Taking three cuts following the Braves’ 7-4 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park on Saturday.
1. Has Medlen come back down to earth?
Kris Medlen got off to an impressively odd start, scoring his first out before pitching a strike.
He walked Austin Jackson on four pitches before picking him off. Medlen now has 12 pickoffs since the start of last season, a figure only bested by the Reds’ Johnny Cueto, Blue Jays’ R.A. Dickey and Dodgers’ Zack Greinke.
But while the Braves didn’t drop a regular-season game Medlen started in almost three years — a run that would go from May 23, 2010 until April 4’s 2-0 loss to the Phillies, and which included an MLB-record 23 straight victories — they’ve now dropped two such games.
He followed up a 4-2 defeat on Sunday vs. the Pirates in which he yielded three runs on seven hits, by giving up five runs and career-high 10 hits against the Tigers.
Medlen (1-3) had just one previous stretch where he had allowed at least five earned runs, and those were in relief appearances on May 24, 26 and 28 of last season, but since becoming a starter, his worst two-start run was two and one runs on Sept. 8 and 14, respectively. He also allowed just one multi-run inning in 12 starts in ’12 and has been touched for three in his last three outings, including two on Saturday.
So what’s going on?
Medlen has seen an increase in his home run to fly ball ratio, which sat at an impressive 5.7 percent last season and is now at 8.6, which is just below FanGraph’s Above Average line, after giving up shots to Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante. Then there’s his batting average on balls in play at .282, compared to .261 in’12, which is leaning more toward the major league average of .290-.300.
None of this means Medlen is falling back to terra firma after his remarkable ’12 — he’s still, by and large, performing at high level — it just means that for the first time as a starter, we’re seeing him go through a tough stretch.
2. The win-with-a-homer streak is now over
It had been a testament to Atlanta’s power, and what’s happened to this team on days when it just wasn’t there: heading into Saturday, the Braves were 15-0 when they hit at least one home run and 0-7 when they didn’t.
So much for that.
Justin Upton hit his 12th blast of the season, putting an 83-mph changeup from Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit into the left-center field seats in the eighth inning. But that solo shot would be the first time they had put anyone on base since Juan Francisco’s single in the fourth.
While the Braves did score without the long ball — which produced 53 percent of their runs coming into the day -— going 2-for-3 with a walk and three runs scored with runners in scoring position after a 0-for-5 performance in those situations on Friday night, they were again haunted by their biggest offensive issue.
Atlanta fanned 10 more times on Saturday, giving them 17 in the last two games. Five of those were at the hands of Rick Porcello, who was 0-2 with an 11.08 ERA and a .383 batting average, and lasted just 2/3 of an inning in his previous start.
In all, the Braves have 84 strikeouts in their past eight games, which includes six defeats.
3. Can Minor get the Braves back on track?
The Braves’ three-game sweep of the Nationals in Washington, D.C. seemed every bit an early statement that Atlanta was ready to go toe-to-toe with the defending National League East champions.
But with the Nationals heading to town for a three-game series beginning Monday, the last thing the Braves want in facing their chief rivals is to be coming off four straight losses and six of eight during this 11-game road trip.
That puts the pressure on Sunday’s starter, Mike Minor (3-1, 1.80 ERA), who was sensational in his last outing when he held the Rockies to three runs on five hits and two walks, all while wearing short sleeves in 20-degree temperatures.
He’ll have his work cut out for him, not just because the Tigers are scorching at the plate vs. Atlanta, piling up 17 runs and 28 hits in two games, but because they’ve also been strong against lefties, with a .293/.371/.419 slash line in 226 plate appearances.
But in needing to bring an end to their slide, the Braves should feel confident putting the ball in the hands of the guy who has overall been their best starter in the season’s first month.