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    Tara has written 139 posts for Braves Wire

    Braves split series in Cincy despite flirting with no-no

    After breaking out the bats in the series opener against the Reds at Great American Ballpark, the Braves were once again the victims of their own lack of run support for quality starting pitching. Walking away from the a series split in Cincy, Atlanta missed an opportunity to improve in the wild card standings.

    The Braves leave GAB for Citi Field for a 3-game set sitting 8 games back in the division and 1 game behind the Giants for the second wild card slot.

    Andrelton Simmons has hit .429 over his career at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

    Andrelton Simmons has hit .429 over his career at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

    In the lead up to the series in Cincinnati, we broke down the slugging numbers for several players, but overlooked the hitter with the best numbers at Great American Ballpark: Andrelton Simmons. In 6 games over his young career, Simmons has hit .429 at Great American. He has slugged an ungodly .893 in that band box. He was 12 hits, 4 doubles, 3 homers and 6 RBI. In the 3 games he started over the series, Simba hit .267/.267/.600 with 2 doubles, a homer and 2 RBI.

    Keeping pace at the plate over the series, Justin Upton knocked another homer and hit .267. He also recorded his 2nd triple on the season. In August, Upton is hitting .288 with 4 doubles, a triple and 6 homers. Upton’s RBIs, 23 in August, continue to lead the Braves (nearly 20 more than the next closest hitter, Freeman). Upton is 3rd in the NL in RBIs right now behind only Giancarlo Stanton and Adrian Gonzalez. Additionally, he is 4th in homers in the league behind Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and Lucas Duda.

    Pitching in the series was mostly solid, though Aaron Harang struggled in the 4th inning of the finale costing the Braves the game. Julio Teheran got the team off to a great start with 6 shutout innings where he allowed only 4 hits and struck out 3. Behind him came Russell in relief, a shaky sight for those who have watched the Braves since the trade deadline brought the club James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio. However, Fredi Gonzalez is not longer going to use Russell for lefties only and in his 2 innings of relief work for Teheran, Russell didn’t allow a hit or run.

    Of course, the greatest pitching performance came from Mike Minor who flirted with a no hitter. Unfortunately, Minor didn’t get the no-no or the win. After 7 2/3 innings pitched allowing only 1 hit, Minor gave way to a series of relievers including Walden, Carpenter, Varvaro, Hale (who got the win) and Kimbrel. Despite giving up that 1 hit and 1 earned run, Minor got the no decision and the Braves finally got the win in extra innings thanks to a 12th inning blast by none other than Justin “Clutch” Upton.

    Since having his spot skipped in the rotation early in the month, Minor is 1-1 in 3 starts (21 1/3 IP) with a 2.53 ERA. In those 3 games he has given up only 2 homers, has held opponents to .176 batting average and has 19 strikeouts. If the Braves hope to make a run at the Nats and/or stay in the wild card hunt, they need this Mike Minor to show up every time.

    BRAVES VISIT TO CITI FIELD TO CAP ROAD TRIP…

    It’s impossible for the Braves to play the Mets at Citi Field without mentioning the ridiculous numbers Freddie Freeman has against the Mets. Picking up the mantle of Chipper Jones, Freeman has hit .317 at Citi Field with 12 doubles and 5 homers. Against the Mets overall, Freeman has hit .324 in his career. He has been nothing but a pest for the Mets. This season Freddie has hit .392 against New York with 7 doubles, a homer and 13 RBIs. On the season, Freeman has hit .310 with RISP and .364 with 2 outs and RISP. His clutch stats in addition to his career history against the Mets bodes well for a team that gets going with Freeman as the spark.

    Over the weekend, the Braves acknowledged that during their talks with the Cubs prior to the trade deadline they did attempt to trade B.J. Upton. The Cubs instead sent over Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell and the Braves kept B.J. This news isn’t too surprising given the struggles of the elder Upton since joining the Braves. However, the Braves willingness to trade him and presumably eat a huge amount of his contract might also signal that the Braves are willing to sit B.J. the way they previously had Dan Uggla. With Emilio Bonifacio’s versatility, the Braves can continue to use him in center field. In August for the Braves, Bonifacio has hit .255 with a .296 on-base percentage. He has stolen 3 bases as a Brave. By comparison, in August B.J. Upton is hitting .119 with a .257 on-base percentage. Their defense appears comparable. How the Braves proceed will likely have an impact on their overall success. It may simply come down to money.

    The Braves will send Wood (9-9, 3.05) to the mound vs. Gee (4-6, 3.84) tomorrow. Wednesday will pit Teheran (12-9, 2.96) vs. Wheeler (9-8, 3.48). The series will wrap with Minor (5-8, 4.90) vs. Niese (7-9, 3.47). The Braves will then travel back to Turner Field for a homestand beginning with the Miami Marlins.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    After near sweep in Pittsburgh, Braves head to Cincy

    This team. This team is frustrating. This team is exciting. This team is agonizing. This team slumps. This team surges. This team dominates.

    Yes, you may have thought these things about the Atlanta Braves throughout the season or even this month alone. You may have even thought these very things in the last week alone. How the Braves are playing now is how the Braves should have played all along had they any consistency on their side. How they play tomorrow and in the final run will come down to exactly that–consistency. They have the pieces. They have the talent. They have the potential, certainly. With a little luck and a heap of consistency, there is no reason this club couldn’t catch the Washington Nationals.

    Upton is hitting .417 on the road trip with 1 homer, 6 RBIs and only 1 strikeout.

