the East! This is a great sign, especially seeing as how the team is just starting to click on all cylinders and get hot. Heyward is hitting VERY good, he's only got a few strikeouts in the past week or so. Most of the time when J-Hey makes contact it is a very well hit ball now. His avg in May is much better than it was in April. He's taking walks and stealing bases. I think Jason might just start getting medieval on their @sses here shortly.


Glad the guys are coming around, so much funner to watch a game when the team isn't struggling against a 4th or 5th pitcher in the opponent's rotation.

keyLargo
keyLargo

Just came from the Post Office with some pretty nifty Jimi Hendrix stamps.  

ZAZ
ZAZ

Haven't read posts for an hour......what do you fellas need help with?

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

There are some whiny little girls her that should look for another team to root for...You know, a team that is competitive and entertaining every year, AND wins LOTS of WS. Lets see, that would be....Cards, I guess....and maybe Giants and Red Sox. Course it took the Sox 100 or so years. Don't say Yankees (when was their lat championship)? Unrealistic expectations in my book. Braves are in no way a mediocre team. 


Of course, some people just take pleasure in whining, and being miserable.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

The Braves are the ultimate case of "Resting on ones Laurels"

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

Ken, are lurking? We haven't seen much of you lately. You are missed, my friend. 

EMWTK
EMWTK

The rantings of an alarmist Luddite in today's WSJ:

Take Me Out to the Replayless Ballgame: The obsessive pursuit of precision is robbing the sport of fun
By ROBERT J. PETRELLAMay 20, 2014 6:55 p.m. ET

Red Sox manager John Farrell recently became the first person in Major League Baseball history to be ejected from a game for disputing the league's new video replay review system. The replay reversed a double-play call at first base.

Mr. Farrell is not the only one who has a problem with a replay-review umpire reversing a call made on the field. The league is under attack by sportswriters, players and fans for stopping play for reviews and allegedly flubbing calls with the newly instituted system. But the biggest problem baseball faces is not that the video technology isn't accurate or precise enough. It is that it's too precise.

A ball thrown at 85 mph takes about 3.5 milliseconds to go from the tip to the back of the first baseman's glove. So, conventionally, if the runner and the ball arrive within about three to five milliseconds of each other, it's a toss-up. An umpire making that call can be neither right nor wrong, because conventional baseball rules don't—and never needed to—define the point at which the ball is "in" the first baseman's glove. As the late, great umpire and Hall of Famer Bill Klem once said: "Sonny, it ain't nothing till I call it."

But super-slow-motion cameras used by the networks routinely take pictures at intervals of two to five milliseconds, and in the World Series Fox has used cameras that can snap 20 frames a millisecond. The time-resolution of the cameras—the precision of the measurement—now approaches or exceeds the precision by which events on the field are traditionally defined. This leads to statements like this one, made by Mr. Farrell after being ejected from what ended in a 3-2 loss to the Yankees: "We were instructed, when the ball enters the glove—and not that it has to hit the back of the glove—is where the out is deemed complete."


There are other plays that don't hold up under the scrutiny of current video technology. A runner sliding over a base does not always maintain contact with the bag—in part, it's due to the shape of the human body. A middle infielder turning a double play does not always touch second base; this is to protect him from a charging base runner.

As Klem, who died in 1951 after umpiring in the majors for 37 seasons, implied with his famous quip, baseball used to leave these types of close calls to the umps, who would then suffer the praise and abuse of players, fans and managers. Since the league was founded in 1869, umpires had the discretion to reward a great 250-foot throw from right field that (arguably) nabs the runner, or to protect the shortstop's knees by giving him a little leeway around second base, or to give a pitcher throwing a miraculous backdoor curve the benefit of the outside strike. For the most part, this has been great for the game.

Television has changed professional sports, not just baseball but football, hockey and other games. Multiple-angle shots in slow motion, and then in high definition and super-slow motion, have led to more complicated and strictly enforced rules—because the plays have had to be more precisely defined for the technology to be meaningfully applied.

Umpires and referees have been held accountable to new and narrower standards. The introduction of replay review is another step in a process that is trading the human element in sports for precision.

George Will once said, "Sport should be the triumph of character, openly tested, not of technology." I am not arguing we should cling thoughtlessly to the ways of the past. But in today's society, we don't just use technology to help solve problems in our lives. We allow it to dictate the shape of our lives.

In baseball, armed with our sub-millisecond super-slow-mo and multiple-angle HD shots, I fear we will be compelled to scrutinize every slide for whether a leg lost contact with the bag by a millimeter for a few milliseconds. We'll question, as Mr. Farrell did, whether an out occurs when the ball enters the first baseman's glove or when he closes it.

In the end, we'll have lasers telling us with microscopic precision whether a pitch caught the inside corner. We will feel obligated to alter the game to fit the technology. For the foreseeable future, this will, no doubt, continue to slow the game down. But it will also strip the game of the tonic of human discretion, and that will be a greater loss.

Dr. Petrella is a research scientist and physician in Boston.

