With the exciting, though not altogether surprising, announcement that Andrelton Simmons has been awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove as well as named by ESPN 2013′s best defender, we wondered how Simmons stacks up against a former Braves shortstop to which he’s often been compared: Rafael Furcal.
Simmons became the first Braves infielder to win a Gold Glove since Terry Pendleton did it in 1992 and immediately surpassed Furcal who shockingly never won the award with Atlanta, Los Angeles or St. Louis.
Let’s start by taking a look at the defensive numbers for Simmons and Furcal in their first full seasons. For Furcal, the numbers listed are an average of his time at shortstop and second base (where he played 31 games during his rookie season):
Take a minute to consider where Simmon’s fielding percentage in 2013 ranks against some of the best shortstops to play the game. Troy Tulowitzki has the highest career fielding percentage at shortstop at .985%. He is followed by the gifted Omar Vizquel who, with 24 seasons to his big league career, finished with a .984%. You get to sixth on the list, Rey Sanchez, where you’ll find the .981% that Simmons put up this season. Sure, he has only put in a season and a half in the big leagues, but even with minimal playing time in his young career this is rarefied air that Simmons shares. You have to scroll clear down to 185 on the list to find where Rafael Furcal’s 13 seasons rank for shortstops (at .965).
Furcal’s first full season was not rewarded with a gold glove, but due to it being his first season of substantial play and his impressive offensive numbers, Furcal was rewarded for his effort with the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Of course, Simmons was not eligible for the RoY due to the injury-shortened 49-game 2012 season that qualified as his rookie year. Otherwise, there’s no question that he would be int he RoY conversation.
Offensively, there are clear differences between Furcal and Simmons.
While Simmons has been superior defensively, Furcal put together better numbers at the plate. While Simmons hit more home runs, drove in more runs and had more total hits than Furcal, there is no disputing the brilliance Furcal displayed his rookie year on the base paths. Before we discuss the latter point, let’s take a look at how Simmons and Furcal’s first full seasons in Major League Baseball compare offensively:
Simmons’ strikeout total stands out immediately, given Atlanta’s strikeout-happy lineup. The runs are less, the hits more for Simmons. Furcal displayed less pop in his rookie season, but hit for a high average. The clearest contrast, however, is Furcal’s sizable edge on the base paths. Furcal reached base safely far more often than Simmons and once there, he made opposing pitchers pay for putting him there.
With clearly better-than-average speed, it’s peculiar that Simmons isn’t more of a base stealing threat. He played his first full season for a team far better equipped to wait for the 3-run homer than to run opposing pitchers ragged. Certainly, that’s a factor. And while he doesn’t have Furcal’s blinding speed, he has proven himself to be a smart, heads-up base runner.
Furcal was always a lead-off hitter. It was quite apparently the role he was born to play. That’s just not Andrelton Simmons. He will never be the quintessential lead-off guy. However, if Simmons can develop better plate discipline and find his way on base more consistently, it would seem a waste not to put his speed to better use.
When Simmons appeared on Atlanta’s radar, some speculated that he might be the next Rafael Furcal. It now appears that “Simba” is even more impressive with the leather than Furcal, which is saying something. Whether Andrelton can become the offensive force that Furcal was when at his best remains to be seen. He’ll never steal 40 bases, but he may eventually provide a similar spark to the lineup in other ways. Simmons’ potential appears to be as a run-producer, rather than a table-setter.
We can only hope the young shortstop proves to be more durable than Furcal, about whom every conversation begins with the words “if he’s healthy”. Because if Andrelton Simmons is able to remain on the field, largely unencumbered by the ailments that have derailed far too many promising careers, we could be watching a shortstop for the ages.
Update (11.8.13): Andrelton Simmons was voted by the fans, with the help of pre-established input from the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), the winner of the 2013 National League Rawlings’ Platinum Glove Award. Simmons edged out Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina by 1% of the total vote.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.
The story of the 2013 Atlanta Braves season was one of resilience. With a core of young, talented guys, big off season acquisitions and a few veterans, the Braves won the National League East and entered the playoffs despite a season riddled with adversity. That the Braves even made it to the postseason is, in itself, quite surprising. That they couldn’t rise to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers stung, but their postseason performance aside, it was a successful season for Atlanta.
Take a moment to consider what the Braves overcame this season:
Any other team would have crumbled and ended their season at the bottom of their division. But the Braves, to their credit, forged on and made it to the playoffs knowing that they might lack consistent offense, would be without their starting second baseman due to his offensive woes and may or may not get much out of the veteran starter Freddy Garcia.
The Braves may have headed back home to Atlanta to begin the long offseason with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths, but they do have a few performances to remind themselves of from their playoff experience.
Following the loss to the Dodgers, there were two story lines that dominated Braves’ coverage.
The first being that game 4 would be Brian McCann’s final game in an Atlanta uniform. In the business that is baseball, there is no way the Braves can cobble together the money to sign free agent McCann. Unfortunately, the Braves will watch one of their young leaders walk away to a bigger contract, likely with an American League team. McCann was terrible offensively in the playoffs. He went hitless in 13 at-bats, striking out 6 times. However, McCann’s career in Atlanta will be remembered for his offensive prowess and his leadership. Since being called up in 2005, McCann has a .277 average with 1070 hits, 176 homers, 227 doubles and 661 RBIs in 1105 games. He was a 7-time all-star with 5 silver slugger awards. At the age of 29, he may be leaving Atlanta with his best years behind him.