    Upton is hitting .417 on the road trip with 1 homer, 6 RBIs and only 1 strikeout.

    One of the most important pieces of the Braves’ offense in the last few series has been Justin Upton. Upton is on one of those torrid streaks that have defined his career. Over his last 12 games, the younger Upton has hit .350/.480/.700 with 4 homers, 2 doubles and 15 RBIs. Despite a miscue in the outfield in the tough loss to the Pirates in the final game of the series, his defense has been steady. He has been as much a reason for the Braves resurgence as any player on the roster.

    The other gold glove caliber outfielder has had a series to remember as well. Jason Heyward hit .462 in Pittsburgh with 6 hits, including a double and a home run, and 5 RBI. He, like Upton, only struck out once at PNC Park. Heyward continues to make highlight reels on a nearly nightly basis with gems that defy physics. As was said last week about Freddie Freeman, if there isn’t a gold glove for Heyward at the end of this season, a Twitter campaign of epic proportions must be launched.

    Let’s talk about pitching for a moment. Despite the terrible loss last night mostly at the hands of Jordan Walden, the Braves have seen improvement in their bullpen in the last few games. While they received tough news that Shae Simmons had been shut down again at Triple-A Gwinnett with shoulder soreness, there have been glimmers of hope for the setup men and all relievers whose name does not end in Kimbrel. Anthony Varvaro and David Hale have recovered from the horrendous roadtrip out west. In fact, since the second game in San Diego, Hale has not allowed a run. That’s 4 innings of work with where he has allowed 3 hits and 0 runs. Luis Avilan seems to have settled down considerably since being sent down as well. If these pieces have something to offer to the 1-2 punch of Walden and Kimbrel, the Braves are in great shape down the stretch.

    While Jordan Walden was part of the stinker served up in the final game against the Pirates, let’s talk about the numbers for Walden overall. Since June 14th (30 games), Walden has a 1.00 ERA with 3 earned runs allowed in those games and 33 strikeouts. He held opponents to a .179 batting average against him. Since the aforementioned horrendous roadtrip, he has pitched with a 1.23 ERA in 7 1/3 innings pitched (1.17 overall in August). His 2.23 ERA on the season is very respectable. If the Braves have any hope of making it to the postseason and beyond, Walden’s health is paramount. His dominance followed by the unhittable Kimbrel limit opposing teams to 7 innings to try to score.

    POWER-HITTING BRAVES ENTER THE BANDBOX…

    Since the Braves are heading into the most notorious bandbox in the National League, let’s talk about slugging numbers among Braves starters.

    While the masher of mashers Evan Gattis is slugging only .516 on the season, he has 2 homers in his last 5 games. He has played only 3 games at Great American Ballpark and hasn’t hit a dinger there. Look for that to change this series.

    Freddie Freeman is slugging .490 in 2014. Since the last roadtrip his slugging percentage is respectable .667. Strangely the consistent Freeman has only hit .235/.316/.294 at Great American.

    Slugging .520 on the season, .700 over his last 12 games, Justin Upton’s power numbers fare the best heading into Cincy. Though his numbers there are similar to Freddie’s, there is no stopping Upton when he gets hot and if he’s smashing balls out of the Ted, Cincy stands no chance against him.

    While Chris Johnson is down nearly .100 in slugging since 2013, CJ has a .268 average when playing in Cincy with a .442 slugging percentage.

    Of course good pitching will always beat good hitting no matter the park, so this weekend’s probables are important. And they are: Teheran (11-9, 3.06) vs. Holmberg (0-0, 15.00) tonight. Friday will see Minor (5-8, 5.16) vs. Latos (4-3, 3.10). Saturday will see Santana (13-6, 3.71) vs. Leake (9-11, 3.65). And Harang (10-7, 3.50) will take the mound against his former team vs. Simon (12-8, 3.35).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Atlanta rebound from Dodgers’ visit, sweep A’s

    With a 6-run first inning in Pittsburgh tonight, it’s a good time to look back at the last two series and how the Braves fared against two visiting California clubs.

    As the end of the season inches closer and closer, the Braves continue to be one of the most frustrating and inconsistent clubs in the National League. Managing to win just one against the first place club in the NL West over a four-game set, they then turned around and swept the first place club of the AL West. Sitting 6 games back in the division and a game and a half back in the wild card race, it’s too early to count this team out. It may, however, be too late for the team to make a run at the surging rival Nats. Their 64-60 record in no way reflects the true potential and talent of this team.

    Since the Braves took the series from the Nationals at Turner Field the weekend of the 8th, they have won 4 of 7. Prior to that make or break series against Washington, the Braves went on an historically terrible road trip in which they 0-and-8.

    What we can say from the last 2 series:

    Mike Minor had a solid outing against the A's, going 7 innings with 2 runs allowed.

    Mike Minor had a solid outing against the A’s, going 7 innings with 2 runs allowed.

