Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Braves' upper hand on Nats about to be tested

WASHINGTON -- The Braves are 22-7 with a 2.05 ERA in their past 29 games against the Nationals (since Aug. 22, 2012), including 5-1 with a 2.17 ERA in six games this season.

And yet, the Nats still chirped.

Their players did for all of last season as the Braves dominated the rivalry, and even their general manager couldn’t stop himself after a couple of losses to the Braves in early April.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo told The Washington Post that the Braves had “come out on the winning side of it more than we’d like,” then added, “but we feel confident against this team. We respect them, and we respect their organization. But we don’t fear them. We think we’re the better team, and at the end of the day we’re going to come out on top.”

The Braves won two of three in the April 4-6 series at Washington in the first week of the season, and swept three from the Nationals at Turner Field April 11-13. But right now, they aren’t giving the Nats – or any team – reason to fear the chop.

The teams haven’t faced each other since those April series, and they’ve been headed in opposite directions of late.

The Braves are 8-14 with a 4.76 ERA in their past 22 games, while the Nationals are 12-6 with a 2.48 ERA in their past 18.

The Braves went 17-7 with a 2.04 ERA in their first 24 games through April 27, and have since gone 19-28 with a 4.12 ERA.

After going 12-11 with a 3.49 ERA in their first 23 games, the Nationals are 25-22 with a 2.89 ERA in their past 47 games.

For the month of June, Braves pitchers rank last in the NL and 28th in the majors in opponents’ OBP (.356), and 27th in opponents’ OPS (.793). The Nats lead the NL and rank second in the majors with a .281 opponents’ OBP in June, and third in opponents’ OPS (.629).

Meanwhile, Braves hitters have a .313 OBP in June that’s tied with Tampa for 17th in the majors, and that’s despite trips to hitter-friendly ballparks in Colorado and Arizona. The Braves are 16th in the majors in scoring for the month, have the majors’ third-most strikeouts for the month (fewer than only the Marlins and Cubs), and rank dead last in the majors with one sacrifice fly in June. No other team has fewer than two, and nine teams have seven or more sac flies this month.

For the season, the Braves are 29th in the majors in runs (258), ahead of only the Padres. The Braves are fifth in strikeouts (616), 19th in walks (205), and tied for 10th in homers (70).

 The Braves’ starting rotation still ranks fourth in the majors with a 3.34 ERA, but that number has risen steadily in recent weeks and isn’t far below 5.00 for the month. The bullpen started the season shaky, leveled off for a bit, and has looked worn and inconsistent again in recent weeks.

Braves relievers are currently tied for 13th in the majors with a 3.55 ERA and rank 19th in opponents’ OBP (.328) and 10th in opponents’ OPS (.668). Last season Braves relievers led the majors in ERA (2.46) and opponents’ OPS (.607) and finished second in opponents’ OBP (.292).

To recap, that’s a drop from first to 13th in ERA for Braves relievers since last season, and from second to 19th in opponents’ OBP.

The Nationals' majors-best 2.54 bullpen ERA is now a full run lower than the Braves' bullpen ERA.

 • Gattitude adjustment: While the Nats now have legitimate reason to have some of that “Natitude” they promoted with the slogan on the outfield wall, the Braves haven’t had much to crow about lately other than their streaking, slugging catcher.

Evan Gattis continues to rake through the team’s overall recent slumber, and enters the Nats series with a 17-game hitting streak in which he’s 27-for-69 (.391) with three doubles and a whopping eight homers, 20 RBIs and .783 slugging percentage.

It’s the longest active hitting streak in the majors and the longest for a Braves franchise catcher since at least 1900.

In his past 48 games, Gattis has  hit .306 (52-for-170) with 22 extra-base hits, 15 homers, 36 RBIs, a .364 OBP and a .618 slugging percentage.

He’s seen significant improvement since making adjustments to his stance that have enabled him to cover more of the plate and get to pitches away and low, areas where he previously had a hole in his swing that opponents expoited. Most importantly, he’s been able to avoid chasing bad pitches, a problem in the past. He’s not getting behind in counts nearly as often as before.

Gattis has hit .313 with 7 HRs and a .638 slugging percentage in 80 at-bats with runners on base this season. As a rookie in 2013, he hit .250 with 10 homers and a .473 slugging percentage in 184 at-bats with runners on base.

He already has hit five homers (with a .173 average) in 81 at-bats with two strikes, after hitting six homers (with a .125 average) in 160 at-bats with two strikes as a rookie.

By the way, Gattis has homered in two of his past four games at Nationals Park, including the only game he played there in the April series in the first weekend of the season.

 • J-Hey on rise: The other big performer in the Braves lineup for a sustained period is Jason Heyward, who has raised his average with runners in scoring position to a team-best .348 (16-for-46). That ranks eventh in the NL, just behind the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig (.350) and ahead of the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter (.345). Troy Tulowitizki leads the majors at .400.

Heyward was moved from leadoff to fifth in the order on Wednesday as manager Fredi Gonzalez tried to get the offense going by shaking up the lineup.

Beginning April 20, Heyward has hit .290 with 17 extra-base hits and a .363 OBP in his past 53 games. In his past 35 games, the big right fielder is 43-for-142 (.303) with six homers, 19 RBIs, a .381 OBP and .472 slugging percentage.

Day-game doldrums: There’s only one day game  (Sunday) in this four-game series against the Nats, and for the Braves that’s a good thing. Atlanta hit just.212 with a .332 slugging percentage in day games, compared to .258 with a .405 slugging percentage in night games.

That explains the Braves’ 9-13 record in day games and 27-22 record in night games, despite having a 3.52 ERA in day games that’s not significantly higher than their 3.35 ERA in night games.

• Opening matchup: It’ll be Gavin Floyd facing the Nats’ white-hot Jordan Zimmermann in tonight’s series opener.

Floyd has a 2.31 ERA in four road starts, but just a 1-2 road record to show for it. The win came June 9 at Colorado, where he allowed three hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings for his first Braves win in his seventh overall start.

He’s 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA  in six starts against the Nationals. His only start against them in the past four seasons was an April 2013 loss at Washington in which he gave up nine hits and five runs in 5 1/3 innings.

Denard Span is  17-for-38 (.447) against Floyd, Ian Desmond is 4-for-6, and Adam LaRoche is 2-for-11 with a homer and four strikeouts.

Zimmermann is on a tear, going 2-1 with a 0.36 ERA in three June starts, with 21 strikeouts and two walks in 25 innings. He had 12 strikeouts in a two-hit shutout June 8 at San Diego.

He’s 3-1 with a 2.98 ERA in eight career starts against the Braves, with 45 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings. Zimmermann got no decision April 4 when he allowed four hits and one run with nine strikeouts in five innings of a Braves win in Washington.

Justin Upton is 5-for-14 against Zimmermann, while Heyward is 3-for-12 with a homer, Freddie Freeman is 3-for-13 and B.J. Upton is 2-for-10 with four strikeouts. Also, Andrelton Simmons is 2-for-7 against Zimmermann, Gattis is 1-for-5 with a homer, and Jordan Schafer is 1-for-8.

  • Etc.

  Justin Upton has a .299 average with five homers and a .517 slugging percentage in 23 games at Nationals Park, while Freddie Freeman has a .283 average but just one homer in 30 games (106 at-bats) at the park that still doesn’t have a corporate sponsor even though they’ve tried long and hard to find one willing to pay a price the Nats deem suitable for naming rights.

• Here's a, ahem, killer tune from one of the all-time rockers, the late, great Joe Strummer. Listen to it by clicking here.

"LOVE KILLS" by Joe Strummer

Walking out of England thinking you were king

Taking on this world, on that bus that goes through Mexico

A killer love finds a sweet Mexican girl

But in Mississippi we rushed into the room

Down in Dixie you were crying for dope

Down in Alabama, they like home cooked fare, yeah

So we're gonna strap you to the frying chair, yeah

But I don't know what love is

Is there something else giving me the chills?

But if my hands are the color of blood

Then baby, I can tell ya, sure I can tell ya

Love kills, kills, love kills, kills

Do you wanna hear all the sirens

Of the city drown the arguing?

We're on Rikers Island on a population board

They don't care about your fame

But I don't know what love is

Is there something else giving me the chills?

But if my hands are the color of blood

Then baby, I can tell ya, sure I can tell ya

Love kills, kills, love kills, kills

On the Rio Grande they'll tie you to a tree

Ooh, oh, ohh, ooh, oh, ohh

And you can't call the lawyers

'Cause the whorehouse is asleep

Ohh, oh, ohh, ooh, oh, ohh

You people will get weak

Ohh, oh, ohh, ooh, oh, ohh

They'll throw you in a cell

Where you can barely breathe

Ohh, oh, ohh, ooh, oh, ohh

But I don't know what love is

Is there something else giving me the chills?

But if my hands are the color of blood

Then baby, I can tell ya, sure I can tell ya

Love kills, kills, love kills, kills



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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.