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…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
As the game got underway in Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park tonight, the Braves knew that the rival Nationals had dropped 3 straight games. This brought Atlanta within a half game of Washington in the National League East. By game’s end, the Braves were tied once again for first place in the division. Hoping to reclaim the lead, the Braves knew that it wouldn’t be an easy feat given the news yesterday that they had lost Gavin Floyd for the season after he underwent surgery to repair his fractured elbow. The team was then dealt a smaller scare when in the first inning in Philly, slugger Evan Gattis appeared to tweak something on a swing at the plate. It was announced quickly after that he had a spasm of the right rhomboid in his upper back. Needless to say, the Braves could really use a few wins against the Phillies.
When the Braves went out and signed Gavin Floyd for $4 million for his services in the 2014 season, they took a huge chance on a veteran pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery. They couldn’t have been more pleased when Floyd joined the rotation and went 2-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 9 starts. His record doesn’t reflect how well he pitched. The boys averaged 3.25 runs in support of Floyd with them scoring 5 or more runs in only 3 of his games started. 3 of Floyd’s starts the offense scored 2 or fewer runs behind him. Floyd’s surgery is the end of the season and whether he can return from this and pitch is unknown.
Floyd had been a huge pickup for the Braves once they learned they would be without Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen for the season. Now it would appear that the biggest signing of the offseason and early spring training was that of veteran Aaron Harang.
In Floyd’s absence, Alex Wood will step into the rotation. If Wood’s start Wednesday is any indication, it appears it will be a seamless transition. Wood pitched 7 shutout innings against Houston, allowing only 3 hits and striking out 4 batters.
With 1 game and 1 win behind them, the Braves will face off for 3 more games against the Phillies. Saturday will feature a doubleheader. The second game of the doubleheader will see David Hale step back into a starting role, a role he feels is the best fit for him. Because Hale isn’t stretched out like Wood had been when he stepped in to fill the rotation spot of Floyd’s, Hale will need a piggyback reliever and the Braves used their 26th man allowance for doubleheaders to call up Gus Schlosser. Gus is 4-3 with a 4.39 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett this season (55 1/3 innings). In his limited appearance with the big club earlier this season he 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings pitched.
The remainder of the series at Citizens Bank Park, including the Saturday doubleheader will match up as follows: Saturday, game 1 will feature Santana (5-5, 4.15) vs. Hernandez (3-6, 4.41); Saturday, game 2 will feature Hale (2-2, 3.14) vs. O’Sullivan; and the series finale Sunday will pit Harang (6-6, 3.78) vs. Buchmann (4-3, 4.79).
In a 162-game season there are plenty of opportunities to take and lose the division lead, however none present themselves quite like a face off with the rival Washington Nationals in a 4-game series. The Braves entered the series 1 1/2 games behind Washington in the National League East. The Nats entered with a 2-game winning streak while Atlanta had just lost 3 straight to the Phillies. Despite having won 19 of 26 of their last meetings, the Braves spit the series 2-2 with the Nats, rolling through the first 2 games and then scoring only 1 run in the final 2 games.
The pitching curse of 2014 once again reared its ugly head in D.C. when veteran Gavin Floyd took the mound. Despite recording the win on 6 innings of work where he gave up only 2 hits and didn’t allow a run, Floyd left the game with what appeared to be a nasty fluid sac on his pitching elbow. After the game Floyd was examined by the Nats’ doctors and it was announced that he had a fractured elbow. The Braves took a chance on Floyd in the offseason while he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery. In 9 starts, Floyd put together a 2-2 record with a 2.65 ERA in 54 1/3 innings pitched. He held opponents to a .266 average, allowed 16 total runs and 45 strikeouts.
Atlanta announced today that Floyd would undergo surgery on his fractured elbow Wednesday. After being pulled from the start in D.C., Floyd was placed on the 15-day DL and Ryan Butcher was called up from Gwinnett. The Braves have scheduled Alex Wood to rejoin the club and take Floyd’s spot in the rotation Wednesday. There is no timetable on Floyd’s recovery due to the unusual nature of his injury and the speed in which the bone heals.
