The Braves knew that going into Colorado they were going to be facing tough weather. However, they had no idea that Colorado would bring a postponed game, a doubleheader, and the loss of right fielder Jason Heyward to a burst appendix. With game 1 postponed due to snow flurries and poor visibility, the Braves and Rockies squared off in a doubleheader Tuesday with a game time temperature of 23 degrees. The grounds crew at Coors Field did a phenomenal job preparing a field that had been covered in snow mere hours before and were able to maintain the field throughout the series. By the time game 3 rolled around, the Braves were thrilled to be playing in 48 degree weather.
Game 1 of doubleheader:
Returning to place where he once worked as a ski lift operator, Evan Gattis thrived. Gattis had both a game-winning RBI and a game-ending put out when he threw out a runner at second base. The rookie smashed his 6th homer of the season. He has now homered in each of the stadiums in which he has played.
Reed Johnson started in right field in place of Jason Heyward who will be on the 15-day DL as he recovers from laparascopic surgery to remove his appendix. Reed took advantage of the playing time, going 4-for-4, 3 of those doubles. He hasn’t had many chances this season given that the 3 outfield starters are more or less every day guys, but getting some playing time in Heyward’s absence may improve his bat when he comes off the bench in the future.
The Mike Minor that emerged in the second half of the 2012 season is becoming one of the better pitchers in the Braves’ rotation. Minor pitched 6 innings, giving up 5 hits and 3 runs. He struck out 5 and walked 2. Coincidentally, Minor has allowed only 5 hits in each of his 4 starts this season. His next start against Doug Fister is the best pitching matchup of the Detroit series.
W: Minor (3-1) L: Francis (1-2) SV: Kimbrel (8)
Game 2 of doubleheader:
Braves’ bats didn’t go cold between games in the doubleheader. Justin Upton smashed his 11th homer. He now holds the Atlanta Braves franchise record with 11 homers in April. Prior to Upton’s 11th homer, the record stood at 10, a feat accomplished by Ryan Klesko and twice by Andres Galarraga. His 11 homers in April add to the 6 he hit in Spring Training. He has certainly made a case for National League Player of the Month, though his biggest competition comes from the rival Washington Nationals in Bryce Harper.
Game 2 saw something the Braves hope to see more of this year: Justin and B.J. Upton knocked back-to-back home runs. The Uptons became the 2nd pair of brothers in Major League Baseball history to hit back-to-back homers in a game. Prior to the Uptons, the only brothers to do so were Lloyd and Paul Waner who did it in 1938 with the Pirates. This was the third time the Uptons have homered in the same game since joining the Braves this season. B.J. Upton has yet to homer in a game in which his brother didn’t.
It certainly helped the Braves that the Rockies went an incredible 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Clearly, they had plenty of opportunities, but squandered them. Julio Teheran gave up 8 hits in his 7 innings pitched, but managed to hold the Rockies to only 1 run. The run support Teheran received in the 4th and 5th innings allowed him to continue a few more innings. This was Teheran’s first win of the season and hopefully gives him a confidence boost going into his next start.
W: Teheran (1-0) L: Garland (2-1)
Veteran Tim Hudson took to the mound in frigid Colorado attempting to get his 200th career win under his belt. Unfortunately, the baseball gods were not smiling on Huddy again Wednesday. He had a great outing, going 6 innings and leaving with a 2-run lead, but the game got away from the Braves in the late innings as the game finally ended after 12 innings. Tim Hudson’s next shot at his 200th career win will come Tuesday against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field.
Dan Uggla is hitting .185, but the final game of the series showed signs of life with Uggla. Recovering from a calf strain, Uggla stepped up in game 3 going 3-for-3 with a pair of singles and a double. He improved his batting average from .167 to .185. He challenged himself on the base paths, though he clearly still doesn’t have full strength in that left calf. Of course, it didn’t help anything that it was so cold in Colorado. An off day before the Detroit series begins is exactly what Uggla needs. The Braves would surely love to have his bat in action and they would love to see him get on base, whether by hit or walk, keeping down the strikeouts.
Braves’ fans saw something they rarely see in game 3–a blown save by Craig Kimbrel. Though the Braves didn’t lose the game on that blown save alone, it set up the 3 extra frames pitched by Cory Gearrin, Jordan Walden and Luis Ayala. Ayala hoped to avoid letting a lead-off double Wilin Rosario hurt him by pitching around hot-hitting Michael Cuddyer, but that strategy backfired when Yorvit Torrealba ended the game on an RBI single.
W: Belisle (1-1) L: Ayala (1-1)
BRAVES MEET TIGERS FOR NEGRO LEAGUES WEEKEND…
This weekend is a special one in baseball as the Detroit Tigers host Negro Leagues Weekend. It is the 11th annual weekend celebrating the African-American leagues that features the talents of men like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston. On Saturday, the Detroit Tigers will wear throwback uniforms honoring the Detroit Stars and the Atlanta Braves will be sporting Atlanta Black Crackers throwbacks. The Detroit Stars played in the Negro National League from 1920-1931. The Atlanta Black Crackers played in the Negro Southern League during that period. The Detroit Stars saw many talented players come through including Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe and Norman “Turkey” Stearnes. One of the most recognizable names from the Atlanta Black Crackers was Red Moore, the first baseman who is in the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame. Saturday’s game will be one of the three featured games on FOX and the series finale will be on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
One of the biggest things the Braves need to improve on is getting runners on before Justin Upton gets to the plate. His home runs are more often than not solo shots. Atlanta’s leadoff hitters are .207/.275/.341. and hitters in the 2 hole are even worse at .147/.270/.293. Getting Andrelton Simmons and B.J. Upton into a consistent rhythm would be very beneficial to the Braves as they clearly have pop in the middle of the lineup with Gattis and Upton (even to a lesser extent with Freeman and Uggla).
Something worth noting is that the Braves are not taking advantage of their speed while on the base paths. Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons and B.J. Upton, all with significant speed and base running intelligence, have only 5 stolen bases between them. In fact, Gerald Laird has as many stolen bases as Jason Heyward with 1. Justin Upton actually looks to be improving on the base paths, with 3 stolen bases so far. He showed speed from time to time with Arizona, stealing around 20 bags a season. His older brother averaged a least a dozen more per season. Fredi Gonzalez is no Bobby Cox by any means, meaning he doesn’t put the runners in motion often, but an improvement of a few bags per player could really add a dimension to Atlanta’s game.
The Braves will luck out and miss both Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in their trip to Detroit. Instead, the series will begin with Maholm (3-1, 1.03) vs. Sanchez (2-1, 1.75). Saturday’s game will feature Medlen (1-2, 2.16) vs. Porcello (0-2, 11.08). Perhaps the best matchup of the series comes in the finale: Minor (3-1, 1.80) vs. Fister (3-0, 2.00).