The other story line that followed the Braves’ loss was whether or not manager Fredi Gonzalez bungled game 4 when he brought David Carpenter out of the ‘pen rather than go to Craig Kimbrel for a 6-out save. Kimbrel had never been called in to get a 6-out save and though he said he was ready to do so, Fredi was prepared to bring Kimbrel in once there were only 4 outs remaining. Of course, Juan Uribe didn’t allow the Braves to get to within 4 outs with the lead. Was it the right call by Fredi Gonzalez? Whether or not it was, this is not a firing offense. Consider what Fredi had to lead the team through to get 96 wins and the NL East championship banner. If it weren’t for the Pirates’ incredible season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fredi Gonzalez get consideration for manager of the year.
While the 2013 team had a special chemistry and overcame great odds to reach the postseason, the experience for the young core of starters will be beneficial in 2014 forward.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.
While the Braves were unable to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Braves 96-66 record secured the NL East and second seed going into the postseason. The Braves will have home field advantage against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, the first game of which begins Thursday in Atlanta.
Before the posteason gets underway, let’s look back at the 2013 season and just how the Braves were able to take back the NL East.
The Surprises (Good and Bad)
Justin fared considerably better, finishing the season with a .263 average with 27 homers, 70 RBIs and 8 SBs. His average was the lowest since his 2008 season and dropped from the .280 of the 2012 season. There wasn’t just room for improvement in Upton’s offense, either. He had some strange lapses defensively that made fans cringe. However, there is a high ceiling for this young man and nobody believes he has hit it yet.
The Consistent Core
BRAVES OPEN NLDS AGAINST L.A. AT HOME…
Despite a decisive win in the NL East and a successful season, the Braves are not without problems that must be addressed or worked with going into the NLDS. The biggest problem for the Braves over the past 7 games, not unlike the rest of their season, is that they’ve had 3 or fewer hits 3 times in that span and 10 or more hits 4 times. The discrepancy in hits has certainly led to far too many shutouts and close games. How the Braves can assure scored runs can be addressed on a player-by-player basis.
First, the biggest question facing manager Fredi Gonzalez about his offense is whether or not he start B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla in the NLDS. Though Fredi has said that he’s had more fun the past few days than the last few months, the issue of his two struggling fielders has got to be on his mind. The two highest paid players on the roster are also the team’s two biggest liabilities. Uggla has gone 4-for-28 with 15 strikeouts in his past 10 games, nothing to be excited about. Upton, who hasn’t started back-to-back games since the 15th of September, has gone 0-for-16 with 9 strikeouts in his past 10 games. Both players have suitable replacements at their positions in Elliot Johnson and Jason Heyward (with an assist from Evan Gattis in left field). It would seem that starting either of them in the NLDS would be risky and starting them both in the same lineup would be catastrophic.
It would seem that the questions in the bullpen can be helped by Alex Wood and Paul Maholm joining the ‘pen for the playoffs. After breaking his finger, Scott Downs has been terrible in relief, leaving the need for reinforcements. Jordan Walden, mired throughout the season by various injuries, is not a lock for the playoff roster. The Braves plan to have Walden throw an inning or more in the instructional league or a simulation game before deciding if he will be on the postseason roster. It would seem that we’ve seen the last of both Kameron Loe and David Hale for the season. How Fredi will juggle the arms that are available remains to be seen, however this has been the story of the season for the ‘pen and they have weathered much more adversity than this.
A few injuries to keep an eye on, both for fans and Fredi: Chris Johnson has been dealing with a jammed right shoulder since a diving play Thursday. He missed the final game of the season with this issue, but has said he will be fine for the first game of the NLDS on Thursday. Also, Brian McCann left Thursday’s game with a right adductor strain, a slight hip injury, and was listed as day-to-day. He was available to pinch hit–the injury simply makes squatting problematic. He has been resting since the initial injury and will hopefully we able to play in the NLDS.
Kris Medlen is slated to start game 1 of the NLDS. Medlen has a record of 5-0 with an 1.05 ERA in his past 5 home starts. In those 5 starts, he has 29 K’s, 4 BB and 1 HR allowed (34 1/3 innings). Over his past 9 starts, Medlen is 6-2 with a 1.37 ERA. In addition to turning his season around entirely in the second half of the season and catching fire the last 9 starts, Kris Medlen is now in uncharted territory in terms of innings pitched at 197. His previous season high was 138 last season after his return from Tommy John surgery. Medlen finished the season with a 15-12 record and a 3.11 ERA. The rest of the rotation should line up behind Medlen with Minor, Teheran and Garcia.
A key player to watch is Jason Heyward. On Thursday, Heyward went 4-for-4 with a homer and 3 doubles. Those 4 hits matched a career high (5th time) and his 4 extra-base hits were also a career high. His 10 total bases matched the team season high recorded by Justin Upton in April. Since returning from the jaw injury suffered in New York, Heyward has hit .308 going 8-for-26 with 3 double, 1 homer, 3 walks and an RBI. When playing center, Heyward has hit .290 with 4 doubles, 3 homers and 10 RBI (versus .250 as a right fielder). In the lead off spot this season, Heyward has hit .333, going 38-for-114 with 9 doubles, 6 homers and 16 RBIs. It wouldn’t be surprising to see J-Hey in the lead off spot every game of the NLDS and in center field to start with B.J. Upton as a defensive replacement possibly.
As it is currently scheduled, the Braves will begin NLDS play on TBS on Thursday in Atlanta with game 2 Friday night before the teams travel to L.A. for a Sunday game. Currently no times have been posted for these games.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.
It may have taken a few extra games and a little help from the Miami Marlins, but as Craig Kimbrel struck out his third batter to close out Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Atlanta Braves became the champions of the National League East for the first time since 2005. According the Major League Baseball, the Braves since joining the NL East for the 1994 season, have the second best winning percentage (.576) in baseball.
