• Alex Wood

    Phillies arrive to break up monotony of Marlins

    As schedules go, the Braves won’t have it easy facing the Nationals for 6 games in September and the Pirates for 4. However, the Braves get to face bottom-of-the pack Mets (3 games), Rangers (3 games) and Phillies (6 games) in the final month as well. The pesky Marlins don’t quite seem to be in either category, though with the last 3 games against them and the coming weekend series in Miami, the Braves have to beat the Fish to hang on to their division hopes and/or the wild card. Taking 2-of-3 from Miami at Turner Field is exactly what Atlanta needed to do over the weekend.

    If making a statement that Atlanta’s starting rotation is every bit as deep as the much-hyped Washington rotation, then Alex Wood did exactly that with his double digit shutout performance of Miami. His 12 strikeouts in his 8 inning outing Sunday matched a career high. Let’s talk about Wood’s last 7 starts: Over 48 1/3 innings, he has given up 34 hits, a mere 10 earned runs and has 48 K’s to his 14 walks. That’s a 1.86 ERA over 7 games. For those keeping track, Wood now has enough innings on the season to qualify among the league leaders in ERA (2.96).

    While Harang struggled in Saturday’s outing, it’s important to remember that the veteran has a respectable ERA at 3.64. His record of 10-9 reflects the offense’s inability to overcome Harang giving up 4 runs in an outing. True to that fact, the Braves were unable to score against the Marlins in the second game of the series.

    No discussion of pitching would be complete without mentioning that Craig Kimbrel notching his 40th save on the season against Miami. Kimbrel joins an elite group of closers including only Trevor Hoffman and Francisco Rodriguez as pitchers with 40 saves in 4 consecutive seasons. Last year Kimbrel became the first closer in MLB history to record 40 or more saves in 3 consecutive seasons to begin their career. Kimbrel now adds to that incredible record with his 4th consecutive season of 40 or more saves to begin a big league career. Including Sunday night’s save in relief of Wood’s gem, Kimbrel has 179 saves in his young career.

    Let’s stick to pitching this week and give the offense a breather to reassess. Boy, they’ve struggled to score runs consistently. It should come as no surprise that they struggled against the Marlins this series. Freeman improved to 6-for-61 against the Marlins on the season in the final game of the series, if that’s any indication of just how tough the offense is scuffling.

    BRAVES WELCOME PHILLIES TO BREAK UP VISITS WITH THE FISH…

    The Braves were dealt tough news this week about reliever Jonny Venters. Venters, who was having numerous setbacks while rehabbing following last year’s Tommy John surgery, has another torn UCL and will require his 3rd Tommy John surgery. The likelihood of Venters every pitching again are unknown and the likelihood of him ever pitching for the Braves again is slim. Venters was once a third of the group dubbed The Untouchables. With ex-Brave Eric O’Flaherty and closer Craig Kimbrel, he was a big part of how the Braves were known for the best bullpen in baseball. Unfortunately, there will always be questions about whether overuse contributed to Venters’ elbow issues.

    Going into September, the Braves continue to be without the services of reliever Shae Simmons. With ongoing shoulder problems, the Braves have decided to give Simmons extra time to rest rather than chance that he’ll go into the offseason with lingering issues. Due to the extra couple weeks of rest, Simmons may not rejoin the club down the stretch. Simmons shoulder has been bothering him since July when he had a stretch of relief appearances where he pitched with a 15.00 ERA. This after starting the season, his first 20 big league appearances, with a ridiculous 0.96 ERA. He has not pitched with the club since going on the DL on July 24th.

    Philly arrives in Atlanta for a 3-game set before the Braves have a rare Thursday off day as they travel to Miami. Monday’s series opener will feature veteran Hamels (7-6, 2.59) vs. Teheran (13-9, 2.90). Tuesday will pit Kendrick (7-11, 4.97) vs. resurgent Minor (6-8, 4.70). The series finale will feature Buchanan (6-7, 4.03) vs. Santana (13-7, 3.53).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Pitching continues to be story of Braves’ April

    If it is possible to quantify what starting pitching has meant to the Atlanta Braves in April, you won’t find it in a simple series of

    Aaron Harang leads the Braves and all of the National League with an 0.85 ERA. He leads teammate Ervin Santana by .01.

    Aaron Harang leads the Braves and all of the National League with an 0.85 ERA. He leads teammate Ervin Santana by .01 ERA points.

    numbers. Sure, the Braves have a rotation with a combined 1.50 ERA in a total of 138 innings pitched. Sure, the late spring signees Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana have unexpectedly brilliant ERAs of 0.85 and 0.86, respectively. Sure, the young guns aren’t too bad, either. Alex Wood has a 1.54 ERA, Julio Teheran 1.80 and David Hale a still quite respectable 2.93. But there’s more to it than the numbers.

    Remember when Kris Medlen went down during spring training? Remember how everyone thought the Braves were in serious trouble? Remember when Mike Minor wasn’t going to be on schedule because of shoulder soreness and the league wrote off Atlanta? Remember how devastating it felt when Brandon Beachy followed with his Tommy John news and then Cory Gearrin? Take those feelings, those fears and then consider just what has been accomplished without Medlen, Beachy, Minor and Gearrin, not to mention the continued absence of Venters:

    • Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana have the first and second lowest ERA by starters in the National League.
    • 4 of the 5 current members of the starting rotation are in the top 10 in ERA in the National League (Harang, Santana, Wood, Teheran)
    • 2 starting pitchers are in the top 10 in the NL in strikeouts (Wood T-5th with 35; Harang 9th with 33).
    • Braves pitching is 1st in the league in team ERA (2.16).
    • Relievers Anthony Varvaro and Ian Thomas both have a 1.69 ERA in 5 1/3 innings each.
    • With slightly more work out of the ‘pen, Jordan Walden (8 1/3 innings) and David Carpenter (9 1/3 innings) have sub-3.00 ERAs, 2.16 and 2.89.
    • Though Craig Kimbrel missed a week, he has a respectable 3.24 ERA with 6 saves in 8 1/3 innings pitched. His 18 strikeouts are the most by any reliever.

    There has been a bit of history made in April, too. In his Wednesday start, Aaron Harang became the first pitcher to start a season with at least 6 innings pitched and 1 earned run allowed or fewer in 5 appearances since Pedro Martinez did it in 1997. Also on Wednesday, the Braves recorded 16 strikeouts, the most by pitching in a single game this season and the most they’ve had in a game since August 16, 2013. In his previous start when Harang left his no-hitter, he became only the 3rd pitcher since 1900 to exit multiple no hitters after 6+ innings pitched. On April 16th, Julio Teheran became the first visiting pitcher to ever throw a shutout at Citizens Bank Park. And Craig Kimbrel hit 900 batters faced in his young career with a unheard of 44% strike out rate (392).