Evan Gattis saw his 20-game hit streak come to an end in the final game of the series. Over that span, he hit .372 (32-for-86) with 3 doubles, 8 homers & 21 RBIs. His 20-game hit streak matched the streak of Jason Kendall in 2004 with the Pirates–the longest by a catcher who caught every game during the streak. Gattis has improved on defense this season, too. His hitting is not the only part of his game. During his 20-game hit streak he also went errorless behind the plate with 13 assists.
ATLANTA CONTINUES ROAD TRIP IN HOUSTON…
Atlanta continues their road trip following a day off with a 3-game series in Houston before heading to Philly for the weekend. Houston sits at the bottom of the AL East, but has put together a much better pitching staff than last year. The Astros are 33-and-44 and 14 1/2 games back in the division. The Braves enter the series 38-and-37.
As Alex Wood joins the rotation on Wednesday, look for either Beato or Butcher to be sent back down to Gwinnett to make room on the roster. Also look to see Justin Upton in the lineup going forward as he appears to be on the mend from the sinus problems that caused dizziness and his equilibrium to be off over the last week.
The Braves will open the series in Houston with Harang (5-6, 3.83) vs. Feldman (3-4, 3.95). Wednesday’s game with feature the returning Wood (5-6, 3.43) vs. McHugh (4-5, 2.76). The final game against the Astros will pit Minor (2-4, 4.20) vs. Cosart (7-5, 3.78).
The Atlanta Braves have lost 3 games in the past week when they have a had a lead in the late innings. They’ve lost 2 games where they’ve battled back to make it to the 13th inning only to give up 5 runs and the ballgame. They were swept by the Phillies who, by all indications, are on the verge of trading away some or all of the pieces that once brought them multiple division titles. And they’ve failed their starting pitching offensively time and time again with lack of run support. If the 2014 Atlanta Braves want a spot in the postseason this year, it’s time to get it together.
When the Braves went out and signed Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran and Andrelton Simmons to long-term deals this winter, the consensus among baseball writers about Jason Heyward was that the talent and potential is there, he just hasn’t met it. Many compared he and Freeman to McCann and Francouer when they came up, saying Heyward was the expected superstar and Freeman surpassed him. Many said that Jason’s 2-year extension was a tryout, essentially, for Heyard to prove that he deserves a deal with this club. If that is the case, Heyward is more than proving himself this season. Heyward is now hitting .303/.381/.472 in his past 35 games, all of them in the lead off spot. He has upped his speed on the bases, stealing 9 bags so far. His defense in right field is likely the best in the National League. When compared to other players in either league, defensively Heyward is in the top 5 valuable players, according to Fangraphs, and surpasses teammate Andrelton Simmons.
The legend of Evan Gattis, former ski lift operator and pizza delivery driver, continues to grow. Gattis takes a 17-game hitting streak and the most homers of any catcher in the big leagues into the series against Washington. Not only has Gattis improved behind the plate defensively and with increased authority calling games, his hitting is more consistent and his power even more dominant. Instead of hitting just fastballs out of baseball parks everywhere, he is hitting offspeed stuff with equal aplomb. Despite taking an off day, Gattis extended his hitting streak to 17 games yesterday with yet another homer against the Phillies, his 16th on the year. Gattis has now improved his average to .294 with 7 doubles, 16 homers and 38 RBIs on the year. Gattis trails only Tommy La Stella in batting average among his teammates, though has 36 more appearances this season than Tommy. Gattis leads the team in RBI and slugging percentage (.588).
Coming off his worst career start, Julio Teheran stepped up big time against the visiting Phils. In his last outing against the Reds, Julio surrendered 10 hits and 7 earned runs (a career first) in 6 1/3 innings. He bounced back in a big way against Philly, going 8 strong innings with only 4 hits given up and 1 earned run allowed. He lowered his ERA to 2.31 on the season. Unfortunately, Julio did not get the win due to the ongoing issues in the ‘pen and kept his record at 6-4.
NATS AND BRAVES SQUARE OFF FOR FIRST PLACE…
The Braves enter the 4-game series with the Nationals 1 1/2 games behind Washington in the National League East. The Nats enter the series with a 37-33 record and a 2-game winning streak. The Braves sit at 36-35, having lost the last 3 games to the previously mentioned Phillies. The Braves are tied for 2nd in the division with the surprising Miami Marlins who may or may not have what it takes to keep on winning through to September. Though only 5 and 6 games back, respectively, the Phillies and Mets don’t appear to be contenders this year with the pieces they have. The Phillies will likely sell at the deadline–maybe even a fire sale–but, the cash-strapped Mets may hang on to the less expensive pieces they have given their strength in the farm system. Of the two, the Phillies are more likely to be a spoiler alongside the Marlins, assuming Miami can’t keep pace with Washington and Atlanta.
