• Chris Johnson

    Braves wrap up the season, prepare for October

    While the Braves were unable to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Braves 96-66 record secured the NL East and second seed going into the postseason. The Braves will have home field advantage against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, the first game of which begins Thursday in Atlanta.

    Before the posteason gets underway, let’s look back at the 2013 season and just how the Braves were able to take back the NL East.

    The Surprises (Good and Bad)

    The brothers Upton were quite often a disappointment in their first full season in uniform for the Atlanta Braves.

    While Justin Upton largely lived up to expectations, it was a nightmarish 2013 campaign for big brother BJ.

    • The brothers Upton were two of the most hyped players this past off season. The $75 million contract given to B.J. Upton was the biggest free agent signing in Atlanta Braves history and the trade for Justin Upton sent the beloved Martin Prado and key prospect Randall Delgado to the Diamondbacks. As it turned out, B.J. brought very little offense to the Braves, finishing the season with a horrible .184 average with 151 strikeouts in 391 at-bats. His average, RBIs (26), hits (72), stolen bases (12), homers (9) and walks (44) were all career lows for B.J.

      Justin fared considerably better, finishing the season with a .263 average with 27 homers, 70 RBIs and 8 SBs. His average was the lowest since his 2008 season and dropped from the .280 of the 2012 season. There wasn’t just room for improvement in Upton’s offense, either. He had some strange lapses defensively that made fans cringe. However, there is a high ceiling for this young man and nobody believes he has hit it yet.

    • Freddy Garcia was one of the more surprising trades made by Frank Wren this season. In many ways, it was an important and timely in the 2013 season as the Ben Sheets pickup was in the 2012 season. Both brought to a young rotation veteran leadership and to the team key wins during times of injury to others on the staff. In 3 starts, Garcia had a 2-1 record with a stunning 1.83 ERA. In those 19 2/3 innings, he allowed only 18 hits, 4 earned runs, 1 homer, 4 walks and struck out 16. Prior to joining the rotation, Garcia also provided relief out of the ‘pen, notching an 0-1 record in 7 2/3 innings with an 1.17 ERA. Garcia became a great long man out of the ‘pen in his first games with the club. Garcia will likely be a key component of the 4-man rotation going into the playoffs.
    • The cost was high to acquire Justin Upton, however, the Braves had no idea what they were receiving in Chris Johnson. Coming out of spring training in a platoon pairing with Juan Francisco, Johnson won the position at third base in his own right and has worked hard to prove that he was as important as Upton and a more than adequate replacement at the hot corner in the wake of the retirement of Chipper Jones. Until the last 4-5 days of the season, Johnson lead the NL batting title race. Johnson finished the regular season with a .321 average (3rd best in the NL), .358 on-base percentage and .457 slugging. He had 165 hits, 34 doubles and 12 homers with 29 walks. Additionally, his fielding was better than expected at 3B. He finished the season with 14 errors at the hot corner for a .951 fielding average.
    • Dan Uggla had been a disappointment to Braves’ fans since his signing in 2011, but never as much as he was this season. Uggla finished the season with a .179 average, only 80 hits, 55 RBIs and 22 homers. The sticking point seems to be his strikeout rate, though. In 446 at-bats, Uggla recorded 170 strikeouts. His Lasik surgery several weeks ago in preparation for the postseason doesn’t seem to have had an effect on his ability to hit consistently. Uggla won’t be eligible for free agency until 2016.

    The Rookies

    • Rookie pitchers David Hale and Alex Wood were a great surprise for a pitching staff that suffered injuries in the second half. Like Freddy Garcia, Hale and Wood stepped in when injuries to Paul Maholm, Tim Hudson and the ongoing struggles of Brandon Beachy became an issue for Atlanta. In 2 starts, Hale posted a 1-0 record over 11 innings with a 0.82 ERA. He allowed 11 hits, 1 walk and struck out 14. Alex Wood deserves credit for getting the Braves through a terrible stretch when the future of their rotation was in doubt. Wood was called on to start at the end of July and over 10 starts, he posted a 6-4 record with a 3.57 ERA over 53 innings. He allowed 57 hits, 21 ER, 19 walks and struck out 49 batters.
    • When it was announced that Evan Gattis would be on the 25-man roster right out of spring training, there was a question of whether he would stay on the roster when Brian McCann returned. Evan Gattis never questioned it. He burst onto the scene with his power and showed better than expected defense behind the plate. He also stepped into the outfield when asked and helped fill the void when the walking wounded could best describe Atlanta’s outfield. El Oso Blanco finished the regular season with a .243 average, .281 OBP, .480 slugging, 21 homers and 65 RBIs. Perhaps the biggest impact Gattis had for the Braves came in the clutch. 9 of Evan Gattis’ 21 home runs gave Atlanta the lead and 4 of his homers were of the game-tying variety. He finished the season 1st in RBI (65), 2nd in HR (21), 3rd in slugging (.477) and 4th in extra-base hits (42) among National League rookies.
    • Julio Teheran may be the most impressive rookie pitcher to come along since Craig Kimbrel. The way Teheran pitched this season must be the way the front office expected him to pitch all along when they agreed to send Randall Delgado to Arizona for Justin Upton. Teheran showed moments of absolute brilliance this season, but overall was one of the most consistent pitchers in the rotation. Teheran finished the regular season with a 14-8 record and an impressive 3.20 ERA. Prior to the final weeks of the season, the rookie led the rotation with the lowest ERA, but was surpassed by Medlen. In his 185 2/3 innings pitched this season, Teheran notched 182 strikeouts while allowing 45 walks. In addition to the traditional stats that are cited for pitchers, Teheran helped the Braves tie with the Tigers and Blue Jays for the most pickoffs in MLB this season with 18.

    The Consistent Core

    • Freddie Freeman pulled even with Chris Johnson at a .321 average briefly during game 162. However, the average is only part of the reason Freddie Freeman is a candidate for NL MVP this season. As a final vote all-star, Freddie provided the Braves offense with pop, consistency and leadership. His famous hugs kept the clubhouse light and the boys on the bench smiling. His numbers are worthy of MVP consideration. Freddie finished the season with a .319 average, .396 OBP, and .501 slugging. He finished the season with 176 hits, 27 doubles, 23 homers and a team-leading 109 RBIs. Also, Freddie hit .443 (58-for-131) with 84 RBI with runners in scoring position this season. If there is justice in baseball, Freeman will win the Gold Glove for first basemen this season as well.
    • There is no getting around the fact that Craig Kimbrel is one the most dominant and consistent closers in the game. Since the all-star break, hitters are 15-for-107 (.140) against the closer. Kimbrel finished the season with an NL-best 50 saves, 1.23 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and a whopping 98 K’s in 66 innings. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kimbrel snag away a few votes for NL Cy Young this season. As the anchor of a bullpen that lost two key pieces–Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty to Tommy John surgeries–Kimbrel never missed a beat.
    • The most consistent member of the rotation this season was without a doubt Mike Minor. In his sophomore season, Minor stepped up in a big way for a rotation that faced its share of adversity. Without Beachy, with injuries to Maholm and Hudson late in the season, the terrible first half of Medlen and the inexperience of Teheran, Minor’s season was needed. Minor finished the season with a 13-9 record and a 3.21 ERA in 204 2/3 innings pitched (10th most innings in the league). He recorded 181 strikeouts, allowed 73 runs and surrendered 22 home runs.

