Markakis, Freeman solid in middle; about that trip from Toronto….

Freddie Freeman hit two homers in the three-game series at Toronto, including this two-run shot Saturday. (The Canadian Press via AP)
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Freddie Freeman hit two homers in the three-game series at Toronto, including this two-run shot Saturday. (The Canadian Press via AP)

 

 NEW YORK — Only three major league teams have scored more runs than Toronto this season, and Atlanta isn’t one of them. But the Braves outscored the Blue Jays 18-15 in taking two of three during a slugfest of a series that ended Sunday at Toronto, and two principle reasons for the big offensive output were the third and fourth hitters in the lineup.

No, 3 hitter Nick Markakis and No. 4 hitter Freddie Freeman were a combined 12-for-21 with two homers, nine runs, seven walks and only two strikeouts in the Toronto series, with Freeman collecting both homers and both strikeouts and Markakis getting on base in his first nine consecutive plate appearances in the series.

freddie freeman

Freddie Freeman hit two homers in the three-game series at Toronto, including this two-run shot Saturday. (The Canadian Press via AP)

Markakis is 10-for-16 (.625) with a double, five runs, six walks and a .727 OBP in his past five games, and struck out in only one of those games (two K’s against Miami on April 14).

“That’s what we need from those guys,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after a series-clinching 5-2 win Sunday. “That’s why they hit three and four. I know there’s going to be some times where one’s going to hit and one’s not, but that’s about as good a 3-4 hitters as you want in the major leagues, and then you can mix-and-match with the fifth (spot in the lineup) and all the way down. But good series.”

Markakis is tied with Joey Votte for fifth in the NL with a .375 batting average (15-for-40) and is third with a .479 OBP, behind only Adrian Gonzalez and Votto. Markakis is 11-for-23 (.478) vs. righties and 4-for-17 (.235) vs. lefties, and he’s a major part of the Braves’ situational hitting improvement, going 6-for-12 with runners on base and 4-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

“He’s a stud,” Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said of Markakis. “It’s fun to watch, man. It’s really fun to watch. Being a guy that played in the American League,  I haven’t seen much of him in my career. But you hear about him, and you see what he does. But then to see it firsthand and it see it every single day, it’s real fun to watch. It’s actually a lot of fun to learn from, too.”

Freeman is batting .283 with a .353 OBP and ranked eighth in the NL with a .609 slugging percentage. He has four homers and six RBIs in his past eight games, and hasn’t struck out more than once in his past 10 games.

“Those are two guys that you expect to do those things they’re doing,” said first-year Braves pitcher Shelby Miller, a former Cardinal. “Freddie is the guy hitting in the four hole, driving guys in, and Nick’s done an unbelievable job getting on base, and another guy with power. We’ve got guys with a lot of power as well. And we hit some home runs (at Toronto).

“(But) the biggest thing is to get  guys on and drive them in, and that’s what our offense has been doing. They’ve been doing a hell of a job doing that.”

Markakis and Freeman look to continue their hot streaks against the Mets in a three-game series starting tonight at Citi Field. Markakis is the only Brave with a higher career average (.348) and OBP (.400) against the Mets than Freeman (.307/.380), although it only 12 games for Markakis against the Metropolitans, compared to Freeman’s 75 against them.

Also, Freeman’s got a whopping 14 homers, 60 RBIs and a .543 slugging percentrage against the Mets, including five homers and 26 RBIs in 37 games at Citi Field.

By the way, former Met Eric Young Jr. is just a .205 career hitter (63-for-307) with one homer and a .266 OBP in 94 games at Citi Field.

Manufacturing runs: Here’s a stat that seems to support what Shelby Miller was saying about the Braves’ offense being built around getting guys on and getting them in, rather than hitting homers: The Braves are 4-0 in games in which they’ve gone homerless, and 4-4 in games in which they’ve hit at least one homer.

Not that they don’t want to hit homers; they certainly do. And they can. It’s just that none of the Braves I’ve talked to expect this team to finish as high as they currently are in home-run rankings – tied for third in the NL – bu do believe they can be at least in the top half of the league in scoring runs. They’re currently tied with Colorado for fifth with 53 runs, but the Rockies and three of the four teams who’ve scored more than the Braves have played at least one more game than Atlanta’s 12.

The Dodgers, with 63 runs in 12 games, are the only NL team that’s scored more than the Braves in the same number or fewer games.

• Streaking Mets: The Mets (10-3) and Braves (8-4) are in first and second place and the only NL East teams with winning records in a little over two weeks into the season. Just as everyone figured, right? No? Oh.