Much has changed since that 2005 team clinched the NL East. The only remaining players on the roster from that team are veteran Tim Hudson and soon-to-be free agent Brian McCann (then a rookie). In 2005, current manager Fredi Gonzalez was the bench coach for the great Bobby Cox. Also on that roster, as a player, was current bullpen coach Eddie Perez. John Smoltz, Brian Jordan and Chipper Jones played on that 2005 team, as did Andruw Jones and Adam LaRoche. But that team would lose the NLDS in a heartbreaking 4th game that lasted 18 innings, nearly 6 hours at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
The 2013 team has similarities to the last team to win the NL East. It is stacked with impressive young rookies including Alex Wood, Julio Teheran, David Hale, David Carpenter, Evan Gattis, Joey Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza. Only time will tell if they have successful careers ahead of them like the rookies of 2005, guys like McCann, Jeff Francouer, Kelly Johnson, Brayan Pena and Kyle Davies. The 2013 team has a dynamic young shortstop in Andrelton Simmons, not unlike the shortstop on that 2005 team–Rafael Furcal. The 2005 Atlanta Braves had an MVP candidate in Andruw Jones and the 2013 Braves could presumably be given multiple MVP votes with Freeman, Chris Johnson and Simmons all contending. In 2005, Andruw Jones won a Gold Glove in the outfield. In 2013, it’s plausible that Heyward, Freeman and Simmons all win hardware. It will be a travesty if the latter does not. There is also the possibility that either Kris Medlen or Julio Teheran win the Gold Glove for their incredible defense while on the mound. In 2005, only Andruw Jones won a Silver Slugger award. In 2013, Freeman and Johnson certainly stand a chance of winning the award.
Though the 2005 and 2013 clubs have their similarities, there are differences between the teams that bode well for the postseason chances of the current club.
The 2013 Atlanta Braves have weathered more than their share of adversity. When you consider that at season’s start, the Braves had a healthy Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Tim Hudson and anticipated getting back young ace Brandon Beachy, it is stunning that their postseason hopes were able to survive those losses alone. Then consider the talent that has spent quality time on the disabled list this season. Brian McCann began the season on the disabled list. Outfielders Reed Johnson, Jason Heyward, Jordan Schafer, Evan Gattis, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton all had stints, some of them multiple stints, on the DL. The Braves lost Ramiro Pena, Tyler Pastornicky and Cristhian Martinez during the year to season-ending surgeries. Dan Uggla and Paul Maholm were the most recent DL-destined players. And the bullpen was mired with injuries this season. Luis Ayala, Jordan Walden and Scott Downs all suffered injuries. Any other team would have crumbled with this luck, but not the 2013 Braves. In fact, they seemed to thrive amidst the adversity.
Injuries were not the only battle the Braves waged throughout the season. The huge signings of the Upton brothers didn’t bring the results everyone expected, but in the place of big numbers from Justin and B.J., other players (like “throw-in” Chris Johnson) stepped up in big ways. Two starters for the Braves will finish the season below .200, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. Even rookie pitcher Julio Teheran has a higher batting average than Upton and Uggla. Perinneal all-star and silver slugger Brian McCann will finish the season lower than expectations around .261. Despite his hot start to the season, Evan Gattis will finish the regular season around the .233 mark. And Jason Heyward, who has always been touted as a player who should be able to hit for average, will end up around the .250 mark. But in the face of these unusual numbers and below average seasons, Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson, MVP contenders, will finish above .300 at around .314 and .330, respectively.
Going into the postseason there will be much talk about the youth of Braves’ pitching. Perhaps this, more than anything, will be where pundits and analysts say the Braves are not built for the playoffs. However, don’t count the pitching staff out. Go back up and read about the major blows to Braves’ pitching this season and then consider just how strong Atlanta’s pitching was despite huge losses to the staff. Alex Wood stepped up in a huge way when Paul Maholm went on the disabled list and Tim Hudson had his season ended on the first base bag in New York. Mike Minor has taken on a role not unlike that of most veterans with this young staff. And Kris Medlen, despite an upside down first half, has returned to the dominant pitcher we saw when he joined the starting rotation last season and set the baseball world aflame.
Let’s not discount one other thing that bodes well for the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs: The 2012 Wild Card debacle and loss at Turner Field. Some may scoff at this, but for a team with little playoff experience collectively, that experience may turn out to be the thing that gets this team deep into the postseason. Their stunning loss to the Cardinals last year provided a group of young guys with all the experience that is necessary going into a postseason. When you suffer a loss like that one, it’s hard not to internalize what it felt like, how it went wrong and how it could have been avoided.
With 7 games to play in the regular season, the Braves have one goal in mind: Home-field advantage via the best record in the National League. The Braves currently hold a 92-63 record going into a 3-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cardinals currently have a 92-65 record in the NL Central and the Dodgers hold a 90-66 record in the NL West. The next 7 games are crucial to giving the Braves every possible advantage in a postseason that looks to be a dog fight.
The pitching match-ups for the next 3 games: Monday will feature Estrada (6-4, 4.26) vs. Minor (13-7, 3.19); Tuesday will pit Thornburg (3-1, 1.96) vs. Garcia (1-2, 1.31.); and, the series finale and final regular season game at the Ted will feature Lohse (10-10, 3.51) vs. Maholm (10-10, 4.44).
The Braves were plowing toward the postseason with teams in their rear view mirror and then September hit. The injury to Jason Heyward was just the beginning of a series of bad luck for Atlanta. Their young pitching, which had been phenomenal, wore down. Their flawless closer has had a few rough games. Their supposedly dynamic outfield never clicked. The bench bats that had been strong for Fredi Gonzalez seemed to all go cold at once. And the bullpen that has survived injuries that would have put any other club in the bottom of the heap from then on, finally showed signs of turmoil.
