When the ball flies over yonder wall, the Atlanta Braves are a different team. We’ve known that for a while, and we’ve seen it again this homestand. A week ago they hit four home runs off Stephen Strasburg and won. On Friday they hoisted four more — three off starter Jason Hammel, the fourth off former Brave Jesse Chavez — and beat the Oakland A’s, who hold the best record in baseball.
This was the way it worked in 2013, when the Braves led the National League with 181 homers and won 96 games. It hasn’t worked nearly as well this season. They entered play Friday having hit 95 homers in 121 games, good for 10th place in the 15-team NL. Put it this way: The 2014 Braves have actually been better at getting on base — they were eighth in OBP — than clearing the bases, which is why they were a wretched 13th in runs.
As of Friday morning, the Braves had averaged 0.79 homers per game. Last season they averaged 1.18. The difference is that Dan Uggla, who didn’t hit much of anything, did hit 22 homers; this year he hit two — both in the same game — before being DFA’ed. Jason Heyward, who hit 14 homers in 104 games last season, has nine in 115 now. Brian McCann, who hit 20, is a Yankee.
This offense wasn’t built to single anyone into submission. This is a team of big swingers — the Braves are third-worst in the league in strikeouts; last year they tied for worst with the Mets — who must make an opponent pay for fat pitches. Washington manager Matt Williams said as much over the weekend: “Those guys over in that clubhouse have power, and they really feed on mistakes.”
Justin Upton and Evan Gattis each launched a fastball down the middle from Hammel, the kind of pitch a big-leaguer should clout. The rookie Phil Gosselin also homered off a nothing fastball from Chavez. Freddie Freeman actually drove a Hammel breaking pitch over the wall in center field, but Freeman isn’t missing anything. He’s 16-for-33 over the past nine games.
A week after they’d scored seven runs against Strasburg, all on homers, they scored seven runs against the A’s, all on homers. That’s really the only way the Braves can score much if at all, and when they do they’re hard to beat. When they don’t, they’re easy pickings.