Braves searching for lefty reliever; Miller would do nicely

  NEW YORK – Monday night's loss to the Mets provided another reminder of why the Braves have made bolstering their bullpen a priority before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and specifically why they're looking for a lockdown-type left-hander who could help restore their 'pen to something close to its elite level of recent seasons.

Someone like Andrew Miller of the Red Sox, for instance. More on that in a moment.

After the Braves scored three runs to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning Monday, lefty Luis Avilan gave up the lead on a Curtis Granderson homer in the bottom of the inning, a blown save and a big blow on a night when the Braves were poised to win for just the third time – but second time against the Mets in eight days -- when trailing after the seventh inning.

Instead, they lost and had to go an extra couple of innings before the Mets walked off with an 11th-inning victory.

Avilan is tied with two others for the major league lead with 46 relief appearances, and he has a 4.22 ERA and .286 opponents’ average in his past 17 appearances, allowing 12 hits and five runs in 10 2/3 innings with three walks and only three strikeouts in that span.

He gave up at least one hit in nine of those 17 games. “Avi” just doesn’t dominate hitters, including lefties, like he did as a rookie. His sinker was all but unhittable then, and isn’t now.

His .287 opponents’ average – second-highest among NL relievers  -- and .357 opponents’ OBP includes .266/.324 by lefty batters, who have 17 hits including two homers against him in 64 at-bats, and six walks with a modest 13 strikeouts. His 14.0 runners allowed per nine innings is the fourth-highest among NL relievers.

With runners in scoring position, hitters are 11-for-39 (.282) against Avilan with 10 walks, four strikeouts and a .420 OBP.

And in the last innings of close games, where Avilan once shone, hitters are 17-for-57 (.298) against him with five extra-base hits including two homers, 14 RBIs, seven walks, seven strikeouts and a .375 OBP and .474 slugging percentage. Alarming numbers, especially this deep into the season.

If you don’t have a consistent and high-scoring offense or two or three dominant starters who go 7-8 innings every time out, then having a shutdown group to handle the seventh through ninth innings is especially crucial. The Braves have had that for most of the past several years. But not this season, at least not on a regular basis.

However, they could still have it for the stretchd drive and playoffs they’re able to make a big move or two before the break.

The Braves had one of their top scouts following the Red Sox in recent days, and Miller is far and away the best lefty they have, and the best available before the deadline. But he surely won’t come cheap, and he’ll be a free agent after the season.

Unless the cost is entirely prohibitive, the Braves need to make this move. Get Miller.

The 6-foot-7 lefty has a .180 opponents’ average (22-for-122) with one homer, 10 walks, 55 strikeouts and a .255 OBP and .238 slugging percentage in 33 2/3 innings, including .167/.231/.250 by lefty batters, who are 8-for-48 against him with four walks and 25 strikeouts.

Miller’s 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched is third-best in the majors, trailing only the Yankees’ David Robertson (16.43) and  Craig Kimbrel (15.28).

In his past 15 appearances, Miller has a .139 opponents’ average with 20 strikeouts and three walks in 10 2/3 innings, beginning with two strikeouts in two-thirds of an inning against the Braves on May 27 in Atlanta.

With runners in scoring position, he’s allowed just a .133 average (4-for-30) this season with four walks and 14 strikeouts.

In close-late-situations, hitters are 14-for-80 (.175) against him with two walks and 37 strikeouts, for a puny .212 OBP and .263 slugging percentage. Folks, that’s dominance.

If the Braves could pull off a trade for him, add him to the mix with Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, Shae Simmons and Co., it’d be a formidable ‘pen, indeed.

• Freeman vs.  Mets: With three hits including a double in Monday's series opener, Mets killer Freddie Freeman has hit safely in 15 of his past 16 games against the Mets and batted .429 (27-for-63) in that span with seven doubles, four homers, 18 RBIs, .486 OBP, .730 slugging percentage.

He has a .325 career average in 63 games against the Mets with career-highs of 21 doubles, 13 homers and 53 RBIs, with a .398 OBP and robust .581 slugging percentage.

In four games at Citi Field this season, Freeman is 9-for-18 with four doubles, a homer and four  RBIs. He’s doubled in every game the Braves have played at the ballpark this season.

• Tonight's matchup: It's newly minted Braves All-Star Julio Teheran (8-5, 2.29 ERA) against Jacob deGrom (1-5, 3.77) in the second game of the four-game series.

Teheran is 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA in his past four starts, with 30 strikeouts, five walks and one homer allowed in 29 innings. The Braves scored no runs while he was in the games in his no-decision and his loss during that period.

The Braves ace is 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA in five career games (four starts) against the Mets, including 1-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three since the beginning of the 2013 season. He gave up seven hits and one run in seven innings of a win against them Wednesday in Atlanta.

Against Teheran, Eric Young is 4-for-9, Lucas Duda is 3-for-10 with a homer, David Wright is 1-for-8 with a homer, and Ruben Tejada is 0-for-10

DeGrom is 1-1 with a 2.41 ERA in his past three starts, including seven scoreless innings of five-hit ballin a win at Miami. The loss was against the Braves in his last start Wednesday against Teheran in Atlanta, where deGrom allowed six hits and three runs in five innings, with two walks and eight strikeouts. It was his first appearance against the Braves.

Chris Johnson went 2-for-2 with three RBIs against deGrom in that game, while Justin Upton went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.

DeGrom is 0-3 in four home starts despite a 2.49 ERA and .237 opponents’ average at Citi Field.

• Chat link: We're keeping it a bit short today after getting back to hotel at 2 a.m. last night following late game, then doing an online chat earlier and not having quite as much time to put together the blog. Here's a link to that chat in case you missed it. We're doing them each Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. during the season.

• I'll close with one of the all-time great soul songs. Both versions here are terrific: this one by First Choice,  and Al Green's original here.

“LOVE AND HAPPINESS” by A. Green, W. Mitchell, A. Jackson

Love and happiness, yeah

Something that can make you do wrong make you do right, hey


Love and happiness

Wait a minute

Something's going wrong

Someone's on the phone

Three o'clock in the morning, yeah

Talkin' about

How she can make it right



Happiness is when you really feel good about somebody

There's nothing wrong with being in love with someone

Happiness is when you really feel good about somebody

Nothing wrong with being in love with someone, yeah

Oh, baby, love and happiness (love and happiness)

Love and happiness (love and happiness)

Love and happiness (love and happiness)

Love and happiness (love and happiness)

You be good to me

And I'll be good to you

And we'll be together

We'll see each other

Walk away with victory, hey

Oh baby,

Love and happiness (love and happiness)

Love and happiness (love and happiness)

Hey, hey, hey

Make you do right...

Love'll make you do wrong...

Make you come home early...

Make you stay out all night long...

The power of love...

Wait a minute,

Let me tell you

'Bout the power

The power of love

Power, power

Make you do right... love'll make you do wrong...

[x3:] (Love and happiness)

Make you want to dance...

Love and happiness...

Love is... wait a minute... love is...

Walkin' together...

Talkin' together...

Say it again...

Say it together...