Braves must take advantage against free-falling Rangers

B.J. Upton has a .333 career average with 16 extra-base hits (four homers) and a .579 slugging percentage in 31 games at Texas, all while he was with Tampa Bay.

B.J. Upton has a .333 career average with 16 extra-base hits (four homers) and a .579 slugging percentage in 31 games at Texas, all while he was with Tampa Bay.

  DALLAS – The Braves are back at Arlington, Texas, for the first time since 2008. Back when many Braves were still in high school and the Rangers had Josh Hamilton piling up 32 homers, 130 RBIs and a .901 OPS in his first full season in the majors. Oh, and veteran Gerald Laird mentoring and sharing time with second-year catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who had come over from Atlanta as part of the big Mark Teixeira trade the previous year (Andrus, Feliz, Harrison, etc.)

How time flies, huh?

Given the way these two teams have played lately, there might not be 15 runs scored in the entire three-game series that starts tonight. Or, both teams might be so long overdue offensively that they might bust out and score 20 apiece during the series.

Let’s just say, it’d be a lot more likely for the Braves to do the 20-run series thing.

B.J. Upton has a .333 career average with 16 extra-base hits (four homers) and a .579 slugging percentage in 31 games at Texas, all while he was with Tampa Bay.

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It’s hard to overstate just how bad the injury-riddled Rangers have been since mid-June. They are 19-57 with a 4.92 ERA in their past 76 games, and they’ve scored a pitiful 24 runs while posting a 1-11 record in their past 12 games. They scored more than three runs once in their past dozen games, while allowing more than three runs eight times.

Meanwhile, the Braves are 17-15 with a 3.08 ERA and 113 runs scored in 32 games since ending their infamous eight-game road trip. In their past 11 games, they’ve hit just .209 and totaled 26 runs while posting a 3.84 ERA. (Actually, when viewed that way, maybe they aren't much more likely than the Rangers to score 20 this weekend.)

However, they did produce 20 hits and 10 runs in the last two games of the Nationals series that ended Wednesday, and players and Fredi Gonzalez all said they saw hopeful signs of an offensive resurgence in that series. They'd best hope it continues, because the Braves need to keep scoring like that if they want to make up the two-game difference the Pirates have put between them and the Braves for the second wild-card spot. And the Brewers are also between Pittsburgh and Atlanta, a half-game ahead of the Braves.

Those still hanging onto dreams of repeating as NL East champions: I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on that notion, but it ain’t happening. The Nationals (83-62) reduced their magic number to nine after beating the Mets on Thursday. That means if the Nats went, oh, 5-11 the rest of the way, the Braves (75-71) would have to go 13-3 for Washington not to clinch the division.

The Braves’ last chance would’ve been to sweep the series at Washington this week, and it didn’t happen. The Nationals won two of three, pretty much sealing the deal and rendering the last series between the teams starting Monday in Atlanta a chance for the Braves to make another statement in the head-to-head matchup and get some more crucial wins in the wild-card race.

  • Speaking of facing the Nats: Freddie Freeman has hit safely in all 16 games against the Nationals this season, batting .476 (30-for-63) with seven doubles, four homers, 10 RBIs, 16 runs, a .521 OBP and .778 slugging percentage. In 70 career games against them, he's hit .329 with 28 extra-base hits (nine homers), 42 RBIs and a .383 OBP and .514 slugging percentage.

• B.J. vs. Rangers: Former Tampa Bay Ray B.J. Upton, in 55 against the Rangers through 2012, hit .299 with 11 doubles, four triples, nine homers, 29 RBIs, a .391 OBP and .527 slugging percentage. He is 15-for-36 (.417) with four homers and nine RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak against them (one game in 2011, the others  in 2012).

In his last game against the Rangers, Upton went 3-for-5 with three homers in a Rays win on Sept. 9, 2012. That game was in Florida.

And against veteran Derek Holland, the Rangers’ starter for Friday’s series opener, B.J. is 9-for-19 with a home run.

The Only other Brave with more than four official at-bats against him is Ryan Doumit (2-for-6).

 •Tonight's matchup: It's lefty Alex Wood (10-10, 2.90), arguably the Braves' best pitcher the 4-5 weeks, facing right-hander Derek Holland (1-0, 0.64) in his third start of the season since coming off the disabled list.

Wood is 5-4 with a 2.55 ERA and .218 opponents’ average in 14 starts since moving back into the rotation in late June, including 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA and .201 OA in his past eight starts. The Braves have scored two runs or fewer while he’s been in the game in six of his past eight starts, and in nine of his 14 starts since returning to the rotation.

The only Ranger who’s faced Wood is Shin-Soo Choo (0-for-1)

Holland’s only two starts this season have been this month at Kansas City and against Seattle, and he allowed only 12 hits and one run in 14 innings of those games, with no walks and 11 strikeouts. He’s never faced the Braves.

• Etc.

The Braves haven’t visited Arlington since 2008, when they went 1-2 and won the  middle game of the series. They did that same thing in their 2005 visit, and swept three from the Rangers in their only other series at Texas in 2002. The Braves lost two of three against the Rangers in the last series between the teams in 2011 at Turner Field.

• No state has produced more top-shelf songwriters than Texas, and none was greater than Townes Van Zandt. Here's one of his many, many terrific tunes. By the way, Atlanta's own post-punk band of eccentrics (and noted Braves fans), the stellar Black Lips, happen to be playing in Dallas on Saturday. And it's a day game for the Braves. Now that's timing.

“AT MY WINDOW” by Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt

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At my window

Watching the sun go

Hoping the stars know

It's time to shine


Aloft on dark wings

Soft as the sun streams

At days decline

Living is laughing

Dying says nothing at all

Baby and I are laying here

Watching the evening fall

Time flows

Through brave beginnings

And she leaves her endings

Beneath our feet

Walk lightly

Upon their faces

Leave gentle traces

Upon their sleep

Living is dancing

Dying does nothing at all

Baby and I are laying here

Watching the evening fall

Three dimes

Hard luck and good times

Fast lines and low rhymes

Ain't much to say

Feel fine

Feel low and lazy

Feel grey and hazy

Feel far away

Living is sighing

Dying ain't flying so high

Baby and I are lying here

Watching the day go by