For the Braves, this weekend was the construction nail in your new tire.
It was the hotel repair bill after your bachelor party.
The overflowing storm sewer at the end of the rainbow.
No, it was no fun at all. The fall from build-up to let-down was precipitous. Over three games against San Francisco, reality and perspective took equal, bloody bites out of this illusion we had built of a young team almost too dynamic to be true. I believe everyone on the roster, as well as the entire core of the Braves fan base, may now require a tetanus shot.
Losing three games to San Francisco – and in the process authoring their longest losing streak of this young season – the Braves only proved what their management had been telling us following an extraordinarily upbeat April. That it is a very long season from here. That they are as far from a finished product as cane is from confectioners’ sugar. That we should all just take a deep breath.
But did they need to make the point this convincingly?
The Braves dropped these three to the Giants by a combined 24-9.
Their young stars acted their age.
The National League’s most prolific offense – one averaging five-and-a-half runs a game just three days ago – averaged three runs a game this weekend.
Maybe the most deflating aspect of the weekend was the fact that an energized following had responded by overheating the SunTrust turnstyles. The 39,322 average attendance bettered even the season-opening three-game series at home. The excitement was palpable. Only to have the home team turn a fire hose on this particular flame. Hey, it’s baseball. You pays your money and you takes your chances.
And in the end, on the single opportunity to rescue drama from the dregs – the tying run on third, two out in the ninth Sunday – the final swing was a sigh. To be precise, it was a check-swing pop-up by, of all people the player who has checked no swing this season, Ozzie Albies.
Ronald Acuna’s much anticipated home unveiling was quiet enough to be held in a library. His first two hits of the Giants series falling in Sunday, he went 2-for-12 (.166) for the weekend.
The three-part humbling was then finished off by the worst Major League start of Mike Soroka’s life. OK, it was also just his second Major League start. The 20-year-old went just four innings Sunday, facing trouble and turmoil in each of them before leaving with a line of four earned runs, as many walks as strikeouts (three) and his first loss as a grown-up Brave.
It’s what they call in the franchise reconstruction business a learning experience. Against the canny, experienced Giants lineup, Soroka recognized that, “I got away from attacking (the strike zone) and put myself in a lot of hitters’ counts.” You could see him making the mental note to do something different in five days.
The care and feeding of a young team will require constant recalibration. Expectations will be day-to-day.
In the pitching department, for example, John Smoltz, once a young Braves pitcher himself, will tell you to expect plenty of inconsistencies. During a conversation about Soroka for a feature on the young Canadian, Smoltz put forth this formula: “A simple goal for a young pitcher is for every five starts you really should have two good ones. If you can have three you’re ahead of the game.”
Then, he added, “As you develop when you start getting years under your belt, you want to have four out of five. The best ones have four out of five. If you can get to three out of five your first three years, you’re ahead of the game.”
No, this Soroka start was not one of the good ones – certainly not a quality one by the modest base definition (six innings, three earned runs or less). Still – and this speaks loudly to how ugly this weekend was – it was the Braves best starting performance against the Giants.
Wrapping it up, the Braves were trying to put the best Que Sera, Sera on this series.
“We’re gonna have games like that; we’re gonna have series like that,” manager Brian Snitker said.
Certainly, that is all very true. All quite rational.
But, still. . .
Here we were all tuned up for a three-day Francis Ford Coppola film festival – and got only The Godfather Part III, on a continual loop.