Last season the Atlanta Braves were not swept in a series until September when they faced the St. Louis Cardinals. The St. Louis Cardinals went to to win the National League Wild Card while the Braves’ collapse sent them home for a long off-season. Thus far in the 2012 season the Braves have been swept by the Mets, Reds and as of last night, the Nationals.
In the first two months of the season, we have been treated to break out offense and sporadic pitching, the opposite of the 2011 Braves. Unfortunately, the last 7 games have looked a lot like the 2011 Braves and it can all be blamed on injuries, inconsistent pitching and a few untimely slumps.
Braves pitching is of concern. As Andrew Hirsch wrote for BravesWire, pitching has eroded. The Braves are now 21st in Major League Baseball in ERA. Granted, some of that has to do with the rough outings of the now demoted Jair Jurrjens, but Mike Minor and Randall Delgado have contributed to the high team ERA.
Though the Braves do have two rotation options in Livan Hernandez and Kris Medlen, Fredi Gonzalez again demonstrated in last night’s loss that he likes using Hernandez as his long man regardless of the damage. Medlen, aside from the grand slam he gave up in relief of Mike Minor recently, has been one of the more reliable arms in the ‘pen. With the ongoing struggle of Jonny Venters and the unpredictability of Chad Durbin, depth in the bullpen is as troublesome as the current rotation. Jurrjens has struggled at Triple-A and is not on course to return to the big league club anytime soon. Teheran may be the best option at Triple-A. Todd Redmond, who just won the International League pitcher of the week award, may also be a possibility.
Pitching is not the only problem. The complete lack of offense can be attributed to the injury suffered by Chipper Jones in Tampa Bay which has landed him on the DL, the continued vision issues of Freddie Freeman, the 6-day unavailability of Brian McCann due to the flu, the cold bat Michael Bourn has been swinging over the last few games and the slumping Jason Heyward (whose nonchalant fielding is disconcerting as well).
While there’s a good chance the Nationals will eventually hit a wall with their pitching staff, it was not easy for the Braves and Braves fans to lose 3 straight to the rival Nats. Meanwhile, the unlikely New York Mets have moved into second place in the NL East, the Marlins into 3rd and the 7-game losing streak of the Braves has dropped them to 4th in the division. The Braves are now 4 games behind the division-leading Nationals and merely 1 game ahead of the floundering Phillies.
3-GAME SERIES WITH THE CARDS…
Monday: Lynn (7-1, 2.54) vs. Hanson (5-3, 3.12)
Tuesday: Westbrook (4-3, 3.38) vs. Delgado (2-5, 4.53)
Wednesday: Lohse (5-1, 2.90) vs. Hudson (3-2, 4.12)
The St. Louis Cardinals escaped being swept by the Phillies this weekend with a win last night. They, like the Braves, are down several players due to injury. They’ve lost Lance Berkman to a right knee injury that required surgery. They are still without Jon Jay and Allen Craig. By way of pitching, Chris Carpenter and Kyle McClellan will not return until August. And last night the Cards watched their leader on the field, Yadier Molina, leave the game with dehydration. The difference between the Braves’ struggles and the Cardinals’ struggles may come down to pitching. The Cardinals starting rotation has been solid.
In their previous 11 home games, the Braves are 3-8 with a 5.44 ERA. In 6 of those 11 games at the Ted, the Braves allowed 7 runs or more.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.