Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 6/15/13
ATLANTA -- When Madison Bumgarner stares down Braves hitters from 60 feet, six inches away, location has meant everything and nothing this season: everything in terms of pitch location; nothing in terms of venue. The 23-year-old rising star toyed with Atlanta's hitters for the second-consecutive time Friday, painting corners, throwing strikes and delivering an arsenal of deceptive pitches from what must seem (to opposing hitters) like the first base line. Were it not for a comfortable 6-0 lead, his final line would likely be even better: seven innings pitched, two hits allowed, zero earned runs and 10 strikeouts. He walked just one batter -- center fielder B.J. Upton, in fact, whose walk rate is a much-improved 19 percent this month and never once looked uncomfortable. Even as Upton stole second base following the base on balls, Bumgarner (6-4) calmly turned his 6-foot-5 frame to face Dan Uggla, setting him down on strikes with five of his 108 pitches. "He changed speeds. Sliders to right-handed hitters, cutters in there. He was pretty good, he was pretty good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Right from the very beginning we go down 1-0 and they added some runs, which probably made it even tougher to face. Our at-bats didn't look very good because of that. He threw breaking pitches behind in the count and spotted his fastball and made some great pitches on two-strike situations. The left-hander out-dueled his very own start against the Braves back on May 11 at AT&T Park (seven innings, one run, 11 Ks), and his performance Friday night joins an impressive list of gems certain southpaws have thrown versus the Atlanta offense. Think Cliff Lee. Think Wandy Rodriguez. Even think Patrick Corbin. As Bumgarner helped illustrate once more, the Braves have struggled to find an answer once a left-handed starter finds a rhythm this season. And there's no question about it: Bumgarner has found his groove when facing Gonzalez's club. "Against us, he's been painting the corners on both sides with all of his pitches pretty much. That's about it," said shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who went 1-for-4 but also struck out and grounded into a double play. "He threw good. You just gotta give it to him. ... He definitely pitched with all his pitches; he used everything, everything was working for him." Yes, the Braves have won 14 of their 22 games against lefty starters, including its past 10 at home before Bumgarner shut the door. Call that an improvement from last season; call it the breaks of the game. But when looking at the lines posted by the likes of Lee and Bumgarner, it's tough to deny there have been some hideous offensive performances: -- Cliff Lee (April4): eight innings pitched, two hits, zero earned runs, eight Ks -- Wandy Rodriguez (April 19): seven IP, one hit, zero ER, five Ks -- Patrick Corbin (May 14): seven IP, three hits, zero ER, five Ks -- Mark Buerhle (May 27): six IP, five hits, one ER, six Ks -- Madison Bumgarner (May 11, June 14): 14 IP, six hits, one ER, 21 Ks Not surprisingly, the Braves lost every game -- by an aggregate score of 29-4, if you care for such details. Overall, in those six starts alone, the lefty starters pitched 42 innings allowing 17 hits and striking out 42 batters. Collective ERA: 0.43 ERA. So what's the point? Well, the Braves were not overly impressive last season against left-handed pitching, ranking below league average (23rd) in OPS. Against lefty starters, they were even worse: ranking 29th in OPS, only just beating out the lowly Houston Astros. On paper, that's not the best way to win a National League stocked with arms like Lee, Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez (who the Braves have handled in 2013) and Jeff Locke among others. The paradox here, at least in terms of Friday night's gem and the comparable starts mentioned above, is that Atlanta is in actuality much improved against lefty starters this season. Entering the Giants series, the Braves ranked 7th in OPS, reaching NL highs in home runs (28) and walks (84). That's somewhat strange. Very strange when considering the whole fall-victim-to-the-gem aspect and that the team's batting average and on-base percentage has dropped against left-handers -- both starters and relievers -- by a notable rate. So, the tentative conclusion here is that in spite of Madison Bumgarner's top-of-the-line "stuff" and Hall of Fame-type numbers against the Braves in 2013, in spite of similar performances from Lee and Corbin and Rodriguez, in spite of Atlanta's hitters dropping their collective batting average by 19 points against lefties ... in spite of all that, Atlanta has shown relative improvement against southpaws of all varieties this season. Those improvements may not jump out. In fact, they don't at all. The toothless performances ring louder bells. But no matter how bad things may have seemed in Turner Field as the Giants cruised to a 6-0 victory -- and yes, things were rather substandard; the Atlanta clubhouse was a dead zone in terms of postgame interviews, and of the club's hitters only Simmons spoke with media members -- the slightly positive results are still present and accounted for. So far, the Braves are improved against lefties. If a southpaw starter is hitting his spots, though, shutouts and two-hit performances remain well in play against this up-and-down lineup -- four separate Braves starters (Upton, Uggla, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann) are hitting below the Mendoza line -- that has had its bouts with consistency ever since its season-opening winning streak. Nothing changed Friday night. All Madison Bumgarner did was help remind everyone in situ that old habits die hard.
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