When the Braves began the 5-series stretch of interleague play, they were fresh off a sweep of the surging Miami Marlins. Their ace, Brandon Beachy, was heading for an All Star Game appearance. The Braves offense was surging, due in part to the massive new stadium in Miami. And, the Braves had the best road record in the league.
Like the entire season, the Braves were streaky during interleague play. They have more ups and downs than many of the teams in baseball and yet stay about .500. As is occasionally the case in baseball, the bad luck came calling all at once during interleague play. The biggest loss for the Braves was the injury to starter Brandon Beachy, but it certainly wasn’t the only blow to a team that hasn’t been firing on all cylinders all year. The offense suffered the loss of Freddie Freeman for a rough stretch after he was nailed on his hand while sliding into second base. And the bullpen continued to struggle, despite the Braves designating Livan Hernandez for assignment.
The Braves ended the 5-series June interleague play and the single May interleague series with an 8-10 record, but welcoming the Arizona Diamondbacks to Turner Field, the Braves put interleague play behind them quickly.
Game 1: D. Hudson vs. T. Hudson
Despite bone chips that continue to cause Tim Hudson discomfort in his left, planting/landing ankle, Tim Hudson came out strong in the battle of the Hudsons. Huddy gave up 7 hits and 1 earned run in 8 solid innings. Anthony Varvaro came out of the ‘pen to pitch a scoreless inning in relief of Hudson.
The Braves’ offense capitalized on the unfortunate struggles of Daniel Hudson who left the game after 1 2/3 innings with arm tightness. Before leaving the game, Hudson gave up 5 earned runs. Following the game, Arizona announced that Daniel Hudson had completely torn his ulnar collateral ligament and will likely require Tommy John surgery (he is receiving a second opinion on Friday). The offense was also able to get to the back end of the D-backs’ bullpen, scoring 3 runs in the 7th and 8th innings.
Game 2: Cahill vs. Hanson
As the rotation has been marred with inconsistency and injury, Tommy Hanson has really stepped up recently. Getting quality outings from Hanson is absolutely critical to the Braves’ rotation’s success.
Tommy pitched 6 1/3 innings and allowed 3 earned runs on 7 hits. Despite an earned run allowed by Jonny Venters, O’Flaherty and the untouchable Kimbrel closed out the game, keeping the Braves on top 6-4.
The Braves’ offense has come to life at home against the Diamondbacks. The big story for the Braves right now is Jason Heyward who was named last week’s National League Player of the Week. Heyward has hit 6 of his 12 home runs in the past 17 games, including a first inning homer off Trevor Cahill. Not only is his bat hot, Heyward has been outstanding in the field.
Game 3: Bauer vs. Jurrjens
When Jair Jurrjens rejoined the big league club, the Braves desperately needed the JJ they saw prior to last year’s All Star break. He showed up in a huge way in Boston and again showed that he can be useful in the rotation Thursday night against Arizona.
This season, in April alone, Jair Jurrjens allowed 17 runs on 30 hits in 16 1/3 innings pitched. During those 4 April starts, he racked up a 9.37 ERA. Now, take the JJ of his last 2 starts since being called up from Gwinnett–he has allowed 3 runs on 9 hits in 13 1/3 innings pitched. This is exactly what the Braves need from Jurrjens.
Both Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward made incredible plays in the field, Heyward gunning down Jason Kubel at the plate with the help of a perfect tag by Brian McCann. But the downfall of the Braves in the final game of the series with Arizona hinged on the fact that the offense went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and a run allowed by Craig Kimbrel.
Craig Kimbrel allowed a home run to Chris Young. Prior to that HR, opponents were 4-for-60 against Kimbrel, an absolutely incredible stat. The homer off the bat of Young snapped a 17-game scoreless streak Kimbrel had going that began on May 8th. Kimbrel will get right back out there and continue notching saves. Kimbrel leads the National League with 22 saves.
FIRST PLACE NATIONALS IN TOWN…
Friday: Detwiler (4-3, 3.09) vs. Delgado (4-8, 4.52)
Saturday: Strasburg (9-2, 2.60) vs. Minor (3-6, 6.14)
Sunday: Gonzalez (10-3, 2.78) vs. Hudson (6-3, 3.58)
The first place Nationals have been carried by phenomenal pitching. Whether that pitching can hold up over time remains to be seen. Bryce Harper has added a spark to a lineup that is riding the power surge of veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche, but the roster is still without Jayson Werth.
For the Braves, they really need Brian McCann to get hot and fall back into the productive spot he has solidified in the offense over the past 5 seasons. Keeping Jason Heyward going with both his offense and defense can do a lot for the Braves. However, the biggest story line for the Braves in 2012 may continue to be pitching.
Mike Minor and Randall Delgado have combined to go 0-4 (6.41 ERA) in their previous 4 outings. Mike Minor is on a short leash and with the trade deadline coming, the Braves may very well go out and sign a starting pitcher to bolster the rotation. If this happens or if Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez decide to move Kris Medlen into the rotation, Mike Minor will lose his slot. Delgado is on a longer leash, but he needs to settle in and regain the confidence he has earned from outings that lacked run support.
A 3-game series with Washington could put the Braves back atop the division and in good shape going into the All Star break.
The Braves and Nationals get underway at Turner Field Friday night at 7:35 (EST).
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