    With a week to go in the month, the Braves are approaching big decisions in their staff with pitchers Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd returning from rehab stints. Instead of hoping to bridge to Minor and Floyd’s return, the Braves now look at which of the solid starters could potentially move to the bullpen and what they do with Gavin Floyd altogether. The likeliest option is for David Hale to join the ‘pen, but that, too, leaves out an arm in the ‘pen that has been useful. The Braves now face a problem they couldn’t have anticipated coming out of camp: too many arms. But as these things often go, they tend to work themselves out before a decision has to be made. It certainly is a better position to be in for Atlanta then the one they faced at the start of the season.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch

    With series win, Braves head home to honor Hank

    As Bobby Cox likes to say, it’s the series wins that matter. That was the case over the weekend in the nation’s capital when the Braves took 2 of 3 against the rival Nationals.

    Wood was dominant in his 2nd start, dropping the game despite 7 innings of 2-run ball.

    Wood was dominant in his 2nd start, dropping the game despite 7 innings of 2-run ball.

    Lead by dominant pitching, the Braves once again proved that injuries to Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and now Cory Gearrin will not be the end of their season. Despite the loss handed to Alex Wood in the series finale, a tough one given his strong 7 innings pitched with only 4 hits and 2 earned runs allowed, Wood, Teheran and Hale were on top of their game. They continued a trend of not allowing more than 2 runs–a trend that started for the Braves on Opening Day in Milwaukee.

    Braves’ pitching as an entire staff is 4-2 with a 1.56 ERA in 52 innings pitched. Atlanta’s starters are 1st in the National League with a 3-2 record and 1.63 ERA over 38 2/3 innings. The bullpen holds a 1.35 ERA with 19 strikeouts, 7 holds and 3 saves over 13 1/3 innings pitched. David Hale and Aaron Harang share the lead among the rotation both with a 0.00 ERA. Hale pitched 5 innings of 5-hit ball in the Nats’ home opener. Alex Wood leads the club in strikeouts (9), on his heels is Julio Teheran (8) and closer Craig Kimbrel has made the most of his 3 innings pitched catching up to Atlanta’s starters in strikeouts (6).

    Atlanta’s bullpen may have lost Eric O’Flaherty to free agency and Cory Gearrin to Tommy John surgery as well as continues to wait for Jonny Venters to return from last year’s Tommy John surgery, but that hasn’t stopped them from supporting the efforts of the rotation. Luis Avilan, Craig Kimbrel, Ian Thomas and Jordan Walden have yet to give up a run and have 12 strikeouts between them in 7 innings pitched. In the 1st game of the Washington series, David Carpenter put together one of the best innings of relief we’ve seen so far, striking out 3 after allowing a hit and walk in an inning of work. Carpenter is settling into his role in the ‘pen with the returning relief core (Avilan, Kimbrel and Walden) and the rookies (Schlosser and Thomas). In addition to whatever moves take place with Santana, Minor and Floyd joining the club soon, the Braves went out and snagged Pedro Beato off the waiver wire from the Cincinnati Reds. Beato has a career 4.26 ERA. The 2014 season is his 4th in the big leagues, spending a year with the Orioles, 2 years with the Mets and 1 with the Red Sox, though he has only 25 1/3 innings under his belt. What his role will be is still unclear.

    The biggest concern coming into the season may have been pitching, but that concern has mostly been answered. With strong outing from each of the 4-man rotation and with Santana and Minor joining the rotation soon, the only question is who will be dropped from the rotation or if the Braves will go with a 6-man rotation for any length of time. With pitching mostly settled, the focus turns to offense. With far too many low-scoring games to start the season for a team with the bats of Chris Johnson, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton, the Braves have to wonder when this team will click. In the 2nd game of the series in D.C., the Braves looked most like the team they are on paper. Freeman, both Uptons, Johnson and Teheran each put 2 hits on the board in that game with Doumit (1), Uggla (2), Simmons (1) and Teheran (1) contributing RBIs.

    Not surprisingly, Freddie Freeman leads Atlanta’s offense with a .400 batting average with 8 hits, 2 homers and 2 RBIs. Freeman also has walked 6 times, his on-base percentage now .560. Behind Freeman is Chris Johnson at .304 with 3 doubles. a homer and 2 RBIs. Andrelton Simmons is hitting .300 with 6 hits, 1 double and 2 RBIs.

    The parts of the offense that everyone seems to be watching closely are the very parts that failed last season. The Braves’ strikeout rate is already of concern. B.J. Upton has 11 strikeouts in 25 at-bats, Justin Upton has 10 in 22 at-bats and Jason Heyward has 8 in 23 at-bats. B.J. is 3-for-25 with 1 double and 1 stolen base, hitting .120. At this point of the season, we can hope that Upton is simply off to a slow start. Dan Uggla is 5-for-23  with a .217 average thus far with 2 doubles and 3 RBIs. Uggla has only 5 strikeouts, but has yet to have a walk. Of course after last season there will be extra scrutiny on B.J. and Uggla. However, the early take on the two hitters is that Uggla is hitting the ball hard, but suffering from bad luck with the placement of the fielders. B.J., on the other hand, seems lost at the plate. Evan Gattis also appears to be off to a slow start with a .167 average. Gattis is 2-for-12 with 1 homer, 1 RBI and 6 strikeouts.

    BRAVES RETURN FOR HOME OPENER & TRIBUTE TO HAMMERIN’ HANK…

    New acquisition Aaron Harang will make his home debut in the Braves’ home opener at Turner Field, but the man of the hour will not be any current Atlanta Brave. It will, of course, be Henry Louis Aaron, the Braves home run leader and the man for whom the Braves are wearing a 715 patch on their uniforms this season. Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th home run, surpassing then home run leader Babe Ruth. The Braves are pleased to put the spotlight on Aaron in their first game at home of the 2014 season.

    The Mets are off to a 2-4 start. Their pitching is 13th in the National League with a 4.75 ERA. The Mets’ bullpen is dead last in the league with a 6.75 ERA. New York’s offense is also dead last in the NL in batting average at .178. However, they have scored 6 runs more (21) than the Braves (15).

    Some offensive stats to keep in mind as the Braves host the Mets: Dan Uggla is 2-for-5 against Zack Wheeler with a .400 batting average, a double, a homer and 2 RBIs. Freddie Freeman is 4-for-6 with a .667 with a homer and RBI. B.J. Upton is 1-for-3 (.333) against Wheeler and is one of the few Braves with any experience with Bartolo Colon. Upton is 7-for-23 against Colon with a double, a triple, a homer and 5 RBIs.

    The Mets will send Bartolo Colon (0-1, 4.50) to the mound against Aaron Harang (1-0, 0.00) Tuesday. Zach Wheeler (0-1, 4.50) will toe the rubber against Ervin Santana (0-0, -.–) in his 2014 debut Wednesday. Jennry Mejia (1-0. 1.50) will face off against David Hale (0-0, 0.00) in the series finale Thursday.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves take opening series, on to DC

    With pitching, particularly starting pitching, the biggest concern for the 2014 Atlanta Braves, the opening series on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers showed a rotation that can likely hold on until the cavalry arrives in mid to late April. Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and new Brave Aaron Harang stepped up for the team and proved that they can certainly hold their own until Mike Minor, Erwin Santana and Gavin Floyd join the team.

