Hanson has a chance to end another nine-game skid
There was a sense of anticipation as the Braves prepared to play the Nationals on the afternoon of Sept. 24. Their win combined with a Cardinals loss the previous night had whittled the magic number for clinching the Wild Card to three.
In case you forgot, there were a number of encouraging scenarios bouncing around in your head at the time. Even if the Braves won just one of their final five games, the Cardinals would have to win each of their final five games to clinch the Wild Card spot.
More than six months later, the Braves are still searching for that next win. Meanwhile the reigning World Series champion Cardinals have since notched 19 victories.
Officially, the Braves will carry a four-game losing streak into tonight’s game against the Astros. But given that I’m starting to believe in the power of the hangover created by last year’s collapse, we’ll call it a nine-game losing streak.
Here’s where we attempt to remove you from the misery you have felt since learning this is the first time the Braves have started 0-4 since the woeful 1988 club started 0-10.
The last time the Braves lost nine consecutive games was April 21-29, 2010. That’s right. We’re just two years removed from the last time many of you were ready to write off a season in April. That playoff team snapped the troubling early-season skid with a three-game sweep of the Astros.
The man who helped put an end to those miseries was Tommy Hanson, who limited the Astros to two runs and four hits in eight innings on April 30, 2010. And of course, the baseball gods are going to provide Hanson yet another opportunity to snap a nine-game losing streak and extend his dominance of the Astros tonight.
Hanson is 3-0 with a 1.97 ERA in five career starts against the Astros and 1-0 with a 0.41 ERA in three career starts at Minute Maid Park.
Feel any better yet? OK, we’ll throw in the reminder that Chipper Jones’ return from the disabled list tonight means you will not have to watch Juan Francisco play third base for at least a few more days.
In fairness to Francisco, his defensive abilities should not be solely judged by what we saw as he totaled three errors (two on one play) last night. But when you have committed 39 errors like he did while playing for Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville last year, it’s tough to get the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe Francisco will eventually provide the kind of high reward an out-of-options player can give a cash-strapped team like the Braves. His acquisition was certainly never as questionable as the signing of Chad Durbin, who has surrendered a home run in each of his first two appearances. (If you’re still keeping score, Yohan Flande has extended his exhibition season success by not allowing a run in his first four innings with Triple-A Gwinnett.)
But Francisco is not the right-handed hitter the Braves needed to add to their already left-handed heavy roster. And his left-handed hitting presence combined with that of Jose Constanza has certainly not helped the Braves as they have faced three left-handed starters in their first four games.
Based on your comments, some of you will be happy to hear Constanza was optioned to Gwinnett to make room for Jones on the 25-man roster today.
It will be interesting to see where Hanson’s velocity stands tonight. According to Fangraphs.com, his fastball averaged 88.7 mph during Thursday’s Opening Day outing against the Mets. His average fastball velocity dropped from 92.7 mph to 91.2. mph last year.
Hanson has been toying with a two-seam fastball grip that is similar to the one used by Kris Medlen. When asked about this, Medlen said Brian McCann had told him it seemed Hanson’s “two-seam” fastball has seemed to be thrown harder than his “four-seam.” This might be explained by the fact that two Major League scouts said Hanson’s ball showed very little sink on Thursday.
The good news is that Hanson does not seemed to be bothered by the right shoulder discomfort that plagued him the past two years. But it will be interesting to see if can truly regain some of the velocity that helped him find success during his first few big league seasons.
Interesting tidbit: The first win the Braves recorded during that miserable 106-loss campaign in 1988 came against a 43-year-old Dodgers pitcher named Don Sutton. one year later, Sutton began his role as a Braves broadcaster.