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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

If you’ve got to face A’s, now’s not a bad time

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With the Dodgers (finally) out of town and the Athletics arriving, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Braves, right? Well, hold on a second.

Yes, Oakland has baseball’s best record (73-47) and is the sport’s only 70-game winner entering Friday. However, the A’s are a modest 13-12 with a 3.59 ERA in their past 25 games, including 7-8 with a 3.61 ERA in their past 15. They’ve dropped four of five entering tonight’s series opener at Turner Field. In those past four losses, they had no homers and totaled six runs.

Before coming to Atlanta, they dropped three of four at Kansas City, scoring three, two and zero runs in the losses.

The Braves turn to surging lefty Alex Wood on Friday to get them off to a good start in their weekend series against Oakland, which has baseball's best record.

The Braves turn to surging lefty Alex Wood on Friday to get them off to a good start in their weekend series against Oakland, which has baseball’s best record.

And in tonight’s series opener, the Braves face a lesser member of Oakland’s vaunted starting rotation in Jason Hammel, who’s 1-3 with a 6.38 ERA and .313 opponents’ average in five starts since the All-Star break.

What I’m saying is, all things considered, the Braves are getting the A’s at a decent time and against the right pitcher.

Wait, that’s not entirely accurate. I left out the part about how the home nine have been playing.

The Bravos are 3-12 with a 4.33 ERA in their past 15 games, and in that span they’ve hit .240 with 40 runs and eight homers, including seven runs and four homers in one game. So it’s 33 runs and four homers in the other 14 games, or fewer than 2 ½ runs per game.

They just had an 0-8 road trip that was their worst in 65 years, and the Braves are 9-10 despite a 3.10 ERA in their past 19 home games. They’ve hit .237 in that 19-game home stretch, and scored two or fewer runs nine times.

But enough of the negativity, and we’ll save the who’s-heads-will-roll stuff for later, despite the multitude of questions from so many on Twitter and blogs about who’ll be fired if the Braves don’t make the playoffs. (Answer of of Aug. 15:  I don’t know.)

Let’s get on to the present, since the Braves are still just 2 ½ games  out of the second NL wild-card spot and six behind division leader Washington with 42 games to go including six games against the Nationals.

• Tonight’s matchup: It’s Hammel (9-9, 3.60 ERA) against Alex Wood (8-9, 3.08 ERA), the Braves’ surging young lefty.

Wood is coming off a 12-strikeout performance in a win Sunday against the Nationals and is 1-1 with a 1.33 ERA in his past three starts and 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA in nine  since returning to the starting rotation. He has a .208 opponents’ average in his past three starts while allowing just one earned run in each, and he limited Washington to five  hits and three walks in 7 1/3 innings.

The former Georgia Bulldog has been particularly impressive at Turner Field, where he has a 2.77 ERA in 13 games (eight starts) with 67 strikeouts and 13 walks in 55 1/3 innings.

The only A’s who’ve faced Wood are Jonny Gomes (1-for-1, two walks) and Nick Punto (0-for-2).

Hammel is 4-7 with a 4.29 ERA in 13 road starts, compared to 5-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 10 home starts. He’s lost three consecutive road starts and gave up seven hits, eight runs and two homers in 4 1/3 innings at Houston in his most recent one on July 30.

The right-hander is 1-3 with a 6.38 ERA and .313 opponents’ average in five starts since the All-Star break, after going 8-6 with a 3.01 ERA and .225 opponents’ average in 18 starts before the break.

His team has lost five of his past six starts, and Hammel is 1-4 with a 5.90 ERA in those games with 37 hits, six homers and 18 walks allowed in 29 innings.

In seven career starts against the Braves, Hammel is 1-3 with a 5.68 ERA and .323 opponents’ average. Freddie Freeman is 4-for-5 with a home run against Hammel, Jason Heyard is 7-for-12 against him, and Justin Upton is 7-for-27 with a homer.

Speaking of Freeman: In the first baseman’s past 55 games he’s hit .318 (69-for-217) with 26 extra-base hits (five homers), a .397 OBP and a .498 slugging percentage. In his past 21 games, he’s hit .346/.418/.556 with 10 extra-base hits including three homers.

One of the startling stats of the season: Freeman has hit .059 ( (3-for-51) against the Marlins and .324 (134-for-415) against everyone else.

• James Russell’s clean inning: When he gave up no hits or walks in a scoreless inning Thursday, new Braves lefty Russell recorded his first “clean” relief appearance in 20 games and seven weeks.

 

James Russell had his first clean inning since June on Thursday, and the Braves hope he'll regain the early season form with the Cubs. They got him in an July 31 trade.

