The Washington Nationals, previously referred to as the team to beat in the National League East by almost all of baseball, opened the doors to the Braves at Nationals Park for a 3-game series and closed the door on all hope of winning the division in 2013. As Thomas Boswell wrote this week, they have the talent, but can’t seem to conquer the fundamentals. The Nats are now 3-10 on the season against the Braves. Atlanta swept the Nats, their 4th straight series sweep and their 13th consecutive win, the longest win streak in Major League Baseball since 2002.
A big part of the series in D.C. that has surprised many is the performance of center fielder B.J. Upton. Upton had a 4-hit game in the series finale, his first since joining the Braves. Upton returned form the disabled list on August 3rd and has since hit for a .476 average with 10 hits (in 21 at-bats), .522 on-base percentage and .571 slugging in 5 games, all of them starts in the injury-depleted outfield. B.J. is still below the Mendoza Line, but has improved his season average from .177 to .198 in the past 5 games.
Jason Heyward is also a huge part of the reason the Braves have a 15 1/2 game lead in the division. In the 3 games against the rival Nats, Heyward hit .300 with a double and RBI. This is just a small part of his bigger success in the last month. Since July 6, Heyward is hitting .272 (22-for-81) with 4 homers, 2 doubles, a triple and 15 RBIs. He has nearly as many walks (14) as he does strikeouts (15). All while switching back and forth in the lineup as well as in the outfield.
Braves’ pitching has been nothing short of exemplary since the injury to veteran ace Tim Hudson and the wrist injury to lefty Paul Maholm. Alex Wood has stepped up in a big way and Kris Medlen is winning again, adding to the already spectacular pitching of the young Mike Minor and rookie Julio Teheran. Brandon Beachy is showing promise and will likely have the cobwebs gone by the postseason. His velocity remains down, common for those returning from Tommy John surgery, and will likely remain so until the 2014 season. However, Beachy’s arm in the rotation is still better than most teams’ fourth and fifth starter. For the Braves, he is a great piece and will be a huge part of the young core of starters next season as well.
With an unfortunate and bizarre injury to the St. Louis Cardinals’ rookie Shelby Miller this week, talk resumes about the possibility of Julio Teheran for NL Rookie of the Year. Teheran has been solid for Atlanta all season, his last 4 starts absolutely brilliant. In those 4 starts, Teheran has a 4-0 record with a 1.13 ERA, 3 earned runs allowed, 27 strikeouts and has allowed opponents a .179 average. He is 9-5 on the season with an ERA of 2.96. He’s notched 121 strikeouts in 137 innings. This in comparison to Miller who has a record of 11-7 with an ERA of 2.89 and 132 strikeouts in 121 1/3 innings. Julio certainly has a chance to make an impression on RoY voters between now and the end of the season.
BRAVES TAKE 13-WIN STREAK HOME…
The Braves are soon to have Gerald Laird and Jordan Schafer back from the disabled list. Schafer, out with a stress fracture to his right foot, is likely to return in the next few games once his rehab assignment is completed. Laird, out with kidney stones, is an important bench bat and will allow the Braves to use Gattis in left field as needed rather than having to keep him on the bench in the event of injury to McCann. Paul Maholm threw a successful bullpen session on August 6th. He should be ready to join the club after an additional rehab start. His place in the rotation is being manned successfully by Alex Wood. What the Braves will decide to do with their 6 starters has yet to be determined. However, the last two times the Braves have been in this position, they ended up putting a pitcher on the DL (Maholm and then Hudson). Having too much pitching has certainly been useful to the Braves all season.
Key pieces to the Braves’ success in the last 13 games that haven’t been already mentioned include Justin Upton who hit his 5th home run in the past 7 games in 3-2 lead in the seventh inning of the series finale, reliever Luis Avilan who hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 32 appearances dating back to May 24th and Andrelton Simmons who seems to have a web gem every night ranging to his left and right as well as gunning down runners at the plate as the cutoff man. And this doesn’t even touch on the two players who have been the most consistent for the Braves all season–Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman. Both Kimbrel and Freeman will certainly be talked about when it comes time to vote for Cy Young and MVP in the National League.
As the Marlins arrive at Turner Field, the Braves will see Giancarlo Stanton, someone they haven’t seen a lot of in their last face-offs due to injury. Luckily, the Braves will miss out on facing Marlins’ rookie ace Jose Fernandez, who has a record of 3-0 with 1.57 ERA in his 3 starts since the all-star break. In those starts (23 innings) he has struck out 35 batters while only walking and 3 batters.
Friday night’s game will feature Turner (3-3, 2.68) vs. Beachy (0-0, 9.00). Saturday’s game pits Eovaldi (2-2, 3.19) vs. Wood (2-2, 3.20). And the series finale before the Phillies arrive in town will feature Alvarez (2-1, 2.80) vs. Minor (11-5, 2.76).
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.