• Exclusives

    Braves drop series in San Fran after sweep of Cubs

    As the Braves closed a series on the road against the San Francisco Giants, fans are reminded of how terrible the team was when the Giants faced them at home and how the Giants trot out a homer parade against Braves’ pitching. Yet at the same time, fans have the recent sweep of the Cubs telling them that the team isn’t as terrible as they were when the Giants visited or when Julio Teheran faltered by the bay. At least the team that was swept by the Giants at the Ted isn’t the team that swept the Cubs. This seems to be the story of the Braves in the early going of 2014: Two teams, two very different outcomes.

    If the Braves are two teams, as we posit, those two teams are divided on traditional lines of pitching and hitting. While there has not yet been a series this season that has displayed Atlanta’s offense as a consistent, cohesive force, there have many series that have showed the shortcomings of the strikeout-prone, power-hungry lineup. On the pitching side, there has been only one series–in Miami–when the pitching could not stand up to the batters faced.

    Pitching has been fortified in recent weeks by Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd and continues to be led by Ervin Santana, Julio Teheran and the surprising Aaron Harang. The Braves are pitching like a team that didn’t lose two top-tier starters for the year. While Luis Avilan has not been the Avilan of the 2013 season, he has improved in recent games to add versatility in the bullpen. Jordan Walden heads to the disabled list at a time when both David Hale and Alex Wood move from the rotation to the ‘pen. Wood is eager to help his team in any way he can and has been the go-to guy for Fredi Gonzalez. Pitching depth is not an issue for the Braves despite having a total of 4 pitchers on the DL right now (Medlen, Beachy, Venters and Walden).

    Consider what the Braves’ roster will look like in the weeks leading up to the all-star break. Jonny Venters will join a bullpen with dominant starters-turned-relievers Wood and Hale, reliable set-up men Carpenter and Walden, the clutch arm of Varvaro and shutdown closer Kimbrel. The lineup will feature the 2-out RISP wizard Freeman, the hopefully reliable and consistent bats of Heyward and Simmons, slugging Justin Upton and El Oso Blanco, and the possibility of table setters in guys like Schafer, Pastornicky and B.J. Upton.

    But as we’ve seen over the last week, there remains a big question mark surrounding second baseman Dan Uggla. It appears Fredi and Frank Wren have come to the conclusion that the lineup is better off without him–something fans decided more than a year ago–and the checkbook can manage if his big contract is a failure. With the versatility of Ramiro Pena and the scrappy nature of Tyler Pastornicky, second base is in good hands. What the club hasn’t decided is how long they allow B.J. Upton to fail in the batter’s box. His recent surge of on-base percentage is shrinking. They also have the question of Ryan Doumit. His bizarre signing has yet to be fruitful for Atlanta. With these questions answered, the team could run away with the division. But the longer these questions go unanswered, the tighter the division will remain.

    BRAVES HEAD TO ST. LOUIS…

    The Braves will put the San Francisco series behind them as they arrive in St. Louis to face the Cards. Recently the Cards front office commented on it being unacceptable that the team was at an even .500. Most teams, including many within their division, would love to be at .500. What the front office was alluding to was the potential of the team. The Braves are cut from a similar cloth–talent that continues to under perform.

    It’s unclear what the lineup might look like in St. Louis, but don’t expect to see too much of Dan Uggla. Fredi appears to be sticking with the hitting the pitcher in the 8-hole plan for now. And while the team considered a 6-man rotation, for the time being they’ll stick with a 5-man (Santana, Harang, Teheran, Minor and Floyd).

    The Braves will open the series at Busch Stadium with Santana (4-0, 1.99) vs. Lynn (4-2, 3.83). Saturday’s game will pit Harang (4-3, 2.98) vs. Miller (5-2, 3.22). And the final game of the road trip will send Floyd (0-1, 2.70) to the hill against Garcia (–).

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