     

    BRAVES OPEN NLDS AGAINST L.A. AT HOME…

    Despite a decisive win in the NL East and a successful season, the Braves are not without problems that must be addressed or worked with going into the NLDS. The biggest problem for the Braves over the past 7 games, not unlike the rest of their season, is that they’ve had 3 or fewer hits 3 times in that span and 10 or more hits 4 times. The discrepancy in hits has certainly led to far too many shutouts and close games. How the Braves can assure scored runs can be addressed on a player-by-player basis.

    First, the biggest question facing manager Fredi Gonzalez about his offense is whether or not he start B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla in the NLDS. Though Fredi has said that he’s had more fun the past few days than the last few months, the issue of his two struggling fielders has got to be on his mind. The two highest paid players on the roster are also the team’s two biggest liabilities. Uggla has gone 4-for-28 with 15 strikeouts in his past 10 games, nothing to be excited about. Upton, who hasn’t started back-to-back games since the 15th of September, has gone 0-for-16 with 9 strikeouts in his past 10 games. Both players have suitable replacements at their positions in Elliot Johnson and Jason Heyward (with an assist from Evan Gattis in left field). It would seem that starting either of them in the NLDS would be risky and starting them both in the same lineup would be catastrophic.

    It would seem that the questions in the bullpen can be helped by Alex Wood and Paul Maholm joining the ‘pen for the playoffs. After breaking his finger, Scott Downs has been terrible in relief, leaving the need for reinforcements. Jordan Walden, mired throughout the season by various injuries, is not a lock for the playoff roster. The Braves plan to have Walden throw an inning or more in the instructional league or a simulation game before deciding if he will be on the postseason roster. It would seem that we’ve seen the last of both Kameron Loe and David Hale for the season. How Fredi will juggle the arms that are available remains to be seen, however this has been the story of the season for the ‘pen and they have weathered much more adversity than this.

    A few injuries to keep an eye on, both for fans and Fredi: Chris Johnson has been dealing with a jammed right shoulder since a diving play Thursday. He missed the final game of the season with this issue, but has said he will be fine for the first game of the NLDS on Thursday. Also, Brian McCann left Thursday’s game with a right adductor strain, a slight hip injury, and was listed as day-to-day. He was available to pinch hit–the injury simply makes squatting problematic. He has been resting since the initial injury and will hopefully we able to play in the NLDS.

    Kris Medlen is slated to start game 1 of the NLDS. Medlen has a record of 5-0 with an 1.05 ERA in his past 5 home starts. In those 5 starts, he has 29 K’s, 4 BB and 1 HR allowed (34 1/3 innings). Over his past 9 starts, Medlen is 6-2 with a 1.37 ERA. In addition to turning his season around entirely in the second half of the season and catching fire the last 9 starts, Kris Medlen is now in uncharted territory in terms of innings pitched at 197. His previous season high was 138 last season after his return from Tommy John surgery. Medlen finished the season with a 15-12 record and a 3.11 ERA. The rest of the rotation should line up behind Medlen with Minor, Teheran and Garcia.

    A key player to watch is Jason Heyward. On Thursday, Heyward went 4-for-4 with a homer and 3 doubles. Those 4 hits matched a career high (5th time) and his 4 extra-base hits were also a career high. His 10 total bases matched the team season high recorded by Justin Upton in April. Since returning from the jaw injury suffered in New York, Heyward has hit .308 going 8-for-26 with 3 double, 1 homer, 3 walks and an RBI. When playing center, Heyward has hit .290 with 4 doubles, 3 homers and 10 RBI (versus .250 as a right fielder). In the lead off spot this season, Heyward has hit .333, going 38-for-114 with 9 doubles, 6 homers and 16 RBIs. It wouldn’t be surprising to see J-Hey in the lead off spot every game of the NLDS and in center field to start with B.J. Upton as a defensive replacement possibly.

    As it is currently scheduled, the Braves will begin NLDS play on TBS on Thursday in Atlanta with game 2 Friday night before the teams travel to L.A. for a Sunday game. Currently no times have been posted for these games.

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

    Braves avoid sweep, reset for visiting Tribe

    St. Louis and Atlanta have a recent history of rivalry dating back to the collapse in 2011 when the Braves lost the Wild Card to the Cardinals on the last night of the regular season. Added to that disappointment was the chaotic one-game Wild Card game of 2012 that hinged on a blown infield fly call. There is no love lost between these two teams. However, the Braves arrived in St. Louis with a team that didn’t like it could compete. Losing the series, 1 win to their 3, the Braves were more than happy to get on the plane back to the ATL where they have an off day before facing the Cleveland Indians for a 3-game series.

    Atlanta’s worst fears were realized in New York when Jason Heyward was nailed by a fastball that fractured the right side of his jaw in two places. After surgery in Atlanta, Heyward is set to miss the rest of the regular season. He will hopefully be in shape to return for the postseason, if the Braves make it. The question of if the Braves will make it to the playoffs seemed silly just 4 days ago, but their visit to St. Louis was an eye-opener. The 15 1/2 game lead the Braves had in the division is now 13 games. They were a lock for the NL East division win. Hopefully without Heyward they can hold on.

    There have been other injuries that have felt crippling for the Braves’ lineup. In addition to Heyward, the Braves still don’t have Dan Uggla and while in St. Louis, batting crown contender Chris Johnson injured his toe stepping on a base. Johnson missed the final game of the series with turf toe. Johnson’s bat has been the most consistent in the lineup and the Braves need him healthy quickly.

    One thing the Braves are looking forward to, somewhat surprisingly, is the return of Dan Uggla who recently had Lasik surgery to correct his vision. He will play in two rehab games Monday and Tuesday and then join the big club on Wednesday. Given that the Braves are playing with a lineup that resembles a split-squad spring training game, having Uggla’s bat back in the lineup might help the struggling offense. In his absence, the Braves have had immediate returns with Elliot Johnson who was acquired off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. He contribute 2 hits in his first game with the Braves, snapping an 0-for-31 drought.

    The Braves acquired RHP Freddy Garcia from the Orioles for cash. Garcia had been pitching with Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate.

    The Braves acquired RHP Freddy Garcia from the Orioles for cash. Garcia had been pitching with Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate.

    In 10 starts with the Orioles, Garcia went 3-5 with a 5.77 ERA (53 innings). Once the Orioles decided Garcia didn’t fit into their young rotation, they sent him to Triple-A Norfolk where he went 8-3 in 13 starts with a respectable 2.84 ERA. Garcia’s trade was arranged by Baltimore’s GM Dan Duquette who realized Garcia would not have a starting job with the big club and appreciated the veteran starter’s career enough to part ways. The Braves could benefit from the 15-year veteran’s presence, especially in the postseason, given that the oldest member of the starting staff is the 31-year-old Paul Maholm who doesn’t have any postseason experience. The acquisition of Garcia came on the heels of news that Brandon Beachy would be returning to see Dr. James Andrews who performed his Tommy John surgery. Beachy has been placed on the 15-day DL.