    Aaron Harang made his Braves debut Wednesday, pitching into the 7th inning without allowing a hit.

    Aaron Harang made his Braves debut Wednesday, pitching into the 7th inning without allowing a hit.

    The Braves leave Milwaukee with 2 out of 3 games in the win column. The rubber match of the series saw the first start of Aaron Harang in a Braves’ uniform. Harang stepped up in a big way, pitching 6 2/3 no-hit innings against Matt Garza who was equally impressive until giving up a solo homer to Chris Johnson. Harang surrendered only 2 hits in his outing, walking 1 and striking out 3. His outing was supported by only 2 hits by his teammates against new Brewer Matt Garza and 1 off the bullpen. One of those hits was a 2-out solo homer by third baseman Chris Johnson that proved the deciding run of the game. In addition to Harang’s brilliant debut, Craig Kimbrel secured his second save of the young season. For their part, the defense was solid behind Harang including 2 incredible plays by Jason Heyward in right field.

    Harang’s dazzling outing came on the heels of Alex Wood’s 2014 debut. Wood was asked to step up in the wake of injuries to Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor. Wood, in the second slot of the rotation, did as he had throughout spring camp by shutting down Brewers’ hitters. With the exception of a first pitch solo homer given up to Carlos Gomez, Wood was solid. He allowed 5 hits, 1 earned run and 3 walks in 7 innings.

    In the second game of the series, the offense stepped up with power behind Alex Wood’s solid outing. Jason Heyward launched a homer off Kyle Lohse in the 5th inning and Freddie Freeman, continuing the torrid offense he put on display in camp, launched 2 homers–the first off Lohse in the 6th inning and then following up with his second off Duke in the 8th inning. Also contributing an RBI was Andrelton Simmons with a sacrifice. Dan Uggla, hoping to have reset himself over the winter, hit 2 doubles in the game, showing that he is much quieter in the batter’s box and is no longer swinging for the fences with every pitch. Wrapping up the 5-2 win over the Brewers was closer Craig Kimbrel with a 3-strikeout save.

    Of the 3 starting pitchers, Opening Day starter Julio Teheran fared the worst, though his outing was just as much affected by a complete lack of offense from his teammates as it was by his pitching. Teheran went 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned runs while striking out 2. Teheran lobbed 55 strikes of his 84 pitches. His control did not seem to be as sharp as we had seen in spring training, but this could be chalked up to Opening Day jitters, the responsibility of being the Opening Day starter or the self-imposed pressure that comes with a big offseason contract.

    After Teheran’s 6 innings, rookies Ian Thomas and Gus Schlosser made their big league debuts. Thomas allowed a hit in the 1/3 inning pitched. Schlosser fared better going 1 2/3 perfect innings with 1 strikeout.

    The team went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left 7 men on base in the opener.

    BRAVES BEGIN WEEKEND SERIES IN NATION’S CAPITAL…

    In the span of 7 days, the Atlanta Braves will have participated in 3 home openers including their own at Turner Field. The second home opener they’ll play in will be that of rival Washington Nationals in D.C. Friday night. After a day off Thursday, the Braves will face the Nats in a 3-game series.

    Tanner Roark will be making the Friday afternoon start in the spot of Doug Fister who was placed on the disabled list by the Nats. Roark and rookie Jordan pitched very well at spring training, but there was only one rotation spot to be had. In the end, new manager Matt Williams was not forced to choose between them due to the injury to Fister. Roark went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA last season for the Nats. Roark went 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings in camp.

    Stephen Strasburg is fresh off a tumultuous start against the Mets on Opening Day where he struck out 10 batters while giving up 4 earned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. The Nationals pulled out that game in 10 innings after the Mets’ bullpen collapsed and gave up 5 runs.

    As is often noted when the Braves face off against Strasburg, Dan Uggla has the best numbers against the fireballer. in 30 plate appearances Uggla has a .407 batting average (.467 on-base percentage, .704 slugging) with 11 hits, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 3 walks and 8 RBIs. Another Brave with outstanding numbers against Strasburg is the hot hitting Freddie Freeman. Freeman holds a .417 batting average against Strasburg in 21 plate appearances with 7 hits and 6 RBIs.

    Jordan, Sunday’s starter, had a strong spring going 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA in 20 2/3 innings pitched. Last season with the Nats, Jordan recorded a 3.66 ERA in a limited 51 2/3 innings. Jordan led all Washington pitchers in spring training, including Strasburg, with 20 strikeouts.

    The Braves will continue their 4-man rotation in D.C., sending rookie David Hale (0-0) to the mound Friday afternoon against Tanner Roark (0-0). Saturday’s night game pits Julio Teheran (0-1, 3.00) against Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 6.00). The final game of the series Sunday features Alex Wood (1-0, 1.29) and Taylor Jordan (0-0).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves prepare for Cubbies. Magic number: 2

    Evan Gattis hit 2 homers in the series finale in Philly. His 1st, in the 2nd inning off Hamels, was estimated to fly 441 feet.

    Evan Gattis hit his 20th HR Tuesday. 8 of Gattis’ 2013 homers have given the Braves a lead.

    The Braves were plowing toward the postseason with teams in their rear view mirror and then September hit. The injury to Jason Heyward was just the beginning of a series of bad luck for Atlanta. Their young pitching, which had been phenomenal, wore down. Their flawless closer has had a few rough games. Their supposedly dynamic outfield never clicked. The bench bats that had been strong for Fredi Gonzalez seemed to all go cold at once. And the bullpen that has survived injuries that would have put any other club in the bottom of the heap from then on, finally showed signs of turmoil.

    Two weeks ago, it looked like Atlanta would easily secure the National League record, however now that the Dodgers have clinched the NL West, it now seems likely that the best record (therefore home field advantage in the playoffs) will be held by the NL Central or West winner. The Braves had lost 5 games straight before getting the win Wednesday against the Nats. They have lost 10 of their past 14 games. Unfortunately, the Braves had twin shutout losses over a period of 3 days.
    The Braves were slated to begin a 3-game series Monday at Nationals Park when news of the shooting at the Navy Yard broke. Monday afternoon when the Braves and Nats would have been heading to the park, the Navy Yard was still an active scene just blocks from the ballpark. The Nats were asked to stay home until told otherwise and eventually Monday’s game was postponed. The Braves and Nationals scheduled the game to be made up Tuesday as a doubleheader. Prior to the first game of that doubleheader, the Nationals observed an extended moment of silence for those who lost their lives and those whose lives were forever changed by Monday’s tragedy. Nationals’ players all held hats with the Navy emblem over their hearts during the national anthem, hats they wore during team warmups.