David Carpenter has had the worst luck on the mound of any reliever this season. His numbers bear that out. With a 4-1 record and a 4.23 ERA in 27 2/3 innings this season, Carpenter has struggled in high pressure situations in the last 2 months. His April ERA was a stellar 2.61. It then ballooned in May to 4.97 before dropping to 4.23 where it is now. His bad luck continued in the Philly series when he was removed from a game with bicep tightness/soreness and was then placed on the 15-day DL. In his place, Pedro Beato was recalled. Beato had a 1-0 record at Gwinnett in 2014 with a 3.49 ERA in 28 1/3 innings. In his 3 games with the club this season he had yet to give up a run in 4 1/3 innings. He had allowed only 3 hits in his appearances and struck out 3. Beato was sent down to Gwinnett Thursday morning and righthander Juan Jaime was called up in his place. In 26 1/3 innings at Gwinnett, Jaime has a 1-0 record with a 2.39 ERA and 13 saves. He has 20 walks to his 40 strikeouts.
The Carpenter injury is part of larger issue in the bullpen. The consistency of what was once the best bullpen in the league and maybe all of baseball has been a major problem for Atlanta. Avilan has moments where he reminds us of the dominant reliever he was in 2013 when he recorded a 1.52 ERA and went on that ridiculous scoreless streak. But he’s still carrying a 4.70 ERA this season with a 3-1 record in 23 innings pitched and that isn’t helping the embattled ‘pen. Avilan had a 2.53 ERA in May, but his 5.40 ERA in June has risen in key spots when the Braves couldn’t shut down their opponent in late innings. At least his 5.40 ERA in June isn’t as bad as his 7.36 ERA in April? We need the old Avilan back. Fortunately for the Braves, Shae Simmons has been a solid relief option for them. In his 8 1/3 innings, many of them high pressure outings, Simmons has a 1.08 ERA with 8 strikeouts.
The Braves and Nationals get underway today with Floyd (1-2, 2.98) vs. Zimmerman (5-3, 2.98). Friday will feature Minor (2-4, 4.42) vs. Strasburg (6-5, 3.06). Saturday’s game will pit Teheran (6-4, 2.31) vs. Fister (5-2, 3.08). And the series will wrap on Sunday with Santana (5-4, 4.12) vs. Roark (6-4, 2.85).
Where the Braves struggled in strike outs and scoring runs last season, an immense frustration for followers of the team and the players themselves, they’ve upped that struggle this season and have added to it inconsistencies on defense as well as out of the bullpen. Despite their frustrations, the Braves took 2 of 3 from the visiting Angels.
Friday night the Braves once again saw great pitching from the unlikely Aaron Harang who has been nothing but solid for the Braves since they signed him late. Harang’s outing Friday led the team to finally snapping a 6-game losing streak in interleague play. Additionally, the team improved to 24-6 when scoring 4 or more runs. Harang finished his outing with 6 innings of 1-run ball. He allowed 4 hits, 3 walks and struck out 2.
Aaron Harang was relieved by David Hale who saw plenty of time over the series with the Angels, particularly in the 13-inning marathon Saturday night. Over Friday and Saturday, Hale pitched 3 1/3 innings. He allowed 5 runs on 3 hits, walking 2 and striking out 1. Hale was out of sorts in the final inning of work Saturday night, but Fredi Gonzalez had only Shae Simmons and possibly Mike Minor to turn to. Fredi had said before the game that he didn’t want to use Simmons.
Sunday afternoon Fredi Gonzalez said that Minor was in the ‘pen and ready to enter if the game had gone to the 14th or 15th inning. Minor, of course, was the scheduled starter Monday. Fredi also said that Wren was told that if Minor did enter the game then the Braves would need a reliever called up from Triple-A. The Braves didn’t end up making a roster move Sunday, despite the ‘pen logging 6 2/3 innings Saturday night. Aaron Harang was available in the ‘pen Sunday night–his scheduled ‘pen day–and would still have been available to pitch Wednesday against the Phillies. Fortunately, Harang wasn’t needed.
