After winning just once the previous week, the Braves rolled into the final seven days of April looking to rebound and cut into their 6-12 record. They did that with some big offensive explosions along the way.
The week began with a long break. A scheduled off day after escaping Philadelphia allowed the Braves to lick their wounds. That was followed by a postponement as rain kept the Braves from opening a three-game set in New York. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader on September 25.
|By Arturo Pardavila III [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons|
April 26, 8-2 WIN at Mets
Julio Teheran owns the Metropolitans and last Wednesday was no different. Though he struggled with control – he walked four – he only was charged with two runs. Meanwhile, the lineup took care of things and banged out 16 hits. The big knock of the game came from Tyler Flowers, who doubled with the bases loaded in the first to cap off a five-run inning. Flowers added a run-scoring single later. That was more than enough for Teheran, who has a 1.97 ERA against the Mets since the beginning of 2013 and will get a shot to lower that on Monday as the Braves welcome the Mets to Atlanta. Brandon Phillips did suffer a groin strain in the game, which would limit him the rest of the week.
April 27, 7-5 WIN at Mets
A four-run fifth inning would be the difference as the Braves sweep the rain-shortened series. With the Braves up 3-2 and one out in the fourth, Kurt Suzuki unloaded on Matt Harvey for a three-run bomb. It made it 6-2 and Atlanta would hold on from there. R.A. Dickey left after suffering a minor quad injury but expects to start tomorrow’s tilt with the Mets.
April 28, 10-8 WIN at Brewers
Twice down by four runs, the Braves stormed back to tie and then finally pull ahead on a two-run homer by Freddie Freeman in the ninth inning to take the first game of the series. Freeman had been 0-for-4 after failing with one out and the bases loaded in the third. He had also grounded into a double play in the fifth and stranded another runner in the 7th. But nobody cared about that once he bashed his eighth homer of the year. Bartolo Colon was again less-than-impressive as he allowed six runs in five innings while Jason Motte‘s Braves-debut included a pair of runs given up. Dansby Swanson walked twice and scored two runs while Ender Inciarte and Adonis Garcia each had two hits, including a double for both.
April 29, 11-3 WIN at Brewers
Matt Kemp became the first Brave since Mark Teixeira in 2008 to homer three times in a game as the Braves hammer the Brew Crew. Everyone in the starting lineup, save the pitcher, had at least a hit with Freeman and Nick Markakis joining Kemp with a trio of hits. Tyler Flowers did them one better with a four-hit barrage while Dansby Swanson hit his second homer of the year and had his first multi-hit game of the entire year. Brandon Phillips went 1-for-4 in his return to the lineup. Jaime Garcia walked five but mostly pitched around the potential damage for a quality start.
April 30, 4-3 LOSS at Brewers
Mike Foltynewicz pitched well, but two pitches to Domingo Santana were turned into homers as he suffers the loss. The second homer, however, should have been avoided. In the bottom of the sixth with two outs, Hernan Perez hit a grounder to short that Dansby Swanson ranged to his left for. He then bobbled the ball twice and failed to get a throw off. Santana followed with a three-run homer. Josh Collmenter continued his quietly solid work with two innings and 4 K’s in relief of Folty. The Braves had seven hits, including Freddie Freeman’s ninth homer, but could not put enough of the hits together for a big inning. Brandon Phillips did not start, but added a RBI pinch-hit single in the 7th.
This week: 4-1
Season: 10-13, 4th in NL East, 6 GB
Upcoming Schedule: Atlanta is fully booked this week as they return home. The Mets come into town for a quartet of night games before the Cardinals visit for a weekend series. Sunday is the only day game of the week and it’ll also be Alumni Sunday at SunTrust Park. Scheduled ex-Braves include Rafael Furcal, Johnny Estrada, Pete Smith, and Marty Perez.
Three Last Things
|Doug Anderson (CC By 2.0) via Flickr|
1) Speedy Braves
I mentioned over the weekend that the Braves are stealing bases at an impressive rate (82%). Only once have they reached the 80% threshold over a full season. Let’s take a look at three players that are most responsible for both the amount of steals (16-of-18 SB) and attempts (19-of-22 attempts). Ender Inciarte has been known as a good, though not great base stealer. Before this season, he had successfully stolen 56-of-76 attempts (74%). He had a couple of 40-steal seasons in the minors, but many felt he wasn’t fast enough to do that in the majors. The jury remains out, but he’s 7-for-7 so far this year and is on pace for 49 steals. He’s also been particularly good at stealing third base. Since becoming a Brave, he’s tried to swipe third base ten times and has done it each time.
Brandon Phillips has over 200 stolen bases in his career, but was just 14-of-22 last year. So far, he’s successfully stolen all but one of his six attempts. While slowed by a nagging groin injury right now, it’ll be interesting to see if he can get to 20 steals for just the second time since 2009. Possibly the most surprising speedster is Freddie Freeman. He’s already stolen four bases this season, which ties the second-best output of his career. Last year, he picked up a half-dozen steals. Could he be setting a new stolen base high for the second consecutive season?
In addition to his duties as a third-base coach and infield coach, Ron Washington helps with base-running. It could be a coincidence, but so far, Washington seems to be playing a major role in this team’s offensive output.
2) Colon Failures
On one hand, Bartolo Colon has been very disappointing. Signed to shore up the top of the rotation, Colon has an ERA that is over two runs higher than last year and is averaging a shade under six innings a start. On the other hand, he hasn’t actually been that different from last year. His SIERA and xFIP are almost identical while there is no discernable negative change in his velocity or movement.
Colon’s struggles so far this year seem to be a bigger product of some bad luck. He’s only stranded 64.5% of baserunners. That is 12% less than last year and nearly 10% less than his career. In fact, it’s the ninth worst mark among starters this year and if you don’t think it plays a role, you’re just seeing the bigger picture. Noah Syndergaard is has the lowest rate in baseball with a 54.8% LOB%. Despite a FIP of 1.01 and an xFIP of 2.16, his ERA was 3.29. Four other pitchers had a FIP under 2.00 – all had an ERA under 2.00 as well because their LOB% was more forgiving.
As Colon’s LOB% normalizes, his ERA will shrink. There’s nothing in his numbers to suggest he’s pitching worse than last year. He’s just been a bit less lucky.
3) Garcia’s Lucky Run
In comparison to Colon, new Braves left-hander Jaime Garcia has been much more fortunate. His strikeout rate is as low as it has ever been while his walk rate is as high as it’s ever been. His groundball percentage has also cratered. But unlike Colon, Garcia’s struggles have been mostly hidden. Sure, his 3.99 ERA isn’t overly impressive, but it’s not terrible. However, his 5.07 FIP/5.10 xFIP/5.32 xFIP are pretty awful. What’s at play here?
Part of the groundball rate issue may be new team based. While with the Cardinals, Garcia threw the sinker between 33.3% and 38% over the last four years. He’s gone to it 25.9% of the time with the Braves. To make up for that, he’s gone to his four-seamer 37.5% of the time. He’s gotten some better movement on the pitch than he did with the Cardinals, but it doesn’t induce grounders like his sinker.
Nothing stands out velocity or movement-wise so I don’t want to call this a mechanical issue. Nevertheless, it is concerning to see a groundball artist fail to get groundballs. Getting grounders has helped Garcia neutralize right-handers against him throughout his career. If they continue to connect at 36.5% hard-hit rate against Garcia, it’s going to be a long season.