    • Mike Minor is beginning to look like the Mike Minor of old. While he continues to give up an unusual number of home runs, he tends to give up the solo variety. In his start against the visiting A’s, he pitched 7 innings with only 4 hits allowed and 2 runs surrendered. With 7 strikeouts, Minor seemed to have a feel for his pitches. Whatever was eating Minor seems to have let up for now. If Minor can be the Minor of old down the final push to the postseason, the Braves would have a tough 1-2-3 punch of Teheran, Santana and Minor.
    • Freddie Freeman is HOT. Over the last 14 games, there is no hotter hitter in baseball than the Braves first baseman. With a slash of .396/.475/.642, Freeman is 21-for-53 with 7 doubles, 2 homers and 9 RBIs. Freddie continues his clutch hitting, finally returning to his absolute dominance with runners in scoring position. Additionally, if Freeman doesn’t win a gold glove this season, I suggest some sort of angry Twitter drive against the powers that be. Freeman’s strength with the glove is impressive.
    • Julio Teheran has settled down and rebounded from two terrible starts against the Mariners and Dodgers. In his start against Oakland, Julio pitched 6 innings of 2-run baseball. This after giving up 5 and 6 runs in his previous 2 starts.
    • Inserting the rookies–Tommy La Stella and recently called up Phil Gosselin–has been a spark for the Braves. Since letting go of Dan Uggla to open up regular playing time for La Stella and now Gosselin. Since being called up, Tommy La Stella has hit .273/.352/.345 (including hitting .360 from the 7-hole). La Stella has hit .310 with RISP with 4 doubles, a triple and 26 RBIs. Phil Gosselin, in a more limited role of 15 games, has hit .310 including his first big league homer. Both have offered solid defense up the middle.

    BRAVES FACE PIRATES IN IMPORTANT SERIES…

    While every series seems important for the Braves at this late stage in the season, facing the Pittsburgh Pirates after sweeping the Oakland A’s sets the Braves up for an important test of consistency. Getting wins in back-to-back series is a feat the Braves have struggled with this season, especially in August.

    If the Braves are going to contend the keys will be getting the lead off and 2-hole hitters on base, something that seems doable with Gosselin in the lineup, and keeping Freeman and Justin Upton hot in the heart of the order. Chris Johnson’s recent resurgence will help the club immensely. And for Fredi Gonzalez to have a plan with B.J. Upton and Emilio Bonifacio in center field will prove important. Whether the Braves are willing to make a decision on Upton is yet to be seen. From a pitching standpoint, the Braves need consistency in the ‘pen from the setup men. For all his talent, Craig Kimbrel cannot do it all. Walden, Simmons, Carpenter, et al must step up. Julio Teheran needs to continue to lead the rotation as the young ace that he is. With Minor settling down and Santana solidly contributing, the Braves will need Wood to be the dominant pitcher he was at the beginning of the season before being sent down and they will Harang’s veteran leadership.

    A final note before the pitching match ups against Pittsburgh. Bullpen coach Eddie Perez recently became an American citizen. Perez spent parts of 9 seasons with the Braves as a catcher and has been a coach with the team since 2007. Perez, born in Venezuela, signed a minor league contract with Atlanta in 1987. Perez took the naturalization oath on August 13th. We here at BravesWire would like to commend and congratulation Eddie for this important event in his life. He continues to be a great mentor to the young Latin American young men that end up in the Braves farm system and with the team.

    Ervin Santana got the start tonight against the Pirates while Harang (9-7, 3.51) will take the hill Tuesday vs. Liriano (3-9, 3.78). Wood (9-9, 3.07) vs. Cole (7-4, 3.78) will get underway Wednesday to wrap the series.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

     

    Braves end skid, Uptons set mark

    Beginning the weekend against the rival Washington Nationals, the Braves knew that they needed wins to keep pace in the NL East. A sweep could put the division out of reach going into the late days of August. However, the Braves stepped up and took 2 out of 3 from the Nats, placing themselves 3 1/2 games back in the division.

    After an 0-8 road trip, coming home to Turner Field is exactly what the struggling Braves needed. Getting to face Stephen Strasburg at the Ted helped their cause greatly, ending the losing streak and removing the monkey from their back.

    Stephen Strasburg had not given up 3 home runs in a game before Friday night’s home run derby off him when he didn’t give up just 3 dingers, he gave up 4. He has now given up a career high 18 homers on the season. Brothers Justin and B.J. Upton both hit 2-run blasts to dead center field. Then Freddie Freeman broke out of his slump to go yard off Strasburg. Then Tommy La Stella hit his very first big league home run. It wasn’t Strasburg’s night. Though it’s beginning to look like it is never Strasburg’s night when visiting the Ted. Against the Braves this year he has allowed 17 runs on 24 hits (5 of them homers). In his career at Turner Field, Strasburg has given up 7 homers and has allowed the Braves a .295 batting average against him. Strasburg left Friday’s game after 5 innings after giving up 7 runs on 7 hits and somehow striking out 9 batters.

    When the Braves signed B.J. and Justin Upton they certainly thought that there would be many a game when the two brothers went deep in the same game. It may have taken much longer to do it, but the Uptons have surpassed the record for the most times where two brothers went deep in the same game. With 5 such games, the Uptons now hold the record. There is now the possibility they put that record out of reach for any set of brothers to come.

    Justin Upton made some personal history of his own over the weekend. On his 21st homerun of the season, the younger Upton recorded his 1,000th hit and 500th RBI.

    For whatever reason, Major League Baseball had no qualms with the Braves beginning game 2 of the series after a 4 hour delay to the start due to rain. Despite the marathon delay, Aaron Harang pitched superb baseball but wasn’t helped out by his teammates who only managed 1 run in the 10 inning game that didn’t end until the wee hours of Sunday morning.

    The rubber match was a pitcher’s duel in every sense. Alex Wood stepped up and pitched as he had before being sent to the ‘pen earlier in the season and then down to Triple-A Gwinnett. Wood went 7 1/3 innings, gave up 1 run on 5 hits and struck out a personal best 12 hitters. After securing 2 additional runs in support of Wood, Kimbrel recorded his 34th save of the season.

