Miller Persevering in First Braves Season

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The Braves and Phillies may not be in a race to win the NL East division crown, they are in a race to the bottom of MLB for the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. Fans of both teams have endured a grueling season, and that losing also weighs on the players.

Braves starting pitcher Shelby Miller has had to endure quite a losing streak of his own. The righthander hasn’t won a start since May 17th — 20 starts ago, but it hasn’t been because of bad pitching.

Miller’s run of losses has been one of the strangest streaks in all of baseball this season. He owns a 2.86 ERA over 28 starts, which ranks 13th lowest in MLB, yet holds a 5-12 record on the year. That’s only the beginning of the story. Miller has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 20 of his 28 starts, and has 18 ‘Quality Starts’ overall.

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If you look at Miller’s monthly numbers, he’s actually been fairly consistent throughout the year. He started off the season hot, with a 2.17 ERA in April and a fantastic 0.95 ERA in May. He followed those strong months with a decent 3.57 ERA in June, a 3.23 ERA in July, and a 3.00 ERA in August. Miller was even selected to the NL All-Star team to represent the Braves in Cincinnati.

The problem has been the Atlanta offense, or lack thereof. Miller has received the lowest run support in baseball by a wide margin, the Braves giving him just 2.61 runs per game. The next closest is the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn, who has gotten 3.16 runs per game.

Miller came over to Atlanta last offseason in the same deal that sent outfielder Jason Heyward to St. Louis. A first round pick (19th overall) of the Cardinals in the 2009 Draft out of Brownwood High School in Brownwood, Texas, he was ranked the top overall prospect in the Cards organization for three consecutive years.

Miller made his MLB debut on September 5th, 2012, when he notched four strikeouts in two relief innings against the New York Mets. He finished the season by pitching in six games with the Redbirds, going 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings.

In his first full season in the big leagues with the Cards in 2013, Miller impressed with a 15-9 record and a 3.06 ERA in 31 starts. His 15 wins led all rookie pitchers and his 169 strikeouts in 173.1 innings ranked third among first year players. He finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and the Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.

Miller saw a slight dip in his numbers in 2014 (10-9, 3.74 ERA, 127 K’s in 181 innings), and after the Cardinals loss in the NLCS to the Giants for the second time in three years, the front office decided that the chance to acquire a talent like Heyward would pay bigger dividends than keeping Miller around.

After arriving in Atlanta, what once looked like a promising season for Miller and the Braves has quickly turned into a disaster. Along with Miller’s own losing streak, the Bravos had gone winless in 12 straight games before Monday, and had one win in the last 20.

In those 20 games before the Phillies series opener, teams scored 15 or more runs against the Braves three different times. Over the second half of the season, they have gone 12-36, and now sit 30 games under the .500 mark on the year.

Atlanta hopes to right the ship here in Philadelphia following a three-game sweep by the Nationals in the nation’s capital. In Saturday’s game, Miller had his roughest outing of the year, allowing seven runs in only 4.1 innings.

Throw out Miller’s lack of run support and his misleading 5-12 record, and he could be in the discussion for NL Cy Young. And despite his run of bad luck, Miller is trying his best to stay positive for a rebuilding team, as he told Mark Bowman of MLB.com.

“I want to be that guy to turn things around, and for it to happen like that, it’s kind of rough to go out there and give up seven runs, especially with the rough streak we’re having,” Miller said. “That’s just icing on the cake, as far as frustration.”

His manager, Fredi Gonzalez, has liked how Miller has handled himself during a frustrating time for the pitcher. (Via the Boston Globe)

‘The only thing I can explain is the way Shelby has behaved through all this, the way he’s gone out and battled through everything we’ve asked him to do, and he doesn’t flinch,’’ Gonzalez said. ‘‘I hope that continues.’’

Given Miller’s overall strong season and Julio Teheran’s disappointing season, Miller should be the ace of the Braves’ starting staff for years to come. And if he able to get the run support he deserves, he could win himself that Cy Young Award in the near future.

Miller won’t get a chance to break his streak during this series against the Phillies. His next start will come against the Mets in Atlanta. The Braves ended their frustrations with a big win yesterday. Miller hopes to do the same when the team returns home.