Three Cuts: Bullpen struggles again as Braves fall to D-backs
The Braves offense delivered, but the bullpen did the bats and starter Aaron Harang no favors in a loss to the Diamondbacks. Plus, Justin Upton continues to go deep in places he's called home and Atlanta catchers stay hot at the plate.
Justin Upton, a former Diamondback, homered for the 91st time at one of the stadiums in which he's called home (Arizona's Chase Field and Atlanta's Turner Field).
Matt York / AP
By Cory McCartney
Less than 24 hours after suffering their first extra-inning loss of the season, the Braves saw another area in which they've dominated turn on them in Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Diamondbacks.
Atlanta fell for the third time in 21 games in which they've scored at least five runs behind another blown lead and continued bullpen problems. The Braves fell into a three-way tie with the Marlin and Nationals for first place in the National League East.
Here are three observations as the Braves continued a swing through the NL West that takes them to Colorado beginning Monday:
1. Atlanta bullpen does Harang, offense no favors
After five innings of no-hit ball -- a stretch in which he flirted with disaster a couple of times, but managed to get out of trouble, including the fifth inning when Arizona had the bases loaded with zero outs -- Aaron Harang turned over the lead the Braves bats gave him by giving up a two-run home run to David Peralta in the seventh.
But a lead the Braves could have regained behind a two-run eighth-inning courtesy of Freddie Freeman's solo home run and a Tommy La Stella single, wasn't enough as the bullpen continued its struggles.
Luis Avilan took over for Harang and proceeded to walk Eric Chavez, then David Hale stepped in and gave up back-to-back two-run hits -- a single by Chris Owings and Paul Goldschmidt's 12th homer of the year
Miguel Montero piled on by following with a double off Hale, then Ender Inciarte singled off Alex Wood in the eighth and advanced to third off a Wood throwing error.
The Braves bullpen made history this weekend as Craig Kimbrel broke John Smoltz's franchise record for saves, but overall this group hasn't been as dominant as a year ago when they had a 2.46 ERA, tying for the best in the game since 1990.
Atlanta has a 3.22 ERA, 10th-best in baseball -- a number that has ballooned to 6.03 over the last 12 games -- despite returning all of the key pieces from '13 in Kimbrel, Avilan, David Carpenter, Anthony Varvaro and a rehabbing Jordan Walden.
Avilan now has a 4.95 ERA on the season, while Wood has an ERA of over 5.00 out of the bullpen and since May 14, Carpenter has allowed eight runs in 8 2/3 innings (8.31).
Walden, who is effective against both left-handed and right-handed batters, can offer some flexibility and take some of the stress off lefties Avilan and Wood, but its' clear the Atlanta bullpen -- outside of Kimbrel -- is a step below its domination of a year ago.
2. Justin Upton subscribes to nostalgia's primary axiom, or a variation of it
'Wizard of Oz' writer L. Frank Baum -- and more famously to the layman, Judy Garland -- once told us "there's no place like home." Sure, it's cliche, but it's something that Upton's stats show he knows all too well, as Sunday he blasted a two-run HR in the sixth inning in a place that he used to call home.
As a member of the Diamondbacks, he played in six seasons at Chase Field, and in that span, Upton connected on 67 of his 108 HRs at home. It's a trend he's continued since joining the Braves, with 13 of his 27 a season ago coming at Turner Field, and this season he has 10 in Atlanta compared to four on the road.
In all, Upton has hit 91 of his career HRs at the two stadiums in which he primarily plays, accounting for 61 percent of his career 149 blasts. He's posted double-figures in just one other park, San Diego's Petco Park, where he has 10.
It's a home/away split that puts Upton among the game's best power hitters in friendly confines.
Since 2008, his first full season in the majors, Upton has hit 88 HRs at home. That ranks 16th on a list topped by Miguel Cabrera (121) and Prince Fielder (117). But when you take into account the percentage of home run totals at home, Upton's 61 percent is the highest in baseball, just edging out the White Sox's Paul Konerko and his 60.9 percent (192) at U.S. Cellular Field.
3. Braves catchers keep on hitting
Gerald Laird's third-inning single gave him a hit in six straight games in which he's started and it pushed the streak for the Braves catchers to 13 in a row.
That's the second-longest streak at the position in the majors this season, trailing only the Cardinals, who did it in 18 straight with Yadier Molina (15) and Tony Cruz (three).
Evan Gattis is responsible for nine of those consecutive games for the Braves, including Saturday when he went 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles and an RBI. Laird completed the three-game set in Arizona by going 2 for 4 with a two-bagger.
Since May 23, the last time an Atlanta catcher did not start the game and have at least one hit, Gattis and Laird are a combined 22 for 58 with four home runs, six doubles, 15 RBI and three walks.
On the season, the Braves are 11th in MLB with a .262 average via their catchers, though they are tied for the lead in home runs -- all 12 are via Gattis -- and are fourth in slugging (.467).
Make of it what you will, but Brian McCann, whom the Braves opted not to push to the extent the Yankees were (five years at $85 million) is hitting .230/.288/.372 with seven homers and 27 RBI. Both of Atlanta's primary catchers have higher averages and OBPs and Gattis has more homers and RBI.
Despite losing a seven-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award recipient, the Braves are getting impressive offensive production at catcher.