    While there is plenty to be concerned about with the current state of the Braves, there are also highlights to note.

    In the series finale in St. Louis, Mike Minor took the mound on long rest in Beachy’s place and reminded us why he has been the most consistent starter in the rotation this season. Minor dominated the Cardinals over 7 innings, allowing only 6 hits and 1 run. He turned over the game to Luis Avilan in the 8th inning with a lead of 5-1. Also in the finale, Craig Kimbrel took the mound in an unusual 4-out save situation. Kimbrel notched his 31st consecutive save and 41st save of the season. Kimbrel joins John Smoltz as the Atlanta Brave with 3 seasons of 40 or more saves, but even more importantly, Kimbrel is now the only player in MLB history to have 40 or more saves in his first 3 consecutive seasons in the big leagues.

    The Braves loss of the series was a far cry from their sweeps of late, but in their win of the finale, they avoided matching their longest losing streaks of the 2013 season. The have had 4-game skids June 10-14 and April 24-28. Luckily, the Braves didn’t leave St. Louis the gift of a series sweep. Things could have been worse.

    BRAVES WELCOME THE TRIBE…

    Entering Sunday, the Braves rotation had a 2.59 ERA in August. That ERA ranks 2nd in the National League. Their collective 176 strikeouts are tied for 2nd for the month. With Freeman’s first-inning homer in game 3 in St. Louis and Simmons’ bomb in the finale, the Braves now have 23 home runs in the month of August, tied for 2nd in the NL.

    Of the players that have faced the Cleveland Indians the most in their career, Gerald Laird and Elliot Johnson have had terrible luck. Laird has hit .188 in 160 at-bats over his career against the Tribe and Johnson has hit .231 in 39 at-bats. Strangely enough, in his career in the AL, B.J. Upton never faced the Indians. The rest of the active roster has not faced the Cleveland Indians at all.

    The Braves will send Kris Medlen to the mound Thursday after a controversial ending to his last start. After being pulled in the 7th inning with the Cardinals ahead 2-1, Medlen spoke to reporters about the early exit and criticized manager Fredi Gonzalez’ decision. Medlen said after the game, “I don’t know what kind of mentality we’re trying to create for our starters., but I feel like I should be able to work out of some jams.” Medlen’s frustration stemmed from the fact that he had only thrown 78 pitches and was in his first jam of the game. After his comments went viral, Medlen apologized to Gonzalez Saturday and the two put the incident behind them. In Medlen’s last 6 starts, he a 4-2 record with a 3.60 ERA. His season has been impacted by lack of run support in similar ways to Mike Minor last season. Medlen has been given an average of 3.68 runs of support per start, but has had 10 starts when he has received 2 or fewer runs to back his effort. Medlen’s second half has not been as strong as his first half over all, but his last several starts have shown promise. A good start against Cleveland would continue the turn around of his second half.

    While the outfield appears to be cursed this season, the Braves have seen production from unlikely sources. As the Cleveland series gets underway, the Braves will need to continue to see production from Terdoslavich, Gattis and Schafer as they get starts in the outfield. When starting, Joey Terdoslavich is batting .355 (11-for-31). This has been an important development for the Braves as their injury-depleted outfield has relied heavily on the rookie. Schafer had a good series in St. Louis that showed signs of good things to come. Schafer has a triple and a double through the first two innings Sunday. He recorded those 2 hits as well as an RBI. Jordan entered Sunday 3-for-34 since he returned from the ankle/foot injury that put him on the disabled list. Evan Gattis had not been contributing since returning from the disabled list with the strained oblique. He is 20-for-100 with only 1 homer since his return. Prior to the injury, he went 41-for-156 with 14 homers. The Braves need all 3 backup outfielders to produce.

    When the Cleveland series gets underwary Tuesday, third baseman Chris Johnson hopes his sprained left big toe will not prevent him from being ready to play. Obviously, his bat will be important in the upcoming series and as the Braves make the final push.

    The Braves will get underway on Tuesday with Salazar (1-1, 3.52) vs. Wood (2-2, 2.50). Wednesday will pit ace Masterson (14-9, 3.50) vs. Maholm (9-10, 4.51). The season finale Thursday will feature Jimenez (9-8, 3.95) vs. Medlen (10-12, 3.74).

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

    Braves riding 11-game win streak

    SS Andrelton Simmons is batting .300 in his past 10 games, while chipping in gold glove "D".

    SS Andrelton Simmons is batting .300 over his past 10 games, while turning in highlight reel defense.

    The Atlanta Braves are irrefutably one of the hottest teams in baseball. Their 11-game win streak is not even the biggest storyline as that 11-game win streak, the last 4 of which came within their division, has put them 13 1/2 games ahead in the NL East. With a series in D.C., the Braves look to put even more ground between themselves and the Washington Nationals. Their 13 1/2 game lead in the division is the biggest differential of any division in baseball, the next closest being the Los Angeles Dodgers who have a 6 game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West.

    For the first time in perhaps the entire season, the team is firing on all cylinders. Pitching, defense and offense are all bringing their best every night and it is showing in the box score. The Braves wouldn’t be playing .600 ball if it weren’t for the roster truly playing to its potential. This is what the Braves front office knew this group of players would be capable of and this is what the fans have been waiting to materialize all season. While the Braves have scratched out wins all season, holding the division lead for much of it, they have never been as much fun to watch as they have been the last two weeks. And from the looks on players’ faces, they’ve not had this much fun playing the game before, either.

    A few of the many reasons the Braves are 13 1/2 games up with an 11-game win streak:

    • Justin Upton has homered 4 times in his last 5 games, batting .409 (9-for-22) with 9 RBI in that span. Hitting off Strasburg in the first game of the Nats series, Justin Upton extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
    • Rookie Julio Teheran has been lights out for the Braves all season, especially in his last 3 starts. In those starts (18 innings), Teheran has held a 3-0 record, an ERA of 1.00, 2 earned runs, 23 Ks, 5 walks, and has allowed his opponents a measly .177 average. His last 3 starts brought his season record to 8-5 with a 3.02 ERA.
    • Chris Johnson, who continues to lead the league in hitting at .342, went 8-straight games with multiple hits. In those 8 games, he put up a .545 average, had 18 hits (in 35 ABs), 3 doubles, 1 homer and 7 RBIs.
    • Closer Craig Kimbrel has converted 24-straight save opportunities and has allowed just 1 run on 15 hits with 12 walks & 46 strikeouts over that span. He has not blown a save since May 7th.
    • Jason Heyward has been the most versatile player for the Braves this season, lending his talent to a depleated outfield as the center fielder and hitting lead off for a team without a prototypical lead off man. While hitting lead off this season, Heyward has hit for a .308 average with 12 hits (in 39 at-bats), a double, 2 homers and 9 RBIs. As any good lead off man should, he has walked frequently (7 times, bringing his OBP to .426). As both a right fielder and a center fielder this season, Heyward has a 1.000 fielding percentage.