    MIKE MINOR REJOINS ROTATION…

    As the Dodgers arrive in Atlanta, they have called up Kevin Correia to give their rotation an extra day rest. This means the Braves will luck out and miss both Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke this series.

    Due to 2 days off this past week, the Braves were able to give Mike Minor some extra rest, missing his spot in the rotation. He will rejoin the rotation this series and will face Dan Haren in game 2. Minor has struggled mightily this season, in no way looking like the pitcher he was last season. In 2013, Minor had a 13-9 record with a 3.21 ERA. This season he is 4-7 with a 5.42 ERA, including a stint on the DL with shoulder soreness.

    After turning his ankle in a weird event covering third base, Andrelton Simmons has been out of the lineup and off of his ankle hoping to avoid the disabled list. The Braves reported that Simba got treatment on the ankle most of Saturday and Fredi Gonzalez has said he would like to pencil Simmons into the lineup for Tuesday. Simmons will potentially test the ankle running Monday and barring any problems, will be in the lineup as Fredi wants. In the meantime, Emilio Bonifacio and Ramiro Pena have filled in for Simmons. Bonifacio has hit leadoff 4 of the past 6 games.

    The Dodgers send Correia (-,-) to the mound vs. Teheran (10-8, 2.92) tonight. Tuesday will feature Haren (9-9, 4.57) vs. Minor (4-7, 5.42). Wednesday’s game will pit Ryu (13-5, 3.21) vs. Santana (11-6, 3.69). And the finale of the series will send Hernandez (0-0, 3.00) to the mound vs. Harang (9-6, 3.31).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves skid through San Diego & Seattle

    If there are two teams in baseball that can truly understand what the Atlanta Braves are going through, the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners can.

    The Padres have struggled their way through the 2014 season with terrible hitting. They are dead last in runs scored (363). As a team, they have the lowest batting average in either league (.225). At the trade deadline, the Padres traded away their most useful hitters (Headley and Denorfia) and let veteran closer Huston Street go to a division rival. However, the Padres long-term plan is much different from the plan of the Atlanta Braves. They aren’t looking to contend right now.

    The Mariners, like the Braves, have their eyes set on the postseason. Their hope is to steal the second Wild Card spot in the American League. To do that, there biggest struggle will be giving run support to their strong rotation and dominant bullpen. They are second to last in the American League in runs scored (432). If they hope to make it into October, they will have to show the consistency that both they and their recent opponent lack.

    At the trade deadline, Frank Wren made a great deal with the Chicago Cubs to bring versatile utility man Emilio Bonifacio and left handed reliever James Russell to the team. Those additions were meant to fill holes in the bullpen and on the bench. However, the Braves have a bigger issue: Consistency. After a strong first half, the usually consistent bat of Freddie Freeman has gone cold. The Uptons have been reliable only in their strikeout rate. While Johnson has shown signs of the hitter he was in his breakout 2013 season, he, Simmons and Gattis are under performing at the plate. The bright spot in the lineup has been none other than rookie Tommy La Stella. Their lack of ability to play to their potential has been no more apparent than on their recent 8-game losing skid.

    Julio Teheran struggled against the Mariners allowing 9 hits, 6 earned runs & walking 2.

    Julio Teheran struggled against the Mariners allowing 9 hits, 6 earned runs & walking 2.

    Even the Atlanta Braves at their best would have faced a formidable foe in Felix Hernandez in Seattle. Having taken their struggling offense to Seattle, with one catastrophic defensive miscue, the Braves come away with 2 more losses and a great deal of frustration. They didn’t get much reprieve Wednesday against the resurgent veteran Chris Young who has put together a Comeback Player of the Year-caliber season thus far. It was simply poor luck that Julio Teheran didn’t have his best stuff when facing a team like the Mariners who are as prone to not supporting their starters as the Braves are.

    What the 8-game skid has made clear:

    • B.J. Upton deserves to be platooned in center field. Whether that be with Emilio Bonifacio or someone else, his presence in the lineup is only damaging to a team that struggles to score runs. Moving Upton to 8th in the order simply gives opposing teams the opportunity to get back-to-back strikeouts.
    • Andrelton Simmons is the lynchpin for the Braves. As Terry Pendleton calls him–The Reason. With Simmons’ sprained ankle in Seattle, the Atlanta front office held their breath knowing that Simmons cannot be replaced. Sure, Ramiro Pena, Tommy La Stella, Emilio Bonifacio (and numerous Triple-A players) could stand in for him, but his ability to prevent runs is second to none in baseball.
    • Tommy La Stella remains shaky on defense. While the Braves no longer send someone in as a defensive replacement for La Stella in the late innings, his bat may not continue to prove valuable enough to turn a blind eye to his defense. He’s young. He will improve. But the team is going to hold him responsible for failures like that in Seattle when he dropped a pop-up and likely cost them the game.
    • Jason Heyward can be one of the hottest hitters in baseball. When on a hot streak, there is no scarier player for opposing pitchers than Heyward. In the month of July, Heyward hit .309. In the first week of August he has hit .529 with 9 hits, 2 doubles, 1 triple and 1 RBI. In a week he has only had 4 strikeouts.

    BRAVES HOPE TO SNAP SKID AGAINST RIVALS…

    Getting back home may be just the thing the Braves need. Sometimes long road trips get into the heads of the players and getting home is the reset they need. Whether this pans out or not, we’ll see. There are things that have to happen to get the boys out of this rut.