    The final game of the series, the Braves were able to secure the win, thus dropping their magic number for clinching the NL East to 2. Wednesday’s win also prevented them from being swept while in D.C.

    It wouldn’t be a Braves/Nats game without some fireworks. In the final game, Fredi Gonzalez got tossed after he went out to make sure Wood wasn’t tossed for arguing with home plate umpire CB Bucknor. Wood was irritated with a bad call on a 3-2 pitch and voiced his objection loudly. Once Werth, the batter during the scuffle, walked,  Alex Wood was removed from the game. While leaving the field, he barked at Bucknor, earning his first career ejection. It wasn’t the best moment for the young rookie, but, in his defense, the call was terrible. As the game carried on, Bucknor warned both benches for no apparent reason after Varvaro hit Rendon. We have seen Bucknor make terrible calls before, but this was an all-time low for the ump.

    Homers by Dan Uggla and Justin Upton in the 3-run 6th inning got the Braves in the lead, a lead they held on to. Solid outings from injured Scott Downs and the impressive David Carpenter held the Braves’ lead and Kimbrel entered and ended the game with the 3-run lead in tact.

    Kimbrel had a rough outing in the second game of the doubleheader where he did something he had never done in his previous 224 career appearances. He allowed 3 runs. Kimbrel was scored upon in consecutive appearances for the 1st time since the 3 in-a-row catastrophe April 29th through May 4th of last year.

    Kimbrel had been given every opportunity to get the Braves the win. Evan Gattis stepped into the box in the 8th inning of that game, securing the lead. Gattis homered off of reliever Tyler Clippard who, in 6 appearances against the Braves in 2013, gave up 9 hits, 7 earned runs, 3 homers, 6 walks (for a 11.12 ERA) in 5 2/3 innings pitched.

    A final note on the Nats’ series: Freddy Garcia, despite a brilliant effort, could not secure a win in the doubleheader. Freddy pitched 7 brilliant innings giving up only 7 hits and allowing only 1 run. The veteran surrendered 2 walks and struck out 6 in 84 pitches. Since joining the Braves from the Orioles Triple-A team, Freddy Garcia has pitched 20 2/3 innings, allowed a mere 3 runs, walked 4 and struck out 13. He has a stunning 1.31 ERA with Atlanta.

    BRAVES HEAD TO WRIGLEY FIELD…

    With their magic number down to 2, it would seem likely that the Braves will clinch the NL East while on the northside of Chicago. That said, it looked like they’d clinch the division while in D.C. and clearly that did not happen. The Braves arrive in Chicago with a 90-62 record. The lovable Cubbies sit in the bottom of their division with a record of 64-89.

    One point that the Braves desperately need to improve on in their final games before the playoffs is production off the bench.

    Jordan Schafer is 15-for-92 (.163 average) in the 27 games he has played since returning from the disabled list. Over that span, he has a disappointing .238 on-base percentage. Schafer is 1-for-24 with 4 walks and 10 (10!) strikeouts in his past 9 games. The Braves need Schafer to offer production off the bench going forward, especially with the lack of production from B.J. Upton. Also without Heyward and a lack of production from B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer, the Braves need Reed Johnson to step up in a big way. Reed Johnson has only 2 plate appearances in 2 games since returning from the disabled list on the 17th, but the veteran will need to be the bat he built his reputation on. With Gattis getting more playing time, split between the outfield and catching, there hasn’t been a concern about his offense. However, it would be great to see Gattis out in left field before the next few games taking some pointers from veteran Reed Johnson on positioning and how to best approach various situations. Remembering that he is a catcher, it’s understandable that Gattis has showed some inconsistency on defense while in the outfield.

    Jason Heyward has continued to take batting practice while on the road with the team. It is possible that he could return next week, though he’ll need to face live pitching consecutively first.

    The Braves/Cubs series gets underway Friday with the former Cubbie Maholm (10-10, 4.35) vs. Baker (0-0, 0.82). Saturday’s game will feature Medlen (14-12, 3.32) vs. Wood (9-11, 3.05). And in their final game before returning to Atlanta, Sunday’s game will pit rookie Teheran (12-8, 3.14) vs. Jackson (8-16, 4.75).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves secure 5th consecutive winning season, expand roster

    With a 5th consecutive winning season secured, the Braves look to September call-ups and continued success with a hobbled, somehow successful, starting lineup down the stretch. With their Saturday night win, the Braves sat at 31 games over .500 for the first time since October 2, 2004. The Braves won the Miami series taking 2-of-3 from the Fish.

    Freddy Garcia was called up prior to Sunday's game where he pitched 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

    Freddy Garcia was called up prior to Sunday’s game where he pitched 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

    With rosters expanding across Major League Baseball Sunday, the Braves made a single move. The Braves called up veteran right-handed pitcher Freddy Garcia. Garcia joined another Triple-A Gwinnett player, outfielder Jose Constanza, who was called up when Evan Gattis was sent down before the Miami series began. Garcia’s call-up could not have come at a better time given the meltdown of Alex Wood in his start Sunday. Garcia pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief of Wood, giving up 3 hits and 0 runs. They will likely continue call-ups as the regular season for the Triple-A club comes to a close Monday afternoon. Atlanta is allowed to expand their regular 25-man roster to 38 for the month of September. Fans will see rookie catcher Evan Gattis return to the club at that point. Gattis was sent to Gwinnett to try to right his swing in more consistent at-bat opportunities. Also likely to return when ready is outfielder Reed Johnson who has been battling achilles tendinitis.

    Garcia’s Braves’ debut was exceptional given that his last start at Gwinnett was rocky. In 3 2/3 innings, Garcia gave up 7 hits, 5 walks and allowed 8 runs. For him to enter the game Sunday in relief and pitch 4 2/3 innings of 3-hit, scoreless ball with only 1 walk is pretty impressive. His ability to bounce back after that loss with Gwinnett speaks to his experience as a veteran starter. That experience is precisely why the Braves took a shot on him. Wood’s line, the reason for Garcia’s long relief, was the worst we’ve seen of the young rookie. Wood had allowed just 3 runs on 20 hits in 30 innings pitched in his 5 August starts. He had allowed 6 or fewer hits over that stretch. In August, Alex Wood led the National League in ERA with a dominant 0.90. Behind him were 2 former Cy Young winners (Kershaw, 1.01; and, Greinke, 1.23) and fellow rookie Fernandez (1.11).

    While the Braves are patching together a lineup each night with players whose names some fans aren’t yet familiar with, the team continues to get it done. This series was no exception. Every night it seems to be another guy stepping up in a big way. Sunday we saw Freddy Garcia in long relief, Friday and Saturday we saw usual infielder Elliot Johnson in left field, and Saturday night’s extra-innings extravaganza saw B.J. Upton get a walk-off single and reliever Anthony Varvaro record his first career save. This may be a strange time in Atlanta, but there’s no question that it is fun for the players and the fans.