Two weeks ago, it looked like Atlanta would easily secure the National League record, however now that the Dodgers have clinched the NL West, it now seems likely that the best record (therefore home field advantage in the playoffs) will be held by the NL Central or West winner. The Braves had lost 5 games straight before getting the win Wednesday against the Nats. They have lost 10 of their past 14 games. Unfortunately, the Braves had twin shutout losses over a period of 3 days.
The Braves were slated to begin a 3-game series Monday at Nationals Park when news of the shooting at the Navy Yard broke. Monday afternoon when the Braves and Nats would have been heading to the park, the Navy Yard was still an active scene just blocks from the ballpark. The Nats were asked to stay home until told otherwise and eventually Monday’s game was postponed. The Braves and Nationals scheduled the game to be made up Tuesday as a doubleheader. Prior to the first game of that doubleheader, the Nationals observed an extended moment of silence for those who lost their lives and those whose lives were forever changed by Monday’s tragedy. Nationals’ players all held hats with the Navy emblem over their hearts during the national anthem, hats they wore during team warmups.
The final game of the series, the Braves were able to secure the win, thus dropping their magic number for clinching the NL East to 2. Wednesday’s win also prevented them from being swept while in D.C.
It wouldn’t be a Braves/Nats game without some fireworks. In the final game, Fredi Gonzalez got tossed after he went out to make sure Wood wasn’t tossed for arguing with home plate umpire CB Bucknor. Wood was irritated with a bad call on a 3-2 pitch and voiced his objection loudly. Once Werth, the batter during the scuffle, walked, Alex Wood was removed from the game. While leaving the field, he barked at Bucknor, earning his first career ejection. It wasn’t the best moment for the young rookie, but, in his defense, the call was terrible. As the game carried on, Bucknor warned both benches for no apparent reason after Varvaro hit Rendon. We have seen Bucknor make terrible calls before, but this was an all-time low for the ump.
Homers by Dan Uggla and Justin Upton in the 3-run 6th inning got the Braves in the lead, a lead they held on to. Solid outings from injured Scott Downs and the impressive David Carpenter held the Braves’ lead and Kimbrel entered and ended the game with the 3-run lead in tact.
Kimbrel had a rough outing in the second game of the doubleheader where he did something he had never done in his previous 224 career appearances. He allowed 3 runs. Kimbrel was scored upon in consecutive appearances for the 1st time since the 3 in-a-row catastrophe April 29th through May 4th of last year.
Kimbrel had been given every opportunity to get the Braves the win. Evan Gattis stepped into the box in the 8th inning of that game, securing the lead. Gattis homered off of reliever Tyler Clippard who, in 6 appearances against the Braves in 2013, gave up 9 hits, 7 earned runs, 3 homers, 6 walks (for a 11.12 ERA) in 5 2/3 innings pitched.
A final note on the Nats’ series: Freddy Garcia, despite a brilliant effort, could not secure a win in the doubleheader. Freddy pitched 7 brilliant innings giving up only 7 hits and allowing only 1 run. The veteran surrendered 2 walks and struck out 6 in 84 pitches. Since joining the Braves from the Orioles Triple-A team, Freddy Garcia has pitched 20 2/3 innings, allowed a mere 3 runs, walked 4 and struck out 13. He has a stunning 1.31 ERA with Atlanta.
BRAVES HEAD TO WRIGLEY FIELD…
With their magic number down to 2, it would seem likely that the Braves will clinch the NL East while on the northside of Chicago. That said, it looked like they’d clinch the division while in D.C. and clearly that did not happen. The Braves arrive in Chicago with a 90-62 record. The lovable Cubbies sit in the bottom of their division with a record of 64-89.
One point that the Braves desperately need to improve on in their final games before the playoffs is production off the bench.
Jordan Schafer is 15-for-92 (.163 average) in the 27 games he has played since returning from the disabled list. Over that span, he has a disappointing .238 on-base percentage. Schafer is 1-for-24 with 4 walks and 10 (10!) strikeouts in his past 9 games. The Braves need Schafer to offer production off the bench going forward, especially with the lack of production from B.J. Upton. Also without Heyward and a lack of production from B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer, the Braves need Reed Johnson to step up in a big way. Reed Johnson has only 2 plate appearances in 2 games since returning from the disabled list on the 17th, but the veteran will need to be the bat he built his reputation on. With Gattis getting more playing time, split between the outfield and catching, there hasn’t been a concern about his offense. However, it would be great to see Gattis out in left field before the next few games taking some pointers from veteran Reed Johnson on positioning and how to best approach various situations. Remembering that he is a catcher, it’s understandable that Gattis has showed some inconsistency on defense while in the outfield.
Jason Heyward has continued to take batting practice while on the road with the team. It is possible that he could return next week, though he’ll need to face live pitching consecutively first.
The Braves/Cubs series gets underway Friday with the former Cubbie Maholm (10-10, 4.35) vs. Baker (0-0, 0.82). Saturday’s game will feature Medlen (14-12, 3.32) vs. Wood (9-11, 3.05). And in their final game before returning to Atlanta, Sunday’s game will pit rookie Teheran (12-8, 3.14) vs. Jackson (8-16, 4.75).
Atlanta went into the 3-game set against the struggling San Diego Padres with high hopes of dropping their magic number to within division-clinching distance before the series in D.C. began Monday. However, best laid plans never seem to pan out in these situations. The Braves suffered 2 losses at the hands of the Padres and came away from the series with their magic number of 4 not budging. The next stop for the Braves is a 3-game set in the nation’s capital where they hope to crush the Nationals’ playoff hopes and clinch the division.
In Freddie Freeman’s last 7 games, he has contributed 13 hits (2 doubles, 2 homers) and 3 RBIs. He is currently 1 RBI away from having 100 on the season. Friday, Freeman entered the Padres series with 20 homers on the season. It is the newly 24-year-old Freeman now has 3 consecutive seasons with 20 or more home runs.
