Braves competitive at home, punching bag on road

Matt Wisler makes his first start in San Diego tonight against the team that drafted and developed him before trading him to Atlanta on the eve of opening day. (AP photo)
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Matt Wisler makes his first start in San Diego tonight against the team that drafted and developed him before trading him to Atlanta on the eve of opening day. (AP photo)

 

SAN DIEGO – OK, the Braves road thing has gotten ridiculous. And it all began on that fateful Wednesday afternoon in Milwaukee, July 8, when Luis Avilan gave up a three-run homer to Carlos Gomez in the eighth inning, turning a 5-3 Braves lead and would-be series sweep into a 6-5 Brewers win. Who could’ve know that day just how bad things were about to become?

Beginning with that game, the Braves have gone 2-16 with a .235 batting average, 5.28 ERA and 46 runs scored in their past 18 road games, including Monday night’s 5-3 series-opening loss at San Diego.

Matt Wisler makes his first start in San Diego tonight against the team that drafted and developed him before trading him to Atlanta on the eve of opening day. (AP photo)

Matt Wisler makes his first start in San Diego tonight against the team that drafted and developed him before trading him to Atlanta on the eve of opening day. (AP photo)

Not that the Braves had been good on the road before that game, but they had a 19-25 road record before that series-finale loss to the Brewers, and had won three consecutive road games at Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. They were in position to complete a sweep at Milwaukee before heading to Colorado for the last series prior to the All-Star break.

Instead, Gomez hit his second homer in a three-inning span, the Brewers averted a sweep, and the Braves went on to get swept in four games at Coors Field, losing not just every game in the series but also their closer, Jason Grilli, to a season-ending ruptured Achilles.

The loss of Grilli, having a solid season, eliminated the Braves’ biggest trade chip – they had talked to one team about trading both Grilli and Jim Johnson to them for a nice return – and the five consecutive losses leading into the All-Star break helped convince Braves officials to become significant sellers prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

And so the Braves traded away five members of their 25-man roster, along with infield prospect Jose Peraza, during a dizzying one-week span after the All-Star break.

It’s only coincidence those two deals occurred during a 2-8 road trip. But then again, it only seemed appropriate that the figurative white flag on the season went up while the Braves were on the road, right?

Now here we are, 44 games from the finish line, and the Braves remain more than competitive at home, where they’ve won 19 of their past 30 games and their 32-24 record  is comparable to the home records of teams such as the Cubs (34-24), Nationals (31-23), Giants (35-24) and Yankees (33-21). But on the road? Yikes. The Braves have plummeted to 21-41, the second-most road losses in the majors ahead of only the last-place Phillies (19-43).

Is it because they have so many young and/or inexperienced players, particularly pitchers, who don’t know how to prepare or stay in a routine on the road? Perhaps.

Because while the Braves have plenty of veterans sprinkled on their roster, they dumped or traded most of their veteran pitchers along the way, and their starting rotation is the youngest in baseball. Veterans can’t take a young starter by the hand and guide him throw pitch-by-pitch in the different and sometimes hostile environment of a road ballpark.

Just look at the ERA in those past 18 road games – 5.28. Can’t win much at all with that  kind of number.

The Braves have six games left on this seven-game trip to San Diego and Chicago. If they are to avoid a stretch of 18 losses in 20 road games, they will need to win Tuesday or Wednesday at San Diego, where the Braves have lost eight consecutive games at Petco Park. It’s been nearly three years since the Braves won a game in San Diego — Aug. 28, 2012, when Kris Medlen pitched eight innings of five-hit ball in a 2-0 win.

Since then, the Braves have gone  6-13 against the Padres, home and away, with a .240 batting average and only 61 runs, or 3.2 per game. In the eight winless games at Petco in that stretch, the Braves scored three runs or fewer seven times, and lost six of the last seven of those games by one- or two-run margins.

There was a time not too long ago when the Braves rocked in San Diego, when Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones and other Braves crushed so many home runs at Petco that they made the Padres look like whiners for complaining about the size of their then-new ballpark. Times have certainly changed.

The fences have since been brought in, and the park plays pretty fair but still favors pitchers a bit. Meanwhile, the Braves have  hit just two homers in their past six games at Petco, including Cameron Maybin’s career-high 10th of the season Monday.

And far more importantly, they have zero wins in their past eight games at the place. And all the, ahem, beautiful scenery and fish tacos in the world can’t make up for losing every game you play in a place.

