Atlanta Braves Blog

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

Struggling Braves vs. skidding Red Sox: Let's play 4



BOSTON – ESPN figured this Braves vs. Red Sox game would be attractive when it scheduled it way back for tonight’s Monday Night Baseball broadcast. Of course, they couldn’t have predicted the rain that’s fallen all day in Boston with temperatures in the upper 50s, threatening at least a delay of tonight’s game.

Nor could they have anticipated the home nine from Boston would limp into this game lugging a six-game losing streak, while the Braves would enteri without a series win in their past six tries, and with eight losses in their past 12 games despite a .300 team batting average and 60 runs scored in that stretch.

But things happen. Suspension- and injury-plagued bullpens implode (Braves). Big-budget teams woefully underperform (Red Sox).

The Braves have lost 12 of their past 20 games entering this unpopular home-and-home, back-to-back pair of two-game series against the Red Sox. (I say unpopular because I don’t know a single person connected with a team, from players and coaches to team officials, broadcasters or beat writers, who like this setup; just play three or four in one city one year, three or four in the other the next, if the schedule doesn’t allow for three-game series in both locations in the same season. OK, down off my soapbox now.)

The Braves have lost 12 of 20 despite batting .275 in that stretch. They’ve done it primarily by posting a 4.70 ERA in those 20 games, which began with a 10-game trip to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Arizona. The Braves have not won any series beginning with that one at Dodger Stadium, where they lost two of three games. They’ve lost two of three in four different series, and split a four-game series against the Giants and Padres.

But it’s that 4-8 stretch in the last 12 that’s really got to make Braves officials cringe, or break something. I mean, in today’s game it’s hard to hit .300 and score 60 runs in a 12-game stretch and still lose eight of them. But when you consider the Braves have lost all three games in which they’ve scored eight or more runs in that span, well, it says a lot.

They have a 4.91 ERA and have suffered repeated bullpen collapses in that 4-8 stretch, along with several bad perforamances from starters and some sloppy work from catcher Christian Bethancourt that cost them two runs late in one game. (He was sent down after another passed ball in Sunday’s game, if you haven’t heard. Here’s the story.)

But for those of you who think no one is struggling more than the Braves, well, New Englanders would beg to differ.

The Red Sox are 0-6 with a 6.96 ERA in their past six games. And I know what some of you are thinking: The Braves were riding a 10-game skid last season before they faced the Braves -- then proceeded to sweep four in a row from them, two in each town.

But while that Boston team wasn’t scoring any runs in that 0-10 stretch – just 26 total runs – they still had a vaunted pitching staff. And no one thought their offense would remain moribund, which it didn’t. They scored 22 runs in the four-game sweep of the Braves, then outscored the Rays 14-3 to sweep them, too, for a seven-game winning streack following the 10-game slide.

The current Red Sox malaise is a different animal altogether. Their pitching isn’t even remotely as good as last season, and the Red Sox just allowed allowed 13 runs twice while being swept by Toronto. At home. Yes, they were crushed in a three-game weekend series at Fenway.

Boston is 8-17 with a 4.45 ERA and only 96 runs scored in its past 25 games. This is widespread slumpage.

And while the Braves showed again Sunday, in blowing an 8-3 lead and losing 10-8, that they can lose any game unless and until their bullpen is upgraded, their offense has been pretty good most of the season and a lot better than pretty good lately, with the top three in their lineup – Jace Peterson, Cameron Maybin and Freddie Freeman – all wielding hot bats simultaneously and for extended periods.

Not only that, but the Braves are set to face in the first game in Boston a pitcher, Rick Porcello, who’s struggled individually as much as the Sox have collectively.

Porcello has posted a 7.30 ERA during his own current four-start losing skid, and he’ll be opposed by Braves surprising rookie Williams Perez, who is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA and .232 opponents’ average in five starts, and threw nine pitches in the 11th inning Saturday to earn his first save in pro ball.

In Tuesday’s finale of the Boston portion of this Braves vs. Red Sox four-day, two-city event, the Braves will finally face another lefty, Wade Miley, who’ll enter with six losses (5-6) and a 5.07 ERA, including a 7.04 ERA and .353 OA in his past three starts.

However, before anyone goes ahead and pencile that onein the win column for the Braves and Julio Teheran, keep in mind that Teheran this season has been the most unpredictable of the Braves’ current five starters, and at times the worst of the current five. Also, there’s this: Miley is 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA and .207 opponents’ average in his past three home starts.

After the sour taste they had in their mouths following the huge blown lead that starter Mike Foltynewicz and relievers Brandon Cunniff and Luis Avilan all contributed to Sunday, the Braves and Fredi Gonzalez would certainly like to come out Monday and blow the doors off Porcello, then have the bullpen protect a lead.

If they do, they could have a legit chance to win at least three of these four against Boston, considering the matchups in Atlanta: Wednesday, it’ll be Alex Wood vs. RH Joe Kelly (2-4, 5.45 ERA), and Thursday it’ll be Shelby Miller against a so-far disappointing Clay Buchholz (3-6, 4.22).