On Friday the 13th, a 2-run blast for Brian McCann marked the catcher’s sixth consecutive 20 or more home run season. Also Friday night, Justin Upton launched his 25th homer on the first pitch he saw in the 4th inning.
The story of the Padres series was truly the Braves’ starting pitching. Over a 7-game stretch, the Braves will have used 7 different starting pitchers. While the start of Kameron Loe was a disaster for Atlanta, the Braves got more than they expected from veteran Freddy Garcia against the Marlins and rookie David Hale in the Padres series.
David Hale’s had a great Major League debut, despite the team giving up the 3-0 lead he left the game with. His line: 5 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 87 pitches/56 strikes. Hale’s 9 strikeouts in his MLB debut, including the strikeout of Wil Venable to start the game, far exceeded his season-high of 6 strikeouts, achieved 4 times, at Triple-A Gwinnett. Hale’s 9 strikeouts tied a franchise mark for strikeouts in a Major League debut–it was last achieved by Kenshin Kawakami in 2009. Of course, Atlanta has high hopes for Hale, hopes that don’t include anything resembling what Kawakami went through when he signed with the team. While some questioned why he wasn’t allowed to continue, it was the right move for a young arm that hadn’t started a game in 11 days.
Kris Medlen pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings on Saturday. He allowed 4 hits, 2 walks and struck out 5. It was the 7th consecutive start for Medlen in which he has pitched into the 7th inning and the 3rd start this season that he made it into the 8th inning. Medlen has recorded the win in his last 4 starts, bringing his season record to a winning 14-12. Over the last 4 games dating back to August 29th, Medlen has given up only 3 runs, 23 hits and struck out 26 hitters in 27 2/3 innings. His ERA in those 4 games was 0.98.
Unfortunately, pitching just wasn’t enough for the Braves to get out of the Padres series with a win. This season, the Braves went 1-5 against San Diego. Perhaps the best player the Padres have, Chase Headley, had 3 homers in the 3-game set. His 2-run shot off Julio Teheran in the series finale put the game out of the reach for the dead Braves offense.
Like so many other times this season, the Braves lost a series to a team that shouldn’t have been hard to beat. The Braves have dominated winning teams, teams that will likely be in the playoffs, but they have suffered sweeps and losses to teams like the Phillies, Padres, White Sox and Mets. It’s a bizarre phenomenon. It might bode well in the postseason, however, when the Braves face off against teams they have had success against all season.
BRAVES HOPE TO PUT AWAY NATS AND SECURE SLOT IN POSTSEASON…
Heading into Washington, D.C., the Braves are in perfect position to not only clinch the division, but put the rival Nats out of their misery for the season.The Braves enter the 3-game series with a record of 89-60, while the Nats have a record of 79-70. The Nats are 10 games back in the division and 4 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race. A series win would give the Braves the division win and would likely knock the Nats out of contention for the Wild Card spot.
With the division berth approaching, both Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward will join the team on the trip to D.C.. Heyward, recovering from a fractured jaw, took batting practice while the Braves were at home and the hope is he may be able to face live pitching by the end of next week. J-Hey has been hitting with a special batting helmet that has an attachment to protect his injured jaw. He has said that he doesn’t bother him to be using the helmet and that he feels safe when he steps into the batter’s box.
Jordan Walden joined the bullpen in the nick of time as the fractured finger Scott Downs has been dealing with has really made him a liability. The only player that the Braves are currently hoping to get back before the postseason is Paul Maholm who had a MRI that showed inflammation of his pitching elbow, but no structural damage. They hope he returns on or before September 20th. While the loss of Beachy and Maholm this late in the season would be crippling for other teams, the Braves have been lucky to have Freddy Garcia, Alex Wood and David Hale to rely on.
To kick off the series, the Braves will send Minor (13-7, 3.15) vs. Haren (9-13, 5.02). Tuesday’s game will feature veteran Garcia (1-1, 1.32) vs. Roark (6-0, 1.30). The series finale will pit Wood (3-3, 3.45) vs. Ohlendorf (4-0, 3.15). The first game of the series will be featured nationally on MLB Network.
With their magic number whittled down to 6 games, the Atlanta Braves welcome back familiar faces and have high hopes for the return of others as they head home to Turner Field to face the under .500 San Diego Padres for the weekend series.
In the first game of the weekend series, the Braves will send to the mound David Hale who was called up during the last series. Hale has pitched 9 innings over 5 games since being called up and has a 3.00 ERA. In 22 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this season, Hale had a record of 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA. His minor league appearances have, for the most part, been starts, though he has been utilized as a reliever thus far. This will be his first big league start.
The Braves made numerous moves and received news about injured players during the Miami series. The Braves activated Reed Johnson who had been on the disabled list since July 28th with a pesky Achilles injury. Also, the Braves called up catching prospect Christian Bethancourt during the 4-game set with Miami. This season for Double-A Mississippi, Bethancourt hit .277 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 90 games. Bethancourt has been hailed as the replacement for Brian McCann as he enters free agency this coming offseason. The Braves also have reliever Jordan Walden back who has survived yet another injury this season. His return will take some of the pressure of Luis Avilan who has not been as sharp since his consecutive scoreless streak ceased.
As the team arrives back in Atlanta, the Braves will get to see Jason Heyward taking batting practice for the first time Friday. Heyward, recovering from a fractured jaw, is hopeful to be in playing shape in time for a few games at the end of September prior to the playoffs. Heyward’s absence has been felt as the Braves have juggled playing time between B.J. Upton, Jordan Schafer, Evan Gattis, the now injured Justin Upton and call-ups from Triple-A Gwinnett. Clearly, having Heyward back will be hugely important to postseason success.
