Back Stretch Primer

Jason Heyward is heating up at the right time. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

My worst fears were confirmed last night. Tim Hudson isn’t perfect. And after allowing13 runs in his last three starts and 18 in his past five, he can probably forget about the Cy Young too. Huddy’s rough night started with a 28-pitch first, and ended with a four-run fifth. Both innings were highlighted by home runs from Braves killer (read: everyone killer) Albert Pujols.

After all the smoke cleared, Atlanta found themselves right back where they started the week, one game back of Philadelphia in the NL East and one game up on San Francisco and San Diego in the Wild Card race. Sure, Philly is surging (7-3 in their past 10) and two teams out west are threatening to squeeze us out completely, but positivity abounds. You just have to find it.

For starters, there’s Jason Heyward, who has a .959 OPS in 11 games this month, is as hot as he’s been all year. With the help of ESPN stat researcher Mark Simon, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien put Heyward’s propensity for getting on base into a historical perspective:

Heyward has hit .337 with a .439 on-base percentage in 53 games since the All-Star break, and in his past 21 games he’s hit a gaudy  .437 with five homers, 15 RBIs and a .525 on-base perentage.

That torrid stretch boosted his season OBP to .399, fourth-highest in the NL behind Joey Votto (.422), Prince Fielder (.406) and Albert Pujols (.401), and ahead of Adrian Gonzalez (.393).

ESPN researcher Mark Simon points out that only five players with the minimum plate appearances to qualify for a batting title since 1900 have had an OBP higher than .392 in an age 20 or younger season. (Heyward is 21 now, but was 20 for more than half of the season, thus this is considered his age-20 season for statistical purposes).

The select group: Mel Ott (.449 in 1929), Ted Williams (.436 in 1939), Al Kaline (.421 in 1955), Jimmie Foxx (.416 in 1928), Alex Rodriguez (.414 in 1996) and  Ott again (.397 in 1928).

Only  four others were as high as .375: Mickey Mantle (.392 in 1954), Ty Cobb (.380 in 1907), Frank Robinson (.379) and Arky Vaughan (.375 in 1932).

That list of nine players includes A-Rod and eight Hall of Famers.

So yeah, there’s that. Need anymore positivity? There’s Nate McLouth, who has returned from triple-A with a vengeance. He’s got eight hits, two homers and seven RBI since rejoining the club two weeks ago. Oh and all Martin Prado has done after I panicked in and called for him to be shelved in this space is post a six-game hitting streak, including three multi-hit games. He was 1-5 last night and hit the ball hard a few times, including the line drive he hit straight at the left fielder to end the game.

The schedule is favorable too. All 18 remaining games are against NL East foes (nine home, nine away), so at least we’ll be prepared. Not only does familiarity breed content, it also makes for thorough scouting reports. If this team can’t get it done against the four teams they’ve played the most, they don’t deserve to make the postseason anyway. As much heat as Bud Selig gets (and justifiably so in most cases), the unbalanced schedule format does make for some compelling late season baseball. In the case of the Braves, it works out rather fortuitously. The final six games of the year will be played at Turner Field, where Atlanta is a major league best 51-21.

The obvious dates to circle on the calendar are October 1-3, when the Phils come to The Ted to close out the season. If the division comes down to that final weekend, it could be the best three-game attendance figure in Turner Field history. I would sell a kidney or two to be in the stadium for that series, but something tells me I’m gonna need those down the road. No excuses for those of you in “Braves Country” who are still in Atlanta, you better get your ass to those games.

As a matter of fact, you better get your ass to them all, starting with the Nationals this week. This is September, we’re in a pennant race. I better not see any empty seats for the rest of the month. If the Braves are going to get back to playing postseason baseball, the fans are going to have to follow suit.

Derek Lowe gets the start tonight and will face 29-year old Cuban import Yunesky Maya, who is 0-1 with an ERA of 7.20. Jurrjens will duel the ageless wonder Livan Hernandez (9-11, 3.82) on Tuesday night, and Mike Minor will face John Lannan (7-7, 4.69) on Wednesday in a battle of lefties. A sweep would be great, but I’ll settle for the two.

Then we’ll head to Flushing this weekend, when I will hold up my end of the attendance bargain. It’ll be my first look at Citi Field, so I’m excited for that. Something tells me that the cursive A on my cap won’t be a problem. Mets fans know the deal.

As for the Phils, they’ll play three with the Marlins in Ft. Lauderdale before returning home for a weekend series with these same Nats. Starting tonight, both teams will have three straight weeks of intra-divisional baseball. Here’s to what should be one hell of a back stretch.

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One response to “Back Stretch Primer

  1. Did my part Saturday evening, Da Ali G show was in full effect with that three run walk off.

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