After a brief bit of trouble early on Anibal Sanchez sliced and diced the Braves lineup, amassing 17 strikeouts while allowing just 4 hits. He threw 121 pitches – 84 strikes – and only a handful were hit hard; Braves batters looked very bad against him. While Twitter was . . .well all a twitter, games like this shouldn’t be a surprise.
The Braves lineup has a boatload of strikeouts in it from top to bottom and good pitchers will exploit that weakness. And make no mistake that is a weakness. I know there’s new age mythology that a strikeout is no worse than any other out. Dan Uggla told reporters that in the clubhouse immediately after tonight’s game.
“A loss is a loss, man. Strikeouts are strikeouts, outs are outs. You’ve got to get out somehow. We’re definitely going to put up a lot more runs than…. If people want to worry about strikeouts, they can worry about strikeouts. We’re not worried about strikeouts. We can strike out 18 times and hit two three-run bombs and win a game.”
That’s inaccurate for more than one reason. You can’t hit three run bombs when you don’t get two runners on in front of Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Evan Gattis and when he returns Brian McCann. A look at RBI vs home runs going into tonight shows why home runs alone don’t win games.
While Justin leads in homers and runs he’s tied for eighth in RBI and none of the players ahead of him are Braves. Only two other Braves are in double digits – Gattis with 12 and Juan Francisco with 11. Most runs are scored by stringing hits together and so far that hasn’t been our style. Three run homers are fun but batting around like the Tigers did tonight is far more productive. Not only does it score runs it wears out opposition pitching and stretches defenses. But that’s another post.
A lineup like the Tigers will have their way with a pitcher like Maholm who relies on location and keeping hitters off balance, unless he’s at his best. Tonight by his own admission he was far from his best. Maholm lasted only 3 2/3 innings, allowed 10 hits and eight runs (all earned) walked three and struck out three. He was wild and making it worse he was wild in the zone and the Tiger bats gleefully teed off on him. If you’re looking for bright spots there were only a couple.
Anthony Varvaro came in and poured water on the Detroit fire. True he allowed a homer to Matt Tuiasosopo but by that time the the Tigers had their tails up and the game was virtually over. The next three innings he threw up zeros as did Cory Gearrin in the eighth. Because of his workload I suspect Varvaro is not available tomorrow and probably for the rest for the series. Gattis continued to prove his hitting isn’t a fluke by fouling pitches off until he drove a double into the left center field gap off Sanchez. That’s about all i can think of; sorry.
Saturday the Braves send out Kris Medlen to face the Tigers and Rick Porcello. To say that Porcello (0-2 with an 11.08 ERA and a 2.000 WHIP) has not been good this year is kind. In his three starts he allowed three, four and nine runs; the nine runs came in his last outing, 2/3 of an inning against the Angels. If the Braves get to Porcello quickly they’ll likely see lefty Drew Smyly (1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP come out of the pen. Smyly lost the 5th starter job to Porcello but that could be reversed with one more bad outing.
Medlen is 1-2 with a 2.16 ERA and a 1.160 WHIP. So far in his starts he’s struggled in the first couple of innings. He’ll have to settle in early against the Tigers because as we saw tonight, when they get their nose in front they are hard to catch.
That’s a Wrap
As badly as the Braves were beaten Friday night it’s best to keep things in perspective. We weren’t beaten by the Astros or the Marlins, the Tigers have been to the post season the last two years and the World Series last year. This is a very good team with one of the most lethal lineups in the American league. Anibal Sanchez is a very good pitcher who was stunted by the milieu in Miami and has grown so much the Tigers locked him up for five years. There’s no shame in being beaten by a pitcher who had a game like the one Sanchez had Friday. It would be a shame not to learn from it. The Braves could easily return the favor against Porcello tomorrow. That’s the short term. In the long term most of the lineup needs to improve their our approach to the plate. Two black holes in particular need work.; second base and in center field.
Uggla has been in stead decline since he signed in Atlanta. B.J. Upton has similarly been slipping since 2009. It’s true that Uggla has a high OBP fueled by walks but at $13M a year those are expensive and minimally productive strolls. Neither player is hitting over .200 and worse, neither player is having good enough at bats to give us hope that an improvement is in the offing. Both will run into one now and then giving fans hope but, day to day they are more likely to make a non-productive out than extend a rally or drive in a run. A lineup can hide one player like that, we hid Uggla pretty well last year. Hiding two is almost impossible. The financial commitment to those two players mean we are forced to play them. As a result Upton the elder and Uggla must get going in the team is to succeed. Let’s hope that turn around begins at 1 PM Saturday in Detroit.