Braves and Bourn aiming for a more pleasant finish
After parlaying Sunday night’s thrilling win over the Phillies with Kris Medlen’s latest gem on Monday, the Braves ran into some bad luck against the Rockies on Tuesday. It seemed like everything was going wrong until shortly after midnight, when Padres rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal hit a game-tying, eighth inning homer that gave his club a chance to claim its 11-inning win over the Dodgers.
With 26 games remaining, the Braves’ primary focus has to be on finding a way to escape the ills that have followed them as they have lost 11 of their past 17 games. But they will also be keeping a close eye on the Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants and Pirates, who are clinging to their postseason hopes.
Had the Dodgers preserved the two-run advantage they gained in last night’s seventh inning, the Braves would have awoke this morning with just a 2 1/2-game cushion to secure one of the two National League Wild Card spots. The Padres’ ability to produce some late-inning magic was much appreciated by the Braves, who are fortunate to have a 3 1/2-game cushion given the fact that they have won just six times since erasing their own two-run, eighth inning deficit in a Aug. 17 win over the Dodgers.
Of the seven wins the Braves have notched in their past 18 games, three have been secured in games started by Kris Medlen and two others in games where they faced a deficit of at least two runs or more in the eighth inning or later.
To prevent a repeat of last year’s disastrous conclusion, the Braves would be best served to halt the maddening inconsistencies that have plagued them over the past three weeks.
During the past 18 games, the Braves have batted .220 with a .296 on-base percentage and .360 slugging percentage. They have batted .156 (21-for-135) with runners in scoring position, plated 3.2 runs per game and been outscored 73-55 within this span. Their pitchers have compiled a 3.90 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .261.
In the 119 games played before this rough stretch, the Braves batted .255 with a .327 on-base percentage and a .405 slugging percentage. They batted .248 with runners in scoring position and scored 4.7 runs per game. Their pitchers compiled a 3.61 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .249 against them.
A quick look at this comparison of a small and large sample size indicates the offense should bear most of the burden of this slide. Two of the 12 shutout losses incurred this year have occurred within the last eight days. Much has been made about the struggles of Dan Uggla, who has been benched, and Brian McCann, who could see less playing time if he does not prove healthy and productive soon.
But some of the blame has to be pointed in the direction of leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, who has batted .204 with a .362 on-base percentage and 14 strikeouts in 54 at-bats dating back to Aug. 18. Maybe more troublesome is the manner in which he has been thrown out attempting to steal a base in two of the past three games.
Bourn drew some attention on Sunday night when he was picked off after breaking for second base too early with two outs in the seventh inning and Chipper Jones at the plate with the Braves down four runs. Bourn told manager Fredi Gonzalez that once Jones fell behind with a 1-2 count, he thought it was worth the risk of trying to get into scoring position. If he got caught, Jones would come up to begin the eighth inning with a clean count.
It seems to be a debatable position. But given that Jones hit his walk-off shot two innings later, I doubt many of you have spent the past couple days cussing this play.
But when Bourn was easily retired while attempting to steal third base with Jones at the plate in the first inning of Tuesday night’s loss, there was more reason to be concerned about his recent struggles. Fatigue can certainly play a factor at this time of the year.
Bourn hit .339 with a .423 on-base percentage in the 19 games he played in September 2010 before suffering a season-ending oblique injury. Last year, he hit .336 with a .388 on-base percentage while playing for the Astros in June and July. In the 53 games he played after being acquired by the Braves on July 31, he batted .278 with a .321 on-base percentage.
As he prepares himself for the riches that await him on the free agent market, Bourn certainly has plenty of reason to hope he concludes this season in more memorable fashion than he has the past two.