Braves’ early results just what they’re aiming for

Chris Johnson connects on this RBI double off the left-field wall Tuesday, as the Braves scored seven first-inning runs and chased Marlins starter Mat Latos from the game before he could record his third out. (AP photo)
View Caption Hide Caption
Chris Johnson connects on this RBI double off the left-field wall Tuesday, as the Braves scored seven first-inning runs and chased Marlins starter Mat Latos from the game before he could record his third out. (AP photo)

MIAMI — It’s way, way too small a sample size to draw any conclusions from, particularly when Marlins right-hander Mat Latos pitched last night as if he were a nervous rookie and didn’t make it out of the seven-run first inning.

That said, it’s worth noting that the Braves won their first two games, including Tuesday’s 12-2 dismantling of Miami, without hitting a home run and by getting far better situational hitting, fewer strikeouts, more walks, better defense and similarly solid pitching than they featured a year ago.

Chris Johnson connects on this RBI double off the left-field wall Tuesday, as the Braves scored seven first-inning runs and chased Marlins starter Mat Latos from the game before he could record his third out. (AP photo)

Chris Johnson connects on this RBI double off the left-field wall Tuesday, as the Braves scored seven first-inning runs and chased Marlins starter Mat Latos from the game before he could record his third out. (AP photo)

In other words, by doing exactly the things they’ve set out to do this season, in the first year of their rebuild/transition to being a team that focuses more on speed than power, on trying to simply put the ball in play rather than trying to hit homers, on trying to hit the ball up the middle or the other way instead of pulling it.

Again, it’s a ridiculously small sample size for anyone to project anything from, but let’s do anway.

No, no, we won’t.

We will, however, point out that the Braves through two games were 10-for-22 (.455) with runners in scoring position, best in the majors among teams that have more than two at-bats in those situations. They have a majors-best .520 OBP with RISP, and in all situations with runners on base they led the majors in average (.424, 14-for-33) and OBP (.486).

Surely even the most bitter Braves cynic can appreciate that after last season’s frustrations, right?

It’s just two games, but least it’s a good start toward avoid anything remotely similar to 2014, when the Braves scored the second-fewest runs in the majors and ranked 28th in the majors with a .236 average with runners in scoring position.

“I think the thing I liked about the whole game was, we never gave any at-bats away, even at the end,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday, when the Braves scored seven runs in the first inning against Latos and four in the ninth against Marlins closer Steve Cishek. “Guys kept grinding, pitch after pitch.

“It’s only the second game of the season but I’m really pleased with the way our offense has been grinding out at-bats.”

Half of the 12 batters the Braves sent to the plate in the first inning went to two-strike counts, and five of them reached base. But it was more than just making Latos and relievers work by being patient. The Braves were also aggressive on the bases.

“We were going from first to third, doing a lot of hustle plays,” said Freddie Freeman, who had a pair of doubles and three of the Braves’ 14 hits. “That’s what we were trying to stress in spring training — put a lot of pressure on the defense. We’re not going to wow you with the long ball this year, that’s what we’ve got to do – we’ve got to go first to third, second to home, if we can take that extra base, take it whenever you can. That’s what we did tonight. We got some great at-bats.

“Jace (Peterson) looks awesome, at the top of the lineup, EY leadoff walk, he’s getting some knocks. Cameron (Maybin) coming in at the end and getting some RBIs, that was awesome.”

As for the the lowered strikeout totals, only four NL teams had fewer whiffs than the Braves (12) before Wednesday, and those four teams had all played only one game. The Dodgres, with 19 strikeouts and nine walks, were the only NL team with more walks than the Brave (eight) before Wednesday.

Freeman led the Braves both in hits (four) and strikeouts (four) in the first two games, and Eric Young Jr. (two) was the only other Brave with more than one strikeout before Wednesday.

“The only one striking out is me,” Freeman said late Tuesday. “I’m part of the 2014 season, so I’ve got to keep that going.” He laughed. “No, we’re putting up some good ABs. If we can keep going like that…. Obviously it’s only two games, but it’s better than no games. We’re going out there and putting up some good ABs, and that’s usually what happens, you score some runs.”

 

Freeman vs. Marlins: The big first baseman went 4-for-9 with two doubles and two RBIs in the first two games against the Marlins this season, after hitting .135 (10-for-74) against them in 2014 with one double, two homers, a .210 OBP and .230 slugging percentage. That included a 7-for-20 with a homer against the Marlins in the final five games of the season; before that, Freeman, was an unfathomable 3-for-54 (.056) with 20 strikeouts and a .280 OPS through 14 games against the Marlins in 2014.

What made it all the more difficult to believe was that prior to 2014, Freeman hit .295 with 19 extra-base hits, a .376 OBP and .463 slugging percentage in 56 career games against the Marlins, and the Braves were 38-18 in those games.

Tuesday night marked Freeman’s first three-hit game against the Marlins since he had three hits against them in both the first and last games against them in 2013. He had six multi-hit games against them that season.

 

Enjoying the fish: The Braves are 50-26 against the Marlins since the beginning of the 2011 season, and Atlanta has won 20 of the past 34 games between the team despite hitting .233 and averaging fewer than four runs per game in that stretch.

The 12 runs scored by the Braves Tuesday marked their first double-digit scoring output since a 10-7 win at Chicago on July 13, the last game before the All-Star break. It was the most runs scored by the Braves against the Marlins since a 12-3 win on Aug. 28, 2010, when Tim Hudson got his his 15th win of the season and Atlanta’s Martin Prado hit his 15th homer.

Also homering that day for the Braves: Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske.

Also of note: The 12 runs scored by the Braves without benefit of a home run on Tuesday was two more runs than their single-game homerless high from 2014, a 10-3 win at Philadelphia on June 28.

