Good time for Braves to face Strasburg (?)

Stephen Strasburg is 0-2 with an 8.33 ERA in three starts vs. Braves this season entering Wednesday's series finale.
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Stephen Strasburg is 0-2 with an 8.33 ERA in three starts vs. Braves this season entering Wednesday's series finale.

 

WASHINGTON – While plenty of other teams dread facing Stephen Strasburg, the Braves have thrived against the Nationals pitcher, whom they face today in a series finale at Nationals Park that the slumping Braves really need to win.

A matchup with Strasburg couldn’t come at a better time for a Braves team that’s 2-6 with – brace yourselves — a .166 batting average and 4.83 ERA in its past eight games. The only time the Braves had more than seven hits in that span was in a 10-inning win against the Marlins, their only win in a three-game series against a Miami team now just one game behind them in the loss column. One game!

Stephen Strasburg is 0-2 with an 8.33 ERA in three starts vs. Braves this season entering Wednesday's series finale.

Stephen Strasburg is 0-2 with an 8.33 ERA in three starts vs. Braves this season entering Wednesday’s series finale.

The Braves, since batting .299 with 10 homers and 33 runs during a five-game winning streak Aug. 15-19 against the A’s and Pirates, have gone 8-11 with a 3.06 ERA while batting .213 with 11 homers and 52 runs in their past 19 games.

They had three consecutive two-homer games  Aug. 17-19 and haven’t had a multi-homer game in 19 games since then. Think about that a moment, the strikeout-prone team that was supposed to have guys up and down the lineup capable of homering at any time. The strikeouts have been there (1,232, third-most in the NL), but the homers not so much (116, ninth in the NL).

The Braves have lost their mojo against the Nationals, having dropped five of the past seven games against  the team they had dominated since late in the 2012 season including seven wins in their first eight matchups this season. But while the Nationals have ended their struggles against the Braves, Strasburg has not.  The Braves need to keep it that way to avoid being swept today.

They need to win to avoid another of the day-before-off-day disappointments they’ve had too many of this season, and to avoid losing ground to the other wild-carp hopefuls who’ll be in action later today — Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and, yes, Miami.

(By the way, if voters are paying attention and look at it closely, they’ll realize Marlins manager Mike Redmond has to be the NL Manager of the Year. Has to be. You take a 100-loss team from 2013, lose ace Jose Fernandez early in 2014, and guide that young team to wild-card playoff contention in September, you should be Manager of the Year.)

Today’s matchup: Facing Strasburg (11-10, 3.43) will be Aaron Harang (10-10, 3.87), the well-traveled veteran whose expectations-surpassing season has finally begun to taper off in recent weeks. He’s looked a bit like the journeyman we expected when the Braves signed him, rather than the reliable, get-out-of-every-jam pitcher he was for much of the season.

First, let’s look at Strasburg.

No team has been even remotely as difficult as the Braves have been for Strasburg, who is 0-2 with an 8.33 ERA and .338 opponents’ average in three starts against them this season, 0-3 with a 5.06 ERA in eight starts against them since the beginning of the 2013 season, and 3-6 with a 4.62 ERA in 15 career starts against them.

Strasburg is 4-2 with a 2.79 ERA in his past eight starts, and all but four of his 16 earned runs allowed in that stretch came in the two losses, including seven runs and a career-high four homers allowed in five innings against the Braves on Aug. 8. He also gave up five runs and two homers in four innings of an Aug. 24 loss against San Francisco.

Strasburg yielded a combined 15 hits, 12 runs and six homers in nine innings of those losses to the Braves and Giants, and allowed just 23 hits, four earned runs and two homers in 42 2/3 innings of the other six of his past eight starts. He was 4-0 with an 0.84 ERA in those six other games.

In three starts against the Braves this season, he’s allowed 24 hits, 17 runs (14 earned runs), five homers and five walks with 23 strikeouts  in 15 1/3 innings. Strasburg lasted 4 1/3, 6 and 5 innings in those three Washington losses. The first two came at Nationals Park and the most recent — the four-homer shocker — took place in Atlanta.

The hard-throwing right-hander is 8-2 with a 2.60 ERA in 16 home starts, including 8-1 in the past 15. Strasburg has allowed

two earned runs or fewer in 12 of his 16 home starts.

