Odds and ends: Freeman, Bourn, Kimbrel and Brian Dawkins
Anything happen while I spent some time with the family watching the D-backs series from afar? Well other than the Braves completing their second five-game winning streak of the young season and Freddie Freeman collecting as many RBIs (9) during a four-day stay in Phoenix as Brian McCann did all of last September.
Unlike that other team that still calls Boston home, the Braves are not entering this week still battling the effects of what transpired last September. There is something about wining 10 of 12 games that allows a team to distance itself from last year and the struggles that were extended through the first four games of this year.
When the Braves lost the first three games of this season, it was pointed out that it marked the first time since 2003 that they were swept to open a season. When it was pointed out that the 2003 team won 101 games and set a modern-day record with 907 runs (just two totaled in the first three games) some of you said you can’t compare this team to that one.
Fair enough. What Chipper, Shef, Andruw, Javy and Co. did that year was quite special. But so too has the offensive production this year’s Braves bunch has manufactured over the past two weeks.
During the 12 games played dating back to April 10, the Braves have scored a Major League-best 6.75 runs per game. The Rockies rank second among National League teams with a 5.64 mark and the Cardinals third with a 4.64 mark. Atlanta’s 16 home runs during this span are four more than any other club’s total.
These past two weeks have provided a glimpse of the value Michael Bourn can bring in the leadoff role. Bourn has batted .400 (20-for-50) with a .464 on-base percentage in the past 12 games. His consistent presence on base has provided regular RBI opportunities and allowed the lineup to flow more consistently than it did most of last year.
This past week has only heightened the belief that Freeman could soon reach that 40-homer territory that has not been visited by a Braves player since Andruw Jones in 2006.
The day before this season started, I wrote: Freddie Freeman spent the past couple weeks showing some of that opposite-field power that creates reason to wonder how many 40-homer seasons could be in this 22-year-old’s future.
At the time, I did not feel this would be the first year he would reach that mark. Nor would I say this past week has given any more reason to believe he will reach 40 this year. But it has provided further indication that this 22-year-old first baseman is quickly becoming a man.
Freeman hit .478 (11-for-23) with five doubles, three home runs, a .481 on-base percentage and a 1.087 slugging percentage last week. Just a quick look at the numbers seems to indicate he is a virtual lock to be named NL Player of the Week later today. It’s nice that he will be able to enjoy news of this honor while back here in Southern California with his father, who helped develop that powerful left-handed swing while spending numerous lunch hour breaks throwing batting practice to his son.
Enough about the offense. It’s time to show some love to the pitching staff. The starting pitchers have combined to post a 2.93 ERA and work 58 1/3 innings over the past nine games.
Before last week, the Braves had seen their starting pitcher last at least seven innings in three straight games since May 17. Just for fun, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Tommy Hanson opted to turn this trick twice last week.
The Braves bullpen has totaled 21 2/3 innings dating back to April 14 and . The Phillies are the only other Major League team that has played at least nine games during this span and logged fewer relief innings (17.1 innings).
As his team has continued to win without encountering many save opportunities, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has had to find ways to keep The Untouchables — Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty — sharp. Kimbrel allowed a run in a non-save situation on Friday night and then returned on Saturday to team with Venters to strike out the six D-backs that came to the plate in the eighth and ninth innings.
Kimbrel has now struck out the only three batters he has faced while working one inning in a game eight times. This matches John Smoltz’s mark and leaves him one shy of the total John Rocker notched during his days in Atlanta’s pen.
A quick glance at tonight’s pitching matchup (Jair Jurrjens vs. Chris Capuano) might not generate a lot of optimism. But Jurrjens has allowed one run or fewer in four of six career starts against the Dodgers. And last time I checked, there are not any weather-related projections that would force the Braves to return to their hotel to gather their belongings before this showdown against Capuano.
For those who might have erased this from their memory, nearly half of the Braves players returned to their Manhattan hotel on the afternoon of Aug. 26 to gather their suitcases because the approaching Hurricane Irene had postponed the final two games of that series against the Mets. After Capuano fired a two-hit shutout that night, things were never the same for the 2011 Braves.
Capuano came to Turner Field three weeks later and allowed two runs over five innings in a victorious five-inning effort.
The past couple weeks have provided indication Capuano will be facing a little different Braves lineup tonight. The Braves can only hope Jurrjens will also prove to be a little different than he has been during his first three starts of the season.
News of former All Pro Safety Brian Dawkins’ retirement conjured memories of him visiting Spring Training to watch the Braves take batting practice just a few weeks after he had helped the Eagles advance to Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005.
After watching intently and taking his own batting practice swings, Dawkins said, “I’ve been a Braves fan for a long time, but we’ve got to keep that down because of the Philadelphia thing, you know.”