One more note on Minor: Minor was, in a word, a mess at Coors Field. He contends that Coors doesn’t get to him, but it doesn’t seem that is the case. When he entered Sunday night’s game, he recorded strikes with each of the 6 breaking balls he threw. His breaking stuff was the big problem for him in Colorado and rebounded nicely at home against the Angels. Minor’s outing saw him give up his 70th career homer. 46 of those home runs, including the homers given up to Aybar and Trout in the finale, have been solo shots.
Two bats that the Braves would love to see get hot or those of Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman. Since June 1st, Justin Upton has hit only .179 with 1 homer and 3 RBIs. He has recorded 14 strikeouts in that time. Justin could have put an end to the marathon game Saturday night in the 11th inning with a hit to right field, but yet another dramatic play in game of dramatic plays cost the Braves the win. Kole Calhoun went full extension facing the plate to rob Justin Upton of the potentially game-winning hit.
Freddie’s bat has been slumping mightily recently. Prior to a clutch double in the 9th inning of the 13-inning game, Freeman had an 0-for-14 slump. That double may have propelled the struggling hitter back to more successful at-bats. Freeman hit a double in his first plate appearance of the series finale and through the 6th inning accounted for 2 of the 3 Atlanta hits. He has now doubled in 2 of his past 6 at-bats. Before Saturday night’s 9th inning, he had 2 extra-base hits in his previous 47 at-bats. Like Justin, Freddie has been sliding since June 1st. He has hit .163 in June with only 2 homers. His batting average dropped from .297 to .272.
A bat that is anything but slumping is that of catcher Evan Gattis. Gattis took a 14-game hitting streak into the series finale with the Angels, a streak that has seen him hit .411. He extended his hitting streak to 15 games with an RBI-single in the 6th inning. The catcher was part of one of the more perplexing moves by Fredi Gonzalez in the series when he was pulled in the late innings of the marathon Saturday night game for pinch runner Dan Uggla. Not only is Gattis the most consistent hitter for Atlanta right now, Hale had pitched only 1 inning at that point and the bench was all but empty. Hale would go on to crumble in the top of the 13th inning, the team was without Gattis’ bat going forward and Dan Uggla’s base running skills were questionable when he was doubled off second base to end the inning (and rally). Despite the managerial snafu, Gattis remains the best hitting player on the team and the catcher with the most homers in either league. A few things worth noting about Gattis: He has 7 homers in his last 15 games and of the last 7 times Atlanta has hit back-to-back homers in a game, El Oso Blanco has been part of 6 of them.
What many thought would eventually come appears to have with B.J. Upton–his struggles at the plate have now started dogging him in the field. B.J. committed costly errors in games 1 and 2 of the series, the error in game 2 potentially costing them the game and dragging the game into extra innings. He seems to have no sense of the strike zone, arguing with umpires about pitches that were clearly in the middle of the plate. His contract gives the Braves no leverage with the struggling center fielder. Going forward, fans can only hope that Upton is moved out of the 2-hole, possibly for La Stella.
BRAVES OPEN SERIES AGAINST PHILLY AT HOME…
Arriving in Atlanta Monday is the last-place team in the National League East. Jimmy Rollins surpassed the franchise record-holding Mike Schmidt for most career hits this week and now says he is open to being traded. It would appear that the Phillies are out of contention entirely.
Look for the hot-hitting Evan Gattis to see plenty of playing time against the Phillies. Gattis has punished Philly pitching in his short career. He has a career .319 BA against Philly and has slugged .787 with 7 homers in 12 games. Evan Gattis has good numbers in limited appearances against veteran Cole Hamels. He is 2-for-3 (.667) with 2 homers in those
One of the ongoing struggles for the Braves is consistency out of the bullpen. While the bullpen continues to struggle in high-pressure situations, they have relied heavily on closer Kimbrel for consistency in those spots. However, Kimbrel gave up a Pujols lead-off double and an RBI single to Hamilton, allowing the Angels to reclaim the lead in 10th inning Saturday night. Coming into the game, 13 of the 17 fastballs Kimbrel had thrown in his past 2 appearances registered 98 or 99 mph. The other 4 fastballs? 97 mph.