Against Strasburg, Freddie Freeman is 10-for-22 (.455) with three homers, six walks, .533 OBP and .909 slugging percentage; Jason Heyward is 12-for-28 (.429) with a homer and a .500 OBP; Chris Johnson is 7-for-23; Tommy La Stella is 2-for-6 with a homer; Justin Upton is 6-for-21 with a homer; B.J. Upton is 3-for-19 with a homer and 10 strikeouts, and Emilio Bonifacio is 1-for-10.

The Braves have lost nine of Harang’s past 10 starts. The big old dude is 1-4 with a 6.91 ERA and .350 opponents’ average in his past five starts, after going 4-0 with a 2.55 ERA and .270 opponents’ average in his previous nine.

Harang is just 2-3 despite a 2.44 ERA in eight starts against the Nationals over the past six seasons, including 1-0 with 1.38 ERA in two starts this season, both in Washingon. In his past eight starts against them, Harang won the only two times that his team scored more than two runs while he was in.

He gave up one run in each of his two starts against the Nats this season, in six innings of a win on April 13 and in seven innings of a Braves loss on Aug. 9.

Against Harang, Adam LaRoche is 10-for-39 with five homers, Bryce Harper is 6-for-11, and Danny Espinosa is 4-for-7. Jayson Werth is 3-for-22 with a homer against him, Ian Desmond is 2-for-16, and Anthony Rendon is 0-for-7.

• Speaking of Freddie: Freeman had two hits in each of the first two games of the series and enters today’s game having hit safely in all 15 games against the Nationals this season, batting a torrid .492 (29-for-59) and six doubles, four homers, six walks, a .544 OBP and .797 slugging percentage.

Nationals writers we talk to are astounded by how much Freeman struggled against the Marlins this season, because against the Nats he absolutely rakes.

Over the past two seasons he’s hit .397 with six homers and 22 RBIs in 31 games against the Nats, with a .453 OBP and .612 slugging percentage.

Today presents a collision of opposing factors, however: Freeman has his 15-game hit streak vs. Nationals, countered by his subpar day-game performances, but perhaps overshadowed entirely by his numbers vs. Strasburg: 10-for-22 (.455) with three homers, six walks, .533 OBP and .909 slugging percentage.

Oh, the day thing: In 105 night games, Freeman has hit a robust .311 with a .398 OBP, .505 slugging percentage and 15 homers in 402 at-bats games. In other words, his usual type of numbers.

But in 40 day games, Freeman has hit just .243/.365/.392 with three homers in 148 at-bats.

Andrelton’s huge hacks: Lastly, let me say that I, like many of you, have noticed the increasingly furious and futile swings Andrelton Simmons has been taking. The shortstop looks a mess in the box lately, falling across home plate with increasing frequency on his off-balance, swing-from-his-heels, massive cuts at the ball.

Hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher have been on him since spring training about trying to cut down on his swing and be a more controlled hitter, but Simmons looks as if he’s got last year’s 17 homers on his mind instead of trying to hit for a higher average and OBP, be a line-drive guy, and be a more disciplined hitter who can move a runner over or get him in when needed.

He went 4-for-15 with two doubles and a homer in a three-game stretch Aug. 21-23. Since then, Simmons is just 7-for-52 (.135) with no extra-base hits, two RBIs, two walks, 11 strikeouts, a .167 OBP and .135 slugging percentage.

 

• OK, outta time. Got to get to the ballpark. I’ll close with this one from the great Charley Pride. Man, what a great song. What a voice. Real country.

“ALL I HAVE TO OFFER YOU (IS ME)” by Charley Pride

Charley Pride

Charley Pride

Before you take another step there’s something you should know
About the years ahead and how they’ll be
You’ll be living in a world where roses hardly ever grow
‘Cause all I have to offer you is me.

There’ll be no mansion waiting on the hill with crystal chandeliers
Then there’ll be no fancy clothes for you to wear
Everything I have is standing here in front of you to see
All I have to offer you is me.

Sweetheart I’ll give you all my love in every way I can
But make sure that’s what you want while you’re still free
The only gold I have for you is in this wedding band
‘Cause all I have to offer you is me.

There’ll be no mansion waiting on the hill with crystal chandeliers
Then there’ll be no fancy clothes for you to wear
Everything I have is standing here in front of you to see
All I have to offer you is me…

 


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