Maybin thriving with Braves as they return to San Diego

Cameron Maybin, shown circling the bases after a homer earlier this season, returns to San Diego riding a streak of four 2-hit games including a walkoff homer in the 10th inning Sunday against Arizona. (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)

Cameron Maybin, shown circling the bases after a homer earlier this season, returns to San Diego riding a streak of four 2-hit games including a walkoff homer in the 10th inning Sunday against Arizona. (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)

 SAN DIEGO – When the Braves got Cameron Maybin from the Padres in the six-player blockbuster that sent Craig Kimbrel to San Diego on the eve of spring training, let's be honest: he and fading slugger Carlos Quentin were extraneous parts of the deal, merely pieces the Braves had to take to offset some of the huge salary commitment that San Diego was absorbing by taking the remaining $46.35 million owed to Melvin Upton Jr. in his onerous contract.

The only pieces in the trade that anyone really desired were Kimbrel, whom the Padres wanted badly, and pitching prospect Matt Wisler and the 41st pick in the June draft, both of which fit perfectly into everything the rebuilding Braves were doing. Oh, and they also liked getting outfield prospect Jordan Paroubeck in the deal. But really, it was about dumping Upton, and getting back Wisler and the 41st draft pick in the process were like cherries upon the dump-Melvin sundae.

Cameron Maybin, shown circling the bases after a homer earlier this season, returns to San Diego riding a streak of four 2-hit games including a walkoff homer in the 10th inning Sunday against Arizona. (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)

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While the Braves immediately designated Quentin for assignment – he ended up retiring – they kept Maybin and figured he might be able to help in center field in some sort of platoon with Eric Young Jr.

To say that Maybin has been a pleasant surprise would be akin to saying that San Diego has decent weather and a pretty good zoo.

Maybin has hit .277 overall with nine homers, a career-high 51 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, a .336 OBP and .397 slugging percentage. And since moving into the regular lineup in late April, he’s hit .292 (104-for-356) in 93 games with six homers, 46 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and a .349 OBP.

Padres fans might hardly recognize Maybin, at least in terms of performance: Entering tonight's series opener against the Padres, the Braves' first visit to San Diego since the trade, Maybin is on a streak of four consecutive two-hit games, during which he's gone 8-for-17 with two doubles, a triple and Sunday's 10th-inning walk-off homer against the Diamondbacks.

Maybin is owed $8 million in 2016 in the final year of a five-year, $25 million contract extension he signed with San Diego in March 2012, a deal that also includes a $9 million team option in 2017 with a $1 million buyout. When he came to the Braves, there seemed to be almost zero chance that option would ever be exercised. Now, there’s no reason to believe that exercising that option won’t be strongly considered by the Braves -- or whatever team they might trade Maybin to this winter.

Right now, I think there’s a good chance the Braves go into next season with him as their center fielder. Team officials love him – both for how hard he’s worked to get his career back on track after a lot of injury-plagued seasons, and for how good a guy he’s been in the clubhouse and in the community, with fans and all.

If Maybin, 28, stays healthy and keeps performing at his current rate, who knows? He could be signed to an extension before that option would be in play.

For now, the Braves, who resisted trading Maybin before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, will hope that he continues to perform at a high level over the final 45 games of the season, including three against the Padres to start this seven-game road trip that culminates in Chicago.

In four seasons with the Padres, Maybin hit just .247 with 19 homers, 105 RBIs, a .307 OBP and .358 slugging percentage in 393 games and 1,458 plate appearances. As a Padre, the closest he got to his current level of performance was his first season in San Diego in 2011, when he batted .264 with a .323 OBP, nine homers, 40 RBIs and a career-high 40 stolen bases in 137 games.

The nine homers in 2011 were a career high that he matched Sunday, and he’s already surpassed his previous career high of 49 RBIs. His .716 OPS in 2011 is his career-best for a full season; Maybin currently has a .733 OPS.

