We’ve been saying all summer the Braves can’t hit a lick. On the first day of September, they proved it. They hit not Lick 1 against four pitchers from a last-place team. They made 27 outs, only one of which had even a chance of being a hit, and not one of the 27 was made by B.J. Upton or Dan Uggla.
The Braves were no-hit on a day when the opposing starter spent the first three innings walking (or plunking) the ballpark. The usually precise Cole Hamels walked the first two Braves in the first inning, hit the leadoff man in the second and walked two of the first three in the third. All five moved into scoring position. The Braves even busied themselves stealing four bases.
Three hours later, Hamels was relishing his laborious role in a Labor Day no-hitter. Meanwhile, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez opened his media briefing by saying of Hamels: “He wasn’t sharp. He wasn’t his usual Cole Hamels self.”
Three no-hitters have been worked against the Braves at Turner Field. The first was by Randy Johnson, who was great. The second was by Ubaldo Jimenez, who was then really good. The third was by Hamels, who needed 108 pitches to manage 18 outs, and three relievers. This wasn’t a case of a superb pitcher having a career game. This was a bad-hitting team descending to a new low.
“We had some good at-bats,” third baseman Chris Johnson said, and he wasn’t being entirely fanciful. The Braves drove up Hamels’ pitch count — it stood at 42 after two innings — so fast that a complete game was never going to happen. All that patience and basepath motion availed them naught. Johnson’s third-inning liner with men on second and third was gloved by a diving Marlon Byrd. That was essentially that.
The indignity quotient was doubled by this: Julio Teheran came very close to outpitching Hamels. Teheran was within an out of getting his team to the seventh-inning stretch down only 2-0. But an inning that began its disintegration when Andrelton Simmons muffed Domonic Brown’s grounder fell to pieces when Ben Revere lined Teheran’s final pitch over Jason Heyward’s head for a three-run triple.
“I thought I threw a good game,” said Teheran, who has grown accustomed to seeing stellar work unrewarded. This was his 23rd quality start, tying him with King Felix Hernandez for the second-most in the majors. Of those 23, the Braves have lost seven. And that’s not even the worst ratio regarding this rotation: Alex Wood has worked 15 quality starts, of which the Braves have lost eight. (More than half!)
The Braves lead the majors with 97 quality starts (six inning pitched with three or fewer earned runs); they’ve won 72 games. They’ve left 25 winnable-by-definition games on the table. Contrast this with last season, when the Braves worked 102 quality starts and won 96 games. At least the Braves could hit home runs back then.
This wretched offense — the Braves entered Monday’s game 29th among 30 big-league teams in runs — has left their pitchers no room for error. Wood had to win Sunday’s game 1-0. Teheran had to watch Monday as his mates mustered zero runs and zero hits.
“They no-hit us,” Gonzalez said. Then, stating the obvious from a different angle: “We got no hits.” Then: “We’ve played three games and scored one run.”
Then this: “We’ll go back out there tomorrow and start swinging the bats.”
Even as we applaud the manager for his can-do attitude, we must also note that his men have scarcely swung the bats all season. (Unless swinging and missing counts. The Braves are very good at that.) This team has gotten five great months from a cobbled-together rotation, and if it could hit just a little, it could play beyond September. But the regular season’s final month commenced with a loss so galling as to make October seem a distant star.
“It just feels like a loss,” Johnson said, and in the standings that’s all this four-way no-hitter will be. But darned if it didn’t feel like the culmination of everything wrong with these Braves. They can swing but they can’t hit. They can run but they can’t hide.
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