• Exclusives

    Braves’ offense sweeps Nats, takes to road

    Nationals’ pitching brought with them to Turner Field 105 strikeouts in their first 9 games of the season. That kind of stat would generally foretell a tough series for Atlanta’s strikeout-prone lineup. That wasn’t the case. Braves’ offense lit up against the Nats, leading the team to a 3-game sweep against the rival ball club. The Braves outscored the Nats 23-11 in the series. The Braves has now won 22 of their last 29 meetings with the Nationals.

    JUpton (back of jersey) 320px

    Justin Upton has sizzled at the plate. Over the previous 4 games he has hit .786.

    Washington nor any team in baseball stood a chance of getting Justin Upton over a 3-game series. On the home stand, the younger Upton hit .591 with a 1.227 slugging percentage. He went 13-for-22 with 2 doubles, 4 homers and 8 RBIs. In addition to a stunning display of power with a game-tying homer in the late innings of Friday’s game, Justin Upton’s single scored the runner from 1st and won the game. He now has 7 game-ending hits since start of 2011 season. That is the most in the MLB for that span (his teammate Freddie Freeman has 6 game-ending hits). According to Elias, the last time the Braves won a game with a similar RBI single scoring a baserunner from 1st was in 1983.

    Upton is now hitting .386 with 17 hits, 2 doubles, 4 homers and 8 RBI in the first 12 games of the season. He is as locked in this April as he was last April. The hope is that he has simplified his pregame preparation to a point that will allow for this hot streak to cool, but not go completely cold like it did last season.

    Freedie Freeman came into the series against the Nats with a .419 average, on-base percentage of .514 and .677 slugging percentage in the first 9 games. He had gone 13-for-31 with 5 runs scored, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 5 RBIs, 6 walks and only 4 strikeouts. He added to that torrid offense against the Nats going 6-for-12 (.500) with 2 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBIs. He is now 19-for-43 with a .442 average in the first 12 games of the season (4 doubles, 4 homers and 10 RBIs).

    The Braves saw production from nearly every hitter in the lineup, including the struggling Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Saturday’s game saw an unusual sight: B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla had run-producing hits in the same inning.

    In Saturday’s game, B.J. Upton produced hits in his first 2 plate appearances for just the 5th time since the start of last year. The series wrapped with B.J. putting together back-to-back multi-hit games. Dating back to last year, this marks the 3rd time B.J. has had multi-hit performances in consecutive games. He has now achieved the feat twice against the Washington Nationals.

    A few more notes on the series:

    • Two of the three HRs Alex Wood has allowed this year have been to the leadoff hitter. He only allowed 3 HRs in the 2013 season (77 2/3 innings pitched). Each of the 3 dingers in 2014 have come at the top of an inning, 2 of them on the first pitch. He then manages to settle in and has kept his ERA at 1.89.
    • In a scary moment at the plate, Gio Gonzalez plunked Freddie Freeman on the hand in the 4th inning. Freeman said that his choking up on the bat kept his hand from a serious injury. Freeman had homered in his previous at-bat against Gio. Strangely, it was the 1st time Gonzalez had hit a batter since he hit Freeman last August.
    • Atlanta pounced early this series with 14 runs during the first 2 innings of the 3 games played.
    • Aaron Harang had yet another brilliant start. It was his third straight game of going at least 6 innings and allowing 1 or no runs. Harang is now 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA.
    • Jason Heyward stole his third base of the season in Sunday’s finale. This is a great sign for the base-running game for the Braves because Heyward, with above-average speed, stole only 2 bases all of last season.
    • Andrelton Simmons had missed 2 games with a jammed wrist. Inserted as the 5-hole hitter, Simba hit a 3-run blast to dead center. It was the 1st homer on the season for Simmons, though earlier in the game he missed another homer by mere inches.

    BRAVES BEGIN 7-GAME ROAD TRIP…

    Saturday’s save for Craig Kimbrel, his 5th on the season, marked yet another perfect inning by the Braves’ closer. Kimbrel struck out the side in that outing. He has now faced 900 batters in his career and struck out 392 of them (an incredible 44% strikeout rate). All of this is important as we look ahead to the next several series because Kimbrel is now 10 saves away from tying John Smoltz’s franchise record of 154.

    The Braves are the eve of two pitchers returning from injury. Gavin Floyd, who hasn’t pitched in over a year due to Tommy John surgery, had another rehab outing this weekend at Gwinnett. Floyd threw 3 2/3 innings, giving up 2 hits, 2 runs (1 unearned), with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. Mike Minor, returning from shoulder inflammation, pitched 5 innings at Rome giving up 1 hit,  1 walk and no runs while striking out 4. The question will become who in the rotation loses their spot with the return of Floyd and Minor. At the moment, it appears the odd man out may be David Hale.

    Another injury update involves reliever Cory Gearrin. Gearrin has elected to have Tommy John surgery to repair the torn UCL in his pitching elbow. His surgery will take place Wednesday. He saw 3 different doctors for their opinion on his elbow and the advice was unanimous. The righty was pulled from a spring training game against the Detroit Tigers and had hoped to avoid surgery. Gearrin has put up 69 1/3 innings for the Braves over the last 3 seasons. Gearrin joins an unusually high number of pitchers undergoing Tommy John surgery in the 2014 season including his teammates Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. Gearrin will be out for a year, if not more.

    The 4-game series against the Phillies will kick off Monday night with Ervin Santana (1-0, 0.00) vs. Roberto Hernandez (1-0, 4.35). Tuesday will feature David Hale (0-0, 2.89) vs. Cliff Lee (2-1, 5.50). Wednesday the Braves will send Julio Teheran (1-1, 2.84) to the mound against a pitcher to be named later. The series finale will pit Alex Wood (1-1, 1.89) against Jonathan Pettibone (0-0, 1.80).

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