Living up to their standing as the streakiest team in baseball, the Braves turned around from being swept in Milwaukee and swept the first place Washington Nationals. Each of the last three series for the Braves have been sweeps–they swept the Mets, were swept by the Brewers and then swept the Nationals.
In 2012, the Nationals won the season series 10-8. The Braves won 8 of the final 14 games against the Nats, including each of the final 4 games. The Braves sweep of the Nats was the 9th series sweep this season for Atlanta. This weekend’s sweep was the first for the Braves over the Nats since September of the ’09 season at Nationals Park and the first at Turner Field since April of ’09.
Kris Medlen continued his pitching brilliance in the first game of the series. Getting a no-decision for his 13 strikeout performance was the only heartbreaker of the 3-game series. The big story for Medlen in this start were his career-high strikeouts. Medlen had an impressive 8 Ks looking, good for the most in the big leagues in ’12. That’s the most for an Atlanta pitcher since the great Greg Maddux had 8 back in 2000.As a starter in 2012, Medlen has 66 Ks with a mere 8 BBs in 62 2/3 innings. Atlanta has now won 20 consecutive games started by Medlen going back to 2010. That’s tied for the longest such streak back in 2001 when Roger Clemsn did it with the Yankees. The streak, held by Medlen and Clemens, is the best in Major League Baseball in 50 years. In his 9 games in the starting rotation, Kris Medlen has a 0.87 ERA.
When it comes down to who is the bigger story for the Braves right now, Kris Medlen or Craig Kimbrel, it’s a tight race. Craig Kimbrel’s save in game 2 of the series was his 36th of the season. Kimbrel’s 36 saves lead the National League. But the saves are merely the product of the unbelievable number of strikeouts Kimbrel has racked up this season. 96 of Craig Kimbrel’s last 148 outs have been strikeouts, that includes 80 of his last 119 outs. Per 9 innings, Kimbrel has a ridiculous 16.7 strikeouts this season. In Kimbrel’s 2 outings during the series with the Nats, he had 6 strikeouts in 2 innings pitched. Kimbrel earned his 36th save with 3 strikeouts on 10 pitches.
The Braves bullpen is operating in a much different way than it did in 2011. The Braves are getting mileage out of Avilan and Durbin, two arms that weren’t part of the ’11 roster. The added depth of Batista, Gearrin and Moylan gives Fredi Gonzalez match-up options. Also, Ben Sheets was added to the bullpen during the series when he was activated off the disabled list. And clearly Kimbrel is lights out. But the two pieces that aren’t performing as they did last season are Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters. Notably, the Braves seem to have caused a great deal of Venters’ decline by over-pitching him in the past few seasons. His decline is felt in the bullpen. Luckily, the Braves have the expanded roster to carry them into the postseason.
While the Braves aren’t getting the production out of Brian McCann and Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are stepping up at key times. In game 2, Freddie Freeman went 3-for-4 with a triple, HR and single. He finished the day a double shy of the cycle. Also in game 2, Jason Heyward launched a 2-run blast to tie up the game in the 6th, proving critical to the Braves win. As Simmons becomes more comfortable since returning from the DL he will contribute in key moments as he did prior to the injury that landed him on the DL. The veteran Chipper Jones is still incredibly productive when he plays. All of that said, Freeman and Heyward are going to be the two pieces the Braves need to stay consistent through the end of the season and in the 1-game Wild Card playoff to get to the division series.
Mike Minor has not been the recipient of much run support, but in has last several outings he has pitched well enough that just a couple of runs are all he needs to lead his team to a win. Going up against Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez was a tall order for rookie Minor, but he was up for the challenge. Perhaps the one thing that Minor did that earned him the win was that he pitched efficiently. Braves hitters worked the count against Gonzalez, knocking him out of the game much earlier than the Nats would have liked for their ace. Pitch counts through 3 innings tell the tale of game 3: Gio Gonzalez 83 pitches, Mike Minor 38. Minor finally had a little luck behind him for his 9th win of the season.
Line scores from the 3-game set:
W: Kimbrel (2-1) L: Burnett (1-2)
W: O’Flaherty (3-0) L: Mattheus (5-2) SV: Kimbrel (36)
W: Minor (9-10) L: Gonzalez (19-8)
TO MIAMI FOR A FISH FRY…
Monday: Hudson (14-6, 3.66) vs. LeBlanc (2-4, 2.95)
Tuesday: Maholm (12-10, 3.90) vs. Eovaldi (4-12, 4.71)
Wednesday: Medlen (8-1, 1.62) vs. Johnson (8-12, 3.81)
The Braves finished the series with the Nationals 5 1/2 games back in the National League East and with a 7 game lead in the National League Wild Card race.
As Chipper makes his final trip to Miami, he is now two hits away from tying Lou Gehrig on the all-time hits list. Gehrig is currently 58th on the list with 2,721 hits.
The Braves will likely be without the catching services of Brian McCann in Miami. McCann, who has battled a shoulder injury in recent weeks, left Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury. After consulting with team trainers, the injury has been described as tendonitis in his right hamstring, an injury where the hamstring connects to the knee. Don’t look for McCann in the lineup for a few more days, but Fredi Gonzalez says McCann will be available to pinch-hit as he continues to deal with pain on the left side of his knee. The Braves do have J.C. Boscan on the roster with September call-ups should they need a backup behind the dish for David Ross who has been battling his own injuries over the past few weeks.
Miami is last in the division, 24 1/2 games back with a 65-82 record while Atlanta goes into the series with an 84-63 record. The Marlins are 6-9 in September and went 2-4 in their last 6 games.
The Braves and Marlins get underway tonight in Miami at 7:10 (EST).
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