After one of the worst losses in recent memory for the Braves, a 13-12 defeat Tuesday against the Dan Uggla-led Nationals – yes, for one night at least that was the case -- in a game that Atlanta led 9-1 afer two innings, let’s start with the obvious: Julio Teheran hasn’t had a troubling stretch like this since his emergence as a bonafide front-end starter as a rookie in 2013.
Amplifiying the concerns a bit is the fact that he insists he isn’t having any health issues whatsoever and doesn’t really know what’s causing his location issues. Tough to fix it if they don’t know where to start, right?
He’s 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA and .333 opponents’ average in his past three starts, allowing 20 hits, 16 runs (12 earned) and seven walks with 13 strikeouts in 15 innings against the Blue Jays, Mets and Nationals. Last night, he was staked to an 9-1 lead after two innings and gave up 10 hits and seven runs (three earned) and two homers, making it six homers allowed in his past three starts.
I asked Fredi Gonzalez after the game, are you concerned with Teheran? And his answer was far more candid than usual when it comes to matters like this.
“I am a little bit (concerned),” he said. “Because that’s not him. He’s usually a guy you give him a lead, he’s a bulldog and you have to go try to get the ball out of his hand in the eighth inning with a 12-run lead. So yeah, I’m a little concerned. Lot of home runs. I think the stuff is there, the miles per hour is there, but the location is not … and I’m just looking from the side of the field, I’ll look at the (video) tomorrow morning, but it looks like they had some pretty good swings all night at him, in all kinds of different counts. I think it’s more location than it is stuff-wise.”
Veteran catcher A.J. Pierzysnki, who had four hits, four RBIs, a sac fly and a walk in six plate appearances, said after the game: “To score 12 runs and to lose is hard to fathom with our opening-day guy on the mound. Go up 9-1 in the second inning, I mean, we’re supposed to win. Give them credit, they just kept coming back and chipping away. And Unfortunately in the ninth inning, we made a mistake to Uggla and he didn’t miss it. It just sucks. There’s no other way to put it. Just sucks.”
Of Teheran’s issues, Pierzysnki said: “I don’t know. He’s throwing all his pitches, he’s throwing strikes. I don’t know, you’d have to ask Roger (McDowell) and those guys. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer on that one. The New York start (five early walks), it looked like he was just cold in the first inning. Once he got through the first inning he was OK. But tonight, he was just a little bit off. I don’t know what he said, I don’t know what Roger said, I don’t know, I haven’t looked at anything yet. Tomorrow I’ll come in and look at it, and try to figure something out with him.”
• Uncharacteristic pitching: Atlanta pitchers are now tied with the White Sox for 27th in the majors in strikeouts with 130, and Braves starters have a majors-low 66 strikeouts with 44 walks. Ten teams have 105 or more strikeouts from their starting pitchers.
The Atlanta starters’ ERA has risen to 10th in the National League at 4.01, and the starters have issued the third-most walks among NL teams (44) while pitching the second-fewest innings (107 2/3), ahead of only the Rockies (105 2/3). That’s a bad combination for everyone concerned, including the weary bullpen.
• Grilli home and road: Speaking of the bullpen, Jason Grilli hadn’t pitched since Saturday, so fatigue presumably wasn’t an issue. But he was pitching at Turner Field, and for the second time in a row that didn’t work out well at all.
Grilli has been literally perfect in five road appearances, with hitters going 0-for-15 with seven strikeouts against him. But in three home appearances, he has a 12.00 ERA and .357 opponents’ average, allowing five hits, four runs and three walks with six strikeouts in three innings.
In his last home appearance before Tuesday, on April 13 against the Marlins, he gave up two hits, a run and a walk in one inning, but had three strikeouts and converted the save. He had seven saves in seven appearances before getting his first blown save as a Brave on Tuesday.
• Oh, Uggla: The guy the Braves are paying at least $12.7 million this season returned to Atlanta last night, and the nightmare scenario unfolded. The one that Braves fans – and surely Braves officials – at least feared a little when Uggla signed with the Nats this winter amid reports of improved vision (Here’s the story I wrote on that in spring training.)
Triple, three-run homer off Grilli in the ninth inning, five RBIs for Uggla in a 13-12 Nationals comeback win. Oh, my.
Uggla’s homer was his 52nd extra-base hit and 24th homer in 91 career games against the Braves. He’s hit .291 with a .347 OBP and .577 slugging percentage against the Braves, his highest BA and slugging percentage vs. any team against whom he’s played more than 10 games.
And perhaps his two-game performance against them this week saved his job, at least for a while -- the Nats were reportedly leaning toward releasing him soon, once they got healthy. Might be tought to do that in the immediate aftermath of last night.
However, it must be noted: Uggla is 4-for-7 with six RBIs, two triples and a homer in the past two nights for the Nationals, while he’s 4-for-35 (.114) with no homers and one RBI in 12 games against everyone else.
Of Uggla’s 91 games vs. the Braves, the other 89 came when he was with the Marlins hitting more than 30 homers a season, long before his precipitous decline with the Braves.
Among the Nationals, the next-higher homer total against the Braves belongs to Ryan Zimmerman, who has 19 against them and has 52 more games played (143) and nearly 200 more at-bats against the Braves than Uggla does. Jayson Werth? He’s hit .271 with 16 homers and 58 RBIs in 127 career games against the Braves.
The only other current National with more than nine homers against the Braves is Ian Desmond, who’s hit .220 with 15 homers in 97 games and 378 at-bats against them.
• Freeman vs. Nats: Nevermind the Mets, the team that’s really felt the wrath of Freddie Freeman is the Nationals. With his four-hit game Tuesday, Freeman raised his career slash line to .335 with a .384 OBP and .509 slugging percentage in 75 games against the Nationals, with 29 extra-base hits (nine homers) and 42 RBIs.
