Not only did the Braves clinch a Wild Card spot in their first game of the homestand, a Cardinals loss the following night means the Braves have clinched home field advantage for the October 5th Wild Card game.
There were many great performances during the series against the Fish. Freddie Freeman’s walkoff 2-run blast to clinch the National League Wild Card was one of many, but clearly stunning and important. Kris Medlen had another solid start, Dan Uggla stepped up, and Craig Kimbrel continued making history while veteran Chipper Jones continued making memories.
Kris Medlen entered the homestand with a 3-0 record and 0.90 ERA in September. During those 4 starts, Medlen had 34 Ks and just 4 walks allowed while holding his opponents to a .168 average. Medlen, though not the shutout ace we’ve seen in his other starts since joining the rotation, had another stunning night. In 7 innings pitched, he allowed 3 runs on 5 hits. He didn’t allow a walk and he struck out 8. Since joining the rotation, Kris Medlen has an 8-0 record with a 1.04 ERA. He has held his opponents to a .196 batting average in that span. As a starter this season, Medlen has 80 strikeouts (nearly 9 per 9 IP) and a mere 9 walks. The Atlanta Braves have won each of Medlen’s last 22 starts dating back to 2010, tying him with Whitey Ford and Carl Hubbell. It’s no wonder Medlen is in line to pitch the Wild Card game on October 5th. Medlen is, as Tyler Kepner wrote, the hottest pitcher in baseball.
Pitching, in general, has been exceptional in the last two weeks for the Braves. In their past 12 games, the Braves have allowed 1 run or fewer 5 of those games. After Medlen’s solid outing, Maholm returned to the shutout form we saw from him when he first joined the club at the trade deadline, and Tommy Hanson looked like the BMFT of old.
Craig Kimbrel notched his 40th save in game 2 of the series. Kimbrel’s back-to-back 40+ save seasons mark only the second time a Braves closer has accomplished this feat, the only other being John Smoltz. Another strange record came in game 2 when Craig Kimbrel became the 8th pitcher across baseball to strike out 4 batters in one inning this season. Those 8 pitchers combine for the most to do this in one season in baseball history.
Also in game 2, Eric O’Flaherty made his 27th consecutive scoreless appearance dating back to July 15th. O’Flaherty and Kimbrel are a big part of why the Braves are 75-2 this season when leading after the 7th inning. Though he struggled early in the season, O’Flaherty has successfully turned his season around and reminded us of the 2011 EOF.
Dan Uggla clearly thrives when it comes to hitting against his former team. In his 17 games against the Marlins in 2012, he has 7 extra base hits and 18 RBIs to his credit. Additionally, in game 2 of the series, Uggla stole home. The last time an Atlanta player stole home was in July of 2010 when, in his rookie season, Jason Heyward did so against the Nationals.
Dan Uggla wasn’t the only Brave with a noteworthy steal in the series. Jason Heyward’s 20th steal of the season came in game 2. That steal makes 2012 J-Hey’s first career 20/20 season, and first by any Atlanta player since Andruw Jones accomplished it in 2000. If J-Hey wants to go one step further, the last Brave to go 25/25 in a season was none other than Chipper Jones in his MVP season (1999). With 2 series left this regular season, Heyward will need 5 more stolen bases. He currently has 27 homers.
Atlanta is 74-15 when scoring 4 or more runs, they are 60-3 when scoring 5 or more runs, and the Braves are 75-2 when leading after 7 innings. This held true Thursday night in the final game of the series with Tommy Hanson on the mound.
Sitting 4 games behind the Nationals with 6 games to play doesn’t bode well for Atlanta, but stranger things have happened. While the Braves face the Mets and Pirates in their final 6, the Nationals don’t fair as well with the Cardinals and Phillies. The Braves hold a 7 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card race, while the St. Louis Cardinals have a 3 game lead on the Dodgers for the second WC spot.
Linescores from the Marlins series:
W: Kimbrel (3-1) L: Dunn (0-3)
W: Maholm (13-10) L: Johnson (8-14) SV: Kimbrel (40)
W: Hanson (13-9) L: Turner (2-5)
CHIPPER TAKES ON THE METS FOR ONE LAST TIME…
Friday: Niese (12-9, 3.49) vs. Hudson (16-6, 3.61)
Saturday: Young (4-8, 4.21) vs. Minor (10-10, 4.27)
Sunday: Mejia (1-1, 4.91) vs. Medlen (9-1, 1.64)
The Braves will send their big 3 to the mound this weekend against the Mets.
Michael Bourn had a precautionary MRI Thursday on his left thumb, the thumb he sprained on Saturday. Fredi hopes to have Bourn back in the lineup for the first game of the series against New York.
The big story of the final home series is, of course, that it is Chipper’s last. It seems particularly fitting that the final team he will face in front of his home fans will be the team he has brutalized over his storied career.
Chipper’s stats against the Mets are ridiculous. He has a career .311/.408/.548 average against New York. He has racked up 264 hits and 159 RBIs against them. The last time the Mets were in town, Chipper hit .308 with a .357 on-base percentage.
Chipper’s final season has been nothing short of spectacular. There is no question that he can still produce. Before Chipper’s leadoff walk in game 3 of the series against the Fish, he ranked 5th in Major League Baseball with a .444 on-base percentage when leading an inning off. He is averaging .292/.381/.466 in 2012. As Jayson Stark noted in his recent profile of the retiring Jones (highly recommended reading), the last player to finish with the kind of lineup presence that Chipper brings was the great Ted Williams. Now that’s some company.
The Braves will be honoring Chipper tonight prior to the game. A special pregame ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. (EST) and will feature the likes of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Bobby Cox.
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