David Carpenter continues to be the tough-luck man on the staff and with Alex Wood back in Triple-A, David Hale seems to be committed to the role of long man. Where the ‘pen had been the biggest strength of the Braves in recent years, it seems to be a liability right now. Having rejoined the team in Colorado, Jordan Walden’s presence hopefully will stabilize the ‘pen. Walden as set-up man for Kimbrel gives the Braves 2 innings they can count on. And Shae Simmons turns out to be a cool customer who doesn’t get rattled in tight spots. Hopefully Carpenter will return to the shutdown guy he came up as and Luis Avilan will continue improving against lefties.
The Braves face growing specialty in bullpens in their division. By developing specialty arms, National League teams are averaging 8.72 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched per reliever. This was something the Braves were competitive with, sending Walden, Avilan and Kimbrel out there as well as Venters, O’Flaherty and Kimbrel the year before. They have the talent to keep up with the league, it’s simply a matter of Carpenter recovering his confidence, Walden staying healthy, Simmons introducing himself to the league and Avilan returning to the Avilan of old.
A few notes on injuries: Heyward was hit in the hand at the plate in the first game of the series with L.A. The ball got him on his last 3 knuckles of the right hand. After treatment on the hand, Heyward was able to play Saturday. Also, Gerald Laird, who missed time following a Tulowitzki back swing in Colorado that hit Laird in the jaw and side of the head while knocking his mask off, entered the Saturday game in the late innings. Laird passed concussion tests in Colorado and was cleared by Rockies’ doctors to fly back with the team to Atlanta.
The 3-game series against the Phillies will kick off Monday with Hamels (2-3, 3.07) vs. Teheran (6-4, 2.41). Kendrick (2-6, 4.09) is pitted against Santana (5-3, 4.09) Tuesday. And the series finale will feature Hernandez (2-5, 4.26) vs. Harang (5-5, 3.20). The Braves will then go on the road to face the Nationals.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch
Hot off a sweep of the Tigers and a makeup game with the Yankees, the Mariners flew into Atlanta and swept the Braves in the 2-game interleague set. Seattle improved to 24-15 record since April 22nd. The Braves did their best to keep pace with the M’s on both sides of the ball. The difference in the series came down to runs allowed by the Braves’ ‘pen in game 1 and no run support for Mike Minor’s brilliant effort in game 2.
As was a concern coming into the series, the Braves’ ‘pen seems to be on a bit of a slide of late, allowing runs rather than coming in and shutting down the opponent’s offense. The Mariners’ ‘pen was the opposite, now having gone 13 innings without allowing a run. One reason that might have contributed to the 2 runs given up by Alex Wood in relief of Gavin Floyd is that he had been up getting warm twice prior to actually being called on in the ‘pen. Wood has yet to truly fall into a rhythm of any kind as a reliever. Like Wood, David Hale is in an unusual situation given that he is supposedly the long man and hasn’t been called into high-pressure situations like other relievers. What the roles of Wood and Hale will be going forward is uncertain. What is certain is that Jordan Walden is nearing his return to the club. Walden, who was sent to the DL with a hamstring strain, is currently making rehab starts with Triple-A Gwinnett. We could see him in the upcoming series in Arizona.
Because the Braves never made it into a save situation, Craig Kimbrel remains at 154 career saves and will likely earn his next save on the road. His 155th save will make him the sole record holder in franchise saves. He currently shares the top spot with John Smoltz.
Mike Minor lead the category of things that went incredibly well for the Braves over the 2-game set. Minor went 7 innings of 1-run baseball, giving up 6 hits and striking out 10th strikeout a season-high 10 batters. It was the third double-digit strikeout of his career and his first since May of last season against the Mets. Unfortunately, Minor was bested by Iwakuma who threw 8 innings of shutout ball, striking out 7 before handing over the game to closer Fernando Rodney for the save.
The first game of the set is much less easy to explain. While the Braves got to starter Erasmo Ramirez early, chasing him after he pitched 4 innings, the M’s bullpen was lights out and the Braves ‘pen faltered. Gavin Floyd once again missed securing his first win in a Braves uniform. He went 5 innings, game up 3 earned runs and now holds a 2.80 ERA. Floyd, for his part, has been great for the Braves. He simply seems to be the hard luck pitcher of the season for the Braves. We’ll see Floyd again in the Arizona series and hopefully he can secure that elusive first win then.
