NEW YORK – Chatting with Greg Walker over a week ago at Pittsburgh, early in this three-city road trip, back when the Braves were four games into a five-game winning streak, the Atlanta hitting coach was pointing out how many young players this team has and folks tend to forget since guys like Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward have been around for years.
The subject came up because I’d asked him how tough this rollercoaster ride of a Braves season must be for the hitting coach.
He made that comment about how young many of the Braves’ key players were and said they’re at a stage in their lives where some of them have issues – starting big-league careers, getting married, starting families, living up to new long-term contracts or trying to get one, etc. -- that outsiders might not know or consider, and quickly made it clear he wasn't making any excuses. He was just pointing something out for me.
I said, yeah, it’s not like they’re all established 28-year-old veteran players who’ve got it figured out.
“Somebody is going to coach these guys when they are 28 years old, and it’s going to be easier,” Walker replied. “It’s fun now. A lot of fun. I enjoy the guys, I enjoy the job. But it’s … a lot or our players are young. Another set of issues.”
The Braves won that night to extend their winning streak.
But after going 5-0 with a 2.60 ERA, .299 batting average, 33 runs and 10 homers in five games through Aug. 19, they have since gone 2-4 with a 2.01 ERA but a .219 batting average, 18 runs and three homers in six games.
They’ve totaled 20 hits (.211 average) and five runs during their current three-game losing skid.
A near-perfect microcosm of the 2014 Braves, who are 7 1/2 games behind NL East leader Washington with 30 to play, and 1 1/2 games behind San Francisco for the second NL wild-card spot.
By the way, for the record the Braves opened the season as the National League’s youngest team (27.255 average age) and the second-youngest in the majors behind the Astros. After making some midseason trades – Emilio Bonifacio, James Russell – and callups that swapped out a few younger players for older ones, the Braves’ average age of 28.036 ranks as third-youngest in the NL.
And no, let me make this clear: This is absolutely NOT me making an excuse for the Braves’ overall disappointing offensive performance so far this season. Not my place to do that. Merely pointing out a fact, one that was noted by the hitting coach. They are who they are. There won’t be any excuse-making from me – and I haven’t heard any from them either, to their credit -- for performing as they have.
• Braves vs. Mets: Who would have imagined the out-of-contention Mets would have a better record since the All-Star break (17-20) than the playoff-hopeful Braves (16-21).
Not only that, the Braves’ 3-2 loss in Tuesday’s series opener made it four losses in their past five games against the Mets to leave Atlanta one game over .500 (17-16) against the Metropolitans since the beginning of the 2013 season. The Braves have scored three runs or fewer in each of their past six games against them.
Rather remarkably, the Braves have not hit a homer in their past nine games against the Mets. They are 4-5 with a 3.31 ERA and 28 runs scored in those nine games going back to a 14-inning, 4-3 loss in a series finale at Citi Field. Seven of those past nine games between the teams have been decided by one or two runs.
• J-Up keeps it up: He had a walk and three of the Braves’ eight hits Monday, including an RBI double, and Justin Upton in his past 35 games has hit .331 (41-for-124) with 18 extra-base hits (eight homers), 32 RBIs, 20 walks, .416 OBP, .613 slugging percentage.
The Braves are 15-20 in those games.
“We’ve just got to keep our heads up,” he said after Monday’s loss. “We’ve just got to keep playing. Results are results. There’s nothing we can do about that, we’ve just got to continue to try to play better, play better baseball and try not to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
• It’s not the pitching: The Braves have the third-best ERA (3.24) in the NL since the All-Star break, but have the league’s fourth-worst record (16-20) since the break, better than only the Reds (12-25), Rockies (13-23) and Diamondbacks (15-21). The three teams with worse records all rank in the bottom six in the league in ERA since the break.
• Two downturns: Shortstop Andrelton Simmons went 12-for-25 (.480) with seven RBIs and six consecutive two-hit games to begin the month of July. Since then, he’s 26-for-122 (.213) in 34 games with eight extra-base hits, 14 RBIs and a .278 OBP, and has grounded into six double plays.
Rookie second baseman Tommy La Stella hit his first major league home run on Aug. 8. Since then he’s gone 6-for-40 (.150) in 13 games with one double, four RBIs, four walks, seven strikeouts, .227 OBP, .175 slugging percentage.
• Tonight’s matchup: It should be a real good one, with Julio Teheran (12-9, 2.96) facing surging right-hander Zack Wheeler (9-8, 3.48), the pride of Paulding County just outside of Atlanta.
Teheran is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and .200 opponents’ average in his past two starts, after going 2-4 with a 5.24 ERA and .300 OA in his previous seven starts. He has only four strikeouts in 12 innings over his past two starts, but allowed just four hits in six innings in each game -- at home against Oakland and at Cincinnati, where he pitched six shutout innings Thursday.
Teheran is 7-7 with a 3.99 ERA and .260 opponents’ average in 14 road starts, compared with 5-2 and a 1.95 ERA and .203 OA in 13 home starts. He was 2-5 with a 5.64 ERA and .309 opponents’ average in a stretch of seven road games before shutting out the Reds for six innings Thursday.
Against the Mets, Teheran was 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA in his first five starts, before giving up 11 hits and five runs in 3 1/3 innings of his most recent outing against them, a July 8 loss at Citi Field.
Against Teheran, Eric Young is 5-for-11, Curtist Granderson is 2-for-4 with a homer, David Wright is 3-for-11 with a homer, and Ruben Tejada is 1-for-12.
Wheeler is 6-0 with a 2.12 ERA and .215 opponents’ average in his past 10 starts, with 57 strikeouts and 28 walks in 63 2/3 innings. The Mets averaged 5.9 runs per nine innings he pitched in that span.
Wheeler is 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA in his past four home starts, after losing his previous three in a row. He’s allowed two or fewer runs in each of his past four home starts while pitching into the seventh inning in all and lasting 6 2/3 innings three times.
Against his hometown team, the Braves, Wheeler is 3-1 with a 3.50 ERA in six starts over two seasons, including 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA in three this season.
Freddie Freeman is 6-for-11 with a homer, five RBIs, six walks and a .667 OBP against him, and Jason Heyward is 6-for-15 with a homer. B.J. Upton is 3-for-8 against Wheeler, but Justin Upton is 0-for-15 with six strikeouts and Chris Johnson is 2-for-17.
Here's one off the great new Spoon album, They Want My Soul. You can listen to it by clicking here.
“NEW YORK KISS” by Spoon
Yes, I got shook up
But bets are good
It took it to another 'til I go back
Now when I show up
It's gonna hit me good
It's gonna blow my mind
Just like the first time
You told me by the neon sign
And then your New York kiss
I knew your New York kiss
Now it's another place
A place your memory owns
I come fast
I look past
And I know that it won't get to me at all
Until I go there
And then it hits me clear and sharp
The streets are empty, there's no one 'round
It's a far-off shout, it's a far-off shout
Just like it was when next day came up
And it felt so tough
From your New York kiss
Mmm, your New York kiss
Now it's just another place
A place your memory owns
Another place that you own
And it ain't goin' back
Caught up inside of it, yeah
Caught up in the moment
Got it right
Oh there ain't a thing I miss
Not like your New York kiss
Not like your New York kiss
But now it's just another place
A place your memory owns
Right now I know no other time
Right now I know no other place
I say good night