Braves’ pitchers have shone despite awful offense

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Before we provide an update on the Braves’ pitiful offense and its performance during a debacle of a September that could end up being historically bad, this would be a good time to point out how impressively pitching coach Roger McDowell’s guys have held up during a trying season, not just pitching well under the circumstances – injuries and the aforementioned godawful offense – but pitching very well, period.

The Braves rank third in the NL with a 3.36 ERA. Their starters are fourth in the NL and fifth in the majors with a 3.41 ERA despite a losing record (56-59).

The four teams with better starters’ ERAs than the Braves and their starters’ records: Nationals 3.07 (66-48), Dodgers 3.22 (72-44), Reds 3.38 (63-54), Athletics 3.40 (60-49). Cardinals starters (64-48) have the fifth-best ERA in the NL (3.46).

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It’s been a miserable month (4-16) for Fredi Gonzalez’s Braves.

Again, Braves starters, after losing both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy during spring training and Gavin Floyd after nine starts, have still produced a 3.41 ERA, and done so while pitching the second-most innings in the majors (988 1/3), behind only the Reds (993 1/3).

Six of the seven pitchers who’ve started games for the Braves this season have ERAs below 3.90, and four are below 2.90. Yet the only Braves starters with winning records are David Hale (2-0 with a 2.22 ERA in five starts) and Ervin Santana (14-10 with a 3.88 ERA that’s the second-highest among Atlanta starters).

The Braves scored two runs while Alex Wood was in the game Tuesday night, which is more than they’ve scored while he was in 12 of his other 23 starts this season. It wasn’t enough, as Wood gave up three runs including one unearned run on a Christian Bethancourt throwing error to second base, and the Pirates won 3-2 to clinch a playoff berth at Turner Field, known as the place visiting teams celebrate.

On Monday, we saw Aaron Harang allow just four hits and one run in seven innings of a 1-0 loss to the Pirates. It was the 14th time in his 32 starts that the Braves scored  one or no runs while he was in the game, and an almost unfathomable fifth time in his past six starts that they failed to score at all while he was in.  Harang is 1-2 with a 1.29 ERA in his past three starts, having allowed three runs in 21 innings.

On Tuesday, we watched Wood’s record fall to .500 (11-11) despite another quality start, the Braves’ majors-leading 109th quality start.  And tonight (Wednesday), we’ll see if the other of the Braves’ biggest victims of poor run support, Julio Teheran, can get his record back above .500.

As a starter, Wood has an 8-10 record despite a 2.59 ERA in 24 games, and Teheran is just 13-13 despite a 2.88 ERA in 32 starts and 180 strikeouts in 216 innings. Teheran has pitched the fourth-most innings in the NL, his strikeout total is tied with Zack Wheeler for 10th in the league, and his .230 opponents’ average is fifth-lowest among NL starters.

To repeat, Teheran has a 13-13 record.

Wood’s 2.78 overall ERA is tied with Jordan Zimmerman for eighth among NL qualifiers, one spot behind Zack Greinke (2.74). Wood and Teheran also rank eighth and ninth in the NL in strikeouts-to-walks ratio at 3.78 and 3.75, just ahead of Cueto (3.62).

Problem is, Wood has received a meager 3.15 support runs per nine innings pitched, fourth-lowest in the NL, hence the won-lost record. Teheran’s run support would also rank among the league’s worst if it hadn’t been skewed by a couple of games when the Braves scored eight runs (at Cincinnati) and 10 runs (at Colorado) while he was in the game.

The Braves scored one or no runs while Teheran was in the game in nearly half (14) of his other 30 starts, and they’ve scored one or no runs while Wood was in the game in exactly half of his 24 starts.

The Braves also scored only two runs while Wood was in four other starts, leaving just eight games in which the second-year lefty started and had the Braves score more than two runs while he was still in said game. That’s terrible.

And yet, the kid has never blamed anyone but himself for any loss, always citing one or two pitches he could have made better, or the bunt he failed to get down at Philly on April 17, when he pitched a complete game with one run allowed in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the big leagues, and lost.

After Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Pirates, Wood was asked about trying to stay even-keeled despite pitching with so little run support most of the season. (Earlier this week, Santana had conceded that yes, he felt pressure to be almost perfect because of the Braves’ woeful offense, knowing that he gave up a run or two early in the game it was going to be tough to win.)

“It’s one of those things where, in my opinion—especially for pitchers bullpen or starters—your mindset should never change,” Wood said last night. “Your motivation should never change. Every fifth day as a starter, you should have the same mindset to go out there and give your team the best chance you can to win ballgames, put up zeroes and compete. After that you can’t control anything.

