Another road game against the Mets, what could go wrong?
As the Braves come off a three-game sweep of the Nationals and an entertaining series victory in Philadelphia, what could go wrong as they spend this weekend playing the Mets at Citi Field?
This question is obviously filled with sarcasm. The more appropriate question might be, will the Braves actually escape a road trip against the Mets without incurring a serious injury?
Maybe it was coincidental that Tim Hudson (season-ending ankle injury) and Jason Heyward (fractured jaw) suffered traumatic injuries during the final two trips Atlanta made to Citi Field last year. But when Kris Medlen blew out his right elbow during the first trip the Braves made to Port St. Lucie during this year’s Grapefruit League season, there was no longer a comedic element to this coincidence.
So of course the baseball gods have aligned things so that Jason Heyward will oppose Jonathan Niese to begin the first road game the Braves play against the Mets this year. This will be the first time Niese has faced the Braves since he dented the right side of Heyward’s face with a fastball on Aug. 21.
In other words, this is not necessarily the optimal setting to break out of the 2-for-27 skid Heyward will carry into this series opener. Heyward has hit just .136 (8-for-59) and five of his eight hits have been compiled within two of this season’s first 15 games. He’s gone hitless in 10 of the past 13 games.
Obviously, this has caused some of you to call for the need to move him out of the leadoff spot. But, considering what Heyward did in this role when he was initially introduced to it last year, it still seems to be a little too early to pull the plug.
Yeah, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was willing to sit Chris Johnson for two straight games at the start of this week. But that decision was influenced more by Johnson’s temper than the 3-for-18 skid he had carried into Sunday’s series finale against the Nationals. While going hitless in five at-bats during Saturday’s win over the Nationals, Johnson had thrown his batting helmet and turned over a number of items in and around the dugout. In other words, he created one of those scenes that led first base coach Terry Pendleton to grab him in the dugout at the conclusion of the second-to-last game of last year’s regular season.
After hitting five home runs in the process of totaling nine runs in Monday’s series opener against the Phillies, the Braves tallied just one run over the course of the final two games played in Philadelphia. Fortunately that one run supplied by Evan Gattis’ solo shot on Wednesday was enough to doom Cliff Lee, who has suffered two of his five career complete game losses during his past two outings against Atlanta.
On Thursday afternoon, it was Alex Wood’s turn to suffer a tough-luck loss, one that was blemished by his inability to get a sacrifice bunt down in the top of the decisive eighth inning. But Wood’s impressive eight-inning effort extended the remarkable success generated thus far by Atlanta’s starting rotation, which has stood as baseball’s most surprising group during this season’s first three weeks.
On the eve of the season opener, I opined that a modernized version of former Boston Post sports editor Gerald V. Hern’s classic “Spahn and Sain” poem might be recognized by these words: Teheran and Wood, then skip the next three days if we could.
Well this injury-depleted rotation has since welcomed Ervin Santana to the fold and watched Aaron Harang conjure memories of what he did for the Reds before being burdened with injuries. As for Julio Teheran and Wood, they have simply given the Braves even more reason to be encouraged to believe they could both establish themselves as legitimate frontline starters for many years to come.
The Braves lead the Majors with a 1.58 starting pitcher’s ERA. Oakland ranks second with a 2.48 mark.
It might be too early to get overly excited about statistics. But given what it has included, it is remarkable this year’s Braves rotation has started this season more impressively than any of those that included Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
Here’s a look at the top starting pitcher ERAs the Braves have produced through the first 15 games of a season dating back to 1990: