If the Braves were hoping to make a statement with the start of their season, they have. If the Braves were hoping to change minds about their chances in the National League East, they did. The Braves wrapped a road trip Sunday with a sweep of the rival Washington Nationals, Atlanta’s third consecutive sweep and ninth straight win. Heading back to Turner Field for a 2-game set against the Kansas City Royals, the Braves are 11-1.
While game 1 began with the potential of ending the winning streak of the Braves, Atlanta rebounded in extra innings and shutdown the Nationals after their initial 4 runs in the first 2. The biggest lesson of game 1 of this series was that this incarnation of the Atlanta Braves cannot be counted out no matter how dire the beginning of a game is. With an incredible bullpen and an explosive offense, the 2013 Braves can rebound in the late innings. Another lesson, both for the Braves and for rookie starter Julio Teheran materialized in game 1. Teheran, who gave up 6 hits, 4 earned runs and 3 walks in 6 innings, could have given up after the first 2 innings, but instead, he buckled down and gave his club 6 innings. It was a very important outing for the rookie.
An overlooked aspect of the Braves’ club in 2013 may be the bench. While the starters are solid and powerful, the bench has a great deal of talent and power of their own. Ramiro Pena came into the game in a key spot and launched a 10th inning home run. Pena’s homer added to his 7 hits, 6 RBIs and .333 batting average off the bench (in 21 at-bats). Pena ads to depth on the bench that includes a backup catcher (Gattis or Laird, depending on the situation), Tyler Pastornicky, either Juan Francisco or Chris Johnson, Blake DeWitt, the versatile Reed Johnson, and Jordan Schafer.
Despite leaving 9 men on base and going 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position, the Braves kept the Nationals at bay after their initial onslaught and set the tone for a series they would go on to sweep.
W: O’Flaherty (2-0) L: Stammen (2-1) SV: Kimbrel (5)
The success of Tim Hudson early into the season has depended entirely on the sink of his sinker. And in game 2 the sinker was vintage Tim Hudson. Huddy went 7 innings, gave up only 4 hits and struck out 3. But the only story wasn’t starting pitching. The bullpen has been nearly untouchable so far. Kimbrel had a shutdown outing and O’Flaherty has been the go-to guy for Fredi Gonzalez.
Evan Gattis continues to impress the Braves as well as all of baseball with his power. He hit his 4th home run of the season in game 2 off of Strasburg. His 4 home runs and 10 RBIs have made Gerald Laird the backup catcher by default and the talk around the Braves is what will they do when Brian McCann returns from shoulder surgery. Whatever they decide, Gattis will remain on the roster and in the starting lineup in some way for as long as he continues his torrid hitting.
W: Hudson (2-0) L: Strasburg (1-2) SV: Kimbrel (6)
Game 3 saw something that has never happened in 3 consecutive starts by an Atlanta Braves pitcher–Paul Maholm did not give up a run, making that 3-straight that he hasn’t done so. His 0.00 ERA makes him easily one of the best pitchers in baseball, however quietly, since the All-Star Break last season when he joined the Braves. Maholm became the 10th pitcher since 1916 to start the year with 3 consecutive scoreless starts when he and the brilliant relief effort of Luis Ayala pitched around a jam in the 8th inning. Maholm now has pitched 20 1/3 scoreless innings to start 2013.
While Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton showed off their power in the 3rd inning, both with homers, the breakout star on offense was Chris Johnson who had a 4-hit, 2-RBI game. Not to discount the homers, though, because the Braves are 10-0 when they hit at least 1 HR, 0-1 when they don’t. Of course, that is in a sample size that includes some incredible pitching and offense.
The Braves bullpen shined once again in game 3. Since the season began, the Braves bullpen has allowed 0-of-14 inherited runners to score. Their ability to shutdown hitters and truly help the starters out of a pinch has been an incredible tool for the Braves in the early going. There is no question that they are a huge part of the team’s success.
W: Maholm (3-0) Gonzalez (1-1)
BRAVES RETURN TO THE TED FOLLOWING PERFECT ROAD TRIP…
Freddie Freeman will be returning from the disabled list in the next few days. Jonny Venters has yet to resume throwing as he rehabs a strained elbow. And Cristhian Martinez was placed on the DL with a right shoulder strain, his injury presenting an opening for new reliever Ayala who made his debut with the Braves in Washington.
News this week is that a timetable has been set for the return of Brandon Beachy. Beachy had the best ERA in baseball last season prior to the All-Star Break. He then required immediate Tommy John surgery for an elbow ligament tear and has been working his way back since. With his projected return of June, it will be interesting to see what happens with the rotation. Depending on how Teheran is pitching, it may come down to which of the two should move to the ‘pen. Frank Wren and the Braves may want to take a similar approach to Beachy that they did with Kris Medlen, putting him in the ‘pen initially as not to overtax his arm in the beginning and then moving him into the rotation in time. This worked well for them with Medlen in contrast to the approach the Nationals took last season with Strasburg when they let him pitch in the rotation out of the gate and then had to shut him down long before the playoffs. The Braves see the potential in Beachy and will be sure to protect his arm.
The unusual 2-game series against the American League’s Kansas City Royals begins Tuesday at Turner Field with the matchup of Guthrie (2-0, 3.55) vs. Medlen (1-1, 1.50), followed by Davis (1-0, 4.00) vs. Minor (2-0, 0.69) on Wednesday.