In the 3-game series between the Braves and visiting the Phillies, Atlanta experienced many losses. First, and most unfortunately, a fan was killed at Turner Field after falling from the fourth level of the stadium into the players’ parking lot. A situation no team is truly prepared to deal with, the Braves offered a moment of silence in the fan’s memory the following night.
The team lost Dan Uggla to the disabled list as he and the team made the decision to send the second baseman for corrective eye surgery, hoping to have him back in time to help them in a playoff run. Uggla hopes to begin a rehab assignment 10 days after surgery. He and the Braves do not expect his time on the DL to last longer than 15 days. Also, Uggla’s replacement at second base, Tyler Pastornicky, went down with a knee injury after colliding with Jason Heyward in the outfield. Pastornicky’s time table for return, as determined by an MRI revealing a torn ACL, is by Spring Training. Should the Braves need a second baseman in addition to Paul Janish, the likely option is 24-year-old Tommy La Stella. La Stella is only 64 games into the season at Double-A.
Despite a few question marks on the field, the Braves have a lot to be hopeful about. After going 8-11 with a 4.26 ERA during the period beginning on July 3rd and ending on July 25th, the Braves are now 17-2 with a staggering 2.26 ERA in their past 19 games. Pitching has received run support, yes, but they’ve also held their opponents to little to no runs. They have now held opposing teams to 2 or fewer runs in 46 games in 2013. The August record of the Braves is a far cry from that of their 2012 season. In 2012, they were 15-14 in August. With Wednesday’s win, they improved to 11-2 in August (5-2 home; 6-0 road). Atlanta has not lost back-to-back games since July 20th and 21st while in Chicago facing the White Sox. They haven’t lost back-to-back games at home since July 3rd and 4th against the Miami Marlins.
Three players that have been so consistent this season to not warrant mentioning after each series are Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson and Craig Kimbrel. They are, of course, a huge part of the reason the Braves have the record they do. This season with the bases loaded, Freddie Freeman is hitting a whopping .750 (6-for-8), with 3 doubles & 14 RBIs. He has an other-worldly slugging percentage of 1.125. Craig Kimbrel has been lights out this season. Unlike his previous seasons of dominance in the National League, Kimbrel has had more consecutive saves in 2013. With his 38th save on the season, Craig Kimbrel passed Braves hall-of-famer John Smoltz for the franchise record in consecutive saves with 28 straight. Kimbrel has not blown a save since May 7th. And in 34 appearances since May 9th, Kimbrel has only allowed 16 hits. He is currently leading the NL in saves on the season. Kimbrel now has 127 saves in his young career. Chris Johnson, who continues to lead the league in hitting with a .337 average, has 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position and is hitting .333 in his past 4 games with 2 doubles, 1 homer and 8 RBIs.
As of Thursday, the Braves have 9 players that are among the leading top 10 in 7 key categories in the National League: In batting, Chris Johnson (1st, .337) and Freddie Freeman (8th, .310); In home runs, Justin Upton (6th, 22) and Dan Uggla (7th, 21); In RBIs, Freddie Freeman (T-4th, 80); In wins, Mike Minor (T-5th, 12); In ERA, Mike Minor (10th, 2.87); In saves, Craig Kimbrel (1st, 38); and, in wins above replacement (WAR), Andrelton Simmons (8th, 4.7).
Guys that haven’t been consistent enough throughout the season to be among league leaders, but who have turned around their seasons and have been consistent for the Braves of late are Jason Heyward and Kris Medlen.
It’s important to remember how dominant Medlen has been in the league since he first came up. In his career starts when the Braves have given him a lead of at least a run, he is 23-3. Medlen has been 4-0 in his last 4 starts with a 3.46 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched. He has pitched 7 innings in each of his last 2 starts and 6 innings in his 2 starts before that.
Jason Heyward is having a torrid summer. Heyward, in 59 games since June 2nd, is hitting .308 (70-for-227) with 25 extra-base hits (9 of those homers), .384 OBP, and a .502 slugging percentage. In Heyward’s past 17 games, the majority of which have been in the leadoff spot, he is hitting .400 (26-for-65) with 9 extra-base hits, .466 OBP, and a .631 slugging percentage.
BRAVES HOPE TO END NATS’ PLAYOFF HOPES ONCE AND FOR ALL…
Reliever Jordan Walden played catch Wednesday and again Thursday. He hopes to be available for the series opener against the Nationals. Starter Paul Maholm will throw 6 innings or 90 pitches Saturday in single-A Rome, likely his second to last rehab outings. Fredi Gonzalez has yet to decide where Paul Maholm will fit in the Braves pitching rotation. He still has about 9 days before he would be ready to pitch for the big league club. Both Walden and Maholm have been out with wrist/hand injuries.
In the other dugout, the Washington Nationals come into the series with a bad case of Natitude. Gio Gonzalez and Jayson Werth had a bit of a spat in the dugout recently and it has been reported that Bryce Harper, the sophomore slugger, had to step up and tell his team to get it together and not give up on the season.
The Braves are unsure what they will see on the mound given recent injuries to Gio Gonzalez (back) and Stephen Strasburg (groin). Strasburg also threw a bullpen Thursday and didn’t appear to have any groin issues while Gio’s back is reportedly better. In addition to the injured pitchers, battery mate Wilson Ramos re-injured his left hamstring for the 3rd time this season. Ramos has not returned to the offensive prominence that he exhibited prior to tearing his ACL and missing almost the entire 2012 season. Not because of injury, closer Rafael Soriano blew the save and recorded the loss against the Giants in their most recent series finale, leading a bullpen that has been terrible. The Nats are certainly not looking like the team everyone said was the team to beat when the season opened.
Though the Braves have a 14 1/2 game lead on the Nats in the NL East, the Nats’ hopes of the 2nd Wild Card spot aren’t entirely out of the question. 9 1/2 games back from the 2nd Wild Card spot currently held by the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals could be put out of their misery by the Braves with a sweep or even 2-for-3 weekend in Atlanta’s favor. Without question, the Braves would love for the playoff hopes of the Nationals to be ended once and for all, by their own hand no less.
The series opener will feature young pitchers Jordan (1-3, 4.14) vs. Wood (2-2, 2.78). Game 2, featured on the MLB Network, will pit Strasburg (6-9, 2.83) vs. Minor (12-5, 2.87). And assuming he is able to start as scheduled, Gonzalez (7-5, 3.42) vs. Teheran (9-6, 3.08) will wrap the series.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.