    One more note on B.J. Upton: In addition to his walk-off single Saturday night, B.J. snapped a string of 142-ABs without a homer. Prior to that homer, his last long ball came on June 15th against the Giants when he put together a 2-homer game. B.J. Upton’s 4 hits were critical in the Braves late-inning win that secured the series win Saturday night. B.J.’s August had high points and low points, but his ability to increase his batting average from .177 to .195 in 17 starts (73 plate appearances) is a sign of life the Braves have been looking for. In the month of August, Upton hit .269 and a .315 on-base percentage. These numbers, aside from the limited number of at-bats, more closely resemble what the Braves expected when they signed the center fielder. Through September, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Upton continue to share time with Schafer in center field.

    The last time an Atlanta Brave won a batting title was in 2008 when Chipper Jones hit a ridiculous .364 in 128 games. Now, in 2013, Chris Johnson has a legitimate chance of winning another batting title from the hot corner with a current average of .333 in 118 games. Johnson leads St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina (.329) as of Sunday night. Johnson took Sunday night off due to leg fatigue/soreness, but provided a pinch hit that gave his average a boost. Prior to this season, the highest finishing batting average for Johnson was .308 with only 98 games played. Despite that strong finish in Houston in 2010, Atlanta has been pleasantly surprised by Johnson’s production. His steady hands at third base and busy bat have taken most of the sting out of losing Martin Prado in the trade that brought Johnson and Justin Upton to the Braves.

    BRAVES HOPE FOR SERIES AGAINST METS SANS X-RAYS…

    It has not been an easy season for the Braves when facing the Mets. Both Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward’s season-ending injuries came when facing the New York Mets. Though Jason Heyward has resumed strength-maintaining workouts, the Braves still won’t have him back until the offseason. Heyward was hit in the face by a Jonathan Niese fastball that broke his jaw in two places. Veteran pitcher Tim Hudson fractured his ankle on a freak play covering first base when Eric Young, Jr. running hard to the bag stepped on Hudson’s lower leg and ankle. Maybe the biggest goal for the Braves in the upcoming series is to make it out of the series without a major injury.

    Speaking of injuries, this week in Buster Olney’s power rankings, the Braves came up 2nd, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers. As has been said here before, it is simply amazing what the Braves have been able to do this season with a constant stream of injuries up and down the roster. Remember, they started the season without Brian McCann who was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. They’ve sustained season-ending injuries to relievers Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Cristhian Martinez, infielder Tyler Pastornicky, and the aforementioned Tim Hudson. In their outfield, they’ve seen injuries to both Uptons, Heyward, Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis. They haven’t had Jordan Walden or Luis Ayala for the entire season. Maholm is just returning from injury. Young ace Brandon Beachy is still dealing with post-Tommy John rehabilitation issues. There were short DL stints for Dan Uggla and Gerald Laird. Even the consistent mainstay Freddie Freeman lost some time. Any other team with this number of injuries would be 20+ games back. How the Braves have done it has truly been to the credit of each guy coming in and picking the team up at just the right time. Instead of nightly highlights featuring the big names, we’ve seen a different name every night. This group of guys truly exemplify what it means to be a team player.

    Though Alex Wood led all NL pitchers in August, the Atlanta starter with the best season ERA is Julio Teheran at 3.01. Teheran is 9th in the NL with that record. His 11-7 record trails only Mike Minor’s 13-5 record for most wins on the club. Julio has been dominant against the New York Mets. Over his 2 starts against the Mets, he has allowed them only 2 runs on 9 hits with 11 strikeouts. Teheran finished August with a record of 4-2 and a 2.80 ERA in 6 starts. He recorded 42 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings pitched. In a league that includes Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller, Teheran has quietly put together a season that is deserving of Rookie of the Year consideration.

    The series opener against the Mets will feature Matsuzaka (0-2, 8.68) vs. Maholm (9-10, 4.37). Tuesday’s game will pit Torres (3-2, 2.77) vs. Medlen (11-12, 3.58). And the final game against the Mets will showcase Gee (10-9, 3.63) vs. Teheran (11-7, 3.01).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

    Braves’ look to build a new streak vs Phils

    Despite a 54-minute rain delay in game 2, Alex Wood pitched 6 shutout innings, allowing only 2 hits.

    Despite a 54-minute rain delay in game 2, Alex Wood pitched 6 shutout innings, allowing only 2 hits and striking out 7. He walked away with the no-decision, bringing his record to 2-2 (2.78 ERA).

    Taking their lucky 13-game hit streak into a series against the last-place Miami Marlins, the Braves had high hopes for carrying through the series. Unfortunately, the Marlins and the weather had other plans. Game 2 snapped the Braves’ winning streak, but Game 3 got the ball rolling again for a hot Atlanta club that now has a 14 1/2-game lead in the National League East and the best record in the league.

    The Braves finished the 3-game set with the Marlins as one of only 6 teams in the National League with a winning percentage over .500 and the only NL team with a percentage above .600. Their .610 winning percentage is the highest in either league. The Braves even have a winning percentage over .500 on the road where they have certainly had their struggles this season, especially in the first half when they had one of the most demanding road schedules in baseball.

    As Kent Covington noted in his piece, the Braves have had the benefit of production from the outfield they thought they had when the team signed the Upton brothers over the winter:

    “Since the All-Star break, in 169 combined at-bats, Heyward and the Uptons are batting .331 with 9 HR and 27 RBI (BJ Upton missed 17 games over this stretch due to injury). Only 4 stolen bases between the three of them over that span, but with so much power up and down the lineup and the offense humming at the moment, why risk running into outs?”

    The outfield isn’t the only part of the Braves’ roster that is firing on all cylinders. Despite some of the biggest blows to any pitching staff, including the season-ending injuries to dominant relievers Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty as well as a grizzly play that saw Tim Hudson carted off the field for the season, Braves pitching has been electrifying. When the starting rotation has faltered, a rare occurrence, the lights-out bullpen has picked it up. David Carpenter, Luis Avilan and Jordan Walden have been a brilliant bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel on any given night.

    What the 14-game winning streak signaled to all of baseball, especially the young guys in the clubhouse who have heard otherwise, is that this team is built for the postseason.

    BRAVES FACE FIGHTIN’ PHILS…

    As the Phillies arrive at Turner Field, the Braves have a runaway lead in the NL East. However, the Phillies are attempting to keep pace with the Nationals and Mets. With a 52-65 record, on paper the Phillies can hardly compete with the 72-46 Braves. However, you can count on the Phillies doing everything in their power to make sure the Braves take their lumps, too.

    The Braves have Jordan Schafer back from the disabled list, a needed bench bat and outfield replacement. The timing of Schafer’s return may be very important given the hamstring trouble of Justin Upton who called his own bunt play in game 3 and came up with a gimpy hamstring. Upton’s bat has been a huge part of the Braves’ recent success and is important to get back in the lineup quickly. The same can be said for catcher Brian McCann who hasn’t played since pinch-hitting on the 10th due a sore right knee.