    There are certainly too many reasons to list for the Braves recent win streak and their incredible lead in the division. Much can be said about the defense of Andrelton Simmons that routinely saves runs for the Braves, the offensive production and pitching savvy of the Braves catching duo of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, and the young core of starters that have been lead from the back of the rotation by Julio Teheran and Mike Minor.

    In an uncharacteristically mild summer in Atlanta, the Braves are on fire. The hope of the team and its fans is that the momentum carries the team into the postseason and the bitter taste of last year’s Wild Card game debacle can finally be put to rest.

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

    Braves win 7th straight, hope to take momentum on road

    While Shelby Miller of the Cardinals has been the talk of the NL Rookie of the Year race, Julio Teheran is asking voters to give him a chance.

    While Shelby Miller of the Cardinals has been the talk of the NL Rookie of the Year race, Julio Teheran is asking voters to give him a chance.

    In the last 7 games, the Braves have put on a show for all of baseball. With their offense, defense and pitching firing on all cylinders, the Braves have been ridiculously good. In the 7 games of the home stand, they outscored opponents 51 to 16 and notched 84 hits. Game 3 of the series marked the first time the Braves have scored at least 9 runs in 3 consecutive games since 4 straight in April of 2012. They are now 11 1/2 games up in the NL East and on pace for 95 wins.

    Julio Teheran was nothing short of spectacular against the Rockies. His 11 strikeouts matched his career high thrown against the Pirates on June 5th. Teheran finished his start with 5 innings pitched, 5 hits and an earned run in 103 pitches.

    Teheran wasn’t the only pitcher with an outstanding start against Colorado. Mike Minor pitched 7 innings against the Rockies, allowing only 2 hits, no runs and striking out 6. Teheran and Minor have led Braves pitching this season from the back of the rotation.

    Reliever Luis Avilan remains untouchable. Despite a run crossing the plate, charged to the pitcher before him, Avilan held his streak of not allowing a run in tact last night. He now hasn’t allowed a run in his last 29 appearances. His ERA on the season is down to 1.22.

    One last note on pitching during the series: Brandon Beachy’s season debut was, well, rocky. Beachy came out after allowing 8 hits, 6 runs, 1 walk and 5 K’s in 3 2/3 innings of work. It took him 84 pitches to reach the 3 2/3 mark. He was then picked up by a solid bullpen effort that included David Carpenter retiring 7 straight, another scoreless frame by Luis Avilan and Scott Downs’ first appearance in a Braves’ uniform. Scott Downs walked away with the win.

    Perhaps even more important than pitching the the series and the home stand was the consistent, dominant performance by the offense.

    In the final game of the series, Chris Johnson went 3-for-5, It marked Chris Johnson’s 10th three-hit game of the season, his 36th multi-hit game of 2013 and his 7th consecutive multi-hit game.. His average is now .346 and continues to lead the National League. Over his last 33 games, Chris Johnson is hitting .388 (50-for-129) with 20 runs scored, 2 dingers & 17 RBIs.

    The other player in the trade that brought Chris Johnson to Atlanta, trade headliner Justin Upton, appears to be coming out of a slump. In the final game of the series, Upton recorded his 6th career multi-homer game with 2 blasts. It was his 2nd multi-homer game with Atlanta, his 1st came April 6th against the Cubs.

    Andrelton Simmons did something unusual in the final game of the series–he struck out. Despite being on a team of notorious strikeouts, Simmons has been one of the most difficult players in the big leagues to strike out. His streak of’ 61 straight at-bats ended in game 4. Simmons’ previous strikeout came in the bottom of the 1st inning on July 14th. The whiz kid at shortstop can be allowed that strikeout given his heroics in game 2 when he hit the game ending triple, the first by the Braves since 1953.

    One of the biggest stories of the season for the Braves is their search for a leadoff man. For several years, the Braves have not had a prototypical leadoff hitter. With B.J. Upton joining the club, they thought he might be able to leadoff, but given his season-long slump, that didn’t pan out. Simmons isn’t a leadoff hitter, either. However, Fredi Gonzalez took a chance and plugged Jason Heyward into the leadoff spot. Probably the largest leadoff hitter in the league, Heyward may stick out, but so far the results have been impressive. Since he began leading off, Heyward has hit .296 (8-for-27) with 2 homers & 7 RBIs. Heyward homered 3 times on the 7-game homestand, 2 of them from the leadoff spot.

    BRAVES MAKE TRIP TO STADIUM OF NOT-SO-BROTHERLY LOVE…

    As the Braves head to Philadelphia for a 3-game series against the Phillies, they hope to take some of their home stand momentum on the road. They have been much better at home than on the road, not helped by the fact that they spent much of the first month of baseball on the road with one of the toughest schedules in baseball. Holding their 11 1/2 game lead in the division will be a top priority for the Braves.

    In injury news, B.J. Upton began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett. In 6 innings in centerfield,  he went 3-for-4 with 2 doubles, including a double in his 1st at-bat, 3 runs and 2 RBIs. Without B.J., the Braves have gone 10-5 and in their previous 15 with B.J., they went 8-7. Oddly enough, they had fewer strikeouts as a team when B.J. was with them for those 15 games. Baseball cannot be predicted.

    Another injured outfielder that is making strides in his rehab is Jordan Schafer who could be seen running the bases before the games against the Rockies. He has been able to run a lot more aggressively in the last few days and should be healthy enough to begin a rehab assignment soon.

    Brian McCann will be an important story for the Braves in August. In his 22 games in the month of July, Mac hit .337 with 6 doubles and 6 homers. If he can continue on this pace and stay healthy, this will be huge for the Braves who missed his bat a great deal last August when he finished the season with a .181 average and a soon-to-be surgically repaired shoulder.

    Though the Braves technically carry 3 catchers with McCann, Laird and Gattis, the Braves were without one against Colorado. Laird has been unavailable to play few days, he’s on pain medication trying to pass a kidney stone that had him in hospital Sunday. Atlanta will have all 3 once again available in Philly.

    Friday night’s series opener at Citizens Bank Park will pit Medlen (7-10, 3.74) vs. Martin (0-0, -.–). Saturday’s nationally broadcast game on FOX will feature Beachy (0-0, 17.18) vs. TBD. Sunday’s series finale on ESPN will feature Wood (1-2, 3.51) vs. Lannan (3-4, 4.10).

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

    Sweep of Cards, trade for Downs, Beachy back & Rocks up next

    Atlanta traded Cory Rasmus (RHP) for Scott Downs (LHP). Downs is 2-3 with a 1.84 ERA in 43 appearances.

    Atlanta traded Cory Rasmus (RHP) for Scott Downs (LHP). Downs is 2-3 with a 1.84 ERA in 43 appearances.

    Fresh off a stunning sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, Braves’ fans learned Monday morning that the Braves had traded Cory Rasmus (RHP) to the Angels for Scott Downs (LHP). Downs joins a bullpen of untouchable relievers.

