CINCINNATI – Most players, coaches and managers will tell you that losing by one run is the most painful way to lose, particularly when it's a game you should have won. Like, for instance, the Braves’ 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, when they led 2-0 until the eighth inning.
Next thing you know, after a leadoff walk, a hanging breaking ball on a 0-2 pitch, a wild pitch on a breaking ball in the dirt, and an error in left field … the Braves had squandered a chance to sweep a second consecutive series and extend their winning streak to six games.
Instead, they had their 20th one-run loss of the season, matching their total in that category from 2013. They went 27-20 in one-run decisions last season and are 21-20 in those games this season. In 2012, the Braves were a stellar 25-13 in games decided by one run.
“I think my first year here (2012) was probably the easiest year I’ve ever had,” Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said the other day, when I asked him before the series opener at Pittsburgh about how tough this maddeningly inconsistent season has been on him.
“Even the year we won the World Series in Chicago (he was the 2005 White Sox hitting coach), we won a lot of one-run games. Last year we had a great one-run record; that’s probably one area where we’re not as good this year. We haven’t gotten the big hit.
“That’s kind of what we’ve missed this year as a team, for me. Getting the big hit, getting the big out. Making the big play. And in the last two weeks we’ve faced some really good pitching. But when you looked at the schedule and saw that stretch, you knew we were going to.”
The period Walker referred to included the Braves’ 0-8 road trip that ended Aug. 6 at Seattle, during which they faced the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, among others. The Braves lost four one-run games on that trip to extend a streak to 0-9 in games decided by one run during a 9-18 stretch from July 6 through Aug. 6.
“I really think we’re back in the fight now,” Walker said in Pittsburgh, speaking in general terms about the Braves’ rebound from that eight-game skid. “We got kind of knocked on our heels and we didn’t play good baseball for about two weeks. But other than that….”
They went 4-0 in one-run games in an 8-4 stretch after the losing skid and were back at .500 in one-run games before losing 3-2 Wednesday at Pittsburgh.
The Braves had a five-game winning streak, but made up no ground on NL East leader Washington because the Nationals haven’t lost a game since leaving Atlanta a week and a half ago. The Nationals are on a 9-0 winning streak that includes six one-run wins and three consecutive walk-off wins.
That’s something you don’t see often, and it’s allowed the Nationals to push their lead over the Braves to a season-high seven games.
One-run games. They can be painful or exhilarating, depending which side of the outcome you’re on. They can also be crucial difference-makers in a season, in a playoff race.
The Braves are staring at a seven-game deficit now in the East with 35 games to play. They are 1 ½ games behind San Francisco for the second wild-card spot, with the Pirates only a game behind the Braves and the Marlins still hanging around 2 ½ games behind Atlanta.
“It was definitely tough,” said Braves reliever David Carpenter, who got the loss Wednesday after giving up the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly following a two-base error on a fly ball by left fielder Justin Upton. “Even more disappointing, it’s a game we should have had. Woody (Alex Wood) pitched his ass off. You can’t ask for anything more.
“We just needed a few things to kind of go our way there, and they didn’t. That’s the game. We’ve still got to look at it as a positive. We took five straight. We took the series; that’s what it’s all about. If we can win series, we have a real good shot at this. You’ve just got to look at it from that perspective. You can’t let one game stop the momentum we built up. That’s just the way we’re looking at it right now.”
• Speaking of Wood: The hard-luck lefty is 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA and .200 opponents’ average in his past five starts, and in his three non-wins in that span the Braves scored a total of four runs during the 20 innings that he was in those games.
Wood now has the fifth-lowest run support among NL starters at 3.32 runs per nine innings pitched.
• Braves vs. Reds: The Braves are 7-3 against the Reds since the beginning of the 2013 season, including 2-1 at Cincinnati. The Braves swept a three-game series April 25-27 in Atlanta in the only previous meeting between the teams this season.
The Braves lead the National League with a 17-8 record (.680 winning percentage) against NL Central teams this season. The Cardinals (30-19, .612) have the second-best winning percentage against Central teams.
• Like seeing red (and/or this ballpark): Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons is is 15-for-39 (.385) with four doubles, three homers and a .718 slugging percentage in 10 career games against the Reds, including 8-for-13 with two doubles, two homers and four RBIs in three games at Cincinnati….
Emilio Bonifacio has a .364 career average (32-for-88) with 10 extra-base hits and a .412 OBP in 25 games against the Reds, including .350 (14-for-40) with one homer and five RBIs in 12 games at Cincinnati.
Justin Upton has a .310 career average with 17 extra-base hits (seven homers), 19 RBIs and a .365 OBP in 38 games against the Reds, but only a .227 average (15-for-66) with one homer in 18 games at Cincy’s so-called Great American Small Park.
Jason Heyward has also struggled at Cincinnati, going 7-for-40 with one homer in 10 games at the hitter-friendly ‘yard. And Freddie Freeman is 8-for-34 (.235) witn no homers in nine games at Cincinnati.