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

I see Zazzie is obsessing over the true meaning of "ACE". Well, I guess that's marginally better than ranting about people using the perfectly good and widely accepted baseball term "scuffling".

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@raleighbravefan  I didnt say they were a boring team or a non competitive team they just settle for mediocrity 

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

@EMWTK  I was SO upset when they decided Simmons was safe last night...

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

Do you have any special insider info as to the Braves' intentions?  Are you privy to a meeting of Braves' brass and players where the theme was "We must be mediocre"?  Did you see a picture in Wren's office saying "Mediocrity or Bust"?  I just want to know how you have this special insight into the Braves' mindset.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@Fleming01 @Rick_C  No they got some real number 2's but yea they dont have a 20 game winning 200K+ 200 IP+ type of starting pitchers

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Fleming01 @Rick_C  I'm pretty sure that Minor met any reasonable criteria for being an "ace" last year, if the definition is "one of the few best pitchers in baseball". 

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@Quicherbichin @Jetiredo  Well I bring up a point and because I have a valid point you have nothing left but insults, which means I obviously struck a nerve

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@raleighbravefan @Jetiredo  Yea they talk about 14 division championships and have only ONE World Series championship to show for it and really havent done anything to hold anyone accountable for underachieving regularly in the playoffs. But its ok just as long as you people accept mediocrity the Braves will happily give it to you 

ncscoots
ncscoots

@LumanHarris @raleighbravefan  I read a really well-done article some months ago which laid out some quantifications for being an "ace", all of which seemed logical to me. And, no, it didn't use FIP or xFIP as a criterion, LOL. Even so, it read well, and I can't find the article now for love nor money.

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

Just to be clear, do you feel the Buffalo Bills were mediocre in the 90s for just reaching four straight Super Bowls?

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@raleighbravefan @Jetiredo  Mediocrity :  a person (or team)  who does not have the special ability to do something well (as in winning a World Series)

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@Fleming01 @Jetiredo @Rick_C  Well theres not many Aces out there hence why they are called Aces but I didnt say the Braves had terrible pitching all I just said is that they have some number 2's

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@ncscoots @Fleming01 @Rick_C  Scouts would probably consider Teheran a number two, with ace ceiling.  


I could see making the argument that Minor is a number two.  Most would probably consider him a number three.  

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

I guess I need to be held accountable since I have clearly accepted mediocrity.  Sorry everyone, I contributed to this failed period of Braves' basebal from 1991 through the present.

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

@Jetiredo @Tumbledown  Pure unadulterated ridiculous BS. Bovine excrement, for sure. Who are you really. One of our usual trolls in disguise, or a new moron.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@Tumbledown  Unfortunately its loyal good hearted Braves fans that have the best intentions in mind that has contributed to the Braves Resting on their Laurels. John Schuholtz should be held accountable somewhat, and trust me he was a brilliant GM and he is a pioneer in every sense of the word but at some point people have to be held accountable

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@raleighbravefan @Jetiredo  Well name me a team that makes those trades and just allows the guy they traded for the following season to just leave because he wanted too much money. Thats why you dont see the Cardinals, Giants, Red Sox, or Tigers make short sided moves like this

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

That is a pretty easy opinion to spout from your computer work station.  I wonder if you really understand how ultra competitive professional sports is at the highest level.

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

@Jetiredo @raleighbravefan  You are using trading away a few prospects, one or 2 (meaning Wainwright) that actually turned out to be a great player, as a basis for your argument? Really? Name one team that has NEVER traded away a prospect that later was a really good player for someone else.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@raleighbravefan @Jetiredo  Again I said mediocrity and at the end of the day winning in the regular season and not performing in the playoffs is  mediocrity

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

So, it seems that the magic formula for winning more championships is for the people to accept nothing less than a championship.  Let's everyone join in a rousing chorus  of "I will accept nothing less than a champuonship."   The players and coaches are immaterial as long as we the people continue this mantra.  We have such POWER!

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

@Jetiredo @raleighbravefan  Let's disreguard the "14 straight division championships". 


Name for me all the teams that have won more games than the Braves over the last 5 years. The last 10 years. (I'm not even talking about the last 25 years). You HONESTLY call that mediocrity? REALLY. Let's just say that I disagree. Oh, and while we are at it, name all the teams that have won MORE than 1 WS in that time out of 30 teams. Would you prefer to root for a Marlins team that has won 2? 

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

@raleighbravefan @Jetiredo  Of course but if the Braves havent won a single playoff series since 2001, trade away great prospects like Elvis Andrus, Adam Wainwright, Matt Harrison Neftali Perez and Jerrod Saltalamacchia and Blow a 10 1/2 game Wild card game lead with 30 games left in 2011 and yet no real changes are made then isnt it within ones course of thinking to presume that the Braves are just settled for accepting mediocrity 

EMWTK
EMWTK

@raleighbravefan @EMWTK  Ever notice how ZAZ always wants you to read a book, but has a little fit if you post one?

What's up with that?