Braves are proving strikeouts are just a new way of life
The first week of the 2013 season certainly met all expectations for the Braves, who entered Monday leading all non-Houston-based Major League teams in strikeouts (63) and all non-Coors Field-based National League teams in home runs (11).
With five in his first five games, Justin Upton hit more home runs than any Braves player hit in all of April last year. He capped this season’s first multi-homer game on Saturday night with a walk-off shot that further endeared the Upton brothers to their new hometown. The home runs Justin and B.J. Upton hit in the ninth inning of the comeback win over the Cubs will rest in that special category that includes the two walk-off homers Chipper Jones hit last year and the Opening Day blasts hit by Andres Galarraga (2000) and Jason Heyward (2010).
It was only fitting for Justin Upton to conclude his first week in Atlanta by joining his brother as the only Braves to notch a golden sombrero (four strikeouts in a game) so far this year. More will be added to this club. It is simply part of the new Braves way. Justin’s four strikeouts on Sunday accounted for a quarter of the total recorded by Jeff Samardzija (13 strikeouts) and the Cubs bullpen.
Sunday marked the second time during this young season that the Braves won a game in which they struck out 16 times. In the franchise’s long storied history, the Braves have won just 10 games while striking out at least 16 times. Two of these instances have occurred within the first six games of this season.
The Angels are the only other Major League team to win a game this year while striking out at least 16 times. But they did so while needing 13 innings to claim their Opening Day victory in Cincinnati.
So how rare is it to win a game while striking out at least 16 times in games that do not extend beyond the ninth inning?
Including the two times this year, the Braves have won just five non extra-inning games in franchise history while striking out at least 16 times. The most recent occurrence had been a 5-0 win on May 6, 2011 against the Phillies and Cliff Lee, who allowed three runs and nine hits while recording 16 strikeouts in seven innings. Atlanta’s only runs off Lee came in third inning. Along with registering three strikeouts that inning, Lee also surrendered doubles to Alex Gonzalez, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla.
Another occurred on May 22, 2006, when John Smoltz beat Jake Peavy and the Padres 3-1. On the way to notching 16 strikeouts in seven innings, Peavy allowed Ryan Langerhans to hit a decisive two-run home run in the second inning.
The only other such game the Braves won in regulation occurred on July 14, 1989, when Smoltz beat Sid Fernandez and the Mets 3-2 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. After Fernandez compiled 16 strikeouts through the first eight innings, Lonnie Smith began the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run.
Dating back to the start of the 2011 season, there have been just seven non extra-inning games in which a team struck out at least 16 times and won. The Braves have been involved in four of those games. Their only loss in this four-game span was a 6-5 setback to the Cubs on Aug. 14, 2011 — the day Dan Uggla’s 33-game hitting streak was snapped.
Two of the three victories the Braves have recorded in these games obviously occurred during the first week of this season. The other was the game against the Phillies and Lee.
This year’s Braves could produce many innings similar to the one Lee endured that night in Philadelphia. They scored three runs against Roy Halladay as he recorded three strikeouts in the first inning last week in Atlanta.
As Samardzija compiled his career-high strikeout total on Sunday, it felt like it was just a matter of time before the Braves offense would support Tim Hudson’s strong start with a big inning. Yeah, some of that had to do with the fact that Samardzija’s pitch count was nearing the danger zone, a.k.a. as the need for the Cubs to turn to their bullpen.
But along with being a team that is going to swing and miss with great frequency, the Braves are a club that can produce instant offense with the power that fills their lineup. And as we saw when B.J. Upton got going the past two days, this club also has the ability to manufacture runs with the speed provided by their three five-tool outfielders.
Now the Braves potent offense has the chance to spend the next three days facing three Marlins starters not named Jose Fernandez, who notched eight strikeouts in five innings during his Major League debut on Sunday. Those eight strikeouts account for nearly 20 percent of the total Miami’s pitching staff has recorded through the season’s first six games.
Sure there will be some swings and misses during this week’s stay in Miami. But that is just a part of life for this new-look Braves club that will spend this season attempting to prove the potential damage from strikeouts can be overcome with an abundance of speed and power.