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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Not time to panic? How about heightened concern?

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Does it seem like a long time ago when the Braves won nine in a row? It was less than a month-and-a-half ago when they finished that run, going 9-0 with a 2.22 ERA from June 27 through July 5. They hit .277 and scored 50 runs in that stretch, despite just three homers. They were 5-0 in games decided by one or two runs during that winning streak.

So, how have things gone so wrong for this Braves team? Let us count the ways.

2014 Braves: Too many strikeouts.

2014 Braves: Too many strikeouts.

Since that streak ended the Braves have gone 11-21 with a 3.90  ERA and .244 batting average, totaling just 115 runs (18 homers) in 32 games (3.6 runs per game). And it’s gotten a long worse offensively of late: They are 2-11 with a 4.38 ERA and .238 average in their past 13 games, scoring a mere 33 runs including two runs or fewer in eight of those games.

The Braves are 6-14 in games decided by one or two runs during the past 32 games, and 2-6 in the past 13 games. Again, this is after going 5-0 in games decided by one or two runs during the nine-game winning streak that ended fewer than six weeks ago.

Home field advantage? Not anymore. After playing so well at home last season, the Braves won nine of their first 12 home games this season. But they are  24-24 at home since then, including 15-17 in the past 32.

Power up and down the lineup? That was nice in theory, but it’s not been their reality, especially lately. The Giants (13) are the only NL team that’s hit fewer homers since the All-Star break than the Braves (14), whose .223 batting average and .338 slugging percentage since the break are third-lowest marks in the league ahead of only the Mets and Reds in both categories.

The Rockies (6-18) are the  only NL team with a worse record than the Braves (8-16) since the break, and the Mets (12-13) have gained 4 ½ games on the Braves since the break despite having an ERA (3.85) that’s a quarter of a run higher than the Braves (3.61).

Jason Heyward (.333) and Justin Upton (.286) are the only Braves hitting higher than .267 since the All-Star break, and Upton (four) and Freddie Freeman (three) are the only Braves with more than two homers since the break. Meanwhile, five Braves have 19 or more strikeouts since the break, while Justin Upton’s 12 walks are the team leader since the break.

Ah, strikeouts. To those who insist that strikeouts are no worse than other outs in the big picture, the 2014 Braves have provided a case study in how that theory just doesn’t hold water in some cases. Cases like the 2014 Braves. Both lately and throughout the season.

Justin Upton has 23 strikeouts and 12 walks since the break. Freddie Freeman has 22 strikeouts and 10 walks. Chris Johnson has 27 strikeouts and three walks. B.J. Upton has 32 strikeouts and 10 walks.

Here’s something to think about: Chipper Jones had more walks than strikeouts in 12 of his final 15 seasons, and never struck out 100 times in a season in his 19-year major league career. The Braves have four players who’ve already struck out more than 100 times this season, including three who’ve struck out more than 120 times: B.J. Upton (148), Justin Upton (124), Johnson (122).

Those three Braves rank among the top eight in the National League in strikeouts, with B.J. leading the majors by nine. Only three American League players have struck out more than any of those three Braves.

Freeman has struck out 103 times, and his 60 walks makes him the only one of that foursome with as many as 50.

Strikeouts have been a major problem for this team all season. You can live with a lot of strikeouts if your team is doing other things like drawing plenty of walks, hitting well with runners in scoring position, or hitting a lot of home runs. The Braves don’t do any of those things well. Except strike out. They do that a lot. Often with a runner at third base and less than two outs, when even most groundouts or a reasonably deep fly would get a run in.

Or striking out with a runner at second with none out. And so on.

The Braves rank 28th in the majors in runs (441), 22nd in the majors in batting average (.244), tied for 25th in OPS (.677), and 14th in walks (357). They are dead last in the majors with 22 sac flies, and 17th in stolen bases (66),

Atlanta has the fourth-most strikeouts in the majors (1,014), fewer than only the Marlins, Astros and Cubs. Meanwhile the Braves have hit just 95 homers, tied with Arizona for 20th in the majors, and fewer than all three of those young teams that have whiffed more than they have.

The Astros are third in the majors with 133 homers, the Cubs are 11th with 109, and the Marlins are 18th with 97.

And even if the Marlins only have two more homer than the Braves, they have Giancarlo Stanton hitting tape-measure bombs all season, which at least raises the the excitement level a bit. The excitement level with this Braves team? Well, it’s not through the roof, to put it mildly.

With runners in scoring position, the Braves are tied for 19th in average (.243) and 17th in OPS (.706). With RISP and two outs, the Braves are batting just .199, tied with the Phillies for 25th in the majors.

Situational hitting, not their thing. Power hitting, well, also not their thing.

It’s been a long year. B.J. Upton said last night it’s no time to panic. True, panic doesn’t do much good. But there certainly should be a heightened sense of urgency in that clubhouse, because there’s damn well a heightened since of concern and panic among the fans, who’ve watched the Nationals build a five-game lead and the Marlins inch their way to just one game behind the Braves.

If the season ended today, the Braves and Reds would be 2 ½ games out of the second NL wild card spot, with the Giants two games ahead of them in the wild-card standings and the Pirates and Cardinals holding down the two wild card berths.

With 119 games  in the books, the Braves are now just a game over .500 at 60-59. And this is after starting the season at 17-7.

It might not be time to panic, but it’s time to realize this thing is slipping away quickly and the Braves had best start hitting if they hope to avoid missing the playoffs and answering a whole lot of questions about what went wrong and who was responsible.

  • Great matchup tonight: In the third game of the Braves-Dodgers four-game series, it’s Ervin Santana (11-6, 3.69 ERA) facing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (13-5, 3.21) in a matchup of two of the NL’s hottest pitchers in recent weeks. The Braves are 0-5 with only 11 runs scored in five games against the Dodgers in the past two weeks.

Santana is 6-1 with a 2.95 ERA in his past eight overall starts and 4-0 with a 2.65 ERA in his past five, with a .223 opponents’ average and only one homer allowed in 34 innings over the latter period.

Ryu is on a similar tear, posting a 4-0 record, 1.91 ERA and .198 opponents’ average in his past five starts while striking out 32 and walking just four in 33 innings.

Santana is 5-0 with a 2.60 ERA and .220 opponents’ average in five home starts beginning July 4, with 32 strikeouts and nine walks in 34 2/3 innings. The Braves have scored 6.5 runs per nine innings that he’s  pitched in that span.

He’s 8-2 with a 3.51 ERA and .243 opponents’ average in 11 home starts this season, compared to 3-4 with a 3.88 ERA and .272 OA in 11 road starts.

On the other hand, Hyun-jin Ryu is 9-2 with a 2.61 ERA and .227 opponents’ average in 12 road starts compared to 4-3 with a 3.94 ERA and .284 OA at home. He’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of 10 road starts.

Santana hasn’t faced the Dodgers in the past two seasons, and was 2-1 with a 2.38 ERA in three starts against them during 2010-2012. Andre Ethier is 6-for-18 with a home run against him, and Carl Crawford is 10-for-32. Conversely, Juan Uribe is 0-for-13 with five strikeouts.

Against Ryu, Freeman is 3-for-4 and Andrelton Simmons is  2-for-7, Justin Upton and Chris Johnson are each 1-for-6, Jason Heyward is 1-for-7 with three strikeouts, and B.J. Upton is 1-for-5.

• Let’s close with one from the great Todd Snider, which you can see him do live by clicking here.

“PLAY A TRAIN SONG” by Todd Snider

Todd Snider

Todd Snider

A smoke, a long black Cadillac,
the engine’s winding down.
He’d park it up on the sidewalk
like he owned the whole damn town.
I’d hear him talkin’ to some chick
through a thick ghost of smoke,
through a thicker haze of Southern Comfort and coke,

say, girl, you’re hotter than a hinge
hangin’ off the gates of hell.
Don’t be afraid to turn to me,
babe, if he don’t treat you well,
and by he he meant me,
so I laughed and I shook his hand.
He’d laugh a little bit louder as he’d
yell up at the band:

Play a train song,
pour me one more round,
make ‘em leave my boots on when they lay me into the ground.
I am a runaway locomotive,
outta my one track mind,
and I’m lookin’ for any kinda trouble that I can find

I got this old black leather jacket
I got this pack of Marlboro Reds
I got this stash here in my pocket
I got these thoughts in my own head
the right to run until I gotta walk
or until I got to crawl
this moment that I’m in right now and nothing else at all

Play a train song,
pour me one more round,
make ‘em leave my boots on when they lay me into the ground.
I am a runaway locomotive,
outta my one track mind.

In the television blizzard lights
I looked around this place.
I found a cold beer on the sofa,
a little smile across his face,
and though I tried with all of my sadness,
somehow I could not just weep
for a man who looked to me like he died laughin’ in his sleep,
sayin’ a train song,
drinkin’ one last round.
We made ‘em leave his boots on on the day they layed him down.
He was a runaway locomotive
out of his one track mind.

Play a train song
Play a train song
Play a train song

 

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