BRAVES MEET DIAMONDBACKS IN THE DESERT…
Entering the series in Arizona, the Braves are 31-27 and tied with the surprising Miami Marlins for first place in the National League East. The Diamondbacks who struggled mightily in the first two months of the season have won 3 games straight to improve to 26-36, still last in the National League West.
The Braves will take the hot-hitting Justin Upton to the desert where he once played to face off the team with the newly minted Martin Prado bobblehead. Justin is hitting .294 on the season with 12 doubles, a triple, 13 homers and 33 RBIs. Thus far he is living up to his billing when he joined the Braves. The position player that headlined the trade for Upton, Martin Prado, got off to a slow start this season but has improved to a .275 batting average with 10 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers and 26 RBIs. Prado has really kicked it into gear for the D-Backs in the last 18 games, going 22-for-63 (.349) with both of his homers coming over that period. While Prado and Upton were never meant to be a bat-for-bat trade, both are turning out to be what each team hoped they’d get when the trade was made.
Another key piece of the Upton trade, Randall Delgado, fell out of favor and was demoted to the bullpen. He has an 0-1 record with a 7.24 ERA in 27 1/3 innings this season. The oft-called “throw in” piece of the Upton trade was Chris Johnson. After a season that marked career highs in multiple categories and nearly a batting title, Johnson has struggled this season. He has seemed lost at the plate in recent weeks. Johnson is 14-for-70 (.200) with 1 homer, 20 strikeouts, 0 walks and a disappointing .197 OBP over the last 18 games. As is always the case with a lineup, it ebbs and flows. Luckily for the Braves, Johnson’s struggles have been mostly covered up by the resurgence of Jason Heyward and the on-base percentage of B.J. Upton.
Jason Heyward continues his streak of being Atlanta’s hottest hitter. J-Hey has a .330 (29-for-88) average with 3 homers, 9 RBIs and a .404 on-base percentage in his past 22 games. He and B.J. Upton are getting on base, the problem seems to fall with inconsistent contact rates among the 3 through 6 hole hitters. An additional improvement with Heyward and Upton is speed. They have each stolen 9 bases this season. Keeping their running game hot will help the Braves keep atop the standings.
The Braves will send Teheran (5-3, 1.83) to the mound against McCarthy (1-7, 5.20) in the series opener. Santana (5-2, 4.10) will take the bump against Miley (3-6, 4.85) on Saturday. And pitted against one another in the series finale will be Harang (4-4, 3.24) and Anderson (4-0, 3.32).
While nothing seemed to be going right for the Braves in the long split-series with the Boston Red Sox, every break seemed to go their way at Marlins Park. While the defense was shaky in moments, it was unequivocally improved over the Red Sox series. While the bullpen made fans hold their breath when a game sat on the broad shoulders of new addition Shae Simmons, that moment was one of the only moments where the bullpen looked questionable–a great improvement from the Red Sox series when the ‘pen blew leads in late innings in three of the four games.
The biggest story coming out of the Marlins’ series came in the second game when Craig Kimbrel entered the game for what turned out to be his 154th save as an Atlanta Brave. Kimbrel tied John Smoltz for the franchise record in saves at 154 and will enter the upcoming series against the Mariners with the hope of taking sole ownership of the record while at the Ted in front of Altanta’s fans.
Kimbrel has been nothing short of dominant since his first save in 2010. Kimbrel has received numerous honors since his big league debut including NL Rookie of the Year in 2011, named to the National League all-star roster in each of his three full seasons (2011, 2012, 2013), has shown well in Cy Young balloting (9th, 5th and 4th in 2011, 2012, and 2013, respectively) and has appeared on MVP ballots in each of his three full seasons including as high as 8th in 2012. In addition to what will likely be the record for saves in the Atlanta Braves franchise, Kimbrel holds the record for rookie saves with 46.
