Freeman on a roll is reason to watch Braves

NEW YORK – Before the season began I said it was hard to overstate the importance of Freddie Freeman to the Braves’ offense, and that we in Atlanta sometimes forget how good he is when he’s healthy, how he’s one of those special hitters who can carry an offense when he’s really got it going.

Freddie Freeman has hit his stride, totaling 10 hits including three homers in the Braves' past four games. (AP photo)

Freddie Freeman has hit his stride, totaling 10 hits including three homers in the Braves’ past four games before Friday’s series opener against the Mets at New York. (AP photo)

For most of two months Freeman struggled like he rarely has when healthy, and with him scuffling and Ender Inciarte on the DL for five weeks, the Braves’ offense was fully exposed. It was bad most nights. Really bad.

Now look at them. It’s only been a few games this week, but look what seems to happen to the Braves’ offense when Freeman’s bat heats up. And, man, has it heated up.

In 30 games from May 12 to June 12, Freeman hit .195 (23-for-113) with eight extra-base hits (three home runs), eight RBIs, a .279 OBP and .327 slugging percentage. He had zero games with more than two hits in that span, and the Braves lost 20 of those 30 games.

In four games since then, Freeman has hit .556 (10-for-18) with six extra-base hits (three homers), six RBIs, a .600 OBP and 1.278 slugging percentage. He has three games with more than two hits in that four-game span, after having no such games in his previous 30.

The Braves went 2-2 in those past four games, and Freeman hitting for the cycle in a 13-inning win Wednesday that was capped by Chase d’Arnaud’s walk-off hit to cap a three-run final-inning comeback – hey, that was the highlight of the season, and the kind of game that gives people reason to come out other than waiting for the Braves to bring up prospects.

Yes, his four-game tear was against the Reds, whose pitching is, for the most part, flat-out awful. But Freeman had shown signs of snapping out of his long slump during the recent West Coast road trip, particularly at San Diego when he hit a couple of balls to the left-field wall, including a would-be homer caught above the fence by old friend Melvin Upton Jr.

Freeman hit balls to the wall there, and he’s hit them over the wall since. And that’s at Turner Field, a ballpark that slightly favors pitchers, not hitters. The balls he hit out weren’t fence-scrapers, either.

Now he’ll face the Mets in a three-game series beginning Friday at Citi Field, where Freeman has a .297 average in 49 games with 18 doubles, seven homers, 34 RBIs, and a .360 OBP and .497 slugging percentage.

Freeman has four of the Braves’ eight June homers, and he has 12 of the team’s 29 homers this season. He has 12 homers, and no other Brave has more than three. So, yes, it’s a lineup that’s otherwise bereft of power, unless Adonis Garcia starts to hit some long balls like he did last season. He’s also made significant progress in the past week.

Clearly, this lineup is as dependent on Freeman as any lineup in baseball is on any one player. Probably more dependent on him, to be honest. I mean, can you even imagine if the Braves were to trade him? (Some folks still seem unconvinced despite Coppy’s repeated insistence that he’s not trading Freeman.) As bad as things have been this season, the Braves without the hope of Freeman buoying their lineup through the second half of the season is a rather frightening thought.

 • Tonight’s matchup: It’s rookie John Gant, who is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in eight games, making his second major league start against former Mets ace Matt Harvey (4-8, 4.66), who hasn’t been the same since returning last year from Tommy John surgery, but who’s pitched a lot better lately than you might be thinking he has.

While Harvey’s .285 opponents’ average is third-highest among NL starters, it’s coming down – quickly.

Harvey is 1-1 with an 0.90 ERA and .127 opponents’ average in his past three starts, after going 3-7 with a 6.08 ERA and .330 opponents’ average in his first 10 starts. He has 17 strikeouts with three walks and no homers allowed in 20 innings over his past three starts, after totaling 44 strikeouts with 17 walks and eight homers allowed in 53 1/3 innings over his first 10.

Those first 10 starts included two against the Braves (April 22 and May 3) in which he gave up 15 hits and five runs in 10 2/3 innings. Before this season, Harvey had a 2.75 ERA and .162 opponents’ average in three starts against the Braves, with 21 strikeouts and nine walks in 19 2/3 innings.

Mallex Smith is 3-for-4 with a homer against him, A.J. Piezynski is 5-for-6, Freeman is 2-for-12, and Nick Markakis is 0-for-7.

