Braves set to attempt to distance themselves from a miserable road trip
As encouraging as the season’s first 15 games were for the Braves, the past nine have been equally discouraging. But they are far from the first legitimate postseason contender to experience a miserable lengthy road trip.
You know that Tigers team that looked unbeatable while sweeping the Braves this past weekend. Well, they went 4-5 during their previous road trip and totaled four runs while losing each of its final four games. It’s hard to imagine that is even possible when working with a lineup that features Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder as its first four hitters.
But it can be explained quite simply with that aged-old adage, “That’s baseball.”
In this era where we are deluged by statistics and the desire to quantify every aspect of the game, many might find it unacceptable to simply elicit this response that essentially translates to the ho-hum, “It happens.”
But it has happened frequently enough for us to understand every team regardless of stature is bound to experience a bad week. The past two World Series champions (the Giants and Cardinals) both endured a 3-7 stretch that probably created a frustration level similar to the one the Braves felt Sunday night when the returned home with just three wins on the 10-game road trip.
Everything appeared to be right when Evan Gattis hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning of the road trip’s first game. But the surging Pirates turned the tide the next night when they faced the minimum amount of batters and threw a total of two pitches with a runner on base. That marked just the seventh time since 1921 that the Braves compiled the minimum number of plate appearances (27) in a nine-inning game.
Exactly one Friday later, Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez recorded a franchise-record 17 strikeouts in eight innings and the Braves ended up striking out 18 times while getting shut out for the third time in a span of nine games.
This marked just the fifth time since 1921 that the Braves struck out at least 18 times during a nine-inning game. Remarkably, they had won on the previous two occasions (2011 vs. Cliff Lee and the Phillies; 2006 vs. Jake Peavy and the Padres).
Before starting to get the sense that Friday is the new Monday in comparison to last year’s struggles, remember what the Braves have done during the past two Saturdays.
During last Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh, the Braves scored one run and tallied two hits in six innings against James McDonald, who had allowed the Cardinals eight runs in just 1 2/3 innings five days earlier.
Then during this past Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Tigers, the Braves scored three runs and tallied five hits in 6 1/3 innings against Rick Porcello, who had allowed the Angels nine earned runs while recording just two outs in his previous start.
But the offense’s most significant failure seemed to come during the series finale in Pittsburgh, when they actually lost a game started by Jonathan Sanchez, who is 0-12 with a 9.13 ERA in his past 18 starts. His team has won just two of these past 18 games he has started dating back to April 14, 2012.
Sure Pirates manager Clint Hurdle proved wise to pull Sanchez after three innings and hand the game to his bullpen, which ranks second in the Majors with a 2.32 ERA. But minus the games played at Coors Field, it did not seem to matter who was on the mound against the Braves over the course of the past nine games.
Over the course of the past nine games, the Braves have batted .217 with seven home runs and 96 strikeouts. Six of those home runs were hit during Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep of the Rockies, which accounted for the only two wins during this span.
Now the Braves will face the challenge presented by the Nationals, who saw their starting pitchers compile a 2.31 ERA during the most recent turn through the rotation.
It would not be comforting for any team to know they will spend the first three days of a four-game series facing Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, who has quietly established himself as the rotation’s most dependable member.
But the Braves have at least had some success against the first two starters they will face this week. Strasburg is 3-4 with a 3.59 ERA in eight career starts against Atlanta. The Nationals have lost three of the past four games Strasburg has started against the Braves. But it should be noted each of these losses were surrounded by unique events.
Strasburg left his June 30 start last year in Atlanta after three innings because of heat exhaustion. He then helped blow a 9-0 lead in his next outing against the Braves. In his only previous appearance against them this year, he surrendered two unearned runs in six innings of a 3-1 loss.
Gonzalez is 2-3 with a 6.08 ERA in the five starts he has made against the Braves since joining the Nationals. He allowed three earned runs or fewer in three of those outings and then surrendered seven earned runs in just five innings against Atlanta on April 14.
Zimmerman is 2-1 with a 3.81 ERA in his five career starts against the Braves. But both of those wins came before the start of the 2011 season. He is 0-1 with a 4.67 ERA in his past three starts against Atlanta.
So as bad as things have seemed lately for the Braves from an offensive perspective, there is certainly a chance they could break out this week while facing a few familiar faces.
And if they do, the Nationals might walk away saying, “That’s baseball. It happens.”