    A high point going forward is the return of Brandon Beachy’s command. It’s quite possible that his velocity won’t return entirely to normal until spring of 2014, as it takes at least 18 months to fully recover from “Tommy John” surgery (Beachy had the surgery in June of 2012).

    Monday’s game will feature Hamels (4-13, 3.81) vs. rookie Teheran (9-5, 2.96). Tuesday’s game will pit Martin (1-1, 6.75) vs. Medlen (9-10, 3.85). The final game of the series before the Braves again welcome the Nats will feature former Nat Lannan (3-5, 4.81) vs. Beachy (1-0, 5.00).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.

     

    Hudson injury dampens Mets series, Braves head home for Cards

    In what should have been a terrific series for the Braves to continue their dominance in the National League East, the Braves watched as veteran ace Tim Hudson pitched a gem that ended suddenly with a freak accident. To say that the Braves were shaken by the injury to Hudson would be an understatement given Hudson’s role as a veteran leader in the clubhouse. Unfortunately, the Braves will face the remainder of the season without the ace.

    Following the injury and the news that Tim’s right ankle, his push off foot, was fractured and would require surgery once swelling subsided, his wife Kim tweeted the following:

    The response not just of his teammates, but of Mets’ players including Eric Young, Jr. who actually stepped on Hudson’s leg as he hit the first base bag, was moving the night of the injury. Matching it was the reaction online of current and former players across baseball from teammates Freddie Freeman, Alex Wood to former players Dale Murphy, Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine and even Burt Blyleven. Baseball writers Jon Morosi, Buster Olney and Jayson Stark all commented on how valuable Hudson is in the clubhouse and how fierce he is as a competitor. In fact, friends, fans and teammates alike all referred to Tim Hudson as a great guy before mentioning his skill as a player.

    Prior to the bizarre incident on the first base bag, Hudson was pitching the best game of his 2013 season. In 7 2/3 innings, Hudson gave up 4 hits, 2 earned runs, walked 3 batters and struck out 9. With the season-ending surgery, he will have put together an 8-7 record with a 3.97 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and just shy of 100 strikeouts. Given some of the struggles he endured in the first half, Hudson finishes his injury-shortened season strong. He had a rocky June, going 0-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 6 starts, but had turned his season around in July where he went 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 3 starts.

    One point worth noting is that this was Hudson’s final season under contract with the Braves. At his age, 38, and the extent of his injury, there is the possibility that he won’t be back in a Braves uniform, if a big league uniform at all. Braves fans everywhere are wishing that not to be the case and sincerely wishing Huddy a speedy recovery.

    Hudson was the story of the series, but here are a few notes on the series:

    • The Braves took 2-of-4 in New York, bringing their season record to 57-45. The Braves lost 4-of-7 on the road, pushing them to 25-30 on the road this season.
    • Alex Wood made a spot start for the injured Paul Maholm in the season finale, notching a no-decision after going 4 1/3 innings, giving up 8 hits, 4 earned runs and striking out 5.
    • Shortstop Andrelton Simmons Simmons now has more homers with 11 than Freddie Freeman (10), Heyward (7) and B.J. Upton (8).
    • Dan Uggla hit his 21st home run of the season off Zach Wheeler. Uggla leads the club in homers.
    • After being helped out by an incredible defensive play by Jason Heyward preventing the tying run and perhaps the winning run in the 9th inning of the 2nd game of the series, Craig Kimbrel recorded his 28th save of 2013 (3rd most in the NL).
    • In the game that saw Tim Hudson go down, Evan Gattis hit his first home run since returning to the Braves lineup with an injured oblique. It was El Oso Blanco’s 15th home run of the season.

    BRAVES OPEN HOME STAND AGAINST CARDINALS…

    The Cardinals, fresh off a sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies will arrive in Atlanta for a 3-game weekend series that kicks off the Braves’ home stand.

    Brandon Beachy was solid in his recent outing with the Gwinnett Braves.

    Brandon Beachy was solid in his recent outing with the Gwinnett Braves.

    After the series in New York, the question everybody is asking is what’s next for the rotation? It cannot be said frequently enough how important pitching depth in a big league system is.

    The night that Tim Hudson was injured, Brandon Beachy pitched at Triple-A Gwinnett. His numbers were exceptional, pitching 6 innings, giving up 2 hits and 1 earned run on 99 pitches. Prior to needing Tommy John surgery just shy of last year’s all-star break, Beachy held a league-leading 2.00 ERA in his 13 starts. Brandon Beachy will make his 2013 debut on Monday in the place of Hudson.

    If Alex Wood can start again in the place of Maholm while he remains on the disabled list, the Braves have enough arms with Beachy back. However, how well this rotation can pitch is another matter. Kris Medlen had more or less prepared himself for a trip back to the bullpen after his last three starts. Over his last 3 starts, Medlen went 0-3 with an 8.59 ERA. Paul Maholm had been inconsistent in his last several outings, putting up an 0-3 record with a 10.13 ERA in his last 3 stars. The best news was that Tim Hudson was turning around his season. That leaves Minor and Teheran who have been the most consistent pitchers in the rotation and perhaps two of the better pitchers in the league. The Braves’ rotation was in a good position among the NL. For that to continue, Maholm and Medlen must straighten out their issues and Beachy will need to be the Beachy of old. Atlanta’s front office will now be focusing on a starter prior to next week’s trade deadline, either instead of or coinciding with looking for a bullpen arm.

    Now for the pitching match ups against the St. Louis Cardinals. Friday’s game will feature Wainwright (13-5, 2.44) vs. Minor (9-5, 2.98) and will air on MLB Network. Saturday’s game, telecast on FOX, will feature Kelly (1-3, 3.88) vs. Teheran (7-5, 3.25). The series finale on Sunday will air on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and will feature Miller (10-6, 2.77) vs. Medlen (6-10, 3.78).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.

    Win against SF pits Beachy-less Braves against Mets

    The Braves will be without Brandon Beachy for their 5-game set against the Mets. They'd hoped to start him in the 1st game of doubleheader.

    The Braves will be without Brandon Beachy for their 5-game set against the Mets. They’d hoped to start him in the 1st game of the Tuesday doubleheader.

    The Atlanta Braves wrapped a 3-game series at Turner Field against the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants with one question on their minds: What will the pitching schedule be against the New York Mets? The Braves were waiting for the final game against the Giants to make an announcement about who would be pitching in one of the doubleheader games Tuesday after ace Brandon Beachy struggled in his most recent rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett with inflammation/fluid in his repaired pitching elbow. That decision is Alex Wood. Atlanta will welcome the Mets for an unusual 5-game series, making up for weather-postponed games earlier in the season at Citi Field.

