Atlanta fans have seen it all season–the Braves are a streaky team. The team carried a 5 game winning streak into the series with the Marlins and tacked two additional wins to the streak before falling to the Fish in game 3. All 7 of the wins during this streak were against National League East opponents. The Braves are 9-1 on this homestand and have won 18 of their last 24 games.
The Marlins continue to struggle without Giancarlo Stanton’s bat in the lineup. They didn’t appear to immediately feel the loss of Omar Infante who was traded to the Tigers with Anibal Sanchez and the bat of Hanley Ramirez always brought on and off field baggage, but their roster contains numerous holes that may prevent them from playing spoiler this season in the NL East. Something readily apparent during this series with Miami is the complete lack of a cohesive plan. What the Marlins will be in the future is a mystery to everyone in baseball including, perhaps, the Marlins themselves.
First and most importantly, the Braves finally got the Monday monkey off their backs. The Braves secured a win against Miami Monday night, their first Monday win of the season. They are now 1-12 on Mondays. The Braves miraculously scored 6 runs in the first 5 innings Monday night. That was a third of the 18 total runs they had scored on all other Monday games this season. The Braves went on to score 2 more runs, beating the Fish 8-2.
Tommy Hanson had yet another unusual outing, despite gaining the win in Monday’s match-up. In his last two outings, Tommy gave up only 2 runs, but gave up 9 hits and surrendered 10 walks while striking out 11. Run support and phenomenal defense has truly saved Tommy Hanson from giving up more runs. Following Hanson’s Monday outing, the trade for Paul Maholm and the success of Kris Medlen in the rotation on Tuesday, Hanson was placed on the disabled list with what the Braves are calling a back strain. Hanson could definitely benefit from some extra rest.
Kris Medlen’s outing Tuesday was nothing short of exceptional. Medlen had not started a game since 2010 when he went down with an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery. The Braves gave Medlen 3 runs to work with in the first inning after Medlen surrendered a solo home run to Donnie Murphy. Medlen settled in, giving up only 4 hits, 1 walk, and 1 earned run in 5 1/3 innings before having his game shortened to 57 pitches due to a rain delay. Medlen’s performance was a reminder to the Braves of just how valuable he is, whether they choose to use him in the rotation or out of the bullpen. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has said Medlen will start again on Sunday and will likely move back to the bullpen in the weeks to come.
Mike Minor was the unsung hero of July for the Braves. In his July starts, Minor led led all Major League pitchers in opponents’ OBP at .206 and he led all National League pitchers in batting average allowed at .172. He finished July 2-2 with a 1.98 ERA, his record a poor measure of his success given how little run support he had. Though Minor was limited Thursday night, like Medlen earlier in the week, to 55 pitches due to rain, he pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings before turning the gave over to Cristhian Martinez in relief. As the picture becomes clearer for the Braves’ rotation, Mike Minor will be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch.
A note on the underrated Braves offense: Dan Uggla has at least one hit and one RBI in 4 of the last 5 games. This is a huge improvement for Uggla who has been the victim of many a strikeout since the all-star break. The Braves need Uggla to stay in this groove for days when the big bats of Freeman, Heyward and McCann are not getting it done. Juan Francisco has added important offsense on nights that Chipper needs a rest. Francisco, or Road Runner as Chipper Jones calls him, has had 2 multi-hit games in less than a week.
The addition of Reed Johnson has been a godsend for the struggling Martin Prado as well as for the rarely rested Michael Bourn. Johnson can play any of the outfield positions and can therefore be used to rest Prado, Bourn or Heyward. For Bourn to retain dominance on the base paths, it’s important for Fredi to have the ability to rest him on occasion. Johnson also brings a consistent right handed bat to a lineup that has needed one for several seasons. In 9 plate appearances with the Braves, Johnson has a .429 batting average and .556 on-base percentage. These numbers are inflated by sample size, but Johnson has consistently hit above .300 as a utility/role player.
Chipper Jones has been exactly what the Braves needed from the veteran this season. In his last 18 games, Chipper has a .313 BA and a .384 OBP. His veteran leadership is proving crucial as well. Chipper has become an unofficial hitting coach and this has certainly played a small role in the reemergence of Jason Heyward. He continues to bring levity to the clubhouse and his joining Twitter (@realcj10) has been comical to his teammates as well as fans. As the season wears on, fans of the Braves and baseball alike are really starting to understand just how much Chipper Jones will be missed when he retires at the end of the season.
The line scores from the 4-game series against the Marlins:
W: Hanson (12-5) L: Buehrle (9-10)
W: Medlen (2-1) L: Nolasco (8-10)
W: Zambrano (6-9) L: Sheets (3-1) SV: Cishek (5)
W: Martinez (5-2) L: Eovaldi (2-7)
ASTROS COME INTO TOWN…
Friday: Galarraga (0-0, 3.60) vs. Hudson (10-4, 3.68)
Saturday: Harrell (8-7, 4.03) vs. Maholm (9-6, 3.74)
Sunday: Norris (5-8, 5.02) vs. Medlen (2-1, 2.43)
It is hard to find positive in the Houston Astros right now. Their roster is now missing the veterans that had been tied to the franchise for years, including Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez (not to mention Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn at the 2011 trade deadline). The Astros are simply not competitive right now.
Paul Maholm will make his Braves debut Saturday night against Lucas Harrell, Houston’s most effective pitcher. Maholm is 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his last 5 outings, holding opponents to a .198 batting average.
The Braves have the chance to continue to add wins to their record. Atlanta goes into the series with a 60-45 record (.571), while the Astros are carrying a 35-71 record (.330).
The Braves and Marlins get underway at the Ted at 7:35 p.m. (EST) tonight.
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