Posted: 2:52 pm Thursday, July 10th, 2014
By David O'Brien
NEW YORK – One homer in 344 at-bats over the past 10 games. That’s what the Braves have mustered. And you might have also heard, they aren’t real good at the situational hitting, hitting with runners in scoring position, that kind of thing.
So no, it’s not a real good offensive combination, and it’s why they’ve totaled eight runs in their current four-game losing streak. The question is, can we expect this Braves team to do significantly better between now and October? And if they can’t score against some rather run-of-the-mill pitchers, what about the aces they’ll face in the postseason if/when they get there?
Anyway, here’s the breakdown: After hitting 22 homers in the first 22 June games (801 at-bats), the Braves have hit three homers in their past 14 games – a period that encompasses both a nine-game winning streak and four-game skid — and one in the last 10 games.
Their last multi-homer game was June 24 at Houston, when both Uptons homered off Astros starter Scott Feldman.
So, here we are: The Braves are tied for 20th in the majors with a .237 average with runners in scoring position, and last in the NL and 28th in the majors with a .177 average with runners in scoring position and two outs. So if they’re not going to be good with runners in scoring position – and 91 games into the season, they are who they are — they better at least hit a lot of home runs.
But the Braves are tied for sixth in the NL in homers with 77, and they hit 24 of those during one 16-game stretch in April.
Ah, remember those days? Back when it looked like this Braves team might actually be the power-laden unit that team brass envisioned and Fredi Gonzalez spoke of last year and this spring? A team that had hitters up and down the lineup fully capable of hitting a home run at any time, thus forcing opposing pitchers to constantly bear down and not make mistakes?
The Braves hit 24 homers in a dizzying 16-game stretch from April 9 through April 26, and were still hitting enough homers after that torrid stretch to give them 63 homers in 61 games from April 9 through June 15.
But the homers went from a torrent to something more modest, then to just a trickle and almost a dry river bed lately. Meanwhile, the strikeout rate hasn’t slowed. The Braves have struck out more times (777) than any NL team except the (perpetually) rebuilding Marlins (818).
Go back and look inside that 16-game Braves power surge in April, and you’ll see this: Justin Upton had seven homers and a .793 slugging percentage; Freddie Freeman had four homers and a .600 slugging percentage; Evan Gattis had five homers and a .714 slugging percentage, and even Andrelton Simmons had three homers and a .554 slugging percentage.
They fueled that 2 ½-week longball display, which teased Braves fans and got us all thinking that this offense might indeed be something special, capable of offsetting all the unproductive outs (aka, strikeouts) with sheer power and multi-run homers.
Well, that’s obviously not been the case. Far, far from it.
Honestly, I didn’t think the power shortage could ever get quite as bad as it’s been lately.
But here’s how it’s happened:
– Freeman has just two homers in 110 at-bats over his past 28 games, although he’s hit .327 with 10 doubles, two triples, 14 RBIs and a .414 OBP and .509 slugging percentage in that stretch.
– Justin Upton is fifth in the NL in home-run frequently with one every 18.5 at-bats, but he’s a notoriously streaky hitter who can be the league’s most proficient homer guy for two weeks and then go without one for the next two, with no transition period between the extremes. He has only one homer in his past 14 games, althought he’s had four two-hit games in his past five and hit .317 (19-for-60) with four doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs in his past 16 games.
– Jason Heyward homered in consecutive games June 6-7 at Arizona, going 4-for-9 with two homers and five RBIs. But he’s homered just once in 115 at-bats over 31 games since then, while batting .217 with a .323 OBP and .304 slugging percentage.
– B.J. Upton is in the midst of his most encouraging stretch of hitting since coming to the Braves and has provided a boost since moving to the leadoff spot, but still has just one homer and a .336 slugging percentage in 107 at-bats over his past 25 games.
– Chris Johnson homered in the third game of the season at Milwaukee. He’s hit only two homers in 86 games and 332 at-bats since then. In his past 41 games Johnson has hit .283 with one homer, 18 RBIs, five walks and 46 strikeouts in 166 at-bats.
– Simmons has hit .237 with one homer in 173 at-bats over his past 45 games and, remarkabl,y has more errors (seven) than extra-base hits (five) during that stretch. Simmons, who last year hit 17 homers with a .248 average and .692 OPS in his first full season in the majors, has five homers with a .259 average and .657 OPS in 86 games this season.
– Tommy La Stella has exceeded all expectations since arriving from Triple-A, batting .297 with seven doubles, a triple, 14 RBIs and .380 OBP in 39 games. But the rookie second baseman is homerless through his first 138 at-bats, after homering once in 47 minor league games (167 at-bats) this season before his callup.
– Evan Gattis led major league catchers in homers with 16 in 224 at-bats before his back injury (he would have the highest homer-to-AB ratio in the league if he had enough at-bats to qualify), but his backups aren’t big-power guys: Gerald Laird has no homers and a .299 slugging percentage in 97 at-bats this season. And while rookie Christian Bethancourt has the tools to become a big-hitting catcher, he has a .303 slugging percentage and one extra-base hit (double) in his first 34 big-league ABs.
