• Exclusives

    Braves split in San Fran, head south to San Diego

    Tim Hudson was dominant on Sunday as the Braves split series in SF

    After dropping a series to the Nationals, the Braves needed to head into San Francisco and make up ground in both the NL East and the NL Wild Card races. While they weren’t able to come away with the series win, they were able to split the series in the Bay. Atlanta showed once again that when pitching has offensive support, there is no stopping this team–something evident in games three and four, though missing in games one and two. The series did not go exactly as the Braves would have liked, but as the final stretch often goes, the Braves were pleased by their rivals as the out-of-town scoreboard that showed the Nationals being swept by the Phillies.

    At the beginning of the season, if some prognosticator had said that Barry Zito would end August with a better win-loss record than Tim Lincecum, the entire city by the Bay and many around baseball would have laughed hysterically. But that is exactly what has happened for the Giants. Barry Zito came out strong in Thursday’s outing and was able to pitch 3 2/3 innings longer than Hanson (8 to Tommy’s 4 1/3) while allowing 2 less runs (2 to Tommy’s 4). Tommy pitched masterfully until the 5th inning when the wheels fell off and Zito never lost his stride. Like is so often the case in Braves’ losses, the Braves did not provide any run support until it was too late. The 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th thanks to singles by Chipper and Prado and a 2-RBI double by Freeman simply were too little too late. The 5th inning that got away from Hanson turned out to be the tipping point.

    When Ben Sheets joined the Braves, he was precisely what they needed right when they needed it. As Kris Medlen has emerged as the ice man of the rotation, the 6-man rotation became a way of trying to thin the pack. Ben Sheets was having spotty success, not to the degree that he had in his first 3 outings for the Braves. And then something happened to Sheets–his effectiveness dwindled and the home runs started occurring. In his past three starts Sheets has racked up a 7.71 ERA and opponents have hit .318 off him. We now know, because the Braves have said so, that Sheets has shoulder inflammation. He has been sent to the disabled list, eliminating the need for the 6-man rotation. What the rotation will look like in the final weeks of September is anybody’s guess. The one thing that seems certain is that Kris Medlen belongs in the rotation and will be staying there for the rest of 2012 and hopefully in 2013 and beyond. While Sheets didn’t pitch with the precision he had in other outings, the story of game 2 is a familiar one for Braves Country–lack of run support.

    As if to throw the poor run support theme on its head, Mike Minor started game 3 and was given the rare gift of run support. Mike Minor has been the tough luck member of the rotation from day one. His stuff can be electric. His presence can be intimidating. And his record does not reflect how well he has pitched, especially since July. Going into game 3, Minor was 1-4 in past 7 starts despite a respectable 2.22 ERA and .226 opponent average against him. In four of those seven starts, the team scored no runs. Finally, in game 3 he was given 3 runs in the 3rd inning and settled in for 6 2/3 innings of 3-run ball. He also notched a very unexpected double.

    While the Braves have had many fluctuations in the rotation, including the trial run with the 6-man rotation, Tim Hudson has been consistently solid. Sunday night under the lights with ESPN in the park, Hudson reminded everyone that he is still one of the best, if not the best, sinkerballers around. Huddy is 167-28 when his team has scored four or more runs. He’s 152-6 in starts where he recieves 4 or more while in the game. A little run support is all he needed to win his 13th game of 2012. It’s hard to believe he got a late start to the season after rehabbing from back surgery and then struggled with bone chips in his ankle. Perhaps Hudson has taken a cue from Chipper who is playing like a much younger man and decided to give it a try. The 37-year-old starter doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He also reminded his teammates that he’s not too bad with the lumber, either. Hudson had 2 hits on the night, at one point matching the number of hits he’d allowed.

    Jason Heyward leaves San Francisco with a career .395 average at AT&T park, having gone 15-for-38 with 6 HR and 12 RBI in 10 games there. The only place Heyward has hit more home runs is Turner Field. Heyward launched a homer in the 9th inning last night that was followed up by Freddie Freeman’s jack. It was the third time this season that the Braves have had back-to-back homers and each of those times involved Jason Heyward. In addition to the extra-base hits, Heyward stole his 19th base of 2012. With his 20th stolen base, J-Hey will be the first Brave since Andruw Jones in 2000 to have a 20/20 (home run/steal) season. With Heyward’s success at AT&T Park, the Braves would sure love the opportunity to have a rematch with the 2010 World Series champions there.

    Line scores from each of the 4 games in San Francisco:

    Game 1:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 6 2
    Giants 0 0 1 0 4 0 0 0 x 5 9 0

    W: Zito (10-8) L: Hanson (12-6) SV: Romo (6)

    Game 2:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3 6 0
    Giants 0 0 2 2 0 1 0 0 x 5 14 0

    W: Vogelsong (11-7) L: Sheets (4-4) SV: Lopez (4)

    Game 3:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 3 0 0 0 1 2 1 7 11 0
    Giants 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 3 5 2

    W: Minor (7-10) L: Bumgarner (14-8)

    Game 4:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 2 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 2 7 10 0
    Giants 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 6 0

    W: Hudson (13-4) L: Lincecum (7-14)

    OFF TO PETCO…

    Monday: Maholm (11-8, 3.47) vs. Kelly (0-0, -.–)

    Tuesday: Medlen (5-1, 1.86) vs. Werner (1-0, 3.00)

    Wednesday: Hanson (12-6, 4.40) vs. Stults (4-2, 2.69)

    Petco Park is, after all, a pitcher’s park. While Medlen has pitched well everywhere, a trip to Petco to visit the struggling Padres may be exactly what Tommy Hanson needs to get back on track after his short stint on the DL. Tommy has been dominant when pitching against the Padres. He holds a 4-0 record with a 2.01 ERA in 5 games against the Padres in his career. Paul Maholm, who will start the series for the Braves, has not done as well against the Pads. In 6 games against the Padres, Maholm is 1-4 with a 4.24 ERA, but he was lights out against San Diego in their last meeting. Kris Medlen is 1-2 with a 2.19 ERA in 12 1/3 innings pitched against San Diego.

    From one sinkerballer to another, tonight’s game will be the MLB debut of Casey Kelly. Kelly is a much talked about prospect in the Padres’ organization. The righthander features a nasty sinker that runs in the low 90s. Don’t look for him to be even remotely as dominant as sinkerballer Tim Hudson, but the kid has stuff and will be amped up and throwing hard for his debut. Unlike Maholm, Kelly will likely be on a pitch count.

    This season, the Braves have taken 3 of the 4 games they’ve played against the Padres. The Braves have also gone 10-6 in the last 16 meetings with the Friars.

    The Padres welcome the Braves to Petco Park tonight with game time set for 10:05 (EST).

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.