• Exclusives

    Braves avoid sweep, reset for visiting Tribe

    St. Louis and Atlanta have a recent history of rivalry dating back to the collapse in 2011 when the Braves lost the Wild Card to the Cardinals on the last night of the regular season. Added to that disappointment was the chaotic one-game Wild Card game of 2012 that hinged on a blown infield fly call. There is no love lost between these two teams. However, the Braves arrived in St. Louis with a team that didn’t like it could compete. Losing the series, 1 win to their 3, the Braves were more than happy to get on the plane back to the ATL where they have an off day before facing the Cleveland Indians for a 3-game series.

    Atlanta’s worst fears were realized in New York when Jason Heyward was nailed by a fastball that fractured the right side of his jaw in two places. After surgery in Atlanta, Heyward is set to miss the rest of the regular season. He will hopefully be in shape to return for the postseason, if the Braves make it. The question of if the Braves will make it to the playoffs seemed silly just 4 days ago, but their visit to St. Louis was an eye-opener. The 15 1/2 game lead the Braves had in the division is now 13 games. They were a lock for the NL East division win. Hopefully without Heyward they can hold on.

    There have been other injuries that have felt crippling for the Braves’ lineup. In addition to Heyward, the Braves still don’t have Dan Uggla and while in St. Louis, batting crown contender Chris Johnson injured his toe stepping on a base. Johnson missed the final game of the series with turf toe. Johnson’s bat has been the most consistent in the lineup and the Braves need him healthy quickly.

    One thing the Braves are looking forward to, somewhat surprisingly, is the return of Dan Uggla who recently had Lasik surgery to correct his vision. He will play in two rehab games Monday and Tuesday and then join the big club on Wednesday. Given that the Braves are playing with a lineup that resembles a split-squad spring training game, having Uggla’s bat back in the lineup might help the struggling offense. In his absence, the Braves have had immediate returns with Elliot Johnson who was acquired off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. He contribute 2 hits in his first game with the Braves, snapping an 0-for-31 drought.

    The Braves acquired RHP Freddy Garcia from the Orioles for cash. Garcia had been pitching with Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate.

    The Braves acquired RHP Freddy Garcia from the Orioles for cash. Garcia had been pitching with Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate.

    In 10 starts with the Orioles, Garcia went 3-5 with a 5.77 ERA (53 innings). Once the Orioles decided Garcia didn’t fit into their young rotation, they sent him to Triple-A Norfolk where he went 8-3 in 13 starts with a respectable 2.84 ERA. Garcia’s trade was arranged by Baltimore’s GM Dan Duquette who realized Garcia would not have a starting job with the big club and appreciated the veteran starter’s career enough to part ways. The Braves could benefit from the 15-year veteran’s presence, especially in the postseason, given that the oldest member of the starting staff is the 31-year-old Paul Maholm who doesn’t have any postseason experience. The acquisition of Garcia came on the heels of news that Brandon Beachy would be returning to see Dr. James Andrews who performed his Tommy John surgery. Beachy has been placed on the 15-day DL.

    While there is plenty to be concerned about with the current state of the Braves, there are also highlights to note.

    In the series finale in St. Louis, Mike Minor took the mound on long rest in Beachy’s place and reminded us why he has been the most consistent starter in the rotation this season. Minor dominated the Cardinals over 7 innings, allowing only 6 hits and 1 run. He turned over the game to Luis Avilan in the 8th inning with a lead of 5-1. Also in the finale, Craig Kimbrel took the mound in an unusual 4-out save situation. Kimbrel notched his 31st consecutive save and 41st save of the season. Kimbrel joins John Smoltz as the Atlanta Brave with 3 seasons of 40 or more saves, but even more importantly, Kimbrel is now the only player in MLB history to have 40 or more saves in his first 3 consecutive seasons in the big leagues.

    The Braves loss of the series was a far cry from their sweeps of late, but in their win of the finale, they avoided matching their longest losing streaks of the 2013 season. The have had 4-game skids June 10-14 and April 24-28. Luckily, the Braves didn’t leave St. Louis the gift of a series sweep. Things could have been worse.

    BRAVES WELCOME THE TRIBE…

    Entering Sunday, the Braves rotation had a 2.59 ERA in August. That ERA ranks 2nd in the National League. Their collective 176 strikeouts are tied for 2nd for the month. With Freeman’s first-inning homer in game 3 in St. Louis and Simmons’ bomb in the finale, the Braves now have 23 home runs in the month of August, tied for 2nd in the NL.

    Of the players that have faced the Cleveland Indians the most in their career, Gerald Laird and Elliot Johnson have had terrible luck. Laird has hit .188 in 160 at-bats over his career against the Tribe and Johnson has hit .231 in 39 at-bats. Strangely enough, in his career in the AL, B.J. Upton never faced the Indians. The rest of the active roster has not faced the Cleveland Indians at all.

    The Braves will send Kris Medlen to the mound Thursday after a controversial ending to his last start. After being pulled in the 7th inning with the Cardinals ahead 2-1, Medlen spoke to reporters about the early exit and criticized manager Fredi Gonzalez’ decision. Medlen said after the game, “I don’t know what kind of mentality we’re trying to create for our starters., but I feel like I should be able to work out of some jams.” Medlen’s frustration stemmed from the fact that he had only thrown 78 pitches and was in his first jam of the game. After his comments went viral, Medlen apologized to Gonzalez Saturday and the two put the incident behind them. In Medlen’s last 6 starts, he a 4-2 record with a 3.60 ERA. His season has been impacted by lack of run support in similar ways to Mike Minor last season. Medlen has been given an average of 3.68 runs of support per start, but has had 10 starts when he has received 2 or fewer runs to back his effort. Medlen’s second half has not been as strong as his first half over all, but his last several starts have shown promise. A good start against Cleveland would continue the turn around of his second half.

    While the outfield appears to be cursed this season, the Braves have seen production from unlikely sources. As the Cleveland series gets underway, the Braves will need to continue to see production from Terdoslavich, Gattis and Schafer as they get starts in the outfield. When starting, Joey Terdoslavich is batting .355 (11-for-31). This has been an important development for the Braves as their injury-depleted outfield has relied heavily on the rookie. Schafer had a good series in St. Louis that showed signs of good things to come. Schafer has a triple and a double through the first two innings Sunday. He recorded those 2 hits as well as an RBI. Jordan entered Sunday 3-for-34 since he returned from the ankle/foot injury that put him on the disabled list. Evan Gattis had not been contributing since returning from the disabled list with the strained oblique. He is 20-for-100 with only 1 homer since his return. Prior to the injury, he went 41-for-156 with 14 homers. The Braves need all 3 backup outfielders to produce.

    When the Cleveland series gets underwary Tuesday, third baseman Chris Johnson hopes his sprained left big toe will not prevent him from being ready to play. Obviously, his bat will be important in the upcoming series and as the Braves make the final push.

    The Braves will get underway on Tuesday with Salazar (1-1, 3.52) vs. Wood (2-2, 2.50). Wednesday will pit ace Masterson (14-9, 3.50) vs. Maholm (9-10, 4.51). The season finale Thursday will feature Jimenez (9-8, 3.95) vs. Medlen (10-12, 3.74).

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