Paul Maholm, who had experienced elbow discomfort dating back 2 starts when he pitched against the Mets, had an MRI on his pitching elbow that revealed inflammation, but no structural damage. The Braves are hopeful that he will make his next start as scheduled. This recent issue seems to indicate that Maholm won’t be the 4th arm in the starting rotation for the playoffs. Like Maholm, Brandon Beachy underwent an MRI that revealed continued inflammation of his repaired elbow. Beachy returned from Tommy John surgery to make 5 starts before being shut down with elbow discomfort. At this point, it would seem most likely that Beachy will sit out the remainder of the season and start anew at spring training.
With just over two weeks to go, the Braves are in great shape with an 88-58 (.603) record. They currently trail only the surging Boston Red Sox in wins. Their record stands as the best record in the National League. Their 11-game lead on the Washington Nationals with the Nats on the schedule after the Padres will likely put the Nats’ last flicker of hope out for 2013. The Braves must continue to push themselves in the final days as home field advantage based on the best record in the league will be highly advantageous.
Ask any Braves fan and they will tell you that the Braves are at their best when they are competing against teams above .500 who are likely headed for the playoffs. That same Braves fan will tell you just how frustrating it is to watch their club fall to teams like the Mets, Marlins and Phillies who, by the numbers, shouldn’t have a chance at bringing down a club with a record as strong as the Braves. That said, it happens, and Braves Country was witness once more to this phenomenon over the weekend in Philly.
While there were frustrating moments and scary moments alike, there were moments for Braves fans to cheer about. Evan Gattis stepped up in a big way, providing all of the offense in the series finale against Cole Hamels. El Oso Blanco went yard twice against the Phillies’ ace, once in the 2nd inning when he launched a homer that was estimated to travel 486 feet (those in the press box say that estimate was conservative) and again in the 7th inning, providing the only 2 runs for Atlanta Sunday.
Though Paul Maholm has struggled in the first inning throughout the season, his 2 runs allowed Sunday should have been enough to keep the Braves in the game. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t come through for Maholm on a day when he tried to establish himself as a postseason rotation option. Maholm pitched 6 solid innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks, and striking out 5 on a pitch total of 108.
Those frustrating and scary moments during the series? Strikeouts being the most frustrating, of course. It’s become clear that when the postseason arrives, not taking for granted that the Braves will be in the playoffs, Fredi Gonzalez will have to consider the danger of placing both Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton in the lineup at the same time. Saturday night B.J. Upton struck out in each of his first 3 at-bats, ending the night with the Golden Sombrero. While there was a hope that B.J. had turned things around and would be able to contribute, even in a small way, in the absence of injured Jason Heyward, it’s hard to believe that at this point.
Also frustrating were the losses in game 1 and 2. Mike Minor had an awesome start in the series opener, but recorded the loss. His 7 strong innings of 9-strikeout ball allowed the Phillies just 2 runs. However, without adequate run support, that alone wasn’t enough to topple Cliff Lee who went just 1 inning longer than Minor and allowed just 1 run fewer. Game 2 delivered another blow to the Braves. Though it is never easy to stomach a walk-off win when it comes at the hands of your opponent, it was especially tough after the Braves had tied up the game with a homer in the 9th by shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
A scary moment of the series came when Scott Downs took a come-backer off his glove hand. After leaving the game, x-rays revealed a broken finger. Downs insists that the broken finger won’t slow him down, but it is certainly worrisome for the Braves’ bullpen, especially given the ongoing groin injury of Jordan Walden. One other issue that arose during the Philly series is the knee soreness of first baseman Freddie Freeman. Fredi Gonzalez is trying to give Freeman rest as much possible. The 12-game the lead the Braves have in the division with 20 regular season games remaining certainly gives the Braves options. Unfortunately, to continue to win games the most consistent bat the Braves can insert in their lineup is that of Freeman. Since the start of the 2012 season, Freddie Freeman is 3rd in National League in RBIs behind Jay Bruce and Allen Craig. Clearly his bat has been important to Atlanta’s success.
BRAVES HOPE TO REBOUND IN MIAMI…
Arriving at Marlins Park, the Braves sit just under .600 with a record of 85-57. The Marlins are 27 games back in the division, but their record isn’t the one the Braves will be watching. With their 12-game lead in the division, there is little hope of the Nationals catching up at this point. However, the Braves will be watching the Dodgers who currently hold a 83-58 record. Home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs will depend on the best record in the league. Currently, as the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals battle it out in the NL Central, the Dodgers are the biggest threat to the Braves for the best record in the NL.
It would be great to see Alex Wood rebound from his outing against the Phillies. Though it could have been worse, Wood only went 4 2/3 innings, surrendering 9 hits, 4 earned runs and 3 walks on 94 pitches. At this point in the season, the Braves are auditioning a potential 4th starter for the playoffs. It would seem that the starters that will go 1-2-3 in the playoffs at this point are Minor, Medlen and Teheran (in no particular order). Wood, prior to his last couple starts, seemed the most likely option for the 4th spot in a postseason rotation, assuming the Braves utilize a 4-man rotation. However, he will have to prove that he has an edge over Maholm.
The Braves are approaching a franchise record for most the most players in a season with double-digit home run totals. Currently, the team record is 9 players, established in 2007. The 2013 club currently has 8 players with 10 or more home runs. B.J. Upton is currently sitting at 9 homers on the season.
The 4-game set against the Marlins will kick off Monday with Medlen (12-12, 3.48) vs. Alvarez (3-3, 3.95). Rookie Teheran (11-7, 3.01) vs. Koehler (3-9, 4.70) will match up Tuesday. Look for a pitching duel Wednesday with Minor (13-6, 3.06) vs. Fernandez (11-6, 2.23). And the series will wrap Thursday with rookie Wood (3-3, 3.45) vs. Eovaldi (3-6, 3.80).
