Back-to-back sweeps are exactly what the Braves needed to make a statement at the beginning of the 2013 campaign.
With the power of Justin Upton, now tied at 6 home runs to lead all of Major League Baseball, the Braves have put their offensive potential on display in the early going. Just as powerful as Justin Upton’s bat is Atlanta’s rotation. Sandwiched between ace Tim Hudson and rookie Julio Teheran is a dominant threesome of starters–Maholm, Medlen and Minor–that will pitch their way into many a headline. Both Maholm and Minor have been nearly untouchable in their combined four outings. And the Braves have a rare gem in Evan Gattis. Fredi Gonzalez announced this week that Gattis will be getting the majority of the playing time behind the plate until Brian McCann returns from the DL or until the hot bat of Gattis cools–whichever comes first.
Fresh off the sweep of Chicago, the Braves entered their first game at Marlins Park with Paul Maholm on the mound. In a park that has more outfield than it has empty seats (which is really saying something), the Braves watched as their most consistent pitcher since the start of Spring Training toed the rubber and shut down the Fish. Maholm has yet to give up a run this season and has continued his streak begun in the Grapefruit League of not allowing a home run. The Braves didn’t need much offense after the pitching gem offered by Maholm, but Justin Upton brought his powerful bat into Miami and launched a blast in game one that put the Braves on the board. He went on to finish the game a triple short of the cycle. While Kimbrel struggled a bit when called in to close the game, he managed to get out of trouble and the Braves walked away with a 2-0 win.
W: Maholm (2-0) L: Slowey (o-2) SV: Kimbrel (3)
Rebounding off an awful first start of the season, Kris Medlen reminded all of baseball in game two why he was the talk of the game in the second half of last season. Medlen’s command was incredible in his second start when he allowed only 3 hits and watched an unearned run cross the plate in his 7 innings. Medlen, Minor and Maholm may not be flashy and they not be the biggest names in baseball, but they will carry the Braves when hitting doesn’t and hitting will carry them on the nights that their control isn’t on par. If there is a heart of the order with any hitting lineup, Medlen, Minor and Maholm are the heart of the pitching rotation. The offensive story of game two was, as it has been throughout the start of the season, rookie Evan Gattis who went deep off Wade LeBlanc in the first inning–the ball landing somewhere near the colorful monstrosity in left-center. Gattis, though not surprising, has really stepped up for the Braves at the plate and his defense behind the plate has continued to impress Fredi Gonzalez who had always heard that the offense of Gattis was far better than his defense. Craig Kimbrel had a much less eventful outing, notching his 4th save of the young season and preserving the win for Kris Medlen.
W: Medlen (1-1) L: LeBlanc (0-2) Kimbrel (4)
A trend we may we see more of this season is nights when the offense absolutely goes off, burying their competition, contrasting with nights when the pitching truly snags a win with very little run support on an off night for the offense. While powerful home runs came into play in both games one and two, the offense wasn’t putting on a full display of their talent until game three of the series. With the shutout pitching of Mike Minor, the offense gave him more than enough support for the win. Mike Minor has matched Paul Maholm in consistency. The confident Minor struck out 4 batters, adding to the 7 strikeouts he had in his first start of the season. He has had very few less-than-sharp moments since he came into his own midway into the 2012 season. Minor was the recipient of a breakout fifth inning when Atlanta’s bats came alive. Both Evan Gattis and Juan Francisco went deep in the fifth. Gattis blasted his third home run since the start of the season. He is hitting .391 (9-for-23) with those homers and one double. Juan Francisco’s blast went over 450 feet. Having both Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson in the lineup in the absence of Freddie Freeman has not been a disadvantage for the Braves. While Justin Upton didn’t go deep, his performance in this series shows that he will not only hit home runs for this team, he has the ability to hit for a high average as well. All of this offense has been on display without much production from Jason Heyward who will eventually give the Braves a great deal of production and very little connecting on the part of B.J. Upton.
W: Minor (2-0) L: Sanabia (1-1)
BRAVES READY TO FACE OFF WITH NATIONALS…
In back-to-back series, the Braves have shown exactly why they will give the Nationals a run for their money in the NL East this season. The Braves have the pitching to match the Nationals, the Braves have more than enough via offense with the acquisition of Justin Upton and the emergence of Evan Gattis, and the Braves are superior on defense with a speedy outfield and the incredible skill of Andrelton Simmons.
Going into Washington, the Braves will have newly acquired right-hander Luis Ayala. Ayala was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles for a minor league reliever. Ayala, 35, spent 2012 with the Orioles and 2011 with the Yankees. In 2012, Ayala had a record of 5-5 with one save and a 2.64 ERA. He appeared in 66 games for the Orioles in 2012. Joining the Braves, Ayala is a nice addition to the Braves bullpen. He brings with him a 1-0 record on the season, having pitched 2 innings for the O’s this season in which he gave up 2 runs. Ayala will be a great addition to a ‘pen that is currently without Jonny Venters who is dealing with a pitching elbow strain.
Freddie Freeman will miss the series against the Nationals, but will likely return to the club mid-week. We should have a good idea of the timetable for Brian McCann and Paul Janish at the beginning of next week.
The 3-game set with Washington at Nationals Park will feature Teheran (0-0, 9.00) vs. Detwiler (0-0, 0.00) tonight, Hudson (1-0, 3.27) vs. Strasburg (1-1, 4.38) Saturday, and Maholm (2-0, 0.00) vs. Gonzalez (1-0, 0.82) in the series finale Sunday.
First pitch of the series is tonight at 7:05 p.m. (EST).