He’s played 201 games at Petco Park, where Maybin has hit .248 (162-for-652) with 45 extra-base hits (10 triples, five homers), 48 RBIs, 40 stolen bases and a .316 OBP and .348 slugging percentage. He already has more RBIs in 107 games this season than he has in 201 games at Petco, and nearly twice as many homers.

• Tonight's matchup: Braves rookie Williams Perez (4-3, 4.21 ERA) will try to snap a three-start losing streak when he faces Padres rookie right-hander Colin Rea (1-0, 5.40), who'll make his second major league appearance and start. In his Aug. 11 debut vs. the Reds, Rea gave up seven hits, three runs and one walk with four strikeouts in seven innings.

Perez is 0-3 with a 7.85 ERA and .311 opponents’ average in three games (all starts) since returning from a five-week stint on the DL for a bruised foot from a line drive that struck him. In his last 10 appearances (eight starts) before the DL stint, he was 4-0 with a 2.17 ERA and .239 opponents’ average.

Perez gave up 19 hits and 14 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings his first two games back from the DL, but made a lot of progress his last time out when he limited the Rays to four hits and two runs in eight innings of a 2-0 loss Tuesday in one of his finest performances.

The Braves have failed to score a single run while he’s been in the game in any of his three starts since returning from the DL, after scoring four or more runs while he was in the game during five of his eight starts before the DL stint.

In his only game against the Padres, Perez had one of his best outings, allowing just four hits and one unearned run in seven innings of a 4-1 win June 10 in Atlanta.

• The incredibly unlucky pitcher: The Braves had lost 10 consecutive games started by Shelby Miller before winning in 10 innings Sunday, when Miller took a no-hitter to the eighth inning and got no decision. This is amazing, of course, because Miller has pitched very well in most of those games, including another outstanding performance Sunday in a 2-1 win over the Diamondbacks, when he took a no-hitter to the eighth inning.

Remarkably, Miller is 0-8 in his past 16 starts despite a 3.03 ERA, .254 opponents’ average and 85 strikeouts with 36 walks in 98 innings. No other major league pitcher has had a winless drought that long with an ERA that low,  according to Elias.

The Braves have scored fewer than 1.4 runs per innings pitched  by Miller during his winless drought. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his ERA is the lowest for any pitcher in a 16-start winless period at least since official scoresheets were tabulated in both leagues beginning in 1913.

In his first eight starts, Miller was 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA and .156 opponents’ average, and the Braves averaged

Shelby Miller was great (again) on Sunday, but didn't get a win (again) as his winless streak reached 16 starts. (Getty Images)

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4.5 runs per nine innings that he pitched in that span.

Miller has just two wins (2-5) in 12 home starts despite posting a 2.01 ERA, .216 opponents’ average and 76 strikeouts (with 29 walks) in 76 innings at Turner Field. Really, that’s just about unbelievable. In his past nine home starts, he’s 0-4 with a 2.29 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 55 innings.

The Braves scored no runs while he was in five of his past seven home starts, and one run while he was in Sunday’s game.

• The underachieving Nationals: Don't look now, but the Braves are only five games behind the second-place Nationals in the NL East standings.

Beginning Aug. 2, the Braves have gone 7-6 with a 4.39 ERA, .270 batting average and 57 runs scored in 13 games. In that same time period, the Nationals are 4-11 with a 5.34 ERA, .233 batting average and 57 runs in 15 games.

With an approximate $210 million payroll, the Nationals – a near-consensus preseason pick as NL pennant frontrunners -- are a game under .500 at 58-59, now almost as close to the Braves as they are to the first-place Mets, who lead the Nats by 4 ½ games.

And since it’s pretty obvious that a wild card team isn’t coming out of the NL East this season – the Nationals are 9 ½ games out of the second wild-card spot -- the Nats are very much in danger of missing the playoffs altogether unless they go on one of those runs that so many people have been waiting for them to go on for a while now. Like, for three years now. (We exaggerate, but only slightly.)

I’ve said since spring that the Nationals’ parts are greater than the sum of those parts, if that makes any sense. They have a lot of expensive pieces that either aren’t worth the money anymore, and/or don’t fit together well. They have one tremendously talent young player, Bryce Harper, who has to carry the offense much of the time while a couple of the overpaid veterans who were supposed to carry the offense instead are almost perpetually slumping and/or recovering from injuries.

