If you’ve lost eight in a row to fall 4 1/2 games out of first place in your division and 3 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot and you’re about to begin a 10-game homestand over which you’ll meet three of the six division leaders … well, you take your positive signs where you can find them. Here are the only two I see:
1. The Atlanta Braves won’t have to face Clayton Kershaw next week.
2. They do get to face Stephen Strasburg tonight.
Of all the big-name pitchers the Braves see regularly in the National League East — that’s a list that includes Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jose Fernandez (now injured) and Matt Harvey (ditto) — they do best against Strasburg. He’s 3-5 against them, with all three victories coming in 2012, his shut-down-in-September season. His ERA against the Braves is 4.04; his WHIP (walks/hits per inning) is 1.406. The Braves, who haven’t hit much for average lately, have hit .270 with six home runs in 14 games against Strasburg.
In six starts at Turner Field, Strasburg’s ERA is 5.79. Dating back to June 30, 2012, his past four starts here have gone thusly: Exited after three innings due to the heat (the temperature was 106 degrees); exited after six innings with forearm tightness; exited after two innings with a strained oblique and, on the most bizarre night of his bizarre career, was ejected in the second inning after hitting Justin Upton with a pitch and twice throwing behind Andrelton Simmons. (Strasburg blamed his lack of command on the cold; it was 66 degrees that night.)
There are some in baseball who believe Strasburg isn’t strong-willed enough to be a true No. 1 starter. His experiences in Atlanta and his lack of success against the Braves have gone a ways toward furthering that belief. Something always seems to happen to Strasburg when he pitches here — it’s too hot or it’s too cold or he gets hurt — and any pitcher who works in the NL East will have to figure out a way to win at Turner Field.
His only victory in Atlanta came May 26, 2012, on a day when he couldn’t hold a 4-0 lead and when the Nationals scored the go-ahead runs after he’d thrown his final pitch. The Braves, who tend to swing and miss, actually make Strasburg work: He threw 95 pitches in five innings that day and 67 in three innings when next they saw him (in the 106-degree heat). In his two starts against them this season, he needed 96 pitches to last 4 1/3 innings and 107 to make it through six.
Let’s face it: At the moment, the Braves have nothing going for them. They’ll need much help if they’re to right a season going wrong. We’ll see tonight if the famous Strasburg is again willing to lend a hand.