    In 27 innings, the Braves held the St. Louis Cardinals to 3 runs, 2 of them coming in Kris Medlen’s 6 innings of the series finale. This despite the Cards coming into Atlanta with the most runs, RBIs and the highest batting average, on-base percentage and OPS in the National League. The series showed just how much promise a future rotation with the young Teheran, Minor and Medlen poses. Adding in rehabbed Beachy and the Braves’ rotation easily becomes one of the best in baseball. With Wood currently in the rotation and Beachy joining it tomorrow, the average age of the Braves rotation is 24.4 years old.

    The Braves pitching dominance is not solely the product of the starting rotation. Atlanta’s bullpen is the best in the business with 1-2-3 punch of Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel from the 7th inning on. Craig Kimbrel recorded consecutive saves against the Cards, passing the 30 save mark. Kimbrel is just the second closer in franchise history to have 3 – 30 save seasons. Kimbrel’s 3 seasons with 30 saves happen to be consecutive and include his only 3 full seasons in the big leagues. Kimbrel joins Braves’ hall of famer and future inductee to Cooperstown John Smoltz in the category. Kimbrel isn’t the only reliever having an exceptional season. Luis Avilan has not allowed an earned run in 27 straight innings. In those 27 appearances, hitters have an .079 average against him and have struck out 16 times.

    Offensively, the Braves continue their all-or-nothing approach at the plate. There have been positive signs from the likes of Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons. Heyward hit .273 during the Cardinals’ series with 3 hits, 2 homers and 3 RBIs. The positive sign being that he didn’t strike out during the series. And he did this while hitting in the lead off spot. His defense, particularly in the unusual position of center field, has been nothing short of spectacular. Though Andrelton Simmons’ power detracts from his batting average and sets him up for a higher strikeout rate, he is currently the third hardest player to strike out in the NL. He averages 1 K every 12.8 plate appearances. As of this morning, Chris Johnson leads the National League in hitting. He is behind only reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera in all of baseball. With a .338 batting average (now having a qualifying number of at-bats), Johnson is ahead of Yadier Molina (.334) and Michael Cuddyer (.330). Johnson has 104 hits, 22 doubles, 6 homers and 34 RBIs.

    With a sweep of the Cardinals, the Braves’ record stands at 60-45. They have an 8 1/2 game lead over the Washington Nationals in the NL East.


    BEACHY MAKES 2013 DEBUT AGAINST ROCKIES…

    Baseball can be all about timing. Some call it luck. For the Braves, Tim Hudson’s devastating, season-ending ankle injury could have been season-altering. However, the timing of Brandon Beachy’s rehab worked out perfectly for him to take the place of the veteran ace. Beachy had a slight setback at Triple-A Gwinnett some time ago, but has recovered completely from that setback as well as the Tommy John surgery that shelved him last year just before the all-star break. Beachy will make his 2013 season debut tonight against the visiting Colorado Rockies.

    The Braves face the Rockies at a time when the Rockies are trying to stay competitive in the NL West. With the surging Dodgers and the more consistent Diamondbacks, the Rockies find themselves 8 games back in the division. The Rockies hope to insert Carlos Gonzalez in their lineup while in Atlanta. CarGo has been dealing with a sprained right finger since before the all-star break, something that kept him out of the Home Run Derby. His bat and defense will certainly go a long way to keeping the Rockies in the hunt.

    Tonight Braves’ fans will be treated to De La Rosa (10-5, 2.97) vs. Beachy (–, -.–). The second game of the season will feature Nicasio (6-4, 4.40) vs. Wood (0-2, 3.42). Likely the pitching match-up to watch will be in game 3 with Chatwood (7-3, 2.48) vs. Minor (10-5, 2.89). The 4th and final game of the series will feature a pitcher TBD vs. Teheran (7-5, 3.07).

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

    Braves drop series to Philly, take talent to South Beach

    Closer Craig Kimbrel was the single Braves selection to the 2013 All Star Game.

    Closer Craig Kimbrel was the single Braves selection to the 2013 All Star Game.

    Since the Braves swept the Diamondbacks, they have gone 2-4. They now fly south to Miami to face off on the vast expanse that is the field at Marlins Park. Hoping to pick up a few wins within their division, the Braves will play a 3-game set in Miami before returning to Turner Field to face the Reds on the eve of the all star break.

    On Saturday, the Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel, was named to the National League all star roster. Kimbrel has a 1.72 ERA in 31 1/3 innings pitched this season with 46 strikeouts and 23 saves. He was the sole selection to the roster for the first place Atlanta Braves. Snubbed were pitcher Mike Minor and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman is one of 5 players on the final vote ballot including Adrian Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, Yasiel Puig and Hunter Pence. Freddie has a .306 average, 9 homers, and 56 RBIs this season. He leads the other 4 final vote contenders in RBIs. Freddie trails only Yasiel Puig in average, but has played in over 40 games more than rookie Puig.

    Game 1:

    W: Lee (10-2) L: Maholm (9-7) SV: Papelbon (18)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 4 9 1
    Phillies 1 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 x 5 10 0

    The Braves were unable to get to Cliff Lee further adding to the story of Lee’s season. Unfortunately, the entire game didn’t remain in Lee’s favor. Atlanta put 4 earned runs on the board in the 7th inning, all charged to Cliff Lee. Those 4 earned runs in the 7th inning matched the total number of ERs Lee had allowed in his previous 52 innings pitched against Atlanta.

    Game 2:

    W: Hudson (5-7) L: Kendrick (7-6)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 1 2 0 1 2 0 4 1 2 13 19 0
    Phillies 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 4 9 1

    In Hudson’s previous 8 starts, the Atlanta offense had scored a total of 11 runs of support. Through 5 innings Saturday, they had given him 6 runs to work with. They went on to score 13 runs on 19 hits in the game. It was one of the first games in Hudson’s 2013 season when he was given breathing room to use his sinker without the fear that opposing batters would get the ball out of the infield and eventually score. Huddy’s win added to his ridiculous stats of being 157-6 in his starts when he has been given four or more runs of support before being pulled from the game.

    votefreddieEvery starter in the lineup got at least one hit. Starter Kendrick was knocked out of the game after 5 innings. Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla and Chris Johnson led the offense. Simmons, Uggla and Heyward had homers in the game and Andrelton finished the game a double shy of the cycle.

    Since the Braves’ doubleheader on the 18th of June, Andrelton Simmons is batting .286 with 20 hits in 70 at-bats, 2 triples, 2 homers, 2 stolen bases and only 5 strikeouts. Like Simmons, Uggla has turned around his season since trying out new contacts. Since June 23rd, Uggla is hitting .286 with 12 hits in 43 at-bats, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 3 homers and 12 RBIs. Uggla holds the team lead with 16 homers. When Jason Heyward went on the disabled list after an emergency appendectomy on April 20th, he was hitting for a .161 average. He is now hitting .228. Since J-Hey’s return on the 17th of May, he has hit .264 with 11 doubles and 5 homers.

    Chris Johnson continues to be the most consistent hitter in the Braves’ lineup. Johnson leads the club in average and doubles. He trails only Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman in hits despite trailing them both by at least 40 at-bats. Oddly enough, Johnson has given the Braves more offensive production than Justin Upton–the player he was traded with to the Braves.