Harvey’s current three-start surge began after consecutive starts against the Nationals May 19 and May 24 in which the right-hander was charged with 16 hits, 14 runs (11 earned runs) and four homers in just 7 2/3 innings. He’s given up just eight hits and two runs over his past three starts – vs. White Sox, at Miami, at Milwaukee — while working seven, seven and six innings.

For what it’s worth, Harvey is 2-5 with a 5.83 ERA in eight night games, compared to 2-3 with a 3.13 ERA in five day games. He’s allowed 59 hits including six home runs in 41 2/3 innings in night games.

Lefties are batting .321 (45-for-140) against him with a whopping 17 extra-base hits (three triples, four homers), a .373 OBP and .521 slugging percentage. Right-handers have hit .250/.285/.375 with nine extra-base hits (four homers) in 144 at-bats against him.

But again, he’s been a different pitcher in his past three starts, so we’ll see tonight if he more closely resembles the pitcher he was in the past than what he was in his first two starts against the Braves this season.

• Mets waking up: The Braves are getting neither Harvey nor the Mets at a particularly good time. The Mets, after batting just .207 with 23 runs during a 3-7 stretch through June 7, are 5-3 with a .285 average, 37 runs and 11 homers in eight games since.

Their pitching has remained rock-solid all season. The Mets’ 3.14 ERA is second in the majors behind the Cubs’ 2.66. Their starters’ 3.15 ERA is also second in the majors behind the Cubs (2.33), and Mets relievers have a 3.12 ERA that’s tied with the Nationals for third-best in the majors, behind the Royals (2.79) and Orioles (2.97).

Mets starters have a superb ratio of 366 strikeouts with 85 walks in 388 2/3 innings. (By comparison, Braves starters have 284 strikeouts and 123 walks in 369 innings). Mets starters have a walks total that is 17 fewer than the next-lowest total in the majors (Yankees, 102).

By the way, Braves pitchers lead the majors with 31 intentional walks, nearly double the NL average (16) and triple the AL average (10).

The Braves have lost 16 of their past 23 games against the Mets and been out-homered 28-10 and out-ERA’d 4.46-3.00 in that stretch. The Braves scored three or fewer runs in 16 of those 23 games, including two or fewer in 11 games.

• I’ll close with this one from the mighty, mighty Beastie Boys. And man, do I miss these guys. We could use some new smart songs from them these days. R.I.P., Yauch.

BeastieBoys_cr_PhilAndelman

Beastie Boys

“AN OPEN LETTER TO NYC” by the Beastie Boys

Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan
Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin
Black, White, New York you make it happen

Brownstones, water towers, trees, skyscrapers
Writers, prize fighters and Wall Street traders
We come together on the subway cars
Diversity unified, whoever you are
We’re doing fine on the One and Nine line
On the L we’re doin’ swell
On the number Ten bus we fight and fuss
‘Cause we’re thorough in the boroughs and that’s a must
I remember when the Duece was all porno flicks
Running home after school to play PIX * 1
At lunch I’d go to Blimpies down on Montague Street
And hit the Fulton Street Mall for the sneakers on my feet
Dear New York I hope you’re doing well
I know a lot’s happen and you’ve been through hell
So, we give thanks for providing a home
Through your gates at Ellis Island we passed in droves

Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan
Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin
Black, White, New York you make it happen

The L.I.E. the B.Q.E
Hippies at the band shell with the L.S.D.
Get my BVD’s from VIM
You know I’m reppin’ Manhattan the best I can
Stopped off at Bleeker Bob’s got thrown out
Sneakin’ in at 4:00 am after going out
You didn’t rob me in the park at Dianna Ross
But everybody started looting when the light went off
From the South South Bronx on out to Queens Bridge
From Hollis Queens right down to Bay Ridge
From Castle Hill to the Lower East Side
From 1010 WINS to Live At Five
Dear New York this is a love letter
To you and how you brought us together
We can’t say enough about all you do
‘Cause in the city were ourselves and electric too

Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan
Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin
Black, White, New York you make it happen

Shout out the South Bronx where my mom hails from
Right next to High Bridge across from Harlem
To the Grand Concourse where my mom and dad met
Before they moved on down to the Upper West
I see you’re still strong after all that’s gone on
Life long we dedicate this song
Just a little something to show some respect
To the city that blends and mends and tests
Since 911 we’re still livin’
And lovin’ life we’ve been given
Ain’t nothing gonna take that away from us
Were lookin’ pretty and gritty ’cause in the city we trust
Dear New York I know a lot has changed
2 towers down but you’re still in the game
Home to many rejecting know one
Accepting peoples of all places, wherever they’re from

Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan
Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin
Black, White, New York you make it happen


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