ST. LOUIS — Saturday morning at Busch Stadium, someone asked Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez about a good matchup Sunday against Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia, since his team has hit far better against left-handers than against right-handers.
“We haven’t hit anybody. You know who we’ll hit? We’ll hit the guy in the cage who flips the balls to (hitters during batting practice),” Gonzalez joked. “If one of those guys shows up, we’re going to crush that guy.”
Reporters laughed. Gonzalez smiled. The manager was trying to keep things a little light during what has been a brutal stretch for the Braves and particularly their hitters. After losing 5-2 in Friday’s series opener against the Cardinals, the Braves were 5-11 with a .210 batting average and 39 runs in their past 16 games.
They had averaged fewer than 2.5 runs and scored as many as four runs just four times in that 16-game stretch, and then mustered only six hits in a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday.
The Braves had a .212 batting average in their past 22 games and have not recorded a double-digits hits game since getting 10 hits in a 5-4 win against Cincinnati on April 25.
“We’ve just got to keep going,” said third baseman Chris Johnson, whose recent resurgence has been one of the few bright spots for the offense lately. “It’s tough obviously. We’re frustrated. We want to put some crooked numbers up there. But can’t force it. Got to stay the course and keep working, and hopefully we can get going.”
Braves hitting coach Greg Walker has been frustrated by hitters’ pitch selection and impatience, and says he’s never seen a team swing at more bad pitches. Walker says they must, can and will improve.
Gonzalez said it was important that he remain optimistic and supportive of his players and coaches, and that his message was to try to relax. He doesn’t want criticism or negativity swirling around the team from outside the organization to affect them.
“I feel this team can hit anybody at any given time,” Gonzalez said. “And like I said last night in the postgame comments, they’re a talented bunch of guys. We just haven’t gotten going. It may be today. You never know.
“You look at matchups, you look at the guy pitching and you may think, we’ve got no chance today. And that’s the night you score 11. And then you might be chomping on the bit thinking we’re going to crush whoever, because the matchup is favorable, and the next thing you know that guy is in the eighth with a one-hitter. That’s the game of baseball.”
The Braves face Jaime Garcia on Sunday, in the veteran lefty’s first major league start since shoulder surgery 12 months ago.
Before Saturday, the Braves were 29th in the majors in runs. In the National League they ranked 13th in batting average (.231) and 14th in on-base percentage (.290). But against left-handers they had a .273 average (fourth in the NL), and their .342 on-base percentage vs. lefties was second-best in the league behind the Rockies (.350).
Unfortunately for the Braves, they had only 264 at-bats against lefties before Saturday, compared to 1,076 against righties. Against righties, they’d batted .221 with a .277 OBP that was the league’s second-lowest before Saturday.