Braves, Bourn have altered their fortunes against southpaws
Remember back when it seemed like the Braves were facing a left-handed starter on a daily basis and Michael Bourn was not getting on base against any of them? Well, it’s safe to say times have changed.
With Phillies southpaw Cole Hamels set to take the mound at Turner Field tonight,the Braves once again have reason to be happy that their struggles against left-handers did not extend beyond the season’s first week.
The Braves batted .188 batting average with a .257 on-base percentage and .240 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers during the season’s first six games. In the 17 games that have followed, their slash line against southpaws has been.293/.360/.482.
One of the catalysts for the turnaround has been Michael Bourn, who was traded by the Phillies after the 2007 season partly because they were concerned about his ability to hit left-handed pitchers. Other than the 2009 season when he hit .287 with a .325 on-base percentage against left-handers, the speedy center fielder has experienced some struggles against southpaws.
Bourn did not reach base in his first 15 plate appearances of the season against left-handed pitchers. But he has since hit .320 (8-for-25) with a .414 on-base percentage against them. Yes, it’s a small sample size. But it is also an encouraging trend for a team that has been recently reminded of the significant value a consistent leadoff hitter can bring.
Bourn has batted .408 with a .468 on-base percentage and .493 slugging percentage in the 17 games he has played dating back to April 13. With some impressive stolen base totals already stored in his back pocket, agent Scott Boras has spent the past couple weeks smiling and looking forward to the chance to take his client to the free agent market.
During his recent surge, Bourn has consistently given the Braves early scoring opportunities. The veteran leadoff hitter has reached safely in his first plate appearance in eight of the past 10 games. Now to deflate you a little as we approach tonight’s first inning, he was facing a left-handed starter the two times he did not reach during this span.
Quick look at Hamels: Hamels is 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA through his first four starts. Right-handed batters have hit .247 (19-for-77) against him and left-handed batters have produced a .238 (5-for-21) batting average. His lone loss came against the right-handed stacked lineup the Marlins compiled for him on April 9.
Given Jason Heyward will likely miss at least one more game with a sore right oblique muscle, Matt Diaz will probably get the start in right field tonight. Diaz has batted .256 (10-for-39) with two doubles and a home run in his career against Hamels.
Dan Uggla can only hope to relocate the magic that allowed him to halt his struggles against Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey two weeks ago. Uggla has batted .160 (8-for-50) with two homers in his career against Hamels.
Another crack at the Phillies: The only Major League hitters with more than 10 career at-bats against Brandon Beachy are Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Greg Dobbs, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. In other words, in case you forgot, Beachy has come to know the Phillies pretty well during the early stages of his career.
Beachy is 0-3 with a 3.94 ERA in six career starts against the Phillies. They beat him during his surprise Major League debut on Sept. 20, 2010 and one more time before that regualar season concluded. Before suffering an oblique strain in his fourth career start against the Phillies, he talked about how much he wanted to beat Philadelphia.
Well two more strong starts have since passed without a win. But with a little offensive assistance, tonight might be the night Beachy finally breaks through against a Philadelphia lineup that still does not include Howard or Utley.
The Phillies have scored 76 runs through their first 23 games and 28 of those runs (37 percent) have been scored in their past six games. Still it’s not like the Philadelphia lineup has suddenly become intimidating again during this six-game stretch. Polanco has hit .412 with a pair of doubles during this stretch. But Hunter Pence, Rollins and Victorino have batted less than .250 during this offensive awakening. Former Brave Pete Orr ranks third on the team with four RBIs in the past six games
Something to Watch For: Bourn and Heyward are about to become the Braves’ top two stolen base leaders in the post-Rafael Furcal era (since 2005). Bourn and Diaz are currently tied atop this list with 29. Heyward ranks second with 28.
Diaz tied Nate McLouth with a team-high 12 stolen bases in 2009. He has since recorded a grand total of four while wearing a Braves uniform. Just two of those four have been recorded since Heyward recorded his first career stolen base on May 11, 2010.
As for long as Bourn records his next stolen base within the next four games and before Heyward records two more, he will have needed less than half of a season to record more stolen bases than any other Braves player over the last six-plus seasons.