And we can now officially scoff at the notion that the Nationals’ starting rotation was going to be too great to not win a pennant. Remember that one? At this rate, they’re going to have to fight just to win a weak division, because the Mets actually have the great – albeit young – rotation that so many folks previously thought the Nationals had assembled.

When the Nationals hit .289 with 34 homers while winning 20 of 25 games from April 28 through May 25, they lulled a lot of people, including themselves, into thinking their pieces had all come together and that they were the team to beat in the NL East. Well, the fact is, they were 7-13 with a .215 batting average in the first 20 games of the season before that 20-5 run, and they are 31-41 with a .240 batting average (3.88 ERA) in the 72 games since that 20-5 run.

In other words, just another team. An expensive team, but ultimately just another team. A team that, with its 58-89 record, would be in fourth place in the NL Central, 9 ½ games behind the third-place Cubs.

The other obvious problem with the Nationals and their 58-59 record: They’re not a team building for the future. They’re a team that was built for now.

• Don't sleep on Padres – Not that the Braves are in any position to take anyone lightly, particularly not on the West Coast, given their recent woes on all trips out this way. But if anyone tuned out the Padres after their wholly disappointing first half, then look a little closer and you'll see they've not been awful lately.

They’ve no doubt had a big disappointment of a season after spending so much and mortgaging so much of their future in trades last winter, but the Padres are 19-19 in their past 38 games, including 4-2 in past with consecutive series wins at home against the Reds and at Colorado this past weekend.

And here’s the thing: They own the Braves out there at Petco Park. The Padres are 12-6 overall in their past 18 games against the Braves, including 7-0 in San Diego. The Braves’ last win at Petco Park was a 2-0 shutout on Aug. 28, 2012, when Kris Medlen threw eight innings of five-hit ball with nine strikeouts and no walks – in 100 pitches. Remember efficiency?

• Braves' home/road dichotomy: Of all the seasons when the Braves might be expected to reverse their fortunes in San Diego, this ain't the one. Because they've struggled everywhere on the road lately.

Away from Turner Field, the Braves have gone 7-25 with a 4.94 ERA and only 100 runs scored in their past 32 games, including a ghastly 2-15 with a 5.26 ERA and meager 43 runs scored in their past 17 road games, a stretch that began with the July 8 series finale at Milwaukee when the Braves led 4-0 after three inning and 5-3 after seven innings, only to lose 6-5 as the Brewers avoided a sweep.

The Braves continued on to Colorado and got swept in four games, taking  a five-game losing skid into the All-Star break.

While they’ve never recovered fully from that five-game skid before the break, at home the Braves have remained quite competitive, going 19-11 with a 3.22 ERA in their past 30 games. Their 110 runs scored in those 30 games is modest, but far greater than their road output.

• Moylan's return: The welcome return of reliever Peter Moylan finally happened Sunday, when the amiable Aussie sidearmer retired both Arizona batters he faced, including Paul Goldschmidt.

Moylan went 23 months between major league appearances, since undergoing a second Tommy John elbow surgery. Coincidentally, Moylan’s last previous appearance had also been two-thirds of an inning against the Dbacks, on Sept. 18, 2013 at Arizona. He gave up one hit and one walk in that appearance.

Here's one from Tom Waits, who spent a lot of time in Southern California. This one's from the classic album The Heart of Saturday Night.


Tom Waits

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I never saw the morning 'til I stayed up all night

I never saw the sunshine 'til you turned out the light

I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long

I never heard the melody, until I needed a song.

I never saw the white line, 'til I was leaving you behind

I never knew I needed you 'til I was caught up in a bind

I never spoke 'I love you' 'til I cursed you in vain,

I never felt my heartstrings until I nearly went insane.

I never saw the east coast 'til I move to the west

I never saw the moonlight until it shone off your breast

I never saw your heart 'til someone tried to steal, tried to steal it away

I never saw your tears until they rolled down your face.