James Russell had his first clean inning since June on Thursday, and the Braves hope he’ll regain the early season form with the Cubs. They got him in an July 31 trade.

The last time he had not given up at least one hit or one walk in a relief appearance was June 24, while pitching for the Cubs against the Reds, when he retired the only batter he faced. The last time he pitched a clean full inning was June 18 at Miami.

He pitched in 19 games between clean appearances, allowing 17 hits, 11 runs and nine walks with nine strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings over that span of 19 games, including 15 team losses for the Cubs and Braves

Russell has a 6.75 ERA and .281 opponents’ average  in 18 appearances since the beginning of July. That includes a 6.23 ERA and .353 opponents’ average in seven appearances for the Braves, with six hits, three runs and two walks allowed  in 4 1/3 innings.

For the first half of the season he was one of baseball’s top non-closing relievers, posting a 1.96 ERA and .177 opponents’ average in 33 appearances through the end of June while allowing 14 hits, five earned runs and 10 walks with 19 strikeouts in 23 innings.

The Braves hope he can get it back for the stretch drive now that manager Fredi Gonzalez has decided to use him for full innings, rather than as a conventional lefty specialist (he’s been far more effective this season against righty hitters than against lefties).

Kinda like a leadoff guy: Over his past 48 games, Jason Heyward’s OBP (.382) is nearly as high as his slugging percentage (.390). He’s been really good in that span, hitting .291 (50-for-172) but has just one homer, along with 10 doubles and two triples. Heyward has 19 RBIs, 24 walks and 28 strikeouts in that period.

Hey, I’m one of those who liked the big, strapping right fielder batting in the fifth spot, but perhaps the move back to leadoff made more since than some of us would like to admit, at least with the Braves’ current personnel, if Emilio Bonifacio isn’t going to be in the daily lineup.

Since the beginning of June, Heyward has hit .289 in 61 games with 18 extra-base hits (four homers), 29 RBIs, a .371 OBP and  .412 slugging percentage.

He got four hits  in the last three games of the Dodgers series but will have to wait until next year to try to hit his first homer against Dodger Blue. In 31 career games against them, he’s batted .177 (20-for-113) with two doubles, one triple, no homers, six RBIs, 13 walks, 34 strikeouts, a .271 OBP and .212 slugging percentage.

• Been a while — Harang gets an L : Veteran Aaron Harang, who has surpassed all reasonable — and even not-so reasonable — expectations this season, lost to the Dodgers on Thursday, his first decision in six starts and his first loss in 10 starts.

He gave up seven hits and five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, just the third time he gave up more than two earned runs in his past 10 starts and the first time he lasted fewer than six innings in that period.

Harang is  4-1 with a 3.08 ERA in his past 10 starts, but the Braves have lost each of his past six starts since his personal four-start winning streak. They’ve scored two or fewer runs while he was in five of those past six games.

  • Changing places update: Utility man Emilio Bonifacio in 10 games (through Thursday) since Braves traded for him: .250 (9-for-36) with no extra-base hits, no RBIs, two walks, eight strikeouts, three steals in four attempts, one error, .289 OBP, .250 slugging percentage….

Jordan Schafer since being claimed off waivers by the Twins: .261 (6-for-23) with two doubles, two walks, five strikeouts, six steals in six attempts, , two sac bunts, .320 OBP, .348 SP. Played in eight of their nine games (through Thursday) in that period including seven starts (six in left field, one in right right).

•  I’ll close with a timeless tune from Joe Tex. We saw Jolie Holland cover it Thursday night at The EARL in East Atlanta, and she did a great job with it. But nobody sang it as well as Joe Tex. Here’s the studio version, and here he is singing it on some TV show back in the day.

“THE LOVE YOU SAVE” by Joe TexAce+-+Front

People, I’ve been misled
And I’ve been afraid
I’ve been hit in the head
And left for dead
I’ve abused
And I’ve been accused
Been refused a piece of bread
But I ain’t never
In my life before
Seen so many love affairs
Go wrong as I do today
I want you to STOP
And find out what’s wrong
Get it right
Or just leave love alone
Because the love you save today
Maybe will-l-l-l be your own
I’ve been pushed around
I’ve been lost and found
I’ve been given til sundown
To get out of town
I’ve been taken outside
And I’ve been brutalized
And I’ve had to always be the one to smile and apologize
But I ain’t never
In my life before
Seen so many love affairs
Go wrong as I do today
I want you to STOP
And find out what’s wrong
Get it right
Or just leave love alone
Because the love you save today
Maybe will-l-l-l be your own

 

 

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