The Mets have an eight-game hitting streak with a .285 batting average, 41 runs, seven homers and a 3.00 ERA in that span, which began with a win against the Braves April 12 in the last game of their series at Atlanta, after the Braves won the first two in the series.
• Tonight’s matchup: It’s lefty Jonathan Niese against Braves righty Trevor Cahill, who’ll be trying to have a much, much better start than the terrible outing he had in his Atlanta debut last week (five hits, four runs, three walks in 2 1/3 innings vs. Miami).

Niese gave up seven hits, three runs (one earned) and two walks in five innings of an April 10 loss to the Braves, when Cameron Maybin homered off him.

Jonny Gomes had four RBIs Sunday at Toronto including this bases-clearing double. He's had success against Tuesday Mets starter Jonathon Niese. (Canadian Press via AP)

Jonny Gomes had four RBIs Sunday at Toronto including this bases-clearing double. He’s had success against Tuesday Mets starter Jonathon Niese. (Canadian Press via AP)

Against Niese, Jonny Gomes is 6-for-10 with a homer and two walks, Freeman is 11-for-40 (.275) with two homers and zero walks, and Maybin is 7-for-28 with two homers.

Cahill needs to snap out of an extended funk that began last summer with the Dbacks. He’s 0-5 with a 9.40 ERA and .317 opponents’ average in seven starts since late August, with 32 strikeouts, 21 walks and four homers among his 39 hits allowed in 29 2/3 innings in that stretch.

Going back to the All-Star break, he’s 2-7 with a 5.90 ERA in his past 14 starts. His only start against the Mets was in 2012, though he did pitch two relief innings against them on May 25 (three hits, one run, three walks).

Nearly error-free: You might’ve heard, the Braves have made just one error all season, which is two fewer than the next-lowest MLB team totals (Tigers, Rays each have three) and 13 fewer than the Nationals’ majors-high total (10 teams have made at least 10 errors).

But were you aware of this about Markakis: The two-time Gold Glove right fielder has played 338 consecutive error-free games going back to Aug. 11, 2012. In case you’re wondering, the MLB record for consecutive errorless games by an outfielder belongs to Darren Lewis, who had a streak of 392 error-gree games during 1990-1994 with the A’s and Giants.

 • Travel hell: And finally, since most of us privately like to hear travel horror stories even worse than our own, I submit this international entry for your consideration.

Getting from Toronto to New York requires, in theory, about one hour of flying time. The reality can be something else entirely.

To wit, here’s the chronology of my journey from Toronto to New York, and how I spent the off day:

Monday 8 a.m., I get an text that says that my 12:30 p.m. flight out of Toronto on WestJet (a Canadian partner airline of Delta) has been cancelled. No reason given. Rebooked on 5:30 p.m. flight, I’m informed

News of McKirahan PED suspension comes down. So the flight delay actually gives me time to write that story and the Jonny Gomes off-day feature story before I go to airport.

Take cab to airport, arrive at 2:30 p.m., WestJet attendant is able to move me to 4:10 p.m. flight instead of 5:30 p.m.

Flight is delayed 40 minutes, but we get on the plane and go out on the runway. We sit for about 30 minutes, and are told we have to go back to the terminal because La Guardia has ground stoppage due to … fog. Yes, fog. We’re told to take all of our bags off the plane, per some rule regarding international flight and waiting on runway, etc.

An hour later, we reboard the plane. And then we sit for another 30-minute delay on runway before finally taking off.

At about 8 p.m., we approach New York, and start circling the airspace above the city. (This is never, ever a good sign.) Some 40 minutes later, the pilot informs us that they still aren’t letting us land at LaGuardia and so we’re going to — wait for it –Toronto. Yes, from whence we came.

From my understanding of the astonishingly awful situation, this particular airline, WestJet, has no working deal with any airport in the New York area or anywhere close to it, other than LaGuardia. So we are going back to Toronto. And the crew can’t fly anymore that night, because of restrictions about how long they’ve already been flying that day.

They make no arrangements for us to get out on later flights Monday, only the next day. And they offer no food or hotel voucher. Nothing. Because it’s weather related. After telling us that gate agents will be waiting when we get off the plane to let us know what are options are or where they’ve rebooked us, if we can get on flight later this night, when we land there are no agents at the gate. We’re told to go get our bags – after going through Customs again — and that we can then call WestJet or go to their app, or find the WestJet counter at the airport and ask them what flight we’re on.

Instead I call Delta, tell them what has transpired, ask them to please save me and hopefully get me on a Delta or other major jet. There are no seats on any flights tonight on any airline, so she books me on first flight out in morning. Delta, not WestJet.