Subdued Stanton: Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton is arguably the most feared hitter in baseball, and his $325 million contract is the largest in the history of professional sports. But against the Braves, Stanton has been less than stellar. He has a career .217 average (53-for-244) in 72 games, with 10 homers, 31 RBIs, 45 walks, 81 strikeouts, .339 OBP and .398 slugging percentage.

However, he is 3-for-5 with two homers in his career against Wednesday’s Atlanta starter Shelby Miller, the former Cardinal who’ll be making his official Braves debut.

Stanton was 0-for-1 with three walks Tuesday, his third three-walk game in his past 10 against the Braves. He’s homerless in his past 14 games against them, batting .192 (10-for-52) with two doubles, four RBIs, 10 strikeouts, 19 walks, a .323 OBP and .231 slugging percentage in that span.

He had a two-homer game against the Braves on Sept. 19, 2011, Stanton’s only multi-homer game against them. In 45 games since against the Braves, he’s hit .209 (33-for-158) with six homers, 20 RBIs, a .352 OBP and .386 slugging percentage.

• Shelby’s debut:  Miller makes his first official Braves start tonight, so it’s worth another quick examination of the 24-year-old right-hander’s career to this point, the two-plus seasons he spent with the Cardinals after coming up as a highly touted prospect in 2012 and proceeding to surpass all expectations initially.

Miller was 9-4 with a  1.98 ERA and .202 opponents’ average in his first 20 games including 15 starts (one of those starts at the end of the 2012 season, the rest in 2013). He had 112 strikeouts and 23 walks in exactly 100 innings in that span.

In the 49 games (48 starts) since, Miller has a 17-14 record, 3.83 ERA and .244 opponents’ average, with 200 strikeouts with 111 walks in 270 innings.

But after going 7-8 with a 4.29 ERA in his first 19 starts last season, and totaling 73 strikeouts with 54 walks in 109 innings during that span, Miller had his rotation turn skipped once and made a relief appearance July 20, then returned to the rotation and posted a 2.96 ERA and .196 opponents’ average in his final 12 starts, with 54 strikeouts and only 18 walks in 73 innings.

Back in November, the day after Miller was traded to the Braves in the deal that sent Jason Heyward to St. Louis and triggered a string of major offseason deals, here’s how the pitcher described his undulating career to this point.

“Definitely my first year, 2013, I did really well early on and kind of hit a bump in the road after the All-Star break,” he said, “and I got back to where I needed to be in September (2013). And then (in 2014), it had its ups and downs too. About halfway through the year I started mixing in a sinker, at the All-Star break. I felt like that really took me to the next level as far as pitching, mixing that pitch in.”

His carried that over to his first spring training with the Braves, pitching well in four of six starts. Now comes the official beginning to the Atlanta chapter of his career, as he ties to guide the Braves to a sweep-clinching win against a team that knocked him around a couple of times last season in his only career starts against them.

Veteran catcher A.J. Pierzysnki is scheduled to make his first start tonight, after catching Miller a few times during spring training and developing a bond with him last season when Pierzysnki filled in for injured catcher Yadier Molina.

Miller was 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA and .370 opponents’ average in those two starts against the Marlins in 2014, allowing nine hits and three runs in 5 1/3 innings on July 5 in St. Louis and giving up eight hits, five runs and two homers in five innings Aug. 11 in Miami. The Cardinals lost both.

 • Braves vs. Koehler: Miller’s first start will come against Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler, who’s had a lot of tough luck against the Braves, going winless in six starts (0-2) against them despite a 3.50 ERA and 32 strikeouts with 14 walks and only two homers allowed 36 innings.

Koehler had a 2.77 ERA in four starts against the Braves last season, all quality starts of six innings or more including three starts with two or fewer runs allowed. But he was 0-1 in those games and the Braves won three of them, with the Marlins scoring two or fewer runs each time while he was in the game.

Freeman is 4-for-18 with nine strikeouts against Koehler. Other Braves with the most at-bats against Koehler are Andrelton Simmons (2-for-15, 3 BB, 2 K) and Chris Johnson (5-for-16, 3 K). Newcomer Cameron Maybin is expected to get his first start of the season in center field. It’s probably as good a good a day as any to rest regular center fielder Eric Young Jr., who’s 1-for-10 vs. Koehler.

Left fielder Jonny Gomes also gets his first start tonight after Kelly Johnson played the first two games (0-for-5 with two walks).

We’re coming home soon, leaving Florida after spending most of two months here.  I want to go home. And I love this version of the song by the man, Johnny Cash, was recorded about seven years before the The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B”, for those who might be wondering. And a year after The Kingston Trio did a version. All versions stem originally from a Bahamian folk song. (There’s a great Waylon Jennings version after this Cash version on same video stream, by the way.)

“I WANT TO GO HOME” by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

We sailed on the ship John B, my grandfather and me
Around Nassau town we did roam
Drinking all night, got into a fight
Well, I feel so homesick I wanna go home

So hoist up the John B sail, see how the mainsail sets
Call for the captain ashore, let me go home
Let me go home, why don’t you let me go home?
Well, I feel so homesick I wanna go home

The first mate, he got drunk, broke up the people’s trunk
Constable had to come and take him away
Sheriff John Stone, why don’t you leave me alone?
Well, I feel so homesick I wanna go home

Then the cook, he caught the fits, threw out all of my grits
Then he took and ate up all of my corn
Let me go home, why don’t you let me go home?
Well, this is the worst trip since I have been born

So hoist up the John B sail, see how the mainsail sets
Call for the captain ashore, let me go home
Let me go home, why don’t you let me go home?
Well, I feel so homesick I wanna go home

 

 


View Comments 0