    Before we can focus on how the series against the Mets will pan out, a recap of the weekend series against the Giants:

    Game 1:

    W: Bumgarner (6-4) L: Medlen (3-7)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Giants 1 1 1 0 1 0 2 0 0 6 11 1
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0

    Medlen wasn’t sharp, but once again he received no run support. This seems to be the story of Medlen’s season. While Minor has cited run support as a big part of his success this season, Medlen could easy decry the offense for leaving him in a lurch. Medlen was pitching with the added pressure of not knowing which of the starters might be sent to the ‘pen with the looming return of ace Brandon Beachy. Medlen had said repeatedly that he didn’t want to return to the ‘pen after much success as a starter last season. However, the two odd men out appeared to be Kris Medlen and Paul Maholm.

    The Braves continue to lead the National League in strikeouts (615) and are tied with Colorado in home runs (91). Those two stats seem to be a huge part of the problem with run support for Medlen. In his starts, he has all too often seen his team record strikeouts and not home runs. The Braves have struggled in games that they haven’t hit a home run, winning only 4 games in which a home run isn’t put on the board.  Medlen has also watching his team be shut out more in his starts than anyone else in the rotation, 3 shut outs, something that has become a trend for the Braves. In half of Medlen’s starts, the Braves have scored 2 or fewer runs.

    Game 2:

    W: Kimbrel (2-1) L: Romo (3-3)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Giants 0 0 3 0 2 0 0 0 0 5 11 1
    Braves 0 1 0 1 0 2 0 0 2 6 11 2

    The two big stories to come out of the second game of the series were the 2 homers by B.J. Upton and the crazy 9th inning that saw the Braves tie up the game and go on to win it on a walk-off single by first baseman Freddie Freeman.

    In his last 7 games, B.J. Upton is hitting .273 with 6 hits, 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 strike outs, 3 walks, a .360 on-base percentage and .636 slugging. His average is up almost 10 ticks in a week. This is a very good sign for the outfielder and the Braves who have been patient as he has worked diligently to regain his swing. Something else that is noteworthy in his last 7 games is that he has stolen 2 bases and scored 3 runs. These are both things that the Braves expected from B.J. Upton when they signed him.

    While Freddie Freeman is currently 5th among 1st basemen in All Star balloting, he continues to lead the Braves offense and put his ballerina-like defense on display. Freddie finished game 2 of the series with an unbelievable .407 average with 2-outs and runners in scoring position. That puts him 7th in the National League in that category. He is now 2nd in the NL with a .446 with RISP.

    Game 3:

    W: Teheran (5-3) L: Lincecum (4-7) SV: Kimbrel (19)

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

    The difference between Julio Teheran in the 2013 season versus when he was first put in the rotation in 2012 was no more obvious than in the final inning of Teheran’s 6-inning outing last night. Teheran allowed back-to-back singles to Posey and Pence before striking out Belt and Torres with those runners on. He allowed another single to Arias, increasing the pressure of the pinch he’d pitched into, but was able to get Noonan to pop-up to get out of the inning. While Julio Teheran can dominate on his good days, just as he had in 2012, he can now pitch out of situations that would get the better of him last season.

    Teheran notched 8 strike outs before turning the game over to Avilan, Walden and Kimbrel who kept the shutout of the Giants intact while striking out 4 batters collectively. Kimbrel recorded his 19th save of the season, tying him with Mujica of the Cardinals for 2nd in the NL in saves behind Grilli of the Pirates who has an unreal 25 saves before the all-star break.

    The Braves did not tally a home run in the game, looking more like a small ball team than they have most of the season when their power bats have led the way.

    BRAVES BEGIN 5-GAME SET WITHOUT BEACHY…

    While the plan was to use Brandon Beachy for the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the ace’s recent setback at Triple-A Gwinnett threw a wrench in the plans of Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren. Beachy has fluid on his pitching elbow, the elbow repaired by Tommy John surgery last summer. This leaves the Braves with a predicament they haven’t experienced yet this year–who to bring from the Triple-A Gwinnett or out of the bullpen to start in his place. The likely choice was Alex Wood and the Braves have now announced that he will get his first big league start on Tuesday. Wood was called up in May, his contract bought from the Double-A Mississippi Braves, to help in the beat-up bullpen.

    Alex Wood’s numbers with Double-A Mississippi:

    Team W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO GO/AO AVG
    MIS 4 2 1.26 10 10 57.0 41 10 8 1 15 57 1.63 .195

    It’s worth noting that Major League Baseball has changed the roster allowance this season so that teams can pick up a 26th man for a day with a doubleheader. For Fredi Gonzalez, you have to assume he will be going with an extra reliever in the event that Alex Wood comes out of the game early or the game goes into extra innings.

    One another note about the 5-game set: Zack Wheeler will be making his big league debut for the Mets against Maholm. Wheeler is from the Atlanta area. Wheeler has had 12 starts in Triple-A with a 4.14 ERA. Wheeler was the 6th overall pick in the 2009 draft by the San Francisco Giants and made his way to the Mets in the Carlos Beltran trade. One of the highest-praised prospects in baseball, his rise to the big leagues was slowed this season when he experienced soreness in his right clavicle.

    While a question mark looms for the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Mets in terms of what the Braves will get out of Alex Wood, the rest of the pitching match ups are as follows: Monday’s game will feature Gee (5-6, 4.84) vs. Hudson (4-6, 4.41); the Mets will send Harvey (5-1, 2.04) vs. a pitcher TBD in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader; the second game of the doubleheader will feature Wheeler (0-0, 0.00) vs. Maholm (7-5, 3.65); Wednesday’s game will pit Marcum (0-8, 5.43) vs. Medlen (3-7, 3.09); and, the final game of the 5-game set features Niese (3-6, 4.15) vs. Minor (8-2, 2.68).

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

     

    Braves split interleague series, gear up for Nats

    Juan Francisco was designated for assignment, giving Chris Johnson full-time duties at third base.

    Juan Francisco was designated for assignment, giving Chris Johnson full-time duties at third base.

    In an unusual interleague series that began north of the border and concluded in Atlanta, the Braves took one game in Toronto and one game at home, splitting the series with the Blue Jays.

    Game 1 (Toronto):

    Perhaps the only highlight of the Blue Jays rout of the Braves to begin the series was the 2-run blast by Evan Gattis who continues to impress all of Major League Baseball with his power and versatility.

    Tim Hudson has been terrible on the road of late, but his road woes are not all of the story. He has allowed 19 earned runs over his last 19 2/3 innings pitched.