I then call the Toronto Airport Marriott, make sure they’ve got rooms available, and wait 25 minutes (underdressed) in windy, brisk weather outside the airport for their shuttle to finally come. The newspaper is paying for room in Manhattan and one here tonight, of course, because my reservation in NYC began tonight.

I check into Toronto Airport Marriott at 10:30 p.m., eat, unwind from the coffee, fall asleep about 1:15. After setting both iPhone alarms for 3 a.m. and 3:05 a.m., so I can get to airport and go through Customs yet again for my 6:05 a.m. flight.

I take the 4:05 p.m. hotel shuttle to Toronto Pearson Airport and stand in a line with about 75 other people waiting for Customs to open at 4:30 a.m.. Day 2 in the epic journey from Toronto to NYC is underway, and I’ve begun to feel like Odysseus on long trek home after the fall of Troy, only without the sandals or heroism.

Wheels up – not even an hour late! — at 7 a.m. or so, and we land at JFK Airport in New York at about 8:15 a.m. Bag arrives by 8:35. Cab line is, thankfully, nothing like LaGuardia’s line always is. Having successfully reached American soil. mere rush-hour traffic in NYC seems almost a relaxing proposition compared to previous 19 hours.

10:05 a.m.: Arrive at hotel, check into room that we paid not to stay in last night. Says desk attendant when I check in: “We have you for four nights…well, three more nights, checking out Friday?”

Since checking out of my hotel yesterday – the first Toronto hotel, not the one I spent five hours in — to initially head to the airport, it’s been 20 hours, two Toronto-to-NYC flights (sandwiched around one NYC-to-Toronto flight), 1 hour and 45 minutes of sleep, two hotel nights (one each in Toronto and New York), three Red Bulls & many, many coffees, but I made it. And soon I’m sitting down to crank out this blog before heading to catch the 7 Train to Flushing.

I know, glamorous.

• Since we’ll be near the Long Island Sound the next three nights, here’s one from the songwriting master, James McMurtry, off his album Complicated Game, one of the best released so far this year. On the album, with full band including an accordian, this tune sounds like an Irish drinking song. I couldn’t find a link to that studio version, but this live one’s pretty cool, too.

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James McMurtry

“LONG ISLAND SOUND” by James McMurtry

New Mexico’s lost in the back streets of Austin
Carolina keeps all her thoughts to herself
Tennessee’s tight and he will not stop talking
Somebody shush him ‘fore I have to myself

I wrote that verse for the kids but I never did sing it
I filed it away and forgot it in time
My old guitar sits in the back bedroom closet
Next to the closet the shotgun I got when I was nine

If I had any sense I’d be way ‘cross the Whitestone
I might as well sit here a while ‘fore I start
Cause when the 5:30 rush hits the cross-island parkway
It’s not for the squeamish of the gentle of heart

I’d be stuck on the bridge in the right land at sunset
Watching the boats with their snowy white sails
Watching the sun sinking over the projects
Laundry hung out of the balcony rails

And where are you now my long secret love
Where have you gone in your glamorous life
Where are you now as the moon comes a-rising
Are you somebody’s love, are you somebody’s wife

And these are the best days
These are the best days
Y’all put your money away
I’ve got the round
Here’s to all you strangers
The Mets and the Rangers
Long may we thrive on the Long Island Sound

I don’t know what goes on in those crumbling brick buildings
They’re on the same planet in a whole ‘nother world
I got a bay boat and a 401k
Two cars in the driveway, two boys and a girl

It doesn’t seem long since we came up from Tulsa
Been here six years and I reckon we’ll stay
The company’s not bad as the companies go
They still got the health plan and they’re raising my pay

And the kids all play soccer like nobody’s business
My grandma says we’re just letting ‘em fall through
They don’t go to church and we’re not gonna make ‘em
They all drop their R’s like the Islanders do

And these are the best days
These are the best days
Y’all put your money away
I’ve got the round
Here’s to all you strangers
The Mets and the Rangers
Long may we thrive on the Long Island Sound

I remember her singing from that dusty old hymnal
Smelled like tobacco from granddaddy’s pipe
That old rugged cross ’til she took down the shingles
You’ve never heard such a noise in your life

I had a tire run low so I dug through the glovebox
I needed the manual to locate the jack
Found a couple old picks and a 20 gauge shuttle
Left from a dove hunt a couple years back

And these are the best days
These are the best days
Y’all put your money away
I’ve got the round
Here’s to all you strangers
The Mets and the Rangers
Long may we thrive on the Long Island Sound

New Mexico’s lost in the back streets of Austin
Carolina keeps all her thoughts to herself

 


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