On the 73rd birthday of Bobby Cox – happy birthday, Skipper -- it’s only appropriate the Braves have finally snapped out of their malaise and will try to extend their winning streak to four games tonight while also aiming to improve to 5-1 against the NL Central-leading Brewers.
Don’t you think it’d be appropriate for Fredi Gonzalez to wear steel spikes tonight in tribute to his mentor, Cox? (Bobby clanged around in spikes throughout his managerial career, as did Jim Leyland. No more old-school managers doing that today, regrettably. And don't ask me why it's regrettable, it just is.)
The Braves are 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA against the Brewers, and have put up 20 runs and nine homers in a four-game winning streak against them after losing on Opening Day at Milwaukee. The Brewers went 26-15 against everyone else in-between losing the last two games of that opening series and losing the past two nights here in Atlanta. They’ve hit .190 and scored seven runs in five games against Atlanta, and been shut out twice by the Braves including last night by Julio Teheran.
Before we turn the page on Teheran until his next rotation turn, we should point out just how good the 23-year-old budding ace has been: With his 128-pitch, six-hit shutout Tuesday, he became the first Braves starter to throw multiple shutouts in a season since Greg Maddux fired three in 2001. And Teheran is the first under-25 Braves starter to do it since Steve Avery pitched two shutouts in 1992 at age 22.
Teheran lowered his ERA to 1.92 and his home ERA to 1.40, fourth-best among NL starters in both categories, while reducing his opponents’ batting average to .196, sixth in the NL and one spot ahead of Tim Hudson (.206).
On a side note, Braves hitters have already faced everyone in the current top five in opponents’ batting average: Johnny Cueto (.146), Adam Wainwright (.185), Jose Fernandez (.188), Jason Hammel (.190) and Tom Koehler (.191).
Getting back to Teheran, he’s also sixth in the league in opponents’ OBP (.256) and seventh in opponents’slugging percentage (.316), a couple of spots ahead of teammate Aaron Harang (.327) in the latter.
Teheran, Harang and the guy going tonight, Ervin Santana, are big reasons that Braves pitchers are the majors’ overall ERA leader at 2.76, having moved back ahead of Oakland (2.86), the only other team lower than 3.14. And they are big reasons that Atlanta starters continue to lead the majors in ERA at 2.66, ahead of Detroit (2.82) and Oakland (2.88), the only other teams really even close to them through the first quarter of the season.
• J-Up sparks resurgence: After going 5-12 with a .211 batting average, 40 runs, nine homers and a 4.04 ERA in a 17-game stretch through Saturday, the Braves are 3-0 with a .306 batting average, 20 runs, seven homers and a 1.67 ERA in their past three games at St. Louis and against the Brewers.
Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Ryan Doumit and others have had some big recent hits, but there’s no bigger reason for the Braves’ three-game offense outburst than Justin Upton.
J-Up went 9-for-51 (.176) with one homer, one RBI, six walks, 19 strikeouts and a .276 OBP and .294 slugging percentage in his first 14 games in May. In the past three games, he’s 5-for-10 with three homers, six RBIs, two walks and one strikeout.
And his staggering home/road disparity continues past the season’s quarter pole. In his past 20 home games, Upton has hit .397 (27-for-68) with nine homers, 18 RBIs, a .494 OBP and .868 slugging percentage. He leads the majors with nine homers in 22 home games, ahead of Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki (eight) and Minnesota’s Brian Dozier (eight).
Meanwhile, Upton has played a total of 20 road games this season and hit .195 (15-for-77) with three homers, seven RBIs, a .267 OBP and .364 slugging percentage.
For his career, J-Up has hit .285/.399/.535 with 89 homers and 271 RBIs in 459 home games, and .272/.342/.460 with 58 homers and 187 RBIs in 463 road games.
• Tonight’s matchup: It’s another strong one, with Santana (4-1, 2.76) facing the Brewers’ Kyle Lohse (5-1, 2.88).
Santana is 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA in three home starts (1-1 with a 4.00 ERA in three road starts). He has a .221 opponents average in three home starts with 20 strikeouts, two walks and no homers allowed.
Before giving up season-highs of 10 hits and five runs in a season-low five innings in his last start Friday at St. Louis, Santana had been 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA in six starts. He’s faced the Brewers only once, in a loss in 2010 (five innings, 10 hits, six runs).
Against Santana, Lyle Overbay is 5-for-27 with a homer and eight strikeouts, and Carlos Gomez is 2-for-11 with five strikeouts.
Lohse has allowed three runs or fewer in every start this season, and pitched six or more innings in eight of nine starts. He’s 3-0 with a 3.52 ERA in five road starts, compared to 2-1 with a 2.20 ERA in four road starts. The Brewers have scored 6.5 runs per nine innings he’s pitched on the road.
Lohse has a .267 opponents’ average and .331 opponents’ OBP on the road, compared to .212/.222 at home.
Against the Braves, he’s 4-2 with a 4.22 ERA in 12 starts, the losses coming in his first start against them in 2002 and his most recent start against them on April 1 in the second game of the seasoen. He gave up five hits and three runs in seven innings of that game, including homers by Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman.
Freeman is 4-for-5 with two homers against the righty, and Heyward is 4-for-10 with a homer against him. Others who’ve faced Lohse plenty including Ryan Doumit (6-for-21 with two homers), B.J. Upton (4-for-12), Chris Johnson (2-for-16), and Justin Upton (2-for-20 with six strikeouts).
Braves pitchers have a 1.54 ERA in 105 innings pitched with Gerald Laird catching, and a 3.18 ERA in 271 2/3 innings pitched with Evan Gattis catching. Teheran has allowed nine hits and no runs in 17 innings with Laird catching, and has 13 strikeouts with four walks…. Heyward has a solid .281 average (18-for-64) and .373 OBP in 17 May games, although 15 of his 18 hits have been singles. He has two doubles and one homer for the month, with eight runs, three RBIs and four stolen bases in five attempts.
• In tribute to Bobby Cox, here’s one from the great Merle Haggard, whose parents were born in Oklahoma and moved to the fertile farmland of California’s Central Valley to find a better life, much as Cox's folks did (Bobby was born in Tulsa but his parents moved west when he was a youngster).
“WORKING MAN BLUES” by Merle Haggard