    Game 3:

    W: Pettibone (5-3) L: Medlen (6-8)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 3 10 1
    Phillies 2 0 0 2 1 2 0 0 x 7 10 0

    On another day, Kris Medlen may have walked away with a win against the rival Phils. However, his outing was marred by early command issues and though he recovered after the first inning, his command disappeared again in the 4th inning. For their part, the offense was terrible. Medlen actually was the first batter to get a man across the plate in the 5th inning. That run was quickly eclipsed by the solo shot he surrendered to Domonic Brown in the bottom of the inning. Frustration was rampant on the part of the offense, displayed by B.J. Upton when he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes at the plate following yet another strikeout.

    Brian McCann continued his 8-game hitting streak with another multi-hit game. Sunday’s game was the first of his 8-game streak in which McCann didn’t have at least 1 extra-base hit. Coming into the game, McCann was 16-for-28 with a .571 average. Since June 23rd, McCann has 19 hits in 39 at-bats, 6 doubles, 3 home runs and 11 RBIs. He has a .487 batting average, .535 on-base percentage and is slugging .872. Since the 23rd, he has improved his batting average from .246 to .293.

    BRAVES BEGIN QUICK TRIP TO FLORIDA…

    As the Braves arrive at Marlins Park, they will face a team that no longer has starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco. The Marlins are 3-3 since the start of July. While the Braves hold a 4-game lead on the Nationals in the division, the Braves have not fared well against teams in the NL East. The Braves need to scratch out wins against the Marlins, Phillies and Mets to keep the Nats at bay (and the Phillies, for that matter).

    An injury update: Evan Gattis started swinging Thursday and throwing Friday. His oblique is progressing, but he obviously will not return before the all star break. Brandon Beachy will make a rehab start in the next several days barring any setbacks in his recovery from the fluid that developed on his pitching elbow following his return from Tommy John surgery. The schedule for his rehab start will hinge on Gwinnett’s schedule with the Triple-A all star game on the horizon. As the Braves currently have only 2 catchers on their roster, the emergency backup catcher would be recent call-up Joey Terdoslavich. We will inevitably hear talk once again about what happens to the rotation when Beachy returns in the coming weeks. At the moment, Maholm, Medlen and Hudson have had an equal number of struggles and the bullpen has a rhythm now with the current arms available.

    The first game of the series will feature all star-worthy Minor (8-4, 3.15) vs. Slowey (3-6, 4.24). Tuesday’s game will pit Teheran (6-4, 3.23) vs. Alvarez (0-0, 5.40). The finale game of the series will feature Maholm (9-7, 3.81) vs. Turner (2-1, 2.30).

    One last note on the ASG Final Vote ballot: You can vote for Freddie Freeman online or on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (EST), any tweet that includes the designated player hashtag (#VoteFreddie) will be counted. Vote early and vote often!

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

    Braves retire no. 10, kick off series against Arizona

    On any other night, the fact that Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were facing off would be the headline. On any other night, it would have been big news that former Braves Delgado, Martin Prado and Eric Hinske were returning to Atlanta to face their old team. On any other night, it would have been a storyline that the Braves were five games up in the National League East and sailing, despite being viewed as the second-best team in the division all postseason, into the season and still even now by some. But last night was not any other night. Last night was Chipper’s night.

    Yesterday the Atlanta Braves inducted Chipper Jones into the franchise hall of fame. In a ceremony that included franchise greats like Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones was rewarded for his two decades of dedication to the Atlanta Braves and to baseball. Like ceremonies before it, Chipper was spoken of as one of the greats in baseball. Much was made of him having more hits than Lou Gehrig, a higher career average than Pete Rose and more RBIs than any third baseman in the history of the game. The accolades were many.

    The hall of fame induction luncheon and the number retirement ceremony before last night’s game are something Atlanta’s fans have become accustomed to in recent years. Since 2009, the Braves have retired the numbers of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, John Smoltz and now Chipper Jones. The regularity of the hall of fame induction and number retirement ceremonies in recent years reflect how dominate the Braves were in the 90s. And it is likely that Braves Country will be treated to another regular occurrence in the near future–the induction of Atlanta’s 90s dynasty into Cooperstown.

    If you ask any Braves fan, there is nothing surprising about the way crowds react to Chipper Jones. On the night he was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame and had his number retired, the crowd was electric. Now, if you ask that same Braves fan about the second loudest ovation of the night, that, too, wasn’t a surprise. With a shout out from Chipper Jones as he spoke as his number ten was retired and displayed on the facade (next to the likes of Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Bobby Cox and Greg Maddux), the one and only Martin Prado received the second-loudest ovation of the night.

    Martin Prado, sent to the Diamondbacks in the trade for Justin Upton, was a fan favorite. His versatility was highly valued by both the club and its fans. But what you hear most about Prado is what a great guy he is, what a great teammate he is and how great he is in the clubhouse. Braves fans were understandably shocked, some livid, when Frank Wren sent Prado to Arizona. Martin, too, was stunned. However, as is often said, baseball is a business and you often lose someone great to gain someone great. In the Upton trade, the Braves picked up the consistent hitter Chris Johnson as a bonus. That turned out to be an important throw-in and allowed the Braves to trade the strikeout-prone Juan Francisco to Milwaukee. Prado is widely respected in Atlanta and that was on full display last night. When Chipper Jones circled the field in a white convertible, the only time the car stopped was so Martin Prado, who was warming up on the field, could approach the car and give Chipper a hug. Prado stepped to the plate for the first time, receiving a prolonged standing ovation as well as a hug from catcher Brian McCann. You don’t see an opposing catcher hugging the batter coming to the plate very often, if at all. Prado tipped his cap to the crowd and the game went on. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Prado in a Braves uniform someday down the road, similar to how the Braves have brought back other veteran players (Glavine, Diaz, Franco).

    In Chipper’s speech, he mentioned he wished the Diamondbacks luck “four games from now” with that trademark smirk. He, like everyone else, was anxious to see the pitching matchup of Teheran and Delgado. The Upton trade could have gone another way–sending Teheran to Arizona rather than Delgado. Teheran’s evolution as a young man coming into his own has been what the Braves had hoped for both he and Delgado. Unfortunately, Delgado’s improvement has been slow going. He had spent the majority of the season in Triple-A for the Diamondbacks. Neither pitcher disappointed in what was a duel for much of the game. Teheran pitched another scoreless gem in his 6 innings of work. And the only criticism of Delgado’s game is that he isn’t as polished under pressure as Teheran has become. That’s truly the difference between Teheran this season and last. He has been able to work out of a pinch and limit damage.

    Unfortunately, the third former Brave that everyone was looking forward to seeing was Eric Hinske. Hinske had been suspended for the fracas between the D-backs and the Dodgers, but returned from serving his suspension just in time to be designated for assignment by Arizona. That announcement was made just before the game and it is unclear if Chipper even knew of it before he gave “Ski” a shout out in his speech.

    While it seemed a bit odd that the guy representing Chipper’s former teammates was Dan Uggla, Uggla does have an interesting perspective on Chipper as a guy who grew up in the south watching the Braves on television then becoming their opponent and eventually a Brave himself. Uggla spoke about Chipper during the on-field ceremony, received the first pitch from Chipper and then had himself a game. Uggla had 2 hits and scored a run. His performance upstaged only by young Andrelton Simmons who hit his 6th homer of the season off Delgado.

