PHILADELPHIA – After dropping all three series on the nine-game homestand that ended with a thud when the Braves were shut out by the Rockies, the struggling Bravos are back on the road to face one of the best teams (Cubs) in the National League and statistically the worst team (Phillies) in the majors. And guess which of those teams has dominated the Braves this season?
OK, that’s was a trick question. They both have.
Right after the Braves swept a three-game series from the Diamondbacks coming out of the All-Star break to get their record to 45-45 and stoke talk of a possible run at a wild-card spot, the Cubs supplied a rude awakening by following the Dbacks into Atlanta and sweeping a three-game series July 17-19. That began the slide that has continued pretty much unabated, the Braves having lost 26 of their past 38 games to fall to 57-71, with the same number of wins as the fourth-place, injury-riddled Mets (57-73).
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But before the Braves go to Chicago later this week to try for a little payback – or at least maybe a split – they will try to do a couple of things they haven’t done all season: Win a game in Philadelphia and win a series against the Phillies.
It still is hard to fathom that the Braves are 2-11 against the Phillies this season entering tonight's series opener, and that the Braves have been swept in seven games in their first two series at Citizen Bank Park, where the Braves will turn to rookie Lucas Sims for his first start in Philly when he takes the ball tonight. The Phillies have the worst record (48-81) in the majors, and against teams not named the Braves the Phillies are 37-79 overall and 20-35 at home.
And now the Braves, in their final series in Philly and one of their last two series against the Phillies this season, will try to avoid further embarrassment by taking at least two of three. It won’t be easy, because as bad as the Phillies are, they thrive against Atlanta and they've also received an injection of excitement since the arrival of rookie slugger Rhys Hoskins. He was called up Aug. 10 – the day after the Phillies completed a two-game sweep at SunTrust Park – and has hit like late-career Barry Bonds since joining the big-league club.
That’s only a slight exaggeration: In 18 major league games, Hoskins has hit .297 with an astounding 11 home runs, 24 RBIs, a .408 OBP and .828 slugging percentage. Yes, in his first 18 big-league games, he has 11 homers and a 1.236 OPS, with almost as many walks (11) as strikeouts (12). He’s the fastest to reach 11 homers in major league history, doing it in 64 at-bats. And he’s already set a Phillies rookie record for homers in a month, despite not hitting his first homer until Aug. 14. And the Phillies still have four games left in the month.
So there’s that for the Braves to contend with, as if they needed something else to overcome against their improbable nemesis from Philly.
The Braves lost their first five games against the Phillies, won the last two (June 7-8) of a four-game series at SunTrust Park to salvage a split, and have lost the last six in a row. Yes, the Braves have five-game and six-game losing streaks this season against the team with baseball’s worst winning percentage (.372).
Atlanta has scored 47 runs in 13 games against the Phillies, and 14 of those runs came in one game June 7, a 14-1 win. The Braves have totaled 33 runs in their other 12 games against the Phillies, an anemic 2.75 scoring average in a dozen games against a team with a 4.75 ERA -- which ranks 24th in the majors, one spot ahead of the Braves (4.77).
And the Braves have been remarkably consistent, scoring three runs or fewer in 10 games against the Phillies including six of the seven games at Citizens Bank Park, where Phillies pitchers have allowed 103 home runs, tied for third-most in the majors at home behind the Reds (112) and Twins (108).
Their struggles against the Phillies – a team that most of us figured the Braves could beat up on this season – have contribute to the ongoing slide for the Bravos. Since winning the first two games (July 20-21) of a four-game series at Dodger Stadium, the Braves are 10-23 with a 5.26 ERA, been outscored 175-137, out-homered 47-35, and out-OPS’d .830-.741
After winning the first two games (Aug. 4-5) of a three-game series against the Marlins, their last series win, the Braves lost the finale to begin a stretch in which they are 6-13 with a 5.23 ERA.
The Braves have scored two or fewer runs in six of those 19 games – including two times shut out by the Rockies -- while Atlanta pitchers have allowed five or more runs in 10 of those 19 games.
By the way, speaking of hitter-friendly ballparks, as we were regarding Citizens Bank Park here in Philly, now would be a good time to point out that the Braves’ 84 homers allowed at home (in 65 games) ranks 11th in the majors. And considering the proclivity of some Braves pitchers for giving up plenty of homers whether home or on the road, it’s become pretty apparent to many of us that the early narrative of SunTrust Park being “the new Launching Pad” was way overblown.
The Braves have given up 82 homers in 63 road games, tied for 16th in the majors in road homers allowed. That’s 1.30 homers per game allowed by Braves pitchers on the road, and 1.29 homers per game allowed by Braves pitchers at SunTrust Park.
There are five teams that have given up 102 or more homers at home, followed by the Mariners (94) and then a group of 12 teams that have given up 80-88 homers at home this season. The Braves are in that group, pretty much right in the middle of the majors.
Meanwhile, Braves hitters have just 63 homers in 65 home games, 27th in the majors, compared to 72 homers in 63 road games, tied for 24th in the majors. So despite knowing by now the quirks of their new home park and how the ball carries, etc., the Braves hit more homers on the road than at home.
So please, stop with the home-run park nonsense. Neither the Braves nor their opponents are hitting homers at a high rate at SunTrust Park this season compared to other teams and other parks, which are the only comparisons that are really relevant for the discussion.
For now, they just need to figure out how to hit a few more than the opposition at Citizens Bank Park these next three days. And try to keep this kid Hoskins in the park for at least a game or two in the series.
• I'll close with this this classic cut of Philly Soul, with the mighty Teddy Pendergrass on vocals. It don't get much better than this.
"IF YOU DON'T KNOW ME BY NOW" by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes