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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Braves could use some of Ervin’s ‘Magic’ tonight

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NEW YORK – The Ervin Santana bandwagon shed a lot of Braves fans during a four-week stretch in which he posted a 6.44 ERA while winning once in six starts and allowing six earned runs three times (and five earned runs once). It was not magic, by any means.

But for those who were so turned off by his four rotten starts in that period that they might not have noticed, Santana has been solid in six of his past seven starts, and pitched quite well in a few of them.

Santana has 20 strikeouts and three walks in 20 innings over his past three starts. Against the Mets, he's 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three career starts.

Santana has 20 strikeouts and three walks in 20 innings over his past three starts. Against the Mets, he’s 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three career starts.

The Braves need him sharp tonight in the third game of a four-game series against the Mets, because they’ve slipped again into failure-to-cash-in offensive mode and need a win to snap a three-game skid and avoid losing the series. Not to mention potentially falling back behind the Nationals, after moving to 1 ½ games ahead during Atlanta’s nine-game winning streak that ended Sunday.

In last night’s 8-3 loss to the Mets, the Braves had 12 hits but just one run before Freddie Freeman’s two-run, two-out single in the ninth inning, which only served to make the loss a little less one-sided. They had one hit with a runner in scoring position until getting two in the ninth inning after falling behind 8-1.

They went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and are 5-for-31 in those situations during the past three losses. It’s not a coincidence, as most of you – not all, but most — would probably agree. When the Braves get hits with runners on base and in scoring position, they generally win. When they don’t, they have to rely on their starting pitcher allowing, oh,  two runs or fewer to have a good chance to win. And rely on the bullpen to hold the lead, not as much a given as it’s been in recent years.

Of course, Julio Teheran’s third bad start of the season put the Braves in a hole early last night. He gave up five runs — including a leadoff homer in the first and three runs in the second — before he was lifted with one out in the fourth inning. Hey, even All-Stars and team aces are going to have a handful of bad starts in a typical season. He’s had three, one of which came at Colorado and thus probably should only count as half a bad start. Or something like that.

Anyway, back to last night. The Braves whiffed early and often against the rookie with the rock-star hair, Mets righty Jacob deGrom. Ten K’s in the first five innings. So this wasn’t a night when they could afford to fall behind early. If you were watching, perhaps you had a feeling, as I did, that this was going to be a long night for the Braves after Heyward singled to start the second inning and the next three struck out, and the Mets scored three in the bottom of the inning.

Folks, this isn’t the power-hitting Braves team many believed it would be, as the one homer in 311 at-bats  over the past nine games attests. Take Evan Gattis out of the lineup, and the Braves are a pretty punchless group unless streaky Justin Upton is in one of his torrid stretches. We’ve seen the pattern for 90 games now, and we shouldn’t expect it to change.

If they get good performances from their top starters and the offense is in opportunistic mode when the playoffs roll around – assuming they make the postseason – the Braves can play with anybody. If they leave double-digit runners on base like they have so often, including last night, then they’ll have a hard time winning a playoff series and possibly even holding off the Nats to win the division.

They’re locked into long-term contracts at several positions and way over budget, so don’t expect the Braves to add a big bat – where would they add him even if they had money left in the payroll? – or a dominant starter. And no, I’m assured they’re not pursuing Jake Peavy, contrary to a published  report. He’s far from dominant at this stage of his career; actually, he’s not even better than any of the five current Braves starters.

But they are going hard after a reliever or two, preferably a top-shelf lefty. Andrew Miller, as I wrote about in yesterday’s blog, is a guy that would fit the bill perfectly, and the Braves have been scoutinig the 6-foot-7 Red Sox lefty.  If the Braves could add a guy like him to their ‘pen, they’d have a formidable foursome of Craig Kimbrel, Shae Simmons, Jordan Walden and Miller, with Anthony Varvaro also capable, and Luis Avilan and David Carpenter possibly getting back to form in the second half. Juan Jaime also showed during his callup that he’s got a special arm that can make him a big potential weapon when his command is sharp.

• Tonight’s matchup: Santana (7-5, 3.93 ERA) faces Mets right-hander Dillon Gee (3-1, 2.73), coming off the DL to make his first start in nearly two months. Gee was out with a strained right lat muscle, after going 3-1 with a 1.36 ERA in his last five starts before the injury.

Santana is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA and .184 opponents’ average in three career starts against the Mets, including a .170 OA and one run allowed in 15 innings of two starts against them this season.

Since giving up six runs in 6 1/3 innings on June 12 at Colorado, he’s 2-2 with a 3.46 ERA in his past four starts, allowing three or fewer earned runs while pitching at least six innings in each. Santana has racked up 20 strikeouts with only three walks in 20 homerless innings over his past three starts.

