With a 5th consecutive winning season secured, the Braves look to September call-ups and continued success with a hobbled, somehow successful, starting lineup down the stretch. With their Saturday night win, the Braves sat at 31 games over .500 for the first time since October 2, 2004. The Braves won the Miami series taking 2-of-3 from the Fish.
With rosters expanding across Major League Baseball Sunday, the Braves made a single move. The Braves called up veteran right-handed pitcher Freddy Garcia. Garcia joined another Triple-A Gwinnett player, outfielder Jose Constanza, who was called up when Evan Gattis was sent down before the Miami series began. Garcia’s call-up could not have come at a better time given the meltdown of Alex Wood in his start Sunday. Garcia pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief of Wood, giving up 3 hits and 0 runs. They will likely continue call-ups as the regular season for the Triple-A club comes to a close Monday afternoon. Atlanta is allowed to expand their regular 25-man roster to 38 for the month of September. Fans will see rookie catcher Evan Gattis return to the club at that point. Gattis was sent to Gwinnett to try to right his swing in more consistent at-bat opportunities. Also likely to return when ready is outfielder Reed Johnson who has been battling achilles tendinitis.
Garcia’s Braves’ debut was exceptional given that his last start at Gwinnett was rocky. In 3 2/3 innings, Garcia gave up 7 hits, 5 walks and allowed 8 runs. For him to enter the game Sunday in relief and pitch 4 2/3 innings of 3-hit, scoreless ball with only 1 walk is pretty impressive. His ability to bounce back after that loss with Gwinnett speaks to his experience as a veteran starter. That experience is precisely why the Braves took a shot on him. Wood’s line, the reason for Garcia’s long relief, was the worst we’ve seen of the young rookie. Wood had allowed just 3 runs on 20 hits in 30 innings pitched in his 5 August starts. He had allowed 6 or fewer hits over that stretch. In August, Alex Wood led the National League in ERA with a dominant 0.90. Behind him were 2 former Cy Young winners (Kershaw, 1.01; and, Greinke, 1.23) and fellow rookie Fernandez (1.11).
While the Braves are patching together a lineup each night with players whose names some fans aren’t yet familiar with, the team continues to get it done. This series was no exception. Every night it seems to be another guy stepping up in a big way. Sunday we saw Freddy Garcia in long relief, Friday and Saturday we saw usual infielder Elliot Johnson in left field, and Saturday night’s extra-innings extravaganza saw B.J. Upton get a walk-off single and reliever Anthony Varvaro record his first career save. This may be a strange time in Atlanta, but there’s no question that it is fun for the players and the fans.
One more note on B.J. Upton: In addition to his walk-off single Saturday night, B.J. snapped a string of 142-ABs without a homer. Prior to that homer, his last long ball came on June 15th against the Giants when he put together a 2-homer game. B.J. Upton’s 4 hits were critical in the Braves late-inning win that secured the series win Saturday night. B.J.’s August had high points and low points, but his ability to increase his batting average from .177 to .195 in 17 starts (73 plate appearances) is a sign of life the Braves have been looking for. In the month of August, Upton hit .269 and a .315 on-base percentage. These numbers, aside from the limited number of at-bats, more closely resemble what the Braves expected when they signed the center fielder. Through September, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Upton continue to share time with Schafer in center field.
The last time an Atlanta Brave won a batting title was in 2008 when Chipper Jones hit a ridiculous .364 in 128 games. Now, in 2013, Chris Johnson has a legitimate chance of winning another batting title from the hot corner with a current average of .333 in 118 games. Johnson leads St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina (.329) as of Sunday night. Johnson took Sunday night off due to leg fatigue/soreness, but provided a pinch hit that gave his average a boost. Prior to this season, the highest finishing batting average for Johnson was .308 with only 98 games played. Despite that strong finish in Houston in 2010, Atlanta has been pleasantly surprised by Johnson’s production. His steady hands at third base and busy bat have taken most of the sting out of losing Martin Prado in the trade that brought Johnson and Justin Upton to the Braves.
BRAVES HOPE FOR SERIES AGAINST METS SANS X-RAYS…
It has not been an easy season for the Braves when facing the Mets. Both Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward’s season-ending injuries came when facing the New York Mets. Though Jason Heyward has resumed strength-maintaining workouts, the Braves still won’t have him back until the offseason. Heyward was hit in the face by a Jonathan Niese fastball that broke his jaw in two places. Veteran pitcher Tim Hudson fractured his ankle on a freak play covering first base when Eric Young, Jr. running hard to the bag stepped on Hudson’s lower leg and ankle. Maybe the biggest goal for the Braves in the upcoming series is to make it out of the series without a major injury.
Speaking of injuries, this week in Buster Olney’s power rankings, the Braves came up 2nd, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers. As has been said here before, it is simply amazing what the Braves have been able to do this season with a constant stream of injuries up and down the roster. Remember, they started the season without Brian McCann who was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. They’ve sustained season-ending injuries to relievers Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Cristhian Martinez, infielder Tyler Pastornicky, and the aforementioned Tim Hudson. In their outfield, they’ve seen injuries to both Uptons, Heyward, Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis. They haven’t had Jordan Walden or Luis Ayala for the entire season. Maholm is just returning from injury. Young ace Brandon Beachy is still dealing with post-Tommy John rehabilitation issues. There were short DL stints for Dan Uggla and Gerald Laird. Even the consistent mainstay Freddie Freeman lost some time. Any other team with this number of injuries would be 20+ games back. How the Braves have done it has truly been to the credit of each guy coming in and picking the team up at just the right time. Instead of nightly highlights featuring the big names, we’ve seen a different name every night. This group of guys truly exemplify what it means to be a team player.
Though Alex Wood led all NL pitchers in August, the Atlanta starter with the best season ERA is Julio Teheran at 3.01. Teheran is 9th in the NL with that record. His 11-7 record trails only Mike Minor’s 13-5 record for most wins on the club. Julio has been dominant against the New York Mets. Over his 2 starts against the Mets, he has allowed them only 2 runs on 9 hits with 11 strikeouts. Teheran finished August with a record of 4-2 and a 2.80 ERA in 6 starts. He recorded 42 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings pitched. In a league that includes Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller, Teheran has quietly put together a season that is deserving of Rookie of the Year consideration.
The series opener against the Mets will feature Matsuzaka (0-2, 8.68) vs. Maholm (9-10, 4.37). Tuesday’s game will pit Torres (3-2, 2.77) vs. Medlen (11-12, 3.58). And the final game against the Mets will showcase Gee (10-9, 3.63) vs. Teheran (11-7, 3.01).
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.