Braves’ last chance to help Shelby Miller snap streak before All-Star break

Shelby Miller hugs catcher A.J. Pierzynski  after throwing a three-hit shutout against the Phillies this season. At this point, it seems it might take another shutout for Miller to get a win. And even that won't be enough if the Braves keep scoring no runs while he's in games. (AP photo)
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Shelby Miller hugs catcher A.J. Pierzynski after throwing a three-hit shutout against the Phillies this season. At this point, it seems it might take another shutout for Miller to get a win. And even that won't be enough if the Braves keep scoring no runs while he's in games. (AP photo)

 

 DENVER — The improbable nine-start winless streak of All-Star Shelby Miller has to end at some point, and he and the Braves would certainly like to see it snapped Friday night when he faces the Rockies at Coors Field.

Shelby Miller hugs catcher A.J. Pierzynski  after throwing a three-hit shutout against the Phillies this season. At this point, it seems it might take another shutout for Miller to get a win. And even that won't be enough if the Braves keep scoring no runs while he's in games. (AP photo)

Shelby Miller hugs catcher A.J. Pierzynski after throwing a three-hit shutout against the Phillies this season. At this point, it seems it might take another shutout for Miller to get a win. And even that won’t be enough if the Braves keep scoring no runs while he’s in games. (AP photo)

That way, Miller could fly to Cincinnati on Sunday night for the All-Star festivities and Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic without that streak hanging over him, and the Braves could still have a shot at finishing the first half with a record above .500, which few outsider observers could’ve imagined a few months ago.

After losing 5-3 in Thursday night’s rain-delayed debacle – why on earth did they start that game with storms nearby and our weather apps telling us that rain was going to start in about 15 minutes? – the Braves were 42-44 entering Friday’s second game of the four-game series. A series split would leave them 44-45 at the break, while it would take a series win, meaning a sweep of the last three games, to give the Braves a 45-44 record at the break.

Not that it matters much in the big picture, but it’d make for more interesting conversations and analysis when folks around the industry are breaking down the first-half surprises and disappointments, if the Braves had a winning record in a season that most consider a rebuilding year, though the Braves refer to it as a retooling.

Now, as for Miller. What a strange trip it’s been to get to a modest 5-4 despite a stingy 2.07 ERA and .214 opponents’ average in 17 starts. The Braves won seven of his first eight starts, and they’ve lost seven of his past eight. That’s not too far behind the absurdly disparate Julio Teheran home/road splits on the list of things you could never predict.

Particularly since Miller has pitched almost as well in most starts in his winless stretch as he did during his early season roll. Almost.

He went 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA and .156 opponents’ average during his first eight starts, with 43 strikeouts and 16 walks in 54 innings. He didn’t allow more than two earned runs in any of those starts, and the Braves provided an average of 4.5 support runs per nine innings he pitched in that span, scoring fewer than three runs in only three of those eight starts.

In his past nine starts, Miller is 0-3 with a 2.80 ERA and .264 opponents’ average – hey, I said almost as well – with 45 strikeouts and 18 walks in 54 2/3 innings. He’s allowed more than two earned runs in only three of those starts, and the Braves have provided a meager 1.15 support runs per nine innings he’s pitched in that span. That’s 1.15 runs compared to 4.5 during his first eight starts.

Get this: The Braves have scored one or no runs while Miller has been in the game in seven of nine starts in his winless streak, including zero runs in each of the past four. Zero. Four games. It’s impossible for a pitcher to get a win if his team scores zero runs while he’s the pitcher of record.

In those past four starts, Miller is 0-2 despite a 2.20 ERA and 27 strikeouts (seven walks) in 24 innings.

Miller has been stellar on the road this season, posting a 2.18 ERA and .190 opponents’ average in nine starts.

Now come the Rockies and Coors Field, where pitching dreams go to die. You want the good news or the bad news first?

Ok, the good news: Miller is 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA and .188 opponents’ average in three career starts against the Rockies, with 20 strikeouts, five walks and no homers allowed in 17 2/3 innings.

Now, the bad news: He dominated the  Rockies in two home starts, but had a very rough time in his only start at Coors Field.

I mean, check this out: Miller has allowed just one run and six hits of two home starts against the Rockies, with 18 strikeouts and no walks in 15 innings. But in his only start at Coors, he gave up six hits, three runs and five walks in 2 2/3 innings on June 24, 2014.

• C. Johnson rakes vs. Rockies: The Rockies have one of the NL’s best players at third base in Nolan Arenado, but perhaps they’d be interested in trading for Chris Johnson for first base? Would make sense for two reasons: they wouldn’t have to face him, and he’d play half his games at Coors Field.

Johnson had three hits in Thursday’s series opener to give him a .389 career average (42-for-108) in 29 games against the Rockies, with six doubles, two homers, 18 RBIs and a .500 slugging percentage. In his past 12 games against them, he’s 22-for-48 (.458) with a home run and nine RBIs. Of the 11 games he started in that  stretch, Johnson had four 3-hit games and five 2-hit games. Multi-hit games in nine of 11 starts.

He’s hit well against them home and road, but predictably better at Coors Field, where Johnson has a career-high .458 average (22-for-48), albeit with only four extra-base hits including one homer. His home-run park, in case anyone forgot, is Chicago’s Wrigley Field, where the former Astro has seven homers in 90 at-bats (24 games).

• Etc.

Entering Friday, the Braves were 10-5 against the Rockies since the beginning of the 2013 season, but had lost three in a row against them, all at Coors Field. After going 10-2 with a 3.23 ERA, .305 batting average, 86 runs and 20 homers in those 12 games, the Braves are 0-0 with an 8.63 ERA, .214 batting average, eight runs and one homer in the past three games against the Rockies.  The Rockies hit .394 with 23 runs and a 2.67 ERA in that three-game win streak against the Braves at Coors.

• Here’s one from the late, great Townes Van Zandt, one of the finest songwriters there ever was.

“COLORADO GIRL” by Townes Van Zandt

I’m goin’ out to Denver

Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt\

See if I can’t find
I’m goin’ out to Denver
See if I can’t find
That lovin’ Colorado girl of mine

The promise in her smile
Shames the mountains tall
The promise in her smile
Shames the mountains tall
She bring the sun to shining
Tell the rain to fall

It’s been a long time, mama,
Since I heard you call my name
Ah, been a long time
Since I heard you call my name
I got to see my Colorado girl again

Be there tomorrow
Mama, don’t you cry
Be there tomorrow
Now, mama, don’t you cry
I got to kiss these lonesome
Texas blues good-bye

I’m goin’ out to to Denver
See if I can’t find
I’m goin’ out to to Denver
See if I can’t find
That lovin’ Colorado girl of mine
That lovin’ Colorado girl of mine

 


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