Offensive woes have continued to blemish solid pitching
As Alex Wood neared the completion of his latest gem on Sunday, I decided to take a quick look at how unfortunate he has been because of a lack of run support. Given that I really don’t care for the quality start (six innings and three earned runs or less) stat, I opted to simply look at those starts in which he had completed at least seven innings while allowing two earned runs or less.
I found that before preserving his eight stellar innings in Sunday’s 1-0 win, the Braves had lost six of the previous nine games in which the young lefty had allowed less than three earned runs and recorded at least 21 outs.
That’s mind boggling. But those of you who have closely followed this team and its oft-slumbering offense were likely at least prepared for the numbers to not be pretty.
This led me to check the Braves’ overall record whenever their starting pitchers complete seven innings and allow two earned runs or less.
I chose to go back to 2009 because that was the last year in which the Braves would not have qualified for the postseason under the current format which allows for two Wild Card entries from both leagues. In other words, they would have qualified in 2011 had the two-team WC format been in place.
If the Braves are going to return to the playoffs this season, they will obviously need their maddening offense to provide some form of consistent production over the next four weeks. Since totaling 28 runs over a four-game span (Aug. 18-21), the Braves have totaled 23 runs in the 10 games that have followed. They have scored more than three runs just twice during this 10-game span.
This troubling trend is nothing new for the Braves, who count the Padres as the only Major League club they have scored more runs than this year.
The .680 OPS produced thus far would be the lowest recorded by the Braves since the glorious 1988 (.646) and 1989 (.647) seasons.
LEADOFF SPOT: Whether or not you view Jason Heyward as a leadoff hitter, it is hard to argue against the belief that he is the best option the Braves have. My only argument would be that they could get away with putting Emilio Bonifacio in the leadoff spot in games they’re facing a left-handed starting pitcher.
Heyward has batted .301 with a .366 on-base percentage in the 18 games he has played since moving back to the leadoff spot on Aug. 13. He has reached safely on a third of his plate appearances against lefties during this span. This latter stat was obviously aided when he walked in his first two plate appearances against the erratic Cole Hamels on Monday afternoon.
REMAINING SCHEDULE: As mediocre as the Braves have been over the past few weeks, let alone the past few months, they have to feel quite fortunate that they stand just 1 1/2 games back in the battle to claim the National League’s second Wild Card spot. Their most likely fellow combatants in this battle will be the Pirates, Brewers, Cardinals and either the Giants or Dodgers.
With six games remaining against the Nationals, the Braves can hold on to a glimmer of hope that a miraculous September will allow them to defend their division crown. But they might be better off focusing on the Wild Card chase which could be significantly influenced when the Pirates come to Atlanta for a four-game series (Sept. 22-25).
By the time the Pirates arrive in Atlanta, they will have completed their current three-game series against the Cardinals and the three-game set they’ll host against the Brewers (Sept. 19-21).
The Cardinals and Brewers are scheduled to square off seven more times. The Dodgers and Giants have six more matchups as they battle for the NL West crown.
So, the Braves can hope that the NL West and NL Central clubs (Pirates, Cards and Brewers) beat up on each other over the next couple of weeks. But none of that will matter if the Braves do not halt their offensive woes in time to prevent going into this offseason with an empty feeling.