DENVER — The blown leads in a pair of one-run losses Saturday at Sunday at Arizona underscored a couple of points about this sputtering Braves team. They continue to waste too many scoring opportunities, an issue that’s going to be difficult if not impossible to correct at midseason, and their pitching, particularly relief pitching, isn’t good enough to carry the Braves.
Unlke the offense, the pitching issue can and likely will be addressed before the trade deadline. I’d expect the Braves to trade for at least one reliever in the coming weeks, even if that means trading an established starting pitcher to do so. They are reluctant to trade a starter for concern that as soon as they did so, one of the remaining starters would get hurt.
But keep in mind, if the Braves were to trade a Gavin Floyd or Aaron Harang and later have an injury to one of the remaining guys, they’d still have five starters with at least some major league experience. David Hale, remember?
Anyway, Floyd or Harang could be dealt because each is only on a one-year contract and isn’t going to be a guy who’d bring you a draft pick as compensation when he leaves as a free agent. But but I’d say Floyd more likely to be moved, given that Harang has gotten the team so much deeper into games and pitched quite well with the exception of the one start at Miami.
Also, Floyd has incentives that can earn him another $3-4 million if he’s in the rotation the rest of the season, on top of his $4 million base salary. He would end up making at least six times what the Brave are paying Harang, who has been a tremendous bargain with his $1 million salary after being released by Cleveland late in spring training and signing with the Braves.
If the Braves could trade for another established lefty and/or setup man, and assuming that Jordan Walden can stay reasonably healthy the rest of the way, then if Shae Simmons can keep doing what he’s doing the Braves could again have a formidable ‘pen. That’s really not much of a stretch to say they could make significant improvement in a hurry in the ‘pen, whether or not David Carpenter gets back to something resembling his former effectiveness.
The seventh inning has been a serious problem for the Braves for a while now, with Carpenter ineffective and others not able to provide much consistency when manager Fredi Gonzalez has tried to piece together that inning. He’s ended up sticking with some starters longer than he might have in a few cases, including leaving Aaron Harang in to start the seventh Sunday in the fateful six-run inning that sent the Dbacks to a 6-5 win.
The other thing that trading Floyd or another one-year contract veteran — I can’t see it being Ervin Santana, since Braves gave up draft pick to sign him and will likely get a draft pick if/when he signs elsewhere – is that it would open a rotation spot for Alex Wood, who is simply more effective as a starter and is projected to be a part of the rotation for the long term.
The Braves’ 3.02 overall ERA is now third in the majors (A’s lead at 2.91) and second in NL to Nationals (3.00), while the Braves’ 2.88 ERA from starters still leads the majors ahead of the A’s (3.06) and Cardinals (3.18). Meanwhile, the Braves bullpen ERA (3.35) ranks sixth in the NL and there have been some glaring slip-ups lately in close games.
• Bad time to scuffle: The Braves are 4-8 with a 3.98 ERA and .262 average and 46 runs in their past 12 games, including 2-5 in games decided by two or fewer runs (bullpen issues a big part of that). They are 1-4 in their past five games, with all four losses by two or fewer runs including consecutive one-run losses over the weekend at Arizona.
The Braves started the season 17-7 with a 2.04 ERA, .245 batting average and 29 homers in their first 24 games, and have since gone 15-22 with a 3.68 ERA, .238 batting average and 31 in 37 games.
What makes the dropoff, and particularly the past couple of weeks, more troubling is the fact that the Nationals have finally started to pitch and play the way people thought they would when Washington was a near-consensus NL East favorite in the spring.
Oh, and those upstart Marlins are not fading yet they way that I and plenty of others thought they would, particularly after losing ace Jose Fernandez to season-ending elbow surgery.
Who’d have thought the Braves, Nationals and Marlins would be in a three-way tie for first place on June 9? The Braves and Nats, yes. But not all three of those teams.
The Nationals, after spinning their wheels a bit during a 25-27 and 3.30 ERA start to their season, are 7-2 with a 1.31 ERA in their past nine games. Of course, those games were against injury-decimated Texas, old-and-bad Philly, and perpetually rebuilding San Diego. But still, they are 7-2 in their past nine and have been pitching and playing a lot better for a while now.
The Marlins? They started out the season 11-14, but since then they’ve gone 22-16 with a 3.87 ERA and 40 homers in 38 games. They have some seriously good young players, and they’re hungry and eager to keep proving skeptics wrong. And there’s very little pressure on them down there, obviously, in the way of team expectations from South Florida fans.
• Road woes: The Braves lost two of three over the weekend against an Arizona team they’ve dominated the past couple of seasons, and now the Braves are 6-12 with a .234 average and 4.22 ERA in their past 18 road games entering tonight’s series opener at Coors Field.
Opponents scored four or more runs in 14 of those 18 games, including five or more earned runs in seven of the 18.
In their first 11 road games the Braves were 8-3 with a 1.78 ERA, and allowed two or fewer runs nine times. They allowed more than two earned runs just once in their first 10 road games.
Now they face another team the Braves have dominated in recent seasons. They are 14-3 with a .295 BA and 2.94 ERA against the Rockies since the beginning of the 2012 season, and the Braves have out-homered them 24-14 and outscored them 107-55 in those 17 games.
And before anyone says, yeah, but these Rockies are a wrecking crew at home this season, step back and take a look at what they’ve done lately: The Rockies are 2-11 with a 6.87 ERA in their past 13 games, a stretch that began with their loss in the series finale at Turner Field on May 25. The Braves won two of three in that series.
And at Coors Field, after going 16-6 with a mind-numbing .350 batting average and 4.07 ERA in their first 22 home games, the Rockies are 1-5 with a .280 batting average and 7.96 ERA in their past six home games, including being swept by the Diamondbacks last week and losing two of three to the Dodgers over the weekend.
Yes, Troy Tulowitzki continues to do ridiculous things at home, batting .500 — .500! – more than a third of the way through the season. But he alone hasn’t been enough to offset their pitching woes, and on the road the Rockies are entirely beatable.
Here’s the updated absurd splits for Tulo: He’s hit .500 (49-for-98) with a .569 OBP and .939 slugging percentage in 27 home games, with 21 extra-base hits (11 homers) and 29 RBIs. On the road, he’s hit .234/.346/.458 with 11 extra-base hits (six homers) and 13 RBIs in 33 games.
• Welcome to Coors: Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson have to be pleased to be facing the guys in purple. A visit to Coors couldn’t come at a better time for either.
Johnson is 16-for-83 (.193) in his past 21 games with two doubles, one homer, five RBIs, no walks, 24 strikeouts and a .190 OBP and .253 slugging percentage. The one homer came against the Rockies on May 25 in Atlanta. Which is not surprising when you consider he is 31-for-88 (.352) with five doubles and two homers in 24 career games against the Rockies.
Johnson is 11-for-28 (.393) with two doubles and one homer in eight games at Coors Field. He went 3-for-6 with a double, a homer and three RBIs in a September 2012 game at Coors when he was with the Diamondbacks. He has seven RBIs in his past seven games against the Rockies, including three 2-RBI games. (Those seven games were all home games.)
As for Freeman, he hit .210 with no homers and four RBIs in 17 games before going 2-for-5 with a homer Sunday at Arizona. He has a .362 average with 18 extra-base hits (10 homers) and 25 RBIs in 25 games against the Rockies. In 10 games at Coors, he’s 15-for-43 (.349) with four homers and 12 RBIs.
• Tonight’s matchup: It’s Floyd against righty Christian Bergman, who’ll be making his major league debut. Bergman, 26, was 4-4 with a 3.84 ERA in 12 starts at Triple-A Colorado Springs, with 48 strikeouts, 15 walks and nine homers allowed in 75 innings. A year ago he gave up 25 homers in 171 innings in Double-A.
Floyd is winless despite allowing three or fewer earned runs in each of his six starts, although it should be noted he lasted only five or 5 1/3 innings in half of those games.
He has a relatively high .301 opponents’ average for someone with a 2.80 ERA, but opponents have seven unearned runs in addition to 11 earned.
Floyd is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in four starts against the Rockies, and allowed seven hits and two runs in 6 2/3 innings for no decision in a May 23 win against them. Floyd allowed two runs in seven innings of his only start at Coors in 2011.
Michael Cuddyer is 14-for-39 (.359) with two homers against Floyd, Justin Morneau is 7-for-36 (.194) with three homers, and Tulo is 1-for-5.
• Let’s close with a classic and terrific video from Paul McCartney & Wings. Check it out here.
“BAND ON THE RUN” by Paul McCartney
Stuck inside these four walls
Sent inside forever
Never seeing no one nice again,
Like you, mama
You, mama… you…
If I ever get out of here
Thought of giving it all away.
To a registered charity
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get out of here
(If I ever get out of here)
Well the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you’re having fun.
Band on the run; band on the run
And the jailer man, and sailor Sam,
Were searching everyone
For the band on the run…
Well, the undertaker drew a heavy sigh
Seeing no one else had come
And the bell was ringing in the village square
For the rabbits on the run,
Band on the run…
Well the night was failing
As the desert world began to settle down
In the town they’re searching for us everywhere
But the never will be found
Band on the run; band on the run
And the country judge, who held a grudge
Will search for ever more.
For the band on the run