The Braves put another series win under their belts as they make their way to the postseason. Their record stands at 85-54 and they hold a 14 game lead on the Washington Nationals in the National League East.
Though the Braves took 2-of-3 from the Mets, they weren’t without a hiccup or two. The Braves dropped the series finale to the Mets after spot starter Kameron Loe struggled mightily against Mets’ offense and continued his trend of giving up far too many long balls. Loe, who has pitched for 3 MLB teams this season, has allowed 11 dingers in 22 big league innings. Unfortunately, that trend continued when Loe gave up 2 homers in the game. In 4 1/3 innings, Loe allowed 5 runs on a whopping 11 hits.
Entering Kameron Loe’s start Wednesday, the Braves were 27-8 with 2.66 ERA in past 35 games, and 19-4 with a 2.53 ERA in their past 23 home games. Their starting pitching, minus a few anomalies in Wood’s last outing and as Maholm has returned, has been dominant in the last few weeks. The Braves have watched as confidence has allowed Minor and Teheran to develop into two of the best young pitchers in the game, Wood was barely edged out for NL Rookie and Pitcher of the Month by the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, and Kris Medlen has regained the command he displayed last year when he moved from the bullpen to the rotation and went on an otherworldly tear.
More on Medlen: Kris Medlen had a solid outing in game 2 of the series. Medlen brought his season record to 12-12 and his ERA to 3.48. He went 7 strong innings, gave up 7 hits, allowed 1 run and struck out 9 batters.
While the rotation is getting a great deal of ink as they dominate opposing hitters, it cannot go unmentioned just how amazing Craig Kimbrel has been this season. The closer was named August’s Delivery Man of the Month and a case could have been made for him being NL Pitcher of the Month. In August, Kimbrel was 1-0 with 12 saves and 19 Ks in 16 1/3 scoreless innings. Over that span he only allowed 2 batters a free pass on base, gave up only 8 hits and he converted each save opportunity he was given. This is the 3rd time in Kimbrel’s young career that he won this particular award, the previous 2 awards coming in August of 2011 and September of 2012.
Of course, the entire series wasn’t defined by pitching. A few offensive highlights include Monday night’s Freddie Freeman Show. The dark horse MVP candidate matched a season high with 5 RBIs. In his career he has had 3 games in which he has batted in 5. Freeman appears to have taken the title of Mets’ Killer from Chipper Jones since the third baseman’s retirement. Freddie has hit .306/.377/.566 with 12 homers in 53 games (196 ABs) against the Mets.
Another offensive highlight of the Mets’ series was the return of El Oso Blanco. After being sent down to Triple-A Gwinnett last week to get some consistent at-bats, the Braves welcomed back Evan Gattis Tuesday. While at Gwinnett, Evan Gattis had 6 hits including 3 doubles and a homer. He continued his hot hitting with 4 hits, including a double, homer and RBI in his 2 games back. In addition to his hitting, Gattis made his presence known on the base paths. In Wednesday’s game, Gattis had a stolen base erased by the official scorer, advancing instead on a wild pitch. In his big league career, he remains without a stolen base.
BRAVES VISIT NOT SO UNFLAPPABLE PHILLIES…
The Braves will arrive in Philly as their once dominant division rivals are struggling. Between players past their prime and a slue of new guys playing positions that were once manned by big-name stars, the Phillies are in sad shape. Their defense has been more reminiscent of a little league team than a high-paid big league roster. And their offense has been just as inconsistent. For the Braves, who are rapidly nearing the magic number of games won that will send them to the playoffs, it will be a good time for them to arrive in Philadelphia.
With September call-ups still making news across Major League Baseball, the latest call-up for the Braves will join the club for the upcoming series. Right-handed reliever David Hale has been recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett. Hale went 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA in 22 games for the Triple-A team. This will be his first appearance on a big league roster. The Braves also made a move in the opposite direction. They have traded catcher Matt Pagnozzi to the Houston Astros.
As the Philly series opens, manager Fredi Gonzalez has said that outfielder Jordan Schafer should be ready to play Friday. Schafer was scratched from the lineup Wednesday with a quadriceps contusion that was created by him fouling a ball off his leg. Tuesday against New York, Schafer had 3 stolen bases in the first 4 innings of that game. Schafer has 11 steals in 18 games since returning from the disabled list with his foot/ankle inury. That matches the highest season total for any other Brave. B.J. Upton has 11 steals.
Friday night’s series opener in Philly will feature Minor (13-5, 3.08) vs. Lee (11-6, 3.09). Game 2 will pit the rested Wood (3-3, 3.15) vs. Kendrick (10-12, 4.51). The series finale will feature Maholm (10-10, 4.41) vs. Hamels (6-13, 3.50). The Braves’ road trip will then continue in Miami.
With a 5th consecutive winning season secured, the Braves look to September call-ups and continued success with a hobbled, somehow successful, starting lineup down the stretch. With their Saturday night win, the Braves sat at 31 games over .500 for the first time since October 2, 2004. The Braves won the Miami series taking 2-of-3 from the Fish.
With rosters expanding across Major League Baseball Sunday, the Braves made a single move. The Braves called up veteran right-handed pitcher Freddy Garcia. Garcia joined another Triple-A Gwinnett player, outfielder Jose Constanza, who was called up when Evan Gattis was sent down before the Miami series began. Garcia’s call-up could not have come at a better time given the meltdown of Alex Wood in his start Sunday. Garcia pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief of Wood, giving up 3 hits and 0 runs. They will likely continue call-ups as the regular season for the Triple-A club comes to a close Monday afternoon. Atlanta is allowed to expand their regular 25-man roster to 38 for the month of September. Fans will see rookie catcher Evan Gattis return to the club at that point. Gattis was sent to Gwinnett to try to right his swing in more consistent at-bat opportunities. Also likely to return when ready is outfielder Reed Johnson who has been battling achilles tendinitis.
