• Exclusives

    Braves sweep Pirates with near no-no, head to L.A.

    As the Pirates arrived at Turner Field for a 3-game set, all the talk was about how good the Pirates are in 2013. Yes, they have a superb starting rotation. Yes, they have the best bullpen in baseball at the moment. Yes, they have great young superstars in the making with Starling Marte, Garrett Jones and all-star Andrew McCutchen. But what they don’t have is that grit and ability to overcome adversity that the Braves have displayed all season.

    There are plenty of good teams, even some great ones, in baseball this season. However, the Braves have been able to prove time and time again that they have incredible potential, have the ability to overcome great adversity via injury

    Game 1:

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

    W: Medlen (2-6) L: Burnett (3-6)

    Kris Medlen, the man with the hardest luck in baseball this season, had a phenomenal outing in game 1 going 7 innings, allowing only 7 hits, recording an unearned run and 6 K’s on 102 pitches. Medlen’s ability to locate his pitches was fooling hot Pittsburgh bats. Once Medlen left the game, the bullpen gave up a run, but was otherwise solid. Going into the series with Pittsburgh, the bullpen had a streak of 20 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. As was previously mentioned, that streak included 3 perfect innings of relief in Sunday’s game against the Nationals.

    Jason Heyward’s bat came alive in the first game of the series. He and Andrelton Simmons both recorded 2 hits and scored a run. And B.J. Upton may have recorded a strikeout and no hits, but he did make it on base 3 times. There is certainly hope of late with B.J.’s swing.

    Game 2:

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

    W: Varvaro (3-0) L: Melancon (1-1)

    When Mike Minor allowed a solo shot to the Pirates’ Sanchez, it was the first homer he’d allowed since surrendering 6 of them in 4 starts stretching from April 28th to May 13th. This is the tale of Minor’s season, really. He and Julio Teheran have truly been the rock solid portion of the rotation for the Braves in the first two months of the season. Minor continues to impress Fredi Gonzalez with his confidence on the mound and continues to impress the league with the number of strikeouts he is able to record in each outing.

    Though the offense wasn’t enough to get Minor the win, there were great signs in the walk-off win. Dan Uggla has his first multi-hit game since May 24th. Getting Uggla’s bat hot would go a long way in terms of supporting pitchers like Medlen and Maholm who haven’t received quite enough run support in their outings. Another highlight came via the bullpen. After the homer by Alvarez in the 4th inning, the pitching staff really buckled down. Jordan Walden pitched a perfect 8th inning and in 11 pitches, Anthony Varvaro pitched a perfect 10th inning when the Braves really needed it. Of course the biggest highlight for the Braves in the 10-inning battle with the Pirates was the walk-off single that scored Dan Uggla. It was Andrelton Simmons’ first walk-off hit in his young career.

    Game 3:

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

    W: Teheran (4-2) L: Rodriguez (6-4)

    Going into the third game of the series, the Braves had the second-best record in baseball at 36-22. They were able to expand their lead on the Washington Nationals in the NL East by 5 1/2 games, but while the Braves were pulling away from the Nats, the Phillies passed the Nats by a 1/2 game in the standings. They are now just 1 game behind the St. Louis Cardinals who hold the best record.

    The standings mattered very little when Julio Teheran took the mound in the finale. Before an afternoon crowd at Turner Field, it was clear early on that Teheran had something special going against the Pirates. His fastball had late life on it, his pitches were nailing the spots catcher Gerald Laird was calling for and his poise on the mound resembled that of a veteran ace. The 22-year-old showed why it was important for the Braves to hang with him as he struggled in the early going last season with the big league club.


    Teheran took a no-no into the 8th inning. His first attempt at a no-hitter was blown after 7 2/3 innings when Brandon Inge laced a drive down the right field line. Teheran’s 7 2/3 innings of hitless baseball added to an impressive season. He has now gone 8+ innings in 2 of his 15 big league starts. And each time he goes out there, Teheran has the potential and the arsenal to go deep in a game. You can count on the fact that this won’t be the last time we see Teheran throw a gem like this.

    The Braves didn’t need much by way of offense, but they had contributions from some of the more unlikely guys in the lineup. Andrelton Simmons led off an inning for the Braves 10 times in the 33 innings of the Braves/Pirates series. This is precisely what Fredi Gonzalez is looking for in a lead-off man and what he never got from B.J. Upton. Simmons leading off bodes well for the Braves. In addition to this, the Braves saw some pop off the bat of Gerald Laird. He and Evan Gattis went back-to-back with homers against the Pirates. It was the sixth time Braves homered back-to-back this season. For Laird, it was his 1st homer since May 28, 2012 while with the Detroit Tigers.

    It’s important to note just how special the rapport is that Gerald Laird has built with young Julio Teheran. It is clear watching the two in a game that Teheran trusts Laird’s judgement and follows his lead. This battery has been brilliant all season and while there is certainly more offense to gain from putting Gattis or McCann behind the plate when Teheran is pitching, the role of Laird will turn out down the road to be very important in the development of Teheran.


    Following Teheran’s impressive 7 2/3 innings of no-hit pitching Wednesday, the possibility of Teheran being the odd man out when Brandon Beachy returns from the disabled list later this month. He and Mike Minor have been the most consistent pitchers in the rotation. Currently, both Mike Minor and Kris Medlen are in the top 20 in baseball in ERA (Minor 9th with a 2.52 ERA and Medlen 20th with a 3.14 ERA). Paul Maholm is too valuable as a starter to be sent to the ‘pen as a situational reliever or even a long man. The work that was put into moving Medlen into the rotation as well as his strength as a starter, despite his misleading win-loss record, doesn’t suggest he would be the obvious choice to send to the ‘pen when Beachy returns, either. Ace Tim Hudson certainly isn’t going anywhere, though his outings have not been as strong as Atlanta would like. There is certainly the possibility that Beachy could stay in the ‘pen as Medlen did when he returned from Tommy John surgery. This would better enable the Braves to keep an eye on his inning count, preserving him for the postseason. There is no question that his return presents the toughest obstacle for Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez, but an obstacle that can only have positive results.

    Going into Los Angeles, the Braves face a team that is dealing with the disappointment of not being as good as they were made out to and paid to be. The Dodgers are currently last in the NL West, 9 games back in a division led by the Arizona Diamondbacks. They are below .500 with a record of 25-33. Their pitching is currently 7th in the National League in ERA. Luckily, the Braves will once again not have to face ace Clayton Kershaw on their trip to L.A. The Dodgers are currently 13th in the NL in runs scored with only the Nationals and Marlins behind them. Despite their lack of runs scored and winning, the Dodgers are 6th in the league in team batting average (compared to the Braves who are 11th).

    The Braves will miss Kershaw because of the pitching schedule, but they’ll also miss a handful of Dodgers due to injury. Capuano, Beckett, Billingsley, Crawford, Ellis and Kemp are all hurt. The Kemp injury is particularly good news to Tim Hudson who has been hit hard by Kemp over the years.

    Thursday night’s game at Chavez Ravine will feature ace Hudson (4-4, 4.80) vs. Greinke (2-1, 4.80). The second game of the series features Maholm (7-4, 3.68) vs. Ryu (6-2, 2.89). Game 3 of the 4-game set features Medlen (2-6, 3.14) vs. Fife (1-0, 4.50). The final game of the series against the Dodgers will be Minor (7-2, 2.52) vs. Lilly (0-2, 5.09).

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