    First, this constant shuffle of the lineup to make the bats come alive isn’t working. Playing with all of the pieces in motion has proven a disaster for Fredi Gonzalez and has to stop. Not having a DH will take away one option for Fredi. B.J. Upton isn’t going to give the Braves more in the 8-hole than in the 2-hole. With the absence of Simmons, a decision will have to be made about which guys from the bench can be the most beneficial to the offense. Is Pena the best option? If not Pena, where is Bonifacio best used–CF or SS? Those two positions are the two that Fredi should rightfully shuffle. What he can’t do is expect consistency from a team that has a different lineup everyday or are expected to perform different jobs each day. Consistency may need to start with Fredi on down.

    Welcoming the Nats to Turner Field bodes well for the Braves breaking this losing streak. The Braves have dominated the Nationals in head-to-head matchups over the last 2 seasons. But if the Braves can’t get past the Nationals, this weekend could push the Braves down in the standings and give the Nats the space they need to run away with the division.

    The Nationals acquired Matt Thornton for their often chaotic bullpen. Thornton, the holder of a 2.55 ERA, came over from the Yankees and shores up the ‘pen. At the trade deadline, the Nats picked up Asdrubel Cabrera from the Indians for an infield prospect. Cabrera gives the Nats a steady hand in the infield as well as a veteran bat to the lineup. The Nats hope this helps with the shortcomings of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa up the middle.

    Atlanta will once again face a Nationals team that is without Ryan Zimmermann who is currently on the DL with a hamstring injury.

    The Nationals will pit Strasburg (8-9, 3.39) vs. Santanta (10-6, 3.59) Friday night. Saturday’s game will feature Roark (11-7, 2.94) vs. Harang (9-6, 3.41). The finale Sunday is Gonzalez (6-8, 4.01) vs. Wood (7-9, 3.20).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Bonifacio and Russell join Braves in San Diego

    INF Emilio Bonifacio offers infield versatility and a back-up outfielder for Fredi Gonzalez.

    INF Emilio Bonifacio offers infield versatility and a back-up outfielder for Fredi Gonzalez.

    Not willing to stand pat at the trade deadline with bench questions and help needed in the bullpen, Frank Wren made the call Thursday just an hour before the trade deadline to acquire IF Emilio Bonifacio and LHP James Russell from the Chicago Cubs for Class A catching prospect Victor Caratini.

    To make room on the 25-man roster, the Braves designated OF Jordan Schafer for assignment on Friday prior to the opening of the weekend series in San Diego and optioned LHP Chasen Shreve to Triple-A Gwinnett.

    Bonifacio has made a name for being a versatile player with timely professional hitting and speed. The Cubs signed Bonifacio to a 1-year $2.5 million dollar contract. They pick up the remainder of his salary as well as that of Russell as well as cash considerations for the future services of Caratini.

    Bonifacio is a career .264 hitter in his 8 years in the big leagues. This season he hit .279 with 14 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers and 18 RBIs with 12 stolen bases in 276 ABs.

    LHP James Russell is an addition to the 'pen that is desperately needed in the absence of Luis Avilan.

    LHP James Russell is an addition to the ‘pen that is desperately needed in the absence of Luis Avilan.

    Russell, son of former big leaguer Jeff Russell, is someone the Braves have had their eye on for a few years. As a left-handed reliever he has a 3.87 ERA over 5 seasons with the Cubs. Russell is in his 2nd year of arbitration and will be a free agent in 2016. His arm will be a great addition to a ‘pen that is without the services of Luis Avilan, who was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett, and Shae Simmons, who has a nagging sore shoulder that he hadn’t reported to the staff until recently despite ongoing trouble on the mound.

    The Braves may look for an additional bat as waiver claims amp up in August. However, their biggest problem is not the pieces they lack, but the pieces they have that are not performing up to their potential. If the Braves are to contend with the Nationals atop the NL East, they will have to get from their starters what their starters are truly capable of.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

     

    Braves part ways with Uggla, welcome back Gattis from DL

    It was only a matter of time before the Atlanta Braves could no longer afford to play with a 24-man roster due to the abject failure of Dan Uggla. While Frank Wren had shopped Uggla to numerous teams in the month prior to the all-star break, no teams were willing to trade with the Braves for a second baseman who seems to have lost what once made him a formidable bat in the National League.

    The Braves were not only facing a continued short bench, a 24-man roster, if you will, they were facing the possibility that if the Braves didn’t find a trade partner for Uggla, they would eat a large chunk of money. Unfortunately for the Braves, the lack of trade partner will cost them the remainder of Uggla’s $13 million salary for 2014 as well as the $13 million he is owed for 2015.

    Think back to July of 2010 when the Braves learned that utility man Omar Infante had been selected to the All Star Game. It was a highly unusual selection by Charlie Manuel and much talked about. Infante was a sure hand in the field, filling in for the veteran Chipper Jones and stepping up at second base. His bat, of course, was a huge part of his value. Infante finished the 2010 campaign with a .321 batting average with 15 doubles, 3 triples, 8 homers and 47 RBIs in 134 games. It was Infante’s finest season and upped his value considerably. It wasn’t surprising that when power-hitting Dan Uggla was available, the Braves pounced on the chance to trade with the Marlins to bring Uggla to Atlanta for Infante. But like so many trades have in over the long history of baseball, it turned out to be a bust for Atlanta.

    While Infante continued to put up respectable numbers as the everyday second baseman for the Marlins before being traded to the Detroit Tigers, Dan Uggla’s numbers have been headache-inducing for the Braves’ front office, coaching staff and fan base. Like Infante, 2010 was Dan Uggla’s strongest year. He put together a .287 average with 33 homers and 105 RBIs (average and RBIs were a career high). His value was highest when he joined the Braves. From there it spiraled downward. In his first season with Atlanta he posted a .233 average with a career high 36 homers. His bulked up frame seemed to hurt his overall ability at the plate, but his defense remained solid. As his batting average plummeted (.220 in 2012, .179 in 2013, .162 in 2014), his defense alone couldn’t continue to secure him a spot in the lineup. In 2014, we’ve seen the Braves cut Uggla’s playing time and call up rookie La Stella.

    Uggla was released by the Braves on Monday and this morning the latest on Dan was that the Giants had signed him to a minor league contract. He’ll join their Triple A affiliate in Fresno. He has an August 1st opt-out clause if he isn’t called up to the big league club, a club really hurting for a younger, healthier second baseman. If he makes it to the big leagues, the Giants will be responsible for the league minimum salary while the Braves continue to be on the hook for his 2014 contract salary.

    Nobody wanted to see Dan Uggla fail, including Dan Uggla himself. He handled the situation as best he could and was always respectful to the club and its fans. This is how the game of baseball works–good or bad. There is no denying that Dan Uggla had some amazing games for the Braves. While he struggled mightily with the team, let’s not forget that he also had some amazing runs. When Dan Uggla’s bat was hot, there was nobody more feared by pitchers. It was a pleasure watching Uggla step to the plate to face dominant pitchers like Strasburg and leave them in awe and frustration. Let’s choose to remember those times and wish Uggla well.

    THE RETURN OF EL OSO BLANCO…

    Evan Gattis was hitting .290 before landing on the disabled list at the end of June.

    Evan Gattis was hitting .290 before landing on the disabled list at the end of June.

    In all the all-star talk about Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Justin Upton, the first half of Evan Gattis mostly was forgotten. His rhomboid injury, eventually learned to be a bulging disc, put an end to an incredible run for Gattis. When he landed on the disabled list, he was hitting .290 with 16 homers and 39 RBIs. His at-bats were electric and powered the Braves back from the brink in many games. His clutch hits are renowned in the league in this his second season. But even the 6’4″ Gattis is not invincible.

    After a long stint on the DL, Gattis is back for Monday night’s game. His Triple-A rehab assignment went without incident and he has been cleared to both hit and call the game behind the plate.

    With Gattis returning, it goes without saying that the Braves have to evaluate how they want to proceed. In the absence of Gattis, veteran Gerald Laird stepped up not only behind the plate, but as a leader and mentor for young Christian Bethancourt. Bethancourt has hit .240 in 13 games since being called up. Coincidentally, Gerald Laird is also hitting .240 on the season.

    Fredi Gonzalez can certainly say that the kids are alright. With Bethancourt proving he can call games behind the plate and get hits, his time in the minor leagues may be limited going forward. Additionally, Tommy La Stella has been a gift from the baseball gods. Since being called up at the end of May, La Stella is hitting .297 with 11 doubles and 21 RBIs in 165 at-bats. His defense is proving better than advertised and the Braves are no longer sending Ramiro Pena in as a defensive replacement late in games due to La Stella’s clutch hitting. That La Stella has been such a marvel to watch on the field has taken some of the sting out of the failure of Dan Uggla.

    One other young gun worth noting is Shae Simmons. Simmons recently broke a 2-year streak of not having given up a homer. Since joining the ‘pen on the last day of May, Simmons has put together a 1-1 record with 8 holds, a 2.18 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. With the bad run of David Carpenter and the floundering Luis Avilan who has been demoted to Gwinnett, the dominance of Shae Simmons has been much needed in Atlanta’s ‘pen. Simmons, like Bethancourt and La Stella, seems to have a bright future ahead.

    With Gattis back in the lineup, the Braves get underway tonight against the Miami Marlins. Monday night’s game will feature Koehler (6-7, 3.99) vs. Teheran (9-6, 2.71). Tuesday night will pit Turner (2-6, 6.22) vs. Minor (3-5, 4.86). Wednesday’s game will send out Eovaldi (5-5, 4.08) vs. Santana (8-6, 4.03). And the series finale will see Harang (9-6, 3.36) take the mound against an unnamed starter for Miami who definitely isn’t Jose Fernandez.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Bats cold in Big Apple, set for final series of half

    For the Braves, there are few things that sting quite like a series loss to the Mets. Unfortunately for Atlanta, losses within the division have come regularly in the first half of the season. If the Braves want to make a strong run for a division championship in the second half, there is no question that consistency and wins within the division will be paramount.

    Aaron Harang leads the Braves and all of the National League with an 0.85 ERA. He leads teammate Ervin Santana by .01.

    Aaron Harang leads the Braves and all of the National League with an 0.85 ERA. He leads teammate Ervin Santana by .01.

    The one person standing between the Braves and a sweep at the hands of the Mets was Aaron Harang. Harang has become some sort of escape artist in his last month of starts. In his last 5 starts, Harang gave up 43 hits in 33 innings, 16 earned runs, 12 walks to 16 strikeouts and 4 homers. Despite an overwhelming amount of hitting against him, Harang has a 4-1 record in that span while recording a 4.36 ERA. This week was no different when he went 7 innings, giving 4 hitters a free pass. Somehow he managed to get out of the start with only one earned run. Harang improved to a 9-6 record with a 3.53 ERA on the season.

    While the bats were cold and didn’t do much to help the cause of the starters, Freddie Freeman continued to own the Mets. Over the 4-game series, Freeman hit .417 in 17 at-bats. He had 7 hits, 2 of them doubles and drove 3 men in. In 13 games again the NL East rival this season, Freddie has a .392 average with 7 doubles, a homer and 13 RBIs. In his career, Freeman now has a .324/.394/.571 line against the Mets. By comparison, notorious Mets’ killer Chipper Jones hit .309 in his career against New York.

    Other than Freeman, there certainly weren’t too many hitting performances to highlight against the Mets. However, an under reported story is that of B.J. Upton in the lead off spot. In 16 games at the top of the lineup, B.J. has hit .279 with 19 hits, 2 doubles, 2 triples, a homer, 5 RBIs and 3 stolen bases. Batting second he was hitting .207 and a mere .171 when in the 6-hole. Of course, the problem with this is that it knocks Heyward out of the lead off spot where he has hit .254 on the season. In the 5-hole, Jason drops to .227 at the plate. The situation isn’t easily remedied for Fredi Gonzalez.

    In the series finale against the Mets, Craig Kimbrel was called on to get a 4-out save. These situations have been few and far between for the dominant closer and have bit the Braves in the playoffs. However, Fredi says that the more comfortable Kimbrel gets with those situations, the more likely Fredi would be to use him in a similar playoff situation. In his second 4-out save opportunity this season, Kimbrel didn’t allow a hit and had 1 strikeout.

    Julio Teheran had one of his worst and shortest outings of the season against the Mets. In 3 1/3 innings, newly selected all-star Teheran gave up 11 hits, 5 earned runs and struck out only 2 batters. His command was terrible and the poised starter we’ve seen really develop in 2014 was much less composed on the mound. Teheran will not pitch in the All Star Game, as the Braves announced, due to his Sunday start in Chicago.

    BRAVES WRAP FIRST HALF AGAINST CUBS…

    The Braves arrive at Wrigley Field after the best pitcher they had left via trade to Oakland. Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded to the Cubs last week for a slew of prospects. Samardzija made the All-Star roster, selected in the National League and will represent in Minnesota wearing the NL jersey while sitting in the AL dugout. Joining Samardzija at the ASG are current Cubs Starlin Castro and Final Vote winner Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo edged out Atlanta’s Justin Upton in the NL Final Vote. Look for Justin to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder in Chicago.

    Games in Chicago will be a bit off the usual schedule due to the ASG festivities beginning over the weekend as well as the perfect atmosphere for day baseball at the Friendly Confines. Friday’s game will take place at 4:05 p.m. (ET), Saturday’s at 4:05 and the finale Sunday will start at 2:20.

    The opening game of the final series before the break will feature Wood (6-7, 3.14) vs. Arrieta (5-1, 1.78). Saturday’s game will pit Minor (2-5, 4.54) vs. Jackson (5-9, 5.05). And the series will wrap with Teheran (8-6, 2.57) vs. Wood (7-7, 4.64).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves sending 3 to ASG, J-Up part of final vote

    The Braves learned Sunday that Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel would represent the team at the upcoming All Star Game at Target Field in Minnesota. They, like the rest of us, were also thrilled that Justin Upton is one of 5 players vying for the final roster spot. The Final Vote closes at 4 p.m. (ET) on Thursday.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton has put up exceptional numbers despite deep slumps in the first half of the season. He has a .275/.350/.505 slash with a club-leading 17 homers and 50 RBIs. He has hit .318 at home this season, notching 11 homers and 31 of his RBIs at the Ted.

    Fans can vote at MLB.com or by tweeting #VoteJUp. Upton is up against Justin Morneau of the Rockies, Anthony Rendon of the Nationals, Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs and Casey McGehee of the Marlins.

    Freddie Freeman will now have two All Star appearances in his young career. This year he was selected by the NL players. As you will remember, Braves Country put Freddie in the game last year with the Final Vote. Freddie’s numbers are by far the best offensive numbers on the club in the first half. He has a .299/.390/.507 line with 26 doubles, 13 homers and 47 RBIs. Freddie already has a career high 3 triples on the season. His best numbers have come in clutch situations. He has hit .345 when the game is tied, .297 with 14 RBIs in the 7th inning or later and a ridiculous .313 with 16 RBIs in at-bats when there are 2 outs. And his .344 average when the Braves win is, of course, a huge reason for their success.

    Julio Teheran has been the ace that the Braves needed this season with the loss of Beachy and Medlen at the beginning of the season and Floyd recently. While his 8-5 record doesn’t quite reflect just how good Teheran has been, his 2.29 ERA does. In 126 innings pitched before the all-star break, Teheran has struck out 108 batters while walking 26. He has thrown 2 complete game shutouts this season to add to his clear dominance.

    The Braves have already said that Teheran will attend the All Star Game in Minnesota. However, it is unlike that Teheran will pitch in the game.

    It’s no surprise to the baseball world that Craig Kimbrel is making his 4th ASG appearance in as many seasons. Kimbrel has a lights-out 2.04 ERA and is tied above the NL leader board with 27 saves. In 35 1/3 innings, Kimbrel has 60 strikeouts. In addition to putting up shining numbers, Kimbrel surpassed future hall-of-famer John Smoltz to take the franchise record in saves this season.

    A player that wasn’t selected to the All Star Game and could have been had he not been injured is Evan Gattis.

    Prior to going on the disabled list with a right rhomboid spasm that they eventually learned was a bulging disc, Gattis was putting up exceptional numbers. In 63 games as the everyday catcher for the Braves, he put together a .290/.342/.558 line. Prior to the injury, his 16 home runs led all MLB catchers. He had 10 doubles, a triple and 39 RBIs.

