Like last year, the Braves have surged at an unexpected time

It is far too early to compare this current four-game surge to the 14-game winning streak that essentially ended the National League East race last year.  But if this does prove to be the start of a special surge for the Braves, we will remember that like last year’s streak, it began when there did not seem to be much reason for optimism.

Last year was different simply because the Braves got off to a hot start and held a division lead of at least four games every day after May 20.  But some doubt crept in on July 25 when they dropped to 19-21 over their previous 40 games.  More importantly, they had lost Tim Hudson to a season-ending ankle injury less than 24 hours earlier and the NL Central-leading Cardinals were coming to Atlanta the next day.

Instead of being burdened by doom and gloom, the Braves showed their resiliency by producing an incredible streak that enabled them to celebrate a special season.  Though, this previous sentence was in reference to last year, there is a chance it could apply to what is transpiring this season.

Or as tonight’s starter Aaron Harang will attest, some of these same words could have been used to describe what he and his 2002 A’s teammates experienced when they produced a 20-game winning streak that took them from being 4 1/2 games back on Aug. 12 to 3 1/2 games up on Sept. 4. 

“We have the team that can do that,” Harang said. “When that happened (with the A’s), we got multiple guys all producing all at once and pitchers all were trying to feed off each other.  One of the guys would go out and throw seven or eight innings of one run ball or no runs and the next night the guy would come in and say I’m going to one up you. You just kind of feed off of each other when you get in that situation…Every night, it was somebody else who was getting that big hit.”

When Harang toes the rubber at PNC Park tonight, he’ll attempt to add to the recent success of Atlanta’s starters, who have allowed three earned runs or less in five of the past six games.  The only rotation member to be part of a loss during this span is Harang, who had another forgettable afternoon outing against the Dodgers last week. 

Harang will not have to deal with the afternoon elements that have existed during two of the three occasions he has allowed more than four earned runs this year.  But it looks like he will have to deal with reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who is expected to come off the disabled list tonight.  McCutchen went 3-for-3 with a double against Harang last year. 

Meanwhile, the Braves will have to adjust to the oddity that Francisco Liriano presents when he takes the mound for the Pirates tonight.  Liriano will become just the 25th different left-handed starting pitcher to face the Braves this year.  STATS, LLC. says this is the lowest total for any club in the Majors this year. 

This fact jives with what Jason Heyward said on Monday when he was asked about his struggles against left-handed pitchers this year.  He has batted .157 with a .228 on-base percentage against LHPs and .306 with a .391 OBP against RHPs.

“It’s just nice to face (left-handed starters) again,” Heyward said. “I feel there has been some inconsistency in regard to when we face them.  It’s tough to face shut-down lefties out of the pen regardless. But when you have to face them without getting any at-bats off of starters, it makes it that much tougher. 

Liriano, who has produced a 1.89 ERA in six starts since the All-Star break, is the second left-hander the Braves have faced within the past three days.  A two-run homer by Justin Upton helped them beat southpaw Jon Lester and the A’s on Sunday night. 

Speaking of the younger Upton, Elias says he is batting .388 (19-for-49) against pitchers who were selected for this year’s All-Star Game. Matt Adams (.476) and Jose Altuve (.441) are the only players who have compiled a better batting average with at least 40 plate appearances against this group.

 

 

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