WASHINGTON – Cameron Maybin’s eighth-inning homer off Matt Thornton on Tuesday allowed the Braves to avoid being shut out and also ended a streak of 75 homerless innings pitched by the Nationals left-hander, which had been the second-longest active streak in the majors. Thornton had not allowed a homer in more than 12 months.
It was also the only hit for Maybin in his past four games (1-for-13), though the center fielder does have four walks, a stolen bases and a couple of other RBIs on groundouts in that stretch, so it’s not as if he’d been entirely unproductive during the three-game sweep of the Mets over the weekend.
Still, it’s easy to see how the Braves’ offense is dramatically affected when their best hitter, Freddie Freeman is out of the lineup in the three-hole. Couple that with the fact that the two key guys at the top of the order, Maybin and leadoff man Jace Peterson, haven’t been as potent on the road as they’ve been at home.
What it means is that rest of this road trip – two more games in Washington, then three at Pittsburgh – are potentially troublesome for the Braves unless Maybin and Peterson can get make inroads into reversing that home-road disparity thing and another hitter or two can help pick up the slack in Freeman’s absence. Because it’s not a stretch to say that that 1-2-3 trio have been the biggest part of the Braves’ better-than-expected offense, at least since late April when both Maybin and Peterson began to percolate.
Freeman was DL’d Tuesday, retroactive to June 18, so the Braves are going to have to find ways to make up for his absence if they hope to stay within arm’s reach of the suddenly surging Nationals until Freeman returns.
As I said, that would be easier to do if Peterson and Maybin can hit on the road a bit more like have at home.
Maybin has sizzled at .337 (33-for-98) with 19 RBIs in 30 games at Turner Field, where he has 17 walks, 11 strikeouts and a .436 OBP. Now contrast that with his work in 27 road games: .243 (28-for-115) with 17 RBIs, eight walks, 32 strikeouts and a .293 OBP. Look at the walks-to-strikeouts ratio. Rather startling.
Peterson has a similar disparity in average and OBP at home and on the road. In 32 home games, the first-year second baseman has hit at a .327 clip (34-for-104) with 17 walks, 20 strikeouts and a .419 OBP. In 34 road games, he’s hit .240 (31-for-129) with 13 walks, 27 strikeouts and a .308 OBP, including three strikeouts in four at-bats Tuesday night before he drew a walk to load the bases in the ninth inning.
Curiously, all three of Peterson's triples and both of his homers have come on the road, where he actually has a higher slugging percentage (.388) than at home (.375) despite a batting average that’s 87 points lower.
As we pointed out Tuesday, the Nationals certainly weren’t disappointed that Freeman would miss the series: He has a .340 career average against Washington, including a jaw-dropping .455 (45-for-99) with 16 extra-base hits (four homers) and a .697 slugging percentage in 25 games against them since the beginning of the 2014 season. Freeman was 13-for-25 (.520) with five doubles in six games the Nats this season.
The Braves mustered four hits in five scoreless innings against Stephen Strasburg on Monday. Yes, they could have used Freeman: against Strasburg, he’s 12-for-28 (.429) with three homers, nine RBIs, six walks and a .500 OBP and .821 slugging percentage.
And the Braves will miss him tonight against Nats righty Jordan Zimmermann, too: Freeman is 9-for-24 (.375) with a .464 OBP against him.
• Tonight’s matchup: Speaking of Zimmermann, he faces the Braves’ Shelby Miller tonight in what should be a good matchup of two pitchers trying to end recent streaks.
Zimmermann is 0-3 with a 7.63 ERA and .386 opponents’ average in his past three starts. But against the Braves, he’s 5-2 with a 3.15 ERA in 12 career starts, including 2-1 with a 3.19 ERA in five starts since the beginning of the 2014 season (1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in two this season, both quality starts).
The only Brave with a higher average against him than Freeman is Peterson (3-for-6). The only Brave with a homer off Zimmermann is Nick Markakis (5-for-18, one homer), who still hasn’t hit a homer this season.
Other Braves who’ve faced Zimmermann the most: Kelly Johnson is 3-for-11 (.273), Andrelton Simmons is 3-for-18 (.158), and Chris Johnson is 4-for-18.
Zimmerman is 3-3 with a 2.75 ERA in eight home starts, compared to 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in six road starts. Lefties are hitting .318 against him, with a .368 OBP and .414 slugging percentage. Righties are hitting .263/.295/.337.
Keep an eye on this: With runners in scoring position, Zimmerman has allowed a .346 average (27-for-78)
Meanwhile, Shelby Miller is trying to snap a six-start winless streak in which he’s pitched a lot better than the record would indicate. He’s 0-2 with a 2.97 ERA and .270 opponents’ average in that stretch, and has received just 1.73 support runs per nine innings pitched in those six games.
Before the winless streak, Miller was 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA, .156 opponents’ average, and 4.5 support runs per nine innings pitched. He’s 0-1 with a 4.08 ERA in his past three road starts, and the Braves scored a combined total of two runs while he was in those three games.
This is probably a good team for him to get back on track again: Miller is 2-0 with a 0.73 ERA in four career starts against the Nationals. He’s 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts at Nationals Park, where he’s allowed two unearned runs and seven hits in 12 innings, including one start in each of the previous two seasons when he was with St. Louis. Miller hasn’t faced them this season.
I'll close with this gem off Lucinda Williams' album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, one of the best 3-4 albums I've heard this year.
"EAST SIDE OF TOWN" by Lucinda Williams
You think you got problems
You don't know the half of it.
I hear you talk about you're millions, and your politics
You wanna cross the poverty line
Then you come have a look around
So why you don't come find me - on east side of town
You think you're mister do good and you know what you're talking 'bout
When you find yourself in my neighbourhood
You can't wait to get the hell out
You wanna see what it means to suffer
You wanna see what means to be down
Why don't you come over - to the east side of town
You think your dogs are mean
But you ain't see nothin' yet
I'll show you things you never seen and you wish you could forget
You wanna see how the other half lives
You wanna see how we've be around
Then why don't you come visit me on east side of town
You got your ideas and your visions,
And you say you sympathise
You look but you don't listen,
There's no empathy in your eyes
You make deals and promises, and everybody bows down
And now you wanna come shake my hand
On the east side of town
So why you don't come find me
On the east side of town
Why don't you come over
To the east side of town
Why don't you come visit me?
On east side of town