A bit of a comparison between Craig Kimbrel and John Smoltz on the numbers alone: Kimbrel has a career 1.42 ERA to go with his 154 saves, including 418 strikeouts and a ridiculous SO/9 ratio of 15.2. Now, bearing in mind that Smoltz was a starter both before and after his time as a closer for some amazing Braves’ teams, the numbers are still interesting. It took Smoltz a bit longer to reach the 154 saves mark–285 1/3 innings to Kimbrel’s 247 2/3 innings. Smoltz put up a 2.65 ERA with 300 strikeouts and a SO/9 ratio of 9.5. Their WHIP when compared is interesting as well. Smoltz posted a 1.106 and Kimbrel? 0.913. There are few stats where Kimbrel doesn’t come out looking better than Smoltz and this in itself is impressive. Sure, they’re different pitchers with different approaches, but when you think about the dominant arms of franchise history, Smoltz is in the top 5. Which begs the question: Just how good will Craig Kimbrel be in his Atlanta career and where will he end up on that list of dominant arms in franchise history? Lucky for Kimbrel and the Braves, we have through the 2017 season, thanks to the 4 yr./$42 million deal signed in the offseason, to find out.
Kimbrel was not the only story of the series in Miami. Jason Heyward continues to be the best bat in the Braves’ arsenal and one that is reminding folks around baseball just how how the ceiling is on his potential. In Heyward’s past 10 games he has posted a reliable .293 average with 12 hits, 2 homers, 6 RBIs and 6 walks. His .383 on-base percentage has been very important to the Braves.
Like Heyward, B.J. Upton has been steadily improving upon his on-base percentage. One of the stats that sticks out with the new and improved numbers is how he has struck out in 1 in every 7 plate appearances in his past 13 games. In the first 39 games of the season, B.J. put up a 2.8 PA/K rate. While his batting average in the last 10 games has been a more than respectable .282, it is his reliable on-base percentage of .341 that has proven most impressive.
It can’t go without noting how Evan Gattis performs against the Marlins. Once again stepping up in a big situation, with the Braves and Marlins tied 2-2 in the finale, Gattis launched the 6th homer of his career in 63 career at-bats against the Fish. He now has a .333 average with those 6 homers and 20 RBI in his career (18 games) against Miami. El Oso Blanco now leads all MLB catchers with 11 homers. Strangely, Gattis has less walks (9) than homers.
BRAVES WELCOME MARINERS TO TURNER FIELD…
A 2-game series at home against an American League team isn’t exactly how the Braves would like to take on after the series last week with the Red Sox. However, the Braves are facing a much different team Tuesday and Wednesday. The Mariners come into the series with a 29-28 record, tied with the decimated Rangers for 3rd in the AL West.
The Braves will luck out and miss Felix Hernandez in the 2-game set against the Mariners as well as injured hurlers Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. However, they will have to face Hisashi Iwakuma who is returning to the fine form he showed in 2013. Iwakuma missed the first month of the season after breaking a finger on his pitching hand in spring training.
Iwakuma had 3 rough outings since rejoining the team in May, giving up 4 or more runs in each. However, he matched those 3 outings with 3 solid performances where he was able to hold opponents to 6 or fewer hits. He has been an innings eater, going 7 or more innings in 4 of his 6 starts.
Fresh off a late-inning walloping of the Yankees in a makeup game, the Mariners finally have back perennial all-star Robinson Cano who had been held out of 5 games with a bone bruise to his hand. In the absence of Cano, the M’s have found steady offense from the surging Kyle Seager who has improved his batting average from .230 to .253 in the month of May. In his last 12 games, Seager has hit .342 with 2 doubles, 3 triples and 2 homers.
The Mariners and Braves have been seeing reverse trends in their bullpens in recent weeks. For the Braves, David Carpenter has had a string of terrible luck. He had been one of the most reliable options for Fredi Gonzalez up until recently, but has allowed 7 hits and 4 runs while only being able to retire 2 batters in the last 10 men he has faced. Lloyd McClendon has seen the opposite from one of the arms in his ‘pen. Yoervis Medina has recorded a 1.08 ERA with 11 strikeouts in his last 9 appearances, rapidly improving his season ERA. Medina had been unreliable for McClendon and wild in high pressure situations. Both arms will be interesting to watch as the two teams square off.
Seattle sends Erasmo Ramirez (1-4, 6.00) against Gavin Floyd (0-2, 2.37). Floyd has been outstanding since joining the club, but has been unlucky in run support. It’s time the boys get Gavin his first win as an Atlanta Brave. The second and final game of the set will pit Hisashi Iwakuma (3-2, 3.09) against Mike Minor (2-3, 3.41).