    It seemed rather fitting that in the final inning on the night the Braves honored Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel came in and was guided by Brian McCann behind the dish for the save. Chipper had the privilege of watching Kimbrel’s Rookie of the Year campaign as well as Brian McCann’s early years in the big leagues. While the Braves’ roster is getting younger, there were few men on the field last night that hadn’t been teammates with Chipper or in some way influenced by his career. In fact, there were few people in the stands, watching on television or listening on the radio who weren’t touched by Chipper’s career in some way. There will never be another Chipper Jones.

    The series against the Diamondbacks resumes today with veterans Kennedy (3-4, 5.21) vs. Hudson (4-7, 4.10). The season finale features Cahill (3-9, 4.29) vs. Maholm (8-6, 3.75). The Braves will then welcome the Marlins for a 3-game set at the Ted before beginning a road trip in Philly.

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

    Braves sweep Cubs, head to Miami

    The Braves wrapped a magical series against the Chicago Cubs with a sweep at Turner Field. The series saw a stunning comeback win for the Braves due to the hitting of the Upton brothers. In game 2, BJ Upton homered in the 9th inning to tie the game and brother Justin came through with a walk-off homer. That wasn’t the only magic against Chicago, however. Mike Minor pitched a gem in his first outing of the season and Tim Hudson stepped up to duel Jeff Samardzija in his second outing of the young season.

    Line scores for the 3-game set against Chicago:

    Game 1

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

    W: Minor (1-0) L: Feldman (0-1) SV: Kimbrel (2)

    Game 2

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Cubs 1 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 5 13 0
    Braves 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 2 6 12 1

    W: O’Flaherty (1-0) L: Marmol (0-1)

    Game 3

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

    W: Hudson (1-0) L: Samardzija (1-1)

    The Elias Sports Bureau says that never in the history of Major League Baseball have brothers combined for a homer to tie the game and a walk-off homer to win it in the same inning. Never until now. BJ and Justin Upton reminded all of baseball why it was so important for them to sign with the same time and why the Braves are lucky to have their services when they won game 2 against the Cubs for the Braves. Justin Upton now leads the team with 5 home runs in his 6 games with the club. Not only did that magic win the game for the Braves, it knocked Cubs’ closer Carlos Marmol out of the closer’s role once again. Marmol has been anything but consistent for Chicago in the last several years and the display put on by the Upton brothers forced Chicago’s hand. Japanese pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa will be the Cubs closer for the immediate future.

    On the injury front, Brian McCann and Paul Janish headed to Florida to continue their rehabilitation from shoulder surgeries. With the team, Andrelton Simmons will return from the bench tonight after spraining his left thumb sliding head first last week. You’ll remember, Andrelton broke his pinky last season doing a similar head first slide. Simmons’ injury gave BJ Upton the opportunity to be Atlanta’s leadoff hitter, a move that appears to have shot BJ out of the early season slump he was in. Simmons’ injury also made way for utility man Ramiro Pena who had a great game yesterday with 2 hits and 2 RBIs. Freddie Freeman was placed on the 15-day DL, without being consulted about it, after struggling at the plate following an oblique injury during workouts the day before the opening of the season. His struggles were noticeable at the plate in the latter portion of the 5 games he played with the club before Frank Wren decided to place him on the DL. Freeman was batting .412 with a double, homer and 7 RBIs in those 5 games. In Freeman’s place, Chris Johnson takes over at first, something he proved capable of doing during Spring Training. This brings both the bat of Johnson and Juan Francisco into the lineup until Freeman’s return.

    BRAVES HEAD TO MIAMI FOR FIRST AWAY SERIES OF 2013…

    Monday: Maholm (1-0, 0.00) vs. Kevin Slowey (0-1, 1.69)

    Tuesday: Medlen (0-1, 3.60) vs. LeBlanc (0-1, 3.60)

    Wednesday: Minor (1-0, 1.23) vs. Sanabia (1-0, 0.00)

    Paul Maholm will toe the rubber tonight, hoping to continue with the success he had in both Spring Training and his first start of the season. Paul could be the spoiler for the Marlins in their home opener. Maholm did not give up a home run in either Spring Training or his first start and he has yet to allow a run in the 2013 season. Kris Medlen hopes to right the ship and return to the pitching that made him the talk of baseball last season. Medlen was out of sorts in his first start of the season, allowing 6 hits, 2 runs and an un-Medlen-like 4 walks. Medlen’s matchup against LeBlanc and the sad state of the Marlins gives him the perfect opportunity to get a win under his belt. Minor has shown that his confidence from the end of last season as well as this Spring Training has carried over into the season. This year could be Mike Minor’s coming out party if he can show the league that what he did at the end of last season is his norm. With the struggle of Medlen in his first start, the Braves would really like to have Minor continue to be solid.

    While there had been questions about the bullpen with the injury to Jonny Venters and losing Kris Medlen to the rotation, so far this season the relievers have been strong. Neither Avilan, Kimbrel, Varvaro nor Gearrin have allowed a run in their combined 12 innings pitched and together they’ve given up a mere 6 hits.

    Moving ahead, the Braves know that power will slump and home runs cannot win every game for them. To scratch runs out, they will need to keep BJ Upton moving forward with quality at-bats, they’ll need Jason Heyward to produce more than he has in the first week and a healthy Simmons will be essential to small ball. The Braves have a great deal of speed on their roster between Upton, Heyward and Simmons. It’s time we see some of that speed on display and preferably the kind that steals bags without sliding head first into potential injuries.

    The Marlins welcome the Braves for their home opener at Marlins Park tonight at 7:10 p.m. (EST).

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

    Braves Grapefruit League report: Week- 2

    The Braves wrapped up their second week of exhibition play on Saturday with a “W”, bringing their Grapefruit League record to 5 of 8.

    This week’s scores (3/2-3/9, SS is split squad):

    Opponent Score
    Astros 6-5 (L)
    Tigers 6-1 (W)
    Mets 4-2 (W)
    Yankees 2-0 (W)
    Tigers 9-2 (L)
    Astros (SS) 14-9 (W)
    Blue Jays (SS) 7-1 (L)
    Yankees 2-1 (W)

    Slowly the roster picture is coming into focus for Manager Fredi Gonzalez and mastermind GM Frank Wren. There are, however, some interesting story lines that have yet to meet their conclusion.

    Both Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson have proven to be serviceable at the hot corner and both potential third basemen have stepped it up with their offense. Francisco is hitting .333 this spring while Johnson is hitting .345.  A big surprise has been Francisco’s focus on using the entire field. His opposite field homer this week may give him the edge on offense by a slight margin. While their numbers are comparable at the dish, Francisco appears to be slightly more sound than Johnson on defense. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Johnson and Francisco splitting time at 3B, if for no other reason than the fact that neither has been able to pull significantly ahead in the third base competition thus far.

