Looking back at Thursday’s lost opportunity
Given that they have been shutout twice and that they have totaled two runs or fewer in three of their first four losses, it can be said that the Braves have squandered a few opportunities to take advantage of the fact that their injury-depleted starting rotation has produced a Major League-best 1.74 ERA through this season’s first nine games.
But it wasn’t until Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Mets that it truly felt like the Braves lost a game that they could have easily won.
Yeah, the slumbering offense tallied four runs for a second straight night. But at the end of the day, the Braves ended up scoring in just four of the 27 innings played this week against the Mets, who at last check are not currently able to rely on the likes of Seaver, Gooden or even Harvey.
In other words, let’s not yet say the Braves have completely halted the early-season offensive woes that have led them to produce 2.56 runs per game — the second-worst mark in the Majors.
Justin Upton provided some signs of encouragement on Thursday when he homered twice and sent two of his three hits to right field. As B.J. Upton made solid contact during three of his four plate appearances he might have been benefiting from the tutorial Chipper Jones had offered a few hours earlier.
When Chris Johnson saw that Jones was at Turner Field, he comically tweeted a question asking if he was still in the lineup. But he wasn’t laughing a few hours later when he became the first Braves player to strike out four times in a game this year. His only previous four-strikeout game had come during the 2012 season.
Still the Braves managed to keep the game tied until manager Fredi Gonzalez made the baffling decision to replace a dependable veteran (Luis Avilan) with a green rookie (Gus Schlosser) who has not exactly impressed during his first five career appearances.
When asked why he replaced Avilan with Schlosser, who surrendered Juan Lagares’ decisive single, Gonzalez indicated that Avilan had been put in that spot because three of the first four hitters he was scheduled to face were left-handed hitters. Two of those lefties reached safely between a David Wright strikeout and the other (Ike Davis) hit a weak popup to leave runners at second and third with two outs.
Instead of allowing Avilan, who has limited right-handed hitters to a .205 batting average since the start of last year, Gonzalez turned to Schlosser, who has now surrenderd hits to six of the first 21 hitters he has faced.
There was nothing wrong with using Avilan in the seventh inning given who the Mets were set to send to the plate. But given the success he has had against right-handed hitters, there aren’t too many fathomable scenarios where he should be used like a specialist.
Gonzalez also made the baffling decision to sacrifice defense for what he hoped would be offensive potential by using Ryan Doumit instead of Gerald Laird as his starting catcher on Thursday night. Doumit’s reputation was upheld as Eric Young successfully swiped three bases. Opponents have been successful in each of the seven stolen base attempts that have been made with Doumit behind the plate this year.
While this doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise, it has been surprising to see the Braves give Doumit two starts behind the plate when Laird was perfectly capable to play those games in place of Evan Gattis, who is targeted to catch approximately 100-110 games for Atlanta this year.
When the Braves acquired Doumit, it seemed the plan was to have him serve as a pinch hitter, who might occasionally get a start in the outfield or at first base. But I don’t think anybody, especially Laird expected to see Doumit behind the plate to start two of this season’s first nine games.