Since 6-1 start, Braves’ ERA climbing, RISP avg. declining

The Braves could really use a good start from Eric Stults at New York Wednesday to restore some faith in the back end of rotation. (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)
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The Braves could really use a good start from Eric Stults at New York Wednesday to restore some faith in the back end of rotation. (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)

 

NEW YORK – The ERA is climbing, and it’s no coincidence the Braves’ record is easing back toward something closer to what had been predicted. Still a significantly better-than-expected 8-5, but with four losses in the past six games, including losses in all three games featuring back-end starters Trevor Cahill and Eric Stults in that span.

Potentially problematic, indeed.

The Braves could really use a good start from Eric Stults at New York Wednesday to restore some faith in the back end of rotation. (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)

The Braves could really use a good start from Eric Stults at New York Wednesday to restore some faith in the back end of rotation. (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)

Cahill, the end-of-spring acquisition that did and still does have many Braves followers scratching their heads, gave up four runs (three earned) in the fifth inning of Tuesday night’s series-opening 7-1 loss to the Mets. And with that Atlanta was on its way to allowing six earned runs, the third time in the past four games that the Braves allowed six or more earned.

It’s worth noting that only one of those recent six-or-more-ER games was started by Cahill or Stults, the veteran lefty who brings a 6.30 ERA into his third start Wednesday night against the streaking Metropolitans. The Mets, who’ve won nine in a row, are off to an 11-3 start that matches the best in franchise history through 14 games.

The climbing ERA and recent rash of games with more than a handful of earned runs allowed underscores what we knew could be a real problem for  this team: a lack of depth in both the bullpen and the rotation. That is, for as long as the Braves are relying on journeymen, unproven youngsters or diminished veteran starters while waiting till they’re confident they won’t be rushing one or more of their top starting-pitcher prospects by bringing them up to the big leagues.

The Braves ERA has climbed to 3.72, seventh in the league and just ahead of Arizona’s 3.76, while Atlanta pitchers’ opponents’ OPS (.706) is in the bottom half of the league, at ninth entering Wednesday’s games. Couple that with a reduction from their early robust production hitting with runners  in scoring position, and four losses in six games is easy to understand.

The fact that the defending champion Giants’ ERA (3.81) is higher than Atlanta’s — plus remember, San Francisco’s ballpark is the league’s most pitcher-friendly — while the Dodgers with their massive payroll are sixth in the NL with a 3.48 ERA, illustrates how difficult it is to piece together and maintain a healthy, high-level pitching staff, regardless of resources.

Some contend that a lack of power arms in the Braves’ current rotation as a weakness, and so far this season the Braves have the third-fewest strikeouts among NL pitching staffs with 89 in 116 innings. Six NL pitching staffs have at least 110 strikeouts, paced by the Dodgers with a whopping 130 in 116 1/3 innings.

The Pirates, with 126 strikeouts  in 125 innings, are the only other NL team with more K’s than innings pitched.

With the likes of Mike Foltynewicz. Matt Wisler and Manny Banuelos bubbling just below the major league surface – that starting trio is at Triple-A Gwinnett – the Braves have plenty of reason to believe things can and will get better in their rotation sooner than later, and that their starting rotation should be set for years to come, barring a spate of injuries.

Foltynewicz has a 1.62 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings in his first three starts at Gwinnett, including an eight-inning complete game. Meanwhile, Wisler has a 3.72 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings in his first two starts, and the lefty Banuelos has a 3.77 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings.

At the risk of seeming anachronistic to some of our readers – oh, hell, who am I kidding; it’s too late for that – let’s return briefly to that dusty ol’ ERA for a moment: St. Louis’ 1.90 ERA is nearly a run lower than the league’s next best, and the second- and third-lowest in the league belong to NL East teams, the Nationals (2.80) and Mets (2.85).

The NL’s worst ERA belong to the two teams with the worst records, the disappointing Marlins (5.28 ERA, 3-11 record) and the Brewers (5.31 ERA, 2-12 record).

 • RISPing slippage: After posting a league-best .357 average (20-for-56) with runners in scoring position during their 6-1 start, the Braves are 5-for-31 (.161) with RISP in their past six games (2-4).

• Maybin’s pop: Three of Cameron Maybin’s first five hits (in 34 at-bats) for the Braves have been home runs, and he’s already one-third of the way to his career-high total of nine homers in 2011, when he had a career-high 516 at-bats in 137 games with the Padres.

Maybin had eight homers  in 291 at-bats for the Marlins in 2010, his last season with the team and also the last year that Fredi Gonzalez managed the team (he was fired in June). So, Gonzalez knows the Asheville, N.C., native has more power than his career numbers – 35 homers in more than 2,100 plate appearances — might indicate.

“He’s got some juice,” Gonzalez said after Tuesday night’s 7-1 loss to the Mets, when Maybin’s two-out homer to center field in the seventh inning provided the only ATL offense. “You make a mistake with him and he can run you out of the ballpark.”

Grilli on PEDs: Jason Grilli had some candid and intelligent things to say Tuesday about PED use after Braves rookie reliever Andrew McKirahan was suspended 80 games following a positive test taken during spring training when McKirahan was with the Marlins. You can read Grilli’s comments in story I wrote yesterday.

There was one other thing he said that didn’t get in my story, but that I think should be among the strongest reasons why any player, young or old, should really strongly consider the ramifications before deciding to cheat with PEDs.

“There’s the name (Braves) on the front and this name on the back,” Grilli said, holding his jersey and turning it over to show his last name above his number. “This one lasts a lot longer, too. So it’s a decision you have to make.”

Don’t disgrace your family, in other words.

One more from Grilli on PEDs: “There’s rules in place. If you want to go through the stop signs, you might get crushed. T-boned.”

Sage advice.

Here’s a great tune from Paul Thorn, a terrific singer/songwriter from Tupelo, who was a professional boxer before he became a professional musician. He once fought Roberto Duran in a televised bout. If you don’t have any of his stuff, check out his greatest hits CD/album, So Far, So Good. Bet you’ll be hooked.

“YOU MIGHT BE WRONG” by Paul Thornurl

Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Jews
Got their own version of the truth
There’s a line in the sand,
There’s a war goin’ on.
They forgot to remember
You might be wrong.

Carry your faith
Everywhere you go
Mix it with love and let it show
But keep your mind open
As you move along,
And always remember,
You might be wrong.

[Chorus]
Why do we argue?
Why do we fight?
Everybody thinks
God’s on their side.
Count to ten
Before you throw a stone.
Whatever you believe,
You might be wrong

Don’t cut me off.
Don’t say we’re through
Just because
I don’t agree with you.
You see flowers grow
Where seeds of love are sown.
You could be right.
You might be wrong.

[Chorus]
Why do we argue?
Why do we fight?
Everybody thinks
God’s on their side.
Count to ten
Before you throw a stone.
Whatever you believe,
You might be wrong

What’s on the other side of life?
I won’t know until the day I die.
If you feel insecure
You are not alone
Everybody knows
You might be wrong.

[Chorus]
Why do we argue?
Why do we fight?
Everybody thinks
God’s on their side.
Count to ten
Before you throw a stone.
Whatever you believe,
You might be wrong


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