Ask any Braves fan and they will tell you that the Braves are at their best when they are competing against teams above .500 who are likely headed for the playoffs. That same Braves fan will tell you just how frustrating it is to watch their club fall to teams like the Mets, Marlins and Phillies who, by the numbers, shouldn’t have a chance at bringing down a club with a record as strong as the Braves. That said, it happens, and Braves Country was witness once more to this phenomenon over the weekend in Philly.
While there were frustrating moments and scary moments alike, there were moments for Braves fans to cheer about. Evan Gattis stepped up in a big way, providing all of the offense in the series finale against Cole Hamels. El Oso Blanco went yard twice against the Phillies’ ace, once in the 2nd inning when he launched a homer that was estimated to travel 486 feet (those in the press box say that estimate was conservative) and again in the 7th inning, providing the only 2 runs for Atlanta Sunday.
Though Paul Maholm has struggled in the first inning throughout the season, his 2 runs allowed Sunday should have been enough to keep the Braves in the game. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t come through for Maholm on a day when he tried to establish himself as a postseason rotation option. Maholm pitched 6 solid innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks, and striking out 5 on a pitch total of 108.
Those frustrating and scary moments during the series? Strikeouts being the most frustrating, of course. It’s become clear that when the postseason arrives, not taking for granted that the Braves will be in the playoffs, Fredi Gonzalez will have to consider the danger of placing both Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton in the lineup at the same time. Saturday night B.J. Upton struck out in each of his first 3 at-bats, ending the night with the Golden Sombrero. While there was a hope that B.J. had turned things around and would be able to contribute, even in a small way, in the absence of injured Jason Heyward, it’s hard to believe that at this point.
Also frustrating were the losses in game 1 and 2. Mike Minor had an awesome start in the series opener, but recorded the loss. His 7 strong innings of 9-strikeout ball allowed the Phillies just 2 runs. However, without adequate run support, that alone wasn’t enough to topple Cliff Lee who went just 1 inning longer than Minor and allowed just 1 run fewer. Game 2 delivered another blow to the Braves. Though it is never easy to stomach a walk-off win when it comes at the hands of your opponent, it was especially tough after the Braves had tied up the game with a homer in the 9th by shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
A scary moment of the series came when Scott Downs took a come-backer off his glove hand. After leaving the game, x-rays revealed a broken finger. Downs insists that the broken finger won’t slow him down, but it is certainly worrisome for the Braves’ bullpen, especially given the ongoing groin injury of Jordan Walden. One other issue that arose during the Philly series is the knee soreness of first baseman Freddie Freeman. Fredi Gonzalez is trying to give Freeman rest as much possible. The 12-game the lead the Braves have in the division with 20 regular season games remaining certainly gives the Braves options. Unfortunately, to continue to win games the most consistent bat the Braves can insert in their lineup is that of Freeman. Since the start of the 2012 season, Freddie Freeman is 3rd in National League in RBIs behind Jay Bruce and Allen Craig. Clearly his bat has been important to Atlanta’s success.
BRAVES HOPE TO REBOUND IN MIAMI…
Arriving at Marlins Park, the Braves sit just under .600 with a record of 85-57. The Marlins are 27 games back in the division, but their record isn’t the one the Braves will be watching. With their 12-game lead in the division, there is little hope of the Nationals catching up at this point. However, the Braves will be watching the Dodgers who currently hold a 83-58 record. Home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs will depend on the best record in the league. Currently, as the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals battle it out in the NL Central, the Dodgers are the biggest threat to the Braves for the best record in the NL.
It would be great to see Alex Wood rebound from his outing against the Phillies. Though it could have been worse, Wood only went 4 2/3 innings, surrendering 9 hits, 4 earned runs and 3 walks on 94 pitches. At this point in the season, the Braves are auditioning a potential 4th starter for the playoffs. It would seem that the starters that will go 1-2-3 in the playoffs at this point are Minor, Medlen and Teheran (in no particular order). Wood, prior to his last couple starts, seemed the most likely option for the 4th spot in a postseason rotation, assuming the Braves utilize a 4-man rotation. However, he will have to prove that he has an edge over Maholm.
The Braves are approaching a franchise record for most the most players in a season with double-digit home run totals. Currently, the team record is 9 players, established in 2007. The 2013 club currently has 8 players with 10 or more home runs. B.J. Upton is currently sitting at 9 homers on the season.
The 4-game set against the Marlins will kick off Monday with Medlen (12-12, 3.48) vs. Alvarez (3-3, 3.95). Rookie Teheran (11-7, 3.01) vs. Koehler (3-9, 4.70) will match up Tuesday. Look for a pitching duel Wednesday with Minor (13-6, 3.06) vs. Fernandez (11-6, 2.23). And the series will wrap Thursday with rookie Wood (3-3, 3.45) vs. Eovaldi (3-6, 3.80).
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.