    With Gattis behind the plate, the Braves pitching staff has a 49-40 record with a 3.22 ERA (third best in the National League). Against other NL teams, the Braves have a 3.08 ERA, good for second in the league behind their rivals the Washington Nationals. In teams won by the club, the pitching staff has a 2.02 ERA.

    Gattis has morphed into a great all-around catcher. His footwork behind the plate has improved immensely, much of it thanks to the tutelage of veteran Gerald Laird, and he is calling consistently good game behind the dish. It is only a matter of time before we can say Evan Gattis, all star catcher.

    All Star Game festivities include the All-Star Futures Game and the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, the Gillette Home Run Derby Monday night and the 85th MLB All Star Game on Tuesday.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

     

    Braves sweep Phils, back to the Ted for Mets

    Going into Philadelphia, the Braves knew that the rival Nationals had dropped 3 straight games and opened the door to put Atlanta back within a half game of the National League East lead. By the end of the 4-game weekend series, the Braves had a half game lead in the division. For a team that squandered the opportunity to retake the division lead when they visited the Nationals in D.C., the weekend series proved that this team can win when the pieces work together. The problem for the Braves has been that none of the pieces are ever hot at the same time and many of them have suffered injury.

    Bethancourt-1 (thumb-headshot)

    Bethancourt has hit .273 in 63 games at Gwinnett this season with 3 doubles, a triple, 3 homers and 32 RBIs.

    As the first game of the series got underway, the Braves watched Evan Gattis injure his right rhomboid muscle on a swing at the plate. The injury would sideline him for the rest of the series and may still see Gattis spend time on the disabled list. In his absence, Gerald Laird stepped in to catch and presumably could have caught both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader. However, the veteran backup catcher had only done this once in his big league career, years earlier. The Braves made the move to call up touted prospect Christian Bethancourt from Triple-A Gwinnett and threw him into the fire, catching the second game of the doubleheader Saturday. Bethancourt caught a good game and recorded his first MLB hit.

    Until a decision is made on Gattis and until he is healthy, Bethancourt will backup Laird and offer Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren the opportunity to see just what the slugging catcher has. In the 3 games Laird has caught in the absence of Gattis, he has hit .300 with 2 doubles and an RBI.

    A question that arose after the injury to Gattis is what exactly Ryan Doumit brings to the Braves. When signed he had been DHing with the Minnesota Twins and was sold as a catching/outfield bench bat. Unfortunately, Doumit hasn’t hit much at all. Though he did take the outfield in the second game of the doubleheader, it’s curious that he has not been an option for Fredi behind the plate. In 87 at-bats this season, Doumit has hit .218/.242/.345 with 2 doubles, 3 homers and 12 RBIs. His defensive flexibility is clearly questioned by the team or he would have been an option instead of Bethancourt.

    While the catching situation became an issue during the 4-game series, the pitching was anything but questionable. Stepping in to pitch the second game of the doubleheader, David Hale reminded us why he was 2-2 with a 2.31 ERA in his 4 starts in April before going to the ‘pen. He pitched 5 innings without the benefit of having been stretched out like Alex Wood was. In his 5 innings he allowed only 4 hits, 1 earned run and 3 while recording the win. With the loss of Gavin Floyd for the season, it is clear that if the team needs him to step into the rotation David Hale is a reliable option.

    BRAVES RETURN HOME TO FACE METS…

    Freddie Freeman has a .320 career average against the Mets with 19 doubles, 13 homers and 50 RBIs.  Against the Mets this season, Freddie has raked. In 6 games started in 2014 against the Mets, Freeman has put up a .423/.464/.692 line with 4 doubles, a homer and 7 RBIs. In his 15 plate appearances against Zack Wheeler he has a double, a homer and 6 RBIs (.545/.667/.909). After a bit of a slump in the first few weeks of June, Freddie is on fire once again. Since June 15, Freddie is hitting .371/.435/.597 with 6 doubles, a triple, 2 homers and 5 RBIs.

    The Braves await news from the team doctor as Evan Gattis undergoes an MRI on his ailing rhomboid muscle. If placed on the DL, the Braves can clearly cope with the loss. However, it could put the potential of an All Star Game invite in peril should one materialize.

    David Wright, captain of the visiting Mets, might miss time while in Atlanta due to shoulder soreness. He is listed as day-to-day. This may prove quite lucky for lefties Wood and Minor as Wright holds the league-best .403 batting average against lefties.

    In bullpen news, the Braves have released Kameron Loe. In his 12 appearances with Gwinnett this time around, Loe was 1-2 with an 8.83 ERA. Lefty Ian Thomas was placed on Gwinnett’s DL with shoulder tendinitis, making him unavailable should the Braves need bullpen help in the coming week. David Carpenter will rejoin the ‘pen on Wednesday after his rehab at Gwinnett. Carpenter saw his ERA balloon in a stretch of terrible luck through May and the first weeks of June, going from a 1.69 ERA on May 11th to a 4.23 ERA on June 16th when he was placed on the disabled list. His return will strengthen a ‘pen that has been relying heavily on arms that that of Anthony Varvaro.

    The Mets/Braves series gets underway tonight with Wheeler (3-8, 4.45) vs. Wood (6-6, 3.07). Tuesday’s game will feature Matsuzaka (3-2, 3.23) vs. Minor (2-5, 4.50). And the finale will pit deGrom (1-4, 3.62) against all-star hopeful Teheran (7-5, 2.34). The Braves will then have an off day before the Diamondbacks and returning Martin Prado come to town.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.