Just game 2, but Braves could really use a win tonight

Tonight’s game against the Nationals is the second date of the Braves’ season, merely one of 162 games in the six-month marathon. Or is it?

Here are reasons why, to me, it seems slightly more important for the Braves than a typical April 6 tilt. (And please keep in mind, I’m one who usually spends a lot of time trying to get people to keep individual games or series in proper perspective.)

Braves face Stephen Strasburg tonight. He's not allowed a run in his last three starts vs. Atlanta. (AP photo)

Braves face Stephen Strasburg tonight. He’s not allowed a run in his last three starts vs. Atlanta. (AP photo)

1. The Braves need to avoid being swept in another series by the Nationals, even if just a two-game series. They were swept by the Nats in three of six series last season, but at least the Braves avoided being swept in any of their three home series against them, winning one of those and splitting another. Last thing they need is to further stoke the Nationals’ feelings of superiority over the Braves or feed the arrogance of some Nats fans.

2. With a weird schedule that features two off days in the first four days, the Braves need to avoid another loss followed by another off day for local fans to think about how bad this team’s been recently and why they don’t want to go out and see them until they start winning again. Besides, I noticed sports-radio guys already talking the NFL draft instead of baseball. (Hold on … Being told that never stopped. Nevermind.)

 3. The Cardinals arrive for a three-game series Friday through Sunday, and the Braves certainly don’t want to lug an 0-2 record into that series, then see thousands and thousands of red-clad Cardinals fans filling much of Turner Field and cheering for the opposing team. That’s no way to finish out the first Atlanta homestand of the season, especially before the Braves hit the road four a seven-game series that starts in….

4. … Washington, where the Braves were 0-10 last season at Nationals Park, just the 7th time since 1900 that a team was winless at an opponents’ ballpark in a season in which they played at least nine games. So, yes, the Braves need to win tonight to avoid being winless before facing the Cardinals and then heading to D.C.

 5. Strasburg. Yes, that guy. It’s their first of probably four to six matchups this season against Stephen Strasburg, the guy the Braves used to beat up on. Lately he’s gotten his revenge, and the Braves need to reverse that recent trend of being dominated by the right-hander and get back to being a thorn in his side. Strasburg was 3-7 with a 4.61 ERA in his first 16 starts against Atlanta but in his past three he’s 3-0 with 0.00 ERA, allowing 15 hits, no runs (earned or unearned) and two walks with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings. And tonight he faces Bud Norris.  Did we mention that it’s going to probably be a challenge for the Braves to win tonight?

6. Fans. Did we mention many of them are really tired of losing? Even some who are onboard with the rebuilding plan would still like to at least see the team be competitive early, so the entire 162-game grind doesn’t feel like that brutal second half of the 2015, when injuries and trades contributed to a total meltdown and the Braves’ 42-42 start ended in a 67-95 record that was franchise’s worst in a quarter-century.

To be competitive, the Braves have to avoid late-innings mistakes like the ones made in the ninth and 10th innings of Monday’s opener, when they took a 3-2 lead in the eighth, only to see a dropped ball and a bad throw lead to the tying run in the ninth and the winning run in the 10th for a 4-2 loss. This team isn’t good enough to waste chances like that, and isn’t good enough to give the other team extra outs, especially late.

By the way, how bad has it been recently for the Braves? Glad you asked.

Two years ago in 2014, the Braves started out 17-7 with a 2.04 ERA. In 301 games since then, they have a 129-172 record and 4.04 ERA with 1,060 runs scored and 196 homers. There were five major league teams that hit more homers last season than the Braves have hit in their past 301 games, and two others, the Dodgers (187) and Rockies (186), that hit almost as many last seasons as the Braves have in that nearly two-year span.

• Very saddened today over the death of one of my all-time favorite artists, Merle Haggard, who didn’t just belong of the figurative Mount Rushmore of country music, but was one of the greatest American recording artists of any genre. R.I.P., Hag. You’ll be missed every day. Say hello to Johnny, Waylon, George and Hank. Here’s one of the many, many masterpieces from Merle.

“MAMA TRIED” by Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard

The first thing I remember knowing
Was a lonesome whistle blowing
And a young’un’s dream of growing up to ride
On a freight train leaving town
Not knowing where I’m bound
And no one could change my mind but Mama triedOne and only rebel child
From a family meek and mild
My mama seemed to know what lay in store
Despite all my Sunday learning
Towards the bad I kept on turning
Till Mama couldn’t hold me anymoreAnd I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole
No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried
Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied
That leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried

Dear old Daddy, rest his soul
Left my mom a heavy load
She tried so very hard to fill his shoes
Working hours without rest
Wanted me to have the best
She tried to raise me right but I refused

And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole
No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried
Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied
That leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried




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