Last week the Atlanta Braves returned to Turner Field to begin the longest homestand of the season, and with three games each against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals, and four games against the Chicago Cubs, they had a golden opportunity to make up ground within the National League East, and to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Today they go into the last game against the Cubs trying to salvage a 5-5 homestand, but could come out of it as poorly as 4-6. This is not what Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves were hoping for.
If you can’t raise it up a notch when you are at home and you get to play two sub-500 teams, and the team that is leading your division, then there’s a problem. Possibly several.
In the column I wrote prior to this homestand beginning, I pointed out several keys for the homestand:
- Michael Bourn needs to continue to get on base regularly – YES: Bourn hit .306 with 6 BB, and 8 RBI. He did his job
- Either Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, or Chipper Jones need to emerge from their mini-slump. – NO: Chipper did raise his average, although he only hit 1 home run, with 7 RBI (4 of those in one game against the Cubs). Freeman’s average has slid to .256 now, and he looks completely lost at the plate. McCann is even worse, with an average of .110 on the homestand thus far.
- Jason Heyward – named NL Player of the Week last week – needs to keep his hot bat going. – NO: Heyward lost 12 points on his average, and had only 1 home run and 4 RBI.
- Innings, Innings, Innings, out of starting picthing. The bullpen needs to be able to be fresh when called on. – NO: Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson were the only two starters able to go beyond 6 innings, and twice Braves starters couldn’t even get into the 5th inning.
- Kimbrel time – get into the 9th inning with a lead, and let Craig Kimbrel do the rest. – NO: Kimbrel has only been able to get into 3 games so far, and in one of them he gave up the game-winning home run.
So obviously, other than Michael Bourn, the Braves really didn’t do much in the way of fundamental ball to make this a successful homestand.
But there is one area where the Braves have looked absolutely horrid during this stretch. Situational hitting.
Wednesday night’s game against the Cubs is s perfect example. The 1-2 hitters in the Braves lineup – Bourn and Martin Prado – went 5 for 8, yet the Braves could only manage to score one run. They left seven men on base in scoring position. You can’t win games hitting like that.
The normally sure-handed Atlanta team has also committed seven errors in the first 9 games of the homestand, with all but two of them allowing unearned runs to score.
Bullpen woes, sluggers that aren’t slugging, sloppy fielding, and some poor hitting with runners in scoring position all spells S-E-P-T-E-M-B-E-R-2-0-1-1, and that’s a spelling bee entry the Braves don’t want to win.