The power numbers and RBIs don’t match what he’s done against the Mets – 14 homers, 60 RBIs, .526 slugging percentage – but the batting average is a whopping 36 points higher and the OBP is 12 points higher. And in the past few years, he’s absolutely punished the Nationals.
Look at these numbers: In his past 50 games against Washington, Freeman has hit .391 (75-for-192) with 25 extra-base hits (eight homers), 33 RBIs, and a .436 OBP and .609 slugging percentage. The Braves are 29-21 in those games.
And in his past 26 games, going back to Aug. 17, 2013, he’s ramped it up even more: .413 (43-for-104) with nine doubles, five homers, .453 OBP and .644 slugging percentage. The Braves are 14-12 in those games.
• Off my lawn: A.J. Pierzynski is ridiculous hot right now, for any player much less a 38-year-old catcher. He’s batting .439 overall with a .458 OBP and .732 slugging percentage, three homers and 12 RBIs in 11 games, and would rank at or near the top in several categories in the NL if he had enough PAs to qualify.
Pierzynski is 12-for-21 (.571) with seven RBis in his six games, and has a BA that’s 33 points higher than his OBP in that stretch due to three sac flies and only two walks (he has no strikeouts in that period).
Pierzysnki’s hitting has overshadowed the Braves’ big offseason addition’s own impressive stretch at the plate.
Nick Markakis has hit .329 with a .440 OBP in 19 games, and in his past 13 games he’s 18-for-46 (.391) with three doubles and a .517 OBP, having walked three times as many times (12) as he’s struck out in that period.
He’s not hitting for power, but Markakis has been an OBP machine, and the move back to leadoff last weekend was a smart one on a team whose only guys with prototypical leadoff-type speed – outfielders Eric Young Jr. and Cameron Maybin – simply don’t get on base enough to occupy the leadoff spot.
• Tonight’s matchup: It’s Alex Wood (1-0, 3.00) vs. the Nats’ Jordan Zimmermann (1-2, 5.23) in the rubber game of the series.
Wood is the guy the Braves want in this situation: He has a three-start winning streak against the Nats and is 3-1 with a 1.49 ERA and .237 opponents’ average in six career starts against them, with 44 strikeouts and nine walks in 36 1/3 innings.
Wood has allowed one or no earned runs in all but one of his starts against Washington, and gave up two earned runs in seven innings of the other game – April 6, 2014 at D.C., his only loss to the Nationals and the only time the Braves lost to the Nationals in a game started by Wood.
In three starts against them since that game, he’s 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA, with 28 strikeouts and seven walks in 18 1/3 innings. He allowed one run in each of those games, each time on a solo homer.
The Nats’ best hitter against Wood, Anthony Rendon, is still rehabbing and out of the lineup. He’s 8-for-13 with a homer against the lefty. Ian Desmond is 3-for-13 with two homers against Wood, Jayson Werth is 4-for-9, and Bryce Harper is 3-for-8.
Wood is 1-0 with a 2.60 ERA in three road starts this seaon, while he has a 4.05 ERA and no decision in his only home start against the Mets, allowing eight hits, three runs and homer in 6 2/3 innings of that April 12 loss.
The Braves have lost his past three starts, including two road games at Toronto and Philly in which he allowed a total of three runs in 12 1/3 innings. The Braves lose 1-0 at Philly on Friday when Wood pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed five hits and two walks in 101 pitches.
Against Zimmermann, left-handed hitters are 13-for-34 (.382) with a .432 OBP and two doubles, while righties are 11-for-49 (.229) with a .283 OBP and one extra-base hit (homer).
Zimmerman has allowed an uncharacteristically high .289 opponents’ average and an OBP (.344) almost as high as his opponents’ slugging (.349), but most of the damage came in one start at Boston on April 13. He allowed nine hits and eight runs (seven earned) in 2 1/3 innings of that start, and has given up two or fewer earned runs in six or more innings in each of his other three starts this season.
The Nationals scored two or fewer runs while he was in those three quality starts, hence his 1-1 record in those games.
Zimmermann has long given the Braves fits, unlike rotation mate Stephen Strasburg, whom the Braves didn’t face in this series. Zimmermann is 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 10 starts against the Braves, including 2-1 with a 2.10 ERA in five since the beginning of the 2013 season. He gave up two or fewer runs in all five of those games while collecting 35 strikeouts and only four walks in 30 innings.
Freddie Freeman is 6-for-19 against him, while Chris Johnson is 4-for-15, Nick Markakis is 3-for-12 with a homer, Andrelton Simmons is 3-for-12, Eric Young Jr. is 3-for-16, and Cameron Maybin is 1-for-8.
Let's close with this stellar tune off Calexico's great new album "Edge of the Sun." The great Ms. Neko Case adds lyrics to this tune. 'Nuff said.
"TAPPING ON THE LINE" by Calexico
They’ve been left out in the rain
Well it’s strange to come back free of any rust
Dares you to explain
Could you speak a little more clearly on the line Cold wind keeps blowing from the east
Trans-Atlantic crossings coming to a freeze
I’m in exile with a sign that reads
No one can tell which side of the street
Would I stand a little closer to the line
No one can tell which side to claim
Could you speak a little more clearly once again
Speak a little clearly on the line
Indian summer, cold war skies
Nervous drummers on overbooked flights
Well the chaos grows stronger on the superstition flyway
Looks like we’re spinning up tonight
Could you step a little closer to the line
Splitting heart and mind, broken circuit by design
Well the demand for arms is goin’ through the roof
The scientists are forced to work in the maze
While they tap tap tap tap tapping on the line
Could you speak a little clearly one more time
While you tap tap tap tap tapping on the line