    Young Cory Rasmus came out of the bullpen in the 7th and something happened that hasn’t happened since 2010–he faced his older brother Colby. The last time this happened in MLB was in 2010 when Jeff and Jered Weaver faced each other. It was not a sharp outing for Cory who gave up 3 runs in 2 innings.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 3 8 1
    Blue Jays 0 2 2 0 0 2 3 0 x 9 11 0

    W: Buehrle (2-3) L: Hudson (4-4)

    Game 2 (Toronto):

    Brian McCann is back and there is no denying that when he is right, he is one of the best hitting catchers in the big leagues. McCann had his first multi-homer game of the 2013 season at the Rogers Centre. It was the 9th multi-homer game of his career. His second homer of the game game in the 10th inning and proved to be the winning run of the game for Atlanta. McCann’s 2 homers were not the only for the Braves. Gattis and Schafer also went yard. Gattis and McCann had swapped duties in game 2–one catching and the other serving as designated hitter.

    It just wasn’t Maholm’s night. In the 1st inning of the game, he had very little command of his fastball and was unable to hit his spots. For a pitcher like Maholm, who simply doesn’t have the velocity to blow it by batters, there was no hiding how poorly his pitches were and the hard-hitting Blue Jays capitalized. Maholm’s 1st inning behind him, he did settle in. When he handed the game over to the bullpen, Avilan, Gearrin and Kimbrel were able to hold the Blue Jays scoreless. This was a good sign for the bullpen that has struggled since the loss of O’Flaherty and was a sign of things to come in game 3 when they picked up Kris Medlen.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
    Braves 3 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 7 12 1
    Blue Jays 4 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 6 12 2

    W: Gearrin (2-1) L: Weber (0-1) SV: Kimbrel (16)

    Game 1 (Atlanta):

    The Braves recorded their 7th shutout loss of the 2013 season. Strikeouts were once again an issue for the offense. The Braves have now struck out at least 10 times in 24 of their first 52 games. The Braves have an amazing record of 29-6 when they record at least 1 homer. They are 2-15 on the season when a home run isn’t recorded.

    After Medlen was hit by the line drive, the bullpen was solid. For perhaps the first time since the loss of O’Flaherty to Tommy John surgery, the ‘pen was able to buckle down, work together and get the Braves through the remainder of the game scoreless. Though the Braves didn’t get the win, this loss fell on the shoulders of the offense and not the ‘pen.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Blue Jays 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 8 0
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 2

    W: Perez (1-0) L: Medlen (1-6) SV: Janssen (11)

    Game 2 (Atlanta):

    Prior to the final game against the Blue Jays, the Braves announced that they had designated Juan Francisco (3B) for assignment to make room on the roster for relief pitcher Alex Wood. Francisco will now either be traded, claimed off of waivers or released. Francisco went 3-for-30 with 14 K’s in his last 11 games with the Braves. In that time, he did not record an RBI. For the season, he was batting .241 with 5 homers and a whopping 43 strikeouts. He had a terrible average of .159 in May.

    The Braves required an extra arm in the bullpen for the final game of the series after the ‘pen had to step in and pitch 7 innings after Medlen was hit by a line drive in the first game in Atlanta. The Braves purchased the contract of Alex Wood from the Mississippi Braves. Wood faced the minimum in a scoreless 9th inning. He was called up less than 24 hours before making his first big league start in Atlanta.

    Mike Minor continued a great start to the season with another solid outing. Minor pitched 7 innings, giving up 6 hits, 3 runs, 2 of them earned, no walks and 5 strikeouts.

    Simmons had committed five errors in the 92 career games he’d played entering Friday. He’s committed 3 in the 7 games that have followed. Simmons went 43 games w/o an error but now has three in 7 games, this one opening door for three runs in the sixth. Tied up 3-3

    Two offensive highlights from the game came from Reed Johnson and Ramiro Pena. Johnson belted his 1st home run as a Brave. His 2-run homer was his 5th career pinch hit homer. Pena had a career-high 4 RBIs in the game as he started in the place of the resting Dan Uggla.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Blue Jays 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 3 7 1
    Braves 1 1 1 0 0 3 3 2 x 11 16 1

    W: Minor (7-2) L: Dickey (4-7)

    HERITAGE WEEKEND PITS BRAVES AGAINST RIVAL NATS…

    Following the split series with the Blue Jays and the Nationals’ loss to the Orioles, the Braves have a 5 1/2 game lead on the Nats in the NL East.

    Despite the loss, the first game of the split-series in Atlanta was a good sign for Atlanta’s bullpen. Carpenter, who Braves’ fans haven’t seen much of, pitched 3 scoreless innings in relief. He could very well become the long man in the ‘pen in the absence of Cristhian Martinez. If he can be a reliable arm for Fredi Gonzalez to turn to in tight spots, that will surely help with the bullpen situation. Jordan Walden appears healthy. He hit 97 mph on the strikeout that ended the 8th inning. His velocity returning, without the prior soreness, puts him in a good position to be the setup man for Craig Kimbrel.

    The Braves are in a precarious situation with B.J. Upton as he attempts to get himself right. BJ Upton is batting .148/.236/.252. We’re a third through the season and he has just 8 RBI. In game 2 in Atlanta, B.J. Upton was quite obviously frustrations when he threw his bat and his helmet striking out for the second time in as many at bats in the game. He had been held out of the lineup for several games as he worked with hitting coaches Walker and Fletcher to try to get his swing right. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that he is on the right track. B.J. Upton is qualified worst in the National League in strikeouts with 1 K for every 2.9 plate appearances. In a strange twist, Jordan Schafer, who was a huge disappointment to the Braves in his first stint with the team, has been one of Atlanta’s hottest hitters. In addition to his surprising offense, he has been a solid defender in the outfield with Justin Upton and Jason Heyward.

    The big stories of May have come via the younger guys on the roster. Mike Minor and Julio Teheran’s combined in May to go 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA in their combined 10 starts. Between them they had 55 strikeouts in 69 innings. Rookie Evan Gattis had 17 hits, 6 homers and 16 RBIs in 62 plate appearances in May. He has a .298 batting average with one day left of May. Chris Johnson, who becomes the everyday third baseman with Juan Francisco DFA’d, had 14 hits, 5 RBIs and a .304 average in 50 plate appearances in May. And quietly, Freddie Freeman has had a torrid May. In 114 plate appearances, he has 32 hits, 19 RBIs, a .305 batting average and a .360 on-base percentage.

    Beginning today and going through Sunday is the Atlanta Braves Heritage Weekend at Turner Field. The event pays tribute to the rich heritage in the Atlanta area and includes a Champions of Justice Discussion Panel today, focusing on the role of sports in civil rights. Saturday’s game will pay tribute to the Negro Leagues and will again feature the Atlanta Black Crackers throwback uniforms that the Braves sported earlier in the season. The Nationals will wear the uniform of the Homestead Grays.

    Atlanta Braves Heritage Weekend will feature Strasburg (3-5, 2.49) vs. Teheran (3-1, 3.67) Friday night. Saturday night’s game appearing nationally on FOX will feature Gonzalez (3-3, 3.90) vs. Hudson (4-4, 5.37). Sunday afternoon’s finale will feature Karns (0-0, 6.23) vs. Maholm (6-4, 3.74).

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