• More on Freeman: I wrote a story Sunday about Freeman, after he hit a long homer in the first inning Saturday and then a game-tying single with two outs and two strikes on him in the ninth inning of a game the Braves won in 11 innings.

But there were a couple of things that didn’t get in that story because of space. So here goes:

Freeman has seven homers in his past 16 games before Monday, raising his season total to 12 in the Braves’ first 63 games. He’s already more than halfway to his career-best homer total of 23 set in 2012 and matched in 2013, and Freeman is batting .306 and on pace for  30 homers and 101 RBIs, after finishing with a career-low 18 homers and 78 RBIs last season.

Of his dozen homers, six were pulled to right field, but two were to right-center, two to center, and two to left field. His base-hit spray chart shows the vast majority of his ground balls hit to the right side – hence the defensive shifts that so many teams utilize against him – but a majority of his line drives and fly balls hit up the middle of the field or to left field.

Freeman has always said he knows he’s in a groove when he’s hitting balls hard to the opposite (left field), which is fundamental in his approach.

“I don’t know many lefties that hit balls oppo (opposite field) like he does,” Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. “Usually lefties are just dead-pull.”

The 437-foot shot homer that he hit Saturday, as measured by ESPN Home Run Tracker, was tied for the second-longest of the season for Freeman, and Mets broadcasters said it was as long as any ball they’d ever seen hit to right-center field at Citi Field. Freeman has the longest home runs hit this season at Arizona’s Chase Field (451 feet) and San Francisco’s AT&T Park (433).

 • More on Monday’s matchup: Perez vs. Porcello.

After giving up four runs, two hits, a homer and two walks in just one-third of an inning in a May 8 relief appearance at Washington in his major league debut, Perez has gone 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA and .238 opponents’ average in seven games (five starts).

He also recorded his first save at any level on Saturday with a scoreless 11th inning against the Mets, giving up two hits to start the inning and then getting a double play and a groundout. Since he threw but nine pitches, plus 12-15 warmup tosses, the Braves decided that was not much different than his between-starts bullpen session he would’ve otherwise done, and that he’d be OK for tonight’s start after he told them he felt good Sunday.

By the way, Perez became the first Braves pitcher to make at least one start and record a save in the same season since Kris Medlen in 2012. Medlen made 12 starts in 50 apperances that season and converted one save.

As most of you know, Perez has been the great escape artist so far, working out of jams again and again. Opponents are batting .222 (6-for-27) against him with runners in scoring position, and 0-for-10 in those situations with two outs.

With bases loaded, hitters are 0-for-4 with one walk and two GIDPs against Perez.

Teams have surely noticed this stat: On first pitches, hitters are 5-for-12 (.407) with two homers against Perez, the only two homers he’s allowed.

But with two strikes, hitters are just  6-for-56 (.107) against him, with 11 walks and 29 strikeouts.

Porcello is mired in a four-start losing skid in which he’s posted a 7.30 ERA and .302 opponents’ average, allowing 29 hits and 20 earned runs in 24 2/3 innings, with five walks and 16 strikeouts. He gave up 10 hits and five runs in 5 1/3 innings Wednesday at Baltimore.

Against the righty, opponents are hitting .274 overall and .288 with runners on base, including  .310 with a .391 OBP with runners in scoring position.

Nick Markakis is 9-for-24 with a homer against Porcello, Kelly Johnson is 2-for-7, and A.J. Pierzynski is 5-for-25 with a homer.

• I always loved this song, and I don't care if anyone thinks it's cheesy. It's not. It's pretty great.

"PLEASE COME TO BOSTON" by David Loggins

Please come to Boston for the spring time.

I'm stayin' here with some friends

And they've got lots of room.

You can sell your paintings on the sidewalk

By a cafe where I hope to be workin' soon.

Please come to Boston.

She said, "No.

Would you come home to me? "

And she said, Hey, ramblin' boy,

Now won't you settle down?

Boston ain't your kind of town.

There ain't no gold and

There ain't nobody like me.

I'm the number one fan

Of the man from Tennessee.

Please come to Denver with the snow fall.

We'll move up into the mountains so far

That we can't be found.

And throw "I love you" echoes down the canyon

And then lie awake at night until they come back around.

Please come to Denver.

She said, No.

Boy, would you come home to me?

And she said, Hey, ramblin' boy,

Why don't you settle down?

Denver ain't your kind of town.

There ain't no gold and

There ain't nobody like me.

'Cause I'm the number one fan

Of the man from Tennessee. "

Now, this drifter's world goes 'round and 'round

And I doubt that it's ever gonna stop,

But of all the dreams I've lost or found

And all that I ain't got.

I still need to lean to

Somebody I can sing to.

Please come to L. A. To live forever.

California life alone is just too hard to build.

I live in a house that looks out over the ocean.

And there's some stars that fell from the sky

And livin' up on the hill.

Please come to L. A.

She just said, No.

Boy, won't you come home to me?

And she said, Hey, ramblin' boy,

Why don't you settle down?

L. A. Can't be your kind of town.

There ain't no gold and

There ain't nobody like me.

No, no, I'm the number one fan

Of the man from Tennessee.

I'm the number one fan

Of the man from Tennessee. 

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About the Author

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