He won his past two starts while allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings at Philly and two runs in 7 1/3 innings against Arizona.  Including his last two starts before Colorado, Santana has six quality starts in his past seven games. And he’s allowed three or fewer earned runs in seven of his nine road starts for the Braves.

Oh, just one other thing for those who think day/night splits are something more than coincidence: Santana is 5-3 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 starts in night games, and 2-2 with a 6.00 ERA in five starts in day games. (Conversely, Gee is 0-1 with a 4.58 ERA  in three starts in night games, and 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in three starts in day games.)

With runners in scoring position, Santana has excelled. He’s allowed a .185 average (17-for-92) that’s the fourth-lowest among NL starters, with a .245 OBP and .315 slugging percentage

And if it seems like Santana has gotten into trouble mostly early in games, there’s a reason: In his first 15 pitches of games this season, opponents are 21-for-57 (.368) with 10 extra-base hits and a .632 slugging percentage against him.  It goes down drastically after that, to .283 average/.467 slugging in pitches 16-30, .203/.288 in 31-35, and .224/.310 in 46-60. He has allowed 10 extra-base hits in pitches 1-15 and only 11 extra-base hits combined in pitches 16-60.

He’s allowed a .276 average/.431 slugging in pitches 61-75, .269/.365 in pitches 76-90, and .235/.382 in 91-105.

Curtis Granderson, who has homers in each of the first two games of the series and four homers in the past five games against the Braves, is 11-for-46 (.239) with five homers and a .609 slugging percentage against Santana. Eric Young Jr. and Daniel Murphy are each 3-for-9 against him, while Juan Lagares is 0-for-6.

Against Gee, Jason Heyward is 8-for-21 with a homer, six walks and a .536 OBP, Freddie Freeman is 6-for-23 with a homer, and Justin Upton is 4-for-21 with a homer.

Gee has allowed a .250 average (22-for-88) and .309 OBP against righty batters, while he’s limited lefties to a .183 average (19-for-104) and .248 OBP.

• Freeman, Mets slayer: Three more hits last night gave Freddie Freeman a .426 average (26-for-68) in his past 17 games against the Mets, with seven doubles, four homers, 20 RBIs, a .706 slugging percentage and 10 multi-hit games. And he was 0-for-1 with three walks in the only hitless game in that 17-game stretch.

In 11 games against them this season, Freeman is 18-for-43 (.419) with seven extra-base hits, 12 RBIs, seven walks and a .490 OBP.

 • Granderson, Braves slayer: Curtis Granderson has four of the Mets’ six homers against the Braves this season. He’s 7-for-43 (.163) with four homers and seven RBIs in 11 games against them, with seven walks and 11 strikeouts.

Granderson has four home runs in his past five games against the Braves, including one in each of the first two games of the current series. (AP photo)

Granderson has four home runs in his past five games against the Braves, including one in each of the first two games of the current series. (AP photo)

After going 0-for-23 in his first six games against the Braves this season, Granderson is 7-for-20 with four homers in his past five against them.

• Carpenter returns: He came off the DL a week ago, but last night was David Carpenter’s first time pitching in a major league game in more than three weeks, since June 16. Not surprising, he looked rusty while allowing five hits and two runs in two innings last night.

It continued what’s been an extended rough period for Carpenter, who in his past 17 appearances has a 7.90 ERA and whopping .446 opponents’ average, allowing 29 hits, 12 runs and four walks with 15 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.

Remember home runs? Winning without homers was nice, but the niceness wears off when the win streak ends and a three-game losing skid follows. The Braves have hit one homer in 311 at-bats over their past nine games.

The Braves don’t necessarily need any homers tonight, but they do need to win tonight and Thursday to salvage a split of the four-game series. They are 6-5 against the Mets this season.

• Simba’s streak: Andrelton Simmons went 0-for-4 with a walk Tuesday to snap his string of six consecutive two-hit games. He was the first Brave to have as many as six consecutive multi-hit games this season.

In 2013, Jason Heyward had a six-game streak and Chris Johnson had seven consecutive multi-hit games. Simmons was 12-for-25 (.480) with two doubles during the streak.

New York makes me think of John Lennon. Here’s one of my favorites from the late, great genius. R.I.P, John.

“WATCHING THE WHEELS” by John Lennon

People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing,url
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game,People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away,
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me,
When I tell that I’m doing Fine watching shadows on the wall,
Don’t you miss the big time boy you’re no longer on the ball?

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go,

People asking questions lost in confusion,
Well I tell them there’s no problem,
Only solutions,
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind,
I tell them there’s no hurry…
I’m just sitting here doing time,

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.

 

 

 

 

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