This past weekend series against the Colorado Rockies (6-6) was an up-and-down affair for the Atlanta Braves (7-5) inside the friendly confines of Turner Field.
Atlanta enjoyed two victories sandwiched around one rather forgettable loss that seemed to further reveal the Braves' most crippling deficiency at this point of the 2010 season: an epically anemic offense.
Nutshell of Cynicism: Heading into the series, the Atlanta bats were swinging at a collective average of just .232---good for the fourth-lowest in the National League.
At series conclusion, that number jumped an entire point (.233) and still rests among the league's lowest.
The Bad: On Saturday night, the Braves fell victim to the Rockies' first no-hitter in franchise history as they failed to record a single hit against Colorado starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
Although Atlanta wasn't able to reach base via that old-fashioned bat-to-ball contact, the Braves still had some run-scoring opportunities thanks to six walks from the effectively erratic Jimenez.
However, the Braves' sticks were equally as incompetent once runners reached second base as they would go 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
Fortunately for the Bravos, the six free bases issued by Jimenez prevented the second perfect game in less than six years at the Ted.
Allowing an opposing pitcher to hurl a no-hitter is embarrassing enough, but to do so in front of 32,602 of your hometown fans is downright depressing.
And unless players like wash-up Troy Glaus (.195), one-year wonder Nate McClouth (.148) and rally-killer Melky Cabrera (.119) start contributing, it could be another season of one-run losses in Atlanta.
The Worst: Okay, so "Hank Ruth" Jason Heyward delivered in the clutch on Sunday afternoon and clinched the series victory, but how many times can Bobby Cox depend on his man-faced 20-year-old to get clutch hit after clutch hit?
Heyward remains 111 days shy of his 21st birthday and while his on-field demeanor resembles that of a grizzled veteran, the pressure of two strikes, two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning can ware on anyone's nerves.
Heyward's heroics saved the day for Atlanta on Sunday, but if Mr. Damaged Goods (Glaus) had been just a split second slower down the first baseline, we'd be talking about a game-ending double play instead of the phenom's (Heyward) first career walk-off hit.
The Apocalyptic: Derek Lowe notched his third victory in as many starts on Friday night and is one of just six starting pitchers to have done so despite posting a 4.67 ERA.
However, of those six hurlers, Lowe is the only one with an ERA higher than 1.50 and has allowed the highest number of walks (12) and the lowest number of strikeouts (11) and innings pitched (17.1).
The No. 2 spot in the Atlanta rotation belongs to Jair Jurrjens and he, too, has had a rough start to the 2010 season.
After just three starts, Jurrjens boasts an ERA north of six (6.06) and has an eerie groundout to flyout ratio of .714 (15-21).
So, could Jair---now in his third full season at the Major League level---be suffering from an often overlooked "junior slump"?
If "JJ's" Sunday afternoon outing was any indication, probably not. He went eight innings against the Rockies giving up three earned runs while striking out nine.
Despite yesterday's effort, Jurrjens is still struggling to throw strikes as just 61.8% of his 283 pitches have found the strike zone this season.
That number may not seem low, but if Jurrjens is going to be considered as one of the league's best, he has to get in front of hitters by throwing strikes---something he failed to do against 17 of the 31 batters he faced.
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