After going 2-5 against the Dodgers and Padres on their latest road trip, you can’t blame the Braves for wanting to get back home before facing another California team. Especially when their next match-up comes against the reigning World Champion Giants who are third in the National League West with a 33-31 record. The Braves enter the series with a record of 39-27 and a 6-game lead on the Washington Nationals. The Braves will face the Giants for a 3-game set and then welcome the Mets for an unusual 5-game set due to rainouts in their previous match-ups.
While the Braves managed to salvage 2 games against the Dodgers with wins behind Kris Medlen and Mike Minor, the Braves turned around and were swept by the Padres at Petco Park. In the final game of that series, the Braves had neither defensive nor offensive luck on their side, scoring only 3 runs on 10 hard hits and earning an error on a day that could/should have been a multi-error event. Perhaps it would have taken the sting out of being swept by the Padres if the Braves had performed better in L.A. against a Dodgers team that is without several of their superstars and is trying to decide what to do with a past superstar in Andre Ethier. The silver lining is that the Nationals and Phillies have not made up significant ground on the first place Braves.
In a season that has not gone well for veteran Tim Hudson on the road, it didn’t help his cause when he notched 2 losses on the swing through southern California. Hudson is 3-0 with a 2.39 ERA at Turner Field while he is 1-6 with a 6.07 ERA on the road. His road woes seemed to be behind him when he exited his start against the Dodgers with only 1 run earned against him. However, the ‘pen did not fair as well, Cory Gearrin surrendering 4 runs in a 1/3 of an inning. Hudson notched a loss in that outing and again against the Padres when he allowed 3 runs and was not given adequate run support to overcome that. In both outings, Huddy pitched at least 7 innings. This, of course, plays into the biggest question for the Braves: Where will Brandon Beachy fit in the rotation when he returns?
Let’s explore this further. Kris Medlen has been vocal about his desire to stay in the rotation. Mike Minor has pitched like Atlanta’s ace and will not be the odd man out when Beachy returns. Teheran has been nearly as solid as Minor, showing a few weaknesses lately, but nothing to be concerned about in a young arm. This leaves Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm. The question about Paul Maholm is whether or not he is too valuable an arm to be placed in the bullpen where he would likely be used as a situational lefty or as the long man should a pitcher struggle and leave after only a few innings. The likelihood of Tim Hudson being sent to the ‘pen seems unlikely as well, given his veteran status, his salary and the fact that Hudson has been with the Braves the longest. Seniority would seem to matter in this case. Here lies the problem. Could Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez truly rationalize sending any of the 5 starters to the ‘pen in favor of Beachy who is returning from Tommy John surgery? The question certainly depends on Beachy as well. Pitchers recovered and rehabilitated from Tommy John surgery often return as strong if not stronger than they were when they got injured. There is no question that when he got injured, Brandon Beachy was the best pitcher of the 2012 season in the National League. Having said that, would putting Beachy in the bullpen elongate both this season and the 2014 season by limiting his innings out of the gate? There doesn’t seem to be a consensus among baseball writers and both Wren and Gonzalez have said as late as the Padres season that they don’t know what the decision will be.
Something good to come from the SoCal swing was the production from Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla. In his last 8 games, Heyward is batting .412 (14-for-34) with 2 doubles, 3 homers, 4, RBI, 7 runs scored, a .459 on-base percentage and is slugging .735. In Uggla’s last 9 games, he is batting .300 with 9 hits, 7 runs scored, 3 homers, 7 walks, 7 RBI, a .432 on-base percentage and is slugging .600. For Uggla, the last 9 games have increased his batting average on the season to .193. His lowest point of the season came on April 28th when he was batting .160. In addition to Heyward and Uggla, the cold bat of B.J. Upton has improved in June. Since June 1st, the eldest Upton has improved his batting average from .145 to .161. The Braves have also seen B.J. on the base paths and have been reminded of why Upton’s speed has always been such a draw.
Facing the Giants this weekend, the Braves will have to use home field advantage to get back on track. Sending their best pitchers to the mound against the Giants will go a long way to doing that. The Braves will not face Cain or Lincecum this time, boding well for Atlanta’s offense.
Game 1 of the series will pit Bumgarner (5-4, 3.58) vs. Medlen (3-6, 2.87). Saturday’s game will feature Gaudin (2-1, 2.32) vs. Minor (8-2, 2.44). And Lincecum (4-6, 4.70) vs. Teheran (4-3, 3.62) will cap the series.