- Heyward rf
- Gosselin 2b
- Freeman 1b
- JUpton lf
- Johnson 3b
- Gattis c
- Simmons ss
- BUpton cf
- Teheran p
• But they come in hot: The Braves’ big three, that is. Upton, Heyward and Freeman all enter the Cincy series on good rolls.
Freeman has hit .362 (34-for-94) with 11 extra-base hits (three homers) in his past 25 games, with a .450 OBP and .553 slugging percentage.
Justin Upton is 14-for-37 (.378) with four homers, 15 RBIs and a .489 OBP and .757 slugging percentage during an 11-game hitting streak.
Heyward is 22-for-68 (.324) with six extra-base hits, a .368 OBP and .456 slugging percentage in his past 17 games. Heyward has hit a league-worst .161 (19-for-119) with a .231 OBP and .229 slugging percentage against lefties, compared to .306 with a .392 OBP and .445 slugging percentage in 346 at-bats against right-handers. (The Braves face a lefty tonight.)
However, Heyward has hit 44 points higher on the road (.292 with a .366 OBP) than at home (.248 with a .339 OBP).
• Tonight’s matchup: On paper, it’s a mismatch with Julio Teheran (11-9, 3.06) facing rookie lefty David Holmberg (0-0, 16.88).
Teheran has struggled some recently and has a 3-4 record, 4.97 ERA and .291 opponents’ average in his past eight starts. He’s allowed 58 hits, 28 runs and eight homers in 50 2/3 innings in that stretch, albeit with 45 strikeouts and 15 walks.
He’s been far more effective at Turner Field this season. Teheran has a 6-7 with a 4.27 ERA and .265 opponents’ average in 13 road starts, compared to 5-2 with a 1.95 ERA and .203 OA in 13 home starts
In his past eight road starts, Teheran is 2-5 with a 5.64 ERA and .309 opponents’ average. That includes an Aug. 6 loss at Seattle in his last road start, when he gave up nine hits, six runs and two homers in six innings.
In two starts against the Reds, Teheran is 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA and .208 opponents’ average. He threw eight scoreless innings of three-hit ball against them on April 27 in Atlanta, but got no decision in the Braves’ 1-0, 10-inning win.
Against Teheran, Jay Bruce is 2-for-6 with a home run, Zack Cozart is 1-for-5 with three strikeouts, Todd Frazier is 0-for-5, and Brandon Phillips is 0-for-6.
He’ll face Holmberg, whose only major league appearance this season was a July 8 start at home against the Cubs, when he gave up seven hits, five runs, three homers and three walks in just 2 2/3 innings. Left-handed hitters were 2-for-3 with two homers against him in that game, while righties were 5-for-11 with a double and a homer.
His only other career game in the big leagues was an August 2013 start at home against the Padres, when Holmberg gave up six hits, three runs and three walks in 3 2/3 innings. He has a career 11.37 ERA and .433 opponents’ average.
No Braves have faced Holmberg in the regular season.
• Birthday boy: B.J. Upton, who turns 30 today, has hit .137 (7-for-51) with a .241 OBP and .294 slugging percentage in August, with two doubles, two homers, four RBIs, seven walks and 19 strikeouts in 16 games.
• 2015 schedule: The Triple-A Gwinnett Braves released theirs today. The Braves and other major league teams haven’t announced their schedules yet, but from what I hear the Braves will be opening in Florida and the season will start several days earlier than it did this year.
• Let’s close this with this one, "Rebel Waltz", from the late, great Joe Strummer, who would’ve been 62 today. Voice of a generation, frontman of my favorite band The Clash, a brilliant, thoughtful artist who once, when asked what he’d like to be known as, said “Punk Rock Warlord”. Raise a glass to St. Joe Strummer. And let’s go ahead and make it a two-tune tribute today, because it's Joe Strummer we're talking about. Click here for "Coma Girl" from the second half of his career with the Mescaleros.
“REBEL WALTZ” by The Clash (Joe Strummer)
I slept and I dreamed of a time long ago
I saw an army of rebels, dancing on air
I dreamed as I slept, I could see the campfires,
A song of the battle, that was born in the flames,
and the rebels were waltzing on air.
I danced with a girl to the tune of a waltz
that was written to be danced on the battlefield
I danced to the tune of a voice of a girl
A voice that called "Stand till we fall
we stand till all the boys fall."
As we danced came the news that the war was not won
5 armies were coming, with carrige and gun
Through the heart of the camp
swept the news from the front
A cloud crossed the moon, a child cried for food
We knew the war could not be won.
So we danced with a rifle, to the rhythm of the gun
in a glade through the trees i saw my only one
Then the earth seemed to rise hell hot as the sun
The soldiers were dying, there was tune to the sighing.
The song was an old rebel one.
As the smoke of our hopes rose high from the field
My eyes played tricks through the moon and the trees
I slept as I dreamed I saw the army rise
A voice began to call, stand till you fall
The tune was an old rebel one.