Garcia’s Braves’ debut was exceptional given that his last start at Gwinnett was rocky. In 3 2/3 innings, Garcia gave up 7 hits, 5 walks and allowed 8 runs. For him to enter the game Sunday in relief and pitch 4 2/3 innings of 3-hit, scoreless ball with only 1 walk is pretty impressive. His ability to bounce back after that loss with Gwinnett speaks to his experience as a veteran starter. That experience is precisely why the Braves took a shot on him. Wood’s line, the reason for Garcia’s long relief, was the worst we’ve seen of the young rookie. Wood had allowed just 3 runs on 20 hits in 30 innings pitched in his 5 August starts. He had allowed 6 or fewer hits over that stretch. In August, Alex Wood led the National League in ERA with a dominant 0.90. Behind him were 2 former Cy Young winners (Kershaw, 1.01; and, Greinke, 1.23) and fellow rookie Fernandez (1.11).
While the Braves are patching together a lineup each night with players whose names some fans aren’t yet familiar with, the team continues to get it done. This series was no exception. Every night it seems to be another guy stepping up in a big way. Sunday we saw Freddy Garcia in long relief, Friday and Saturday we saw usual infielder Elliot Johnson in left field, and Saturday night’s extra-innings extravaganza saw B.J. Upton get a walk-off single and reliever Anthony Varvaro record his first career save. This may be a strange time in Atlanta, but there’s no question that it is fun for the players and the fans.
One more note on B.J. Upton: In addition to his walk-off single Saturday night, B.J. snapped a string of 142-ABs without a homer. Prior to that homer, his last long ball came on June 15th against the Giants when he put together a 2-homer game. B.J. Upton’s 4 hits were critical in the Braves late-inning win that secured the series win Saturday night. B.J.’s August had high points and low points, but his ability to increase his batting average from .177 to .195 in 17 starts (73 plate appearances) is a sign of life the Braves have been looking for. In the month of August, Upton hit .269 and a .315 on-base percentage. These numbers, aside from the limited number of at-bats, more closely resemble what the Braves expected when they signed the center fielder. Through September, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Upton continue to share time with Schafer in center field.
The last time an Atlanta Brave won a batting title was in 2008 when Chipper Jones hit a ridiculous .364 in 128 games. Now, in 2013, Chris Johnson has a legitimate chance of winning another batting title from the hot corner with a current average of .333 in 118 games. Johnson leads St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina (.329) as of Sunday night. Johnson took Sunday night off due to leg fatigue/soreness, but provided a pinch hit that gave his average a boost. Prior to this season, the highest finishing batting average for Johnson was .308 with only 98 games played. Despite that strong finish in Houston in 2010, Atlanta has been pleasantly surprised by Johnson’s production. His steady hands at third base and busy bat have taken most of the sting out of losing Martin Prado in the trade that brought Johnson and Justin Upton to the Braves.
BRAVES HOPE FOR SERIES AGAINST METS SANS X-RAYS…
It has not been an easy season for the Braves when facing the Mets. Both Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward’s season-ending injuries came when facing the New York Mets. Though Jason Heyward has resumed strength-maintaining workouts, the Braves still won’t have him back until the offseason. Heyward was hit in the face by a Jonathan Niese fastball that broke his jaw in two places. Veteran pitcher Tim Hudson fractured his ankle on a freak play covering first base when Eric Young, Jr. running hard to the bag stepped on Hudson’s lower leg and ankle. Maybe the biggest goal for the Braves in the upcoming series is to make it out of the series without a major injury.
Speaking of injuries, this week in Buster Olney’s power rankings, the Braves came up 2nd, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers. As has been said here before, it is simply amazing what the Braves have been able to do this season with a constant stream of injuries up and down the roster. Remember, they started the season without Brian McCann who was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. They’ve sustained season-ending injuries to relievers Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Cristhian Martinez, infielder Tyler Pastornicky, and the aforementioned Tim Hudson. In their outfield, they’ve seen injuries to both Uptons, Heyward, Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis. They haven’t had Jordan Walden or Luis Ayala for the entire season. Maholm is just returning from injury. Young ace Brandon Beachy is still dealing with post-Tommy John rehabilitation issues. There were short DL stints for Dan Uggla and Gerald Laird. Even the consistent mainstay Freddie Freeman lost some time. Any other team with this number of injuries would be 20+ games back. How the Braves have done it has truly been to the credit of each guy coming in and picking the team up at just the right time. Instead of nightly highlights featuring the big names, we’ve seen a different name every night. This group of guys truly exemplify what it means to be a team player.
Though Alex Wood led all NL pitchers in August, the Atlanta starter with the best season ERA is Julio Teheran at 3.01. Teheran is 9th in the NL with that record. His 11-7 record trails only Mike Minor’s 13-5 record for most wins on the club. Julio has been dominant against the New York Mets. Over his 2 starts against the Mets, he has allowed them only 2 runs on 9 hits with 11 strikeouts. Teheran finished August with a record of 4-2 and a 2.80 ERA in 6 starts. He recorded 42 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings pitched. In a league that includes Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller, Teheran has quietly put together a season that is deserving of Rookie of the Year consideration.
The series opener against the Mets will feature Matsuzaka (0-2, 8.68) vs. Maholm (9-10, 4.37). Tuesday’s game will pit Torres (3-2, 2.77) vs. Medlen (11-12, 3.58). And the final game against the Mets will showcase Gee (10-9, 3.63) vs. Teheran (11-7, 3.01).