 

Alex Wood maintained his composure after giving up the go-ahead run in the sixth inning Tuesday. The lefty has been outstanding but received little run support in his second major league season.

Alex Wood maintained his composure after giving up the go-ahead run in the sixth inning Tuesday. The lefty has been outstanding but received little run support in his second major league season.

“You should never be too high or too low. It’s one of those things where you go out there and pitch your butt off every day. It’s what you get paid to do. If you can’t do it, somebody else sure as heck will. I don’t think you can look at anything else. The only person you can hold accountable is yourself. I feel like you’ve got to go about it is take care of what you can take care of and compete. No matter if you are 1-161 or you’ve won every game you should have the same mindset every time you step on that field.”

And that, folks, is yet another reason the Braves have Wood prominent in their starting-rotation plans going forward. Mentally, as well as physically, the guy is pretty advanced. One of the positive nuggets to come from what has been largely a dispiriting season for the Braves.

• Now, about that offense: It’s hard to overstate how bad it’s been most of the season, and particularly this month.

The Braves have hit a majors-worst .199 while compiling a majors-worst 4-16 record in September in a collapse that’s worse than their September 2011 collapse except that the Braves didn’t have an 8 ½-game wild-card lead to blow in the last three weeks this time around.

They’ve hit .199 and totaled 42 runs and six homers in the entire month. Twenty games, 42 runs. And been even worse lately, losing 10 of their past 11 games while scoring just 17 runs and hitting one homer. One homer.

They’ve scored two or fewer runs in nine of those past 11 games, and three runs in each of the other two.

Let’s add some perspective to this futility by comparing the Braves to the Dodgers this month.

For the Dodgers, Matt Kemp has eight homers and 22 RBIs in September and Adrian Gonzalez has six  homers and 21 RBIs. That’s 14 homers and 43 RBIs between them, and 30 homers and 121 RBIs for all the Dodgers in September.

The Braves have a total of six homers and 39 RBIs in September, and B.J. Upton – yes, B.J., not Justin – is the only Brave with more than one homer. B.J. has two.

The Braves have a total of 39 RBIs – fewer than the twosome of Kemp and Gonzalez – and Freddie Freeman leads the Braves with seven RBIs. The Dodgers have six players with 10 or  more RBIs in September.

A little closer to home, the Nats’ Adam LaRoche has more homers (seven) than the entire Braves team in September. The former Braves first baseman also has 21 RBIs for the month, which equals combined September RBI total for Freeman, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons.

Oy.

• Close-and-late stumbling: In the late innings of close games, B.J. Upton is 13-for-87 (.149) with no homers, three RBIs, 10 walks, 30 strikeouts and a .195 slugging percentage. And Ryan Doumit is 9-for-49 (.184) with one homer, four RBIs, six walks and 20 strikeouts.

Justin Upton has five homers in late-and-close situations, tied with Evan Gattis for the team high, but J-Up has hit just .222 with 35 strikeouts (10 walks) in 99 at-bats in those situations. Gattis hasn’t been much better with a .227 average, seven walks and 22 strikeouts in 75 at-bats in those situations.

The only Braves lineup regular who has hit above .265 in late-and-close situations is Heyward, with a .327 average (34-for-104) including 10 extra-base hits, eight walks and a .381 OBP and .500 slugging percentage, the latter two numbers also easily the best on the team among lineup regulars.

The only NL team that’s struck out more in late-and-close situations than the Braves (270 in 957 at-bats) is the Cubs (293 in 927 ABs).

• OK, out of time. Let’s close with this great cut off what is easily one of the best five albums so far in 2014, Spoon’s They Want My Soul.

“DO YOU” by Spoon

Spoon

Spoon

I was on 45th
I was half out of a dive
Yeah I knew that you saw me
You laughed when I looked back
I thought I’d given up
Now I didn’t feel so bad
And then a shock went through me
And then I walked right back

Do you want to get understood?
Do you want one thing or are you looking for sainthood?
Do you run when it’s just getting good?
Or do you, do you, do you, do you…

Someone get popsicles
Someone’s gotta do something bout this heat
Cause it’s late in October
And tar’s still melting in the streets
You tiptoe for ages and lose yourself
Flipping back pages, unbuckling belts

Oh love, that’s the way love comes
Do you, don’t you know that that’s the way love comes?
Do you feel it black and blue?
Or do you, do you, do you, do you…

 


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