• Tonight’s matchup: Another of the Braves rookie starters takes the mound when Matt Wisler (5-2, 4.74 ERA) faces the team that drafted, developed and then traded him to Atlanta on the eve of opening day. This will be Wisler’s first start at Petco Park, and he’ll face veteran James Shields (8-5, 3.89).

Wisler is 0-1 with an 8.40 ERA and .381 opponents’ average and four homers allowed in three August starts, after going 5-1 with a 3.43 ERA and a .272 OA and four homers allowed in his seven previous starts. He’s lasted 5 1/3 or fewer innings in each of his August starts, after going six or more innings in four of his first seven starts.

The rookie right-hander is 2-2 with a 5.57 ERA and .326 opponents’ average in six road starts, compared to 3-0 with a 3.65 ERA and .267 OA in four home starts.

Shields is 1-5 with a 4.29 ERA in his past 11 starts, after going 7-0 with a 3.49 ERA in his first 14 starts. He’s had a milder case of Shelby Miller misfortunate in his past nine starts, during which Shields has just one win despite a 3.27 ERA and .225 opponents’ average in that span, with 51 strikeouts  in 55 innings.

He’s received 2.29 support runs per nine innings pitched in those nine starts, including three runs or fewer while he’s been in each game and one or no runs while he was in five games. The Padres have lost each of his past five starts and nine of the past 11.

Shields is 4-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 home starts, compared to 4-3 with a 4.75 ERA in 13 road starts.

Against the Braves, Shields is 0-2 with a 5.71 ERA in three career starts, including no decision in a June 9 loss at Atlanta when he allowed seven hits and five runs (four earned) in 5 1/3 innings.

Nick Markakis is 23-for-74 (.311) against Shields with two homers, 11 walks and a .400 OBP. Nick Swisher is 9-for-52 (.173) against him, with three homers and 17 strikeouts; A.J. Pierzynski is 8-for-39 (.205); Michael Bourn is 9-for-26 (.346) with nine strikeouts, and Andrelton Simmons and Ryan Lavarnway each is 2-for-3 against Shields.

• Etc.

Cameron Maybin is 16-for-40 (.400) with four doubles, a triple and two homers in his past 10 games, including 10-for-21 with five extra-base hits in his current streak of five two-hit games….

Will Venable, who had a two-run single to give the Padres a 3-0 lead in the second inning Monday, has a .314 career average against the Braves with 14 extra-base hits (seven homers), a .369 OBP and .526 slugging percentage in 41 games. In his past eight games against them, including six wins, he’s 13-for-31 (.419) with six RBIs.

• Here’s one from the late, great Bobby Womack, one of the finest soul singers –  make that one of the finest singers, period – of our lifetime.

“IF YOU THINK YOU’RE LONELY NOW” by Bobby Womack

Bobby Womack

Bobby Womack

I wanna dedicate this song to all the lovers tonight
And I expect that might be the whole world
Because everybody needs something or someone to love

When it’s cold outside who are you holding?
You know, if y’all don’t mind I’d like to talk about this woman of mine
She’s always complainin’ ’bout me never bein’ at home
But when I’m down broke

She’s tellin’ me about the things that her girlfriend’s got
What she ain’t got and she wants me to go out and get ’em for her
But girl, I can’t be in two places at one time

If you think you’re lonely now, huh
Wait until tonight, girl
(If you think you’re lonely now)
I’ll be long gone
(Wait until tonight, girl)
And you’ll find another man that’ll treat you right

(If you think you’re lonely now)
When I ain’t there to rub your back
(Wait until tonight, girl)
Just remember I made it a long fact

And it’s gotta just come out of the closet
And chase you all around your room
And the memories sail ’round like a ghost
And that’s a matter of fact, no joke, ah

If you think you’re lonely now
(If you think you’re lonely now)
Oh, wait until tonight
(Wait until tonight, girl)

I’ll be long gone
(If you think you’re lonely now)
And you’ll never find another man that’ll treat you right
(You just wait until tonight, girl)

(If you think you’re lonely now)
You think you’re lonely now
(Wait until tonight, girl)
Wait, wait, wait until tonight, girl

Oh, ain’t it funny how the tables turn
When things aren’t goin’ your way?
But when love runs out and the pain walks in
And settles for a stay, ooh

(If you think you’re lonely now)
Lord, help me, I feel like I wanna testify
(Wait until tonight, girl)
(If you think you’re lonely now)
Girl, wait until tonight
(Wait until tonight, girl)
If you think you’re lonely, lonely now….

(If you think you’re lonely now)
‘Cause I’ve done my time
(Wait until tonight, girl)
And it’s your turn now….

 


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