    Joey Terdoslavich, Tyler Pastornicky and Jordan Schafer are really making a case for a spot on the bench. All three have shown the kind of versatility at the plate that a manager needs in a bench bat.  Joey Terdoslavich had a down year in the minors, hitting a mere .240, but his .481 this Spring may give him a fighting chance to make Fredi’s Opening Day roster. Schafer, the former–and current–Brave, is showing signs that his offensive collapse in his final year in Atlanta and with the Houston Astros may be behind him. Schafer hit .167 in his final games with the Braves, after overcoming a wrist injury that banished him from the big leagues for 2 years. His .281 this Spring is precisely what Frank Wren was hoping for when he signed the center fielder this offseason.

    Minor league catcher/left fielder Evan Gattis has not disappointed so far this spring. His much-praised bat has been everything everyone expected it to be and his defense behind the plate has been better than advertised. Gattis reminds of another up-and-coming catcher in the American League, Jesus Montero. Montero’s bat was what first impressed the Yankees and then the Mariners, but once in the big leagues, his defense turned out to be much better than advertised. The Braves want to take advantage of Gattis’ bat and were willing to wait for his defense to solidify, but if the last week is any indication, Gattis is ready to be the backup to Gerald Laird behind the plate for Opening Day. Gattis’ .423 average is second only to the .481 avg of Joey Terdoslavich, and Gattis leads all Braves hitters with a 1.218 OPS (on-base% + slugging%).

    While we’re on the topic of catching, Brian McCann took batting practice yesterday, his first on-field BP with his teammates since offseason shoulder surgery. Mac won’t be ready for Opening Day, but the Braves are confident that Laird can handle the pitching staff in his stead.

    A scary moment happened early in the week when Dan Uggla was hit by a pitch off the back of his neck, just below the edge of his batting helmet. Uggla was hit by a pitch during the 2012 season, suffering a concussion. After being hit this week, he was given a concussion test and it was negative. The pitch may have done more damage to the ball than himself. That trip to first base was one of a few this week. Uggla does seem to be turning it around at the plate. That is a good sign given the horrendous start to his spring. He remains just over the Mendoza line with a batting average of .212.

    Pitching should be ahead of hitting at this point in the spring. And handful of Braves’ hurlers already appear ready for Opening Day, but a few others may be glad it’s still a few weeks away.  Kris Medlen joined veteran starters Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm in the ‘not sharp’ category. The trio has struggled with their command thus far. None of this is of great concern, though, given that we’re only two weeks into exhibition play. All three have the big league experience to be on track by the time the regular season begins. Young Mike Minor is the one pitcher from last year’s rotation who has been solid this Spring. Minor has 1 win in 3 games (9 innings pitched) and is holding a 2.00 ERA. In his latest outing against the Yankees, Minor pitched 4 shutout innings.

    The best pitching stories this Spring come from the lesser-known Braves who have spent the majority of their time in the minors. Cory Gearrin has quietly made the case that he deserves a spot in the bullpen. In 5 innings pitched, Gearrin has 6 strikeouts and hasn’t allowed a run. This will prove important given the uncertainty surrounding Jordan Walden who apparently has a bulging disc in his back and has been treated for that with an epidural steroid injection. And the best news in pitching is that Julio Teheran has developed a nasty sinker to round out his repertoire. In 9 innings pitched, Teheran has 12 strikeouts and a 2.00 ERA. Teheran may finally be the pitcher the Braves hoped he would be when he was called up last season. Teheran’s maturity will make for a formidable rotation before and after Brandon Beachy’s return from Tommy John surgery midseason.

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

    Braves acquire Justin Upton from D-Backs

    News hit the wires this morning that the Atlanta Braves had reached a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to acquire outfielder Justin Upton.

    The preliminary details of the deal are as follows: The Braves will acquire Upton (LF) and Chris Johnson (3B) for Randall Delgado (RHP), Martin Prado (LF/3B), Nick Ahmed (SS), Zeke Spruill (RHP), and presumably Brandon Drury (1B). Important to this deal is the fact that Atlanta’s general manager Frank Wren did not give up any of the organization’s top pitching prospects (Baseball America ranked Spruill 7th among the Braves’ pitching prospects).

    As was reported here earlier by Andrew Hirsh, the Braves became a more likely trade partner with the Diamondbacks for Upton when the outfielder vetoed a trade that was arrived at between the Diamondbacks and the Mariners. The Mariners, unlike the Braves, would have given up one of their top three pitching prospects as part of that deal. With that blocked deal and the Rangers announcing they were out of the running for the younger Upton, the door opened for Frank Wren. In addition to potential trade partners falling away, Kevin Towers, GM of the D-Backs, was dealing with a log jam of outfielders with the acquisition of Cody Ross. Towers had been seeking offers for either Upton or Jason Kubel.

    What the Braves get from the Diamondbacks

    1. Justin Upton (OF): .280/.355/.430 in 2012 with 155 hits, 17 home runs, 67 RBIs and 18 SB.

    2. Chris Johnson (3B): .286/.321/.503 in 2012 (44 games) with 42 hits, 7 home runs, and 35 RBIs.

    What the Braves give up to the Diamondbacks

    1. Randall Delgado (RHP): 4-9, 4.37 ERA, 1.414 WHIP, and 76 strikeouts (92.2 innings) in 2012.

    2. Martin Prado (LF/3B): .301/.359/.438 in 2012 with 186 hits, 10 HRs, 70 RBI and 17 SBs.

    3. Nick Ahmed (SS Class-A Advanced Lynchburg): .268/.337/.391 with 136 hits, 6 HRs and 49 RBIs in 2012.

    4. Zeke Spruill (RHP Class-AA Mississippi): 9-11, .367 ERA, 106 strikeouts (161.2 innings) in 2012.

    5. Brandon Drury (1B at Class-A Rome): .229/.270/.333 in 2012 with 102 hits, 6, home runs, and 51 RBIs.

    On paper this trade makes the Braves a very solid club with the potential lineup of 1-Simmons, 2-J.Upton, 3-JHey, 4-B.J.Upton, 5-Freeman, 6-Uggla, 7-McCann, 8-Johnson/Francisco. We can assume at this point that Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco will platoon at third base. Francisco has had a stellar winter in the Venezuelan League, but his inability to hit left-handed pitched remains an issue.

    With the trade of Delgado, we can assume that Julio Teheran will fall into the fifth rotation spot.

    While Braves Country will surely feel an emotional loss with Martin Prado, the Braves and Prado were heading to an arbitration hearing after not reaching an extension agreement. Prado will enter free agency at the end of 2013. It is widely believed that Prado will seek $11-12 million per year in a multi-year deal following the 2013 season. This would have been a number the Braves would not have been willing to pay for Prado. Prado’s versatility and clutch hitting will be missed by the Braves, but the ability to sign a player with the potential of Justin Upton for multiple years far outweighed the loss of Prado. The trade of Prado also frees up about $10 million in payroll should the Braves need an additional piece in 2013.

    Justin Upton will be joining his brother B.J., signed to a 5-year deal by Frank Wren this winter, and Jason Heyward in the Braves outfield. Atlanta’s outfield immediately becomes one of the most dynamic Major League Baseball.

    The Justin Upton deal is pending a physical.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#%21/framethepitch">@framethepitch.