– On the bench the Braves have Ryan Doumit, who has hit .207 with three homers and a .326 slugging percentage in 92 at-bats this season; Dan Uggla, who had two homers in an April 14 game at Philly and has since hit .129 (11-for-85) with one double, no RBIs, 28 strikeouts and a .141 slugging percentage; Jordan Schafer, who has hit .182 with no homers and a .242 slugging percentage in 66 at-bats this season; and Ramiro Pena, who has hit .191 with three homers in 94 at-bats.
So it’s not a Murderers’ Row they’ve assembled, and when this team goes cold at the plate, they hit sub-freezing levels.
The Braves had 24 homers in June, tied with the Cubs for fifth in the NL. So far in July the Braves lead the NL with a .289 batting average but are last in the majors in homers with one, and tied for 10th in the NL in runs scored.
Seattle, with three homers in July, is is the only other major league team besides the Braves with fewer than four, and nine teams already have at least 10 homers this month.
Meanwhile, the only NL teams that have struck out more in July than the Braves (76) are the Marlins (81) and the Rockies (80) — and the Rockies have 11 homers, which is 10 more than the Braves have.
• Tonight’s matchup: With the Braves trying to avoid a four-game sweep, they’ll have Aaron Harang (8-6, 3.67) facing fellow veteran and Bartolo Colon (8-7, 4.04) of the Mets.
Harang is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his past three starts, despite a .313 opponents’ average and 26 hits allowed in 21 innings over that stretch.
Harang gave up nine runs in 4 2/3 innings at Miami on April 30. In his other seven road starts he has a 2.18 ERA and seven quality starts, including six games with two earned runs or fewer allowed in six or more innings.
He’s 5-5 with a 4.62 ERA in 12 career starts against the Mets, including 1-1 with an 0.69 ERA and only two hits allowed in two starts this season.
Harang allowed two hits, one run and four walks in an April 8 loss to the Mets, and pitched seven hitless, scoreless innings with six walks in a memorable April 18 win at Citi Field, when he was replaced despite the no-no because he’d thrown 121 pitches through seven innings.
David Wright is 11-for-26 (.423) with a homer and five walks against Harang, Eric Young is 5-for-9 with four walks, Daniel Murphy is 6-for-17 with a homer, and Chris Young is 7-for-27 with three homers. Also, for old times’ sake, Bobby Abreu is 4-for-10 with two homers against him.
Talk about streaky, check these numbers for Colon: He’s 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA and .283 opponents’ average in his past two starts, after going 6-0 with a 1.58 ERA and .191 OA in his previous seven starts, including wins against Washington and at St. Louis and Oakland.
In his past two starts, he’s gotten rocked at Pittsburgh (seven hits, five runs, one homer in six innings) and against Texas (eight hits, five runs, two homers in seven innings). He had three walks and five strikeouts in 13 innings over those two losses.
Colon is 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA in five starts against the Braves, but only two in the past decade. Those two were this season, and he went 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA in those two games. He lasted seven innings in each, allowing no runs and six hits in an April 8 win at Atlanta, and three runs and eight hits in seven innings of an April 19 loss at Citi Field.
Freddie Freeman is 4-for-6 against Colon and B.J. Upton is 9-for-29 with a homer. The only other Braves with more than six official at-bats against him are Jason Heyward (1-for-8) and Gerald Laird (0-for-7).
The Braves are 6-6 against the Mets this season and have totaled 44 runs and five homers against them, including no homers in the past seven games…..
The Braves have three of the NL leaders in strikeouts. B.J. Upton leads the majors with 111 K’s, Justin Upton is sixth in the NL with 99, and Chris Johnson is tied for 10th with 92….
Tommy La Stella struck out to end Wednesday’s game, but with two strikes the Braves rookie has a .299 average (23-for-77) that ranks third in the NL behind Eric Campbell (.322) and Michael Cuddyer (.316).
Let’s close with a tune from the most underrated songwriter alive, the great James McMurtry. Hear it by clicking here.
“SIX-YEAR DROUGHT” by James McMurtry
I guess you had your reasons
For the way you used to be
Don’t why I couldn’t please you
You just never had much faith in me
There’s fine dust in the tire ruts now
Along the old feed road
They’re workin’ on a six year drought
Just so you know
I can pull my weight, I can hold my own
I can sling that blade all summer long
‘Til the thistles fall, and the pasture’s clear
And the work’s all done for another year
I can hold my own
The world was like a distant storm
I could feel it on the breeze
But it made so little difference here
Just a whisper in the trees
Mending fence for room and board
Was mostly all I’d done
For I was still a prisoner here
The sucker rod on the windmill creaks
Now and then you hear a car
There’s thunderheads across the southern sky
But they won’t get this far
There’s red ants by the graveyard gate
They’re nearly all that moves
And they carry on despite this heat
I bet you’d tell me what that proves
There’s fine dust in the tire ruts now
The creeks no longer run
But I am just a visitor here
The drought won’t hurt me none
About the Author
David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002, and previously covered the Marlins for the (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel for seven years. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism.