• Cincinnati Reds

    Braves wrap outstanding home stand, face rotation questions

    With the Braves facing the upcoming decision of what to do with the best starting rotation in the National League when Mike Minor returns from the DL, the offense went into the home stand looking to remind the league that the Braves are not just a team of stellar pitchers.

    Freddie Freeman was the hero of the hour with his walk-off single in the series finale against the Reds.

    Freddie Freeman was the hero of the hour with his walk-off single in the series finale against the Reds.

    In 13 plate appearances against Cincinnati, Freddie Freeman notched 5 hits (.384), including a homer, 3 RBIs and a game-winning hit in the series finale. The eye dryness Freeman battled during the Miami series seems to have cleared up (as you’ll remember, Freeman has dealt with eye dryness over the last two seasons–switching to glasses for some time). Freeman is now hitting .344 on the season with a .421 on-base percentage, .613 slugging and 1.033 OPS. His 18 strikeouts on the season are balanced nicely with 11 walks. He leads the club in both average and RBIs.

    Freddie’s numbers are not an outlier for Atlanta. Justin Upton has reminded Braves Country how much he likes the month of April. Over his last 15 games, Justin Upton is hitting .404 with 11 extra base hits.  Upton is currently 18-for-32 (.563) with 3 doubles, 6 HRs, 12 RBIs and only 8 strikeouts in the past 10 games at Turner Field. He is now hitting .330 on the season (.406 on-base & .625 slugging) with 3 doubles, a triple, 7 homers and 16 RBIs. Justin already has 3 stolen bases. In all of 2013, he stole only 8 bags.

    Not to be overlooked is the impressive production of Evan Gattis and Andrelton Simmons. Gattis got off to a slow start in the first week of the game, hitting .208 in the first 7 games. But since April 11th, El Oso Blanco is hitting .386 with a .395 OBP and is slugging .780. He has 2 doubles, 5 homers and 11 RBI in that period including a 10th inning walk-off homer, his first, against the Marlins in the first game of the home stand. Simmon, for his part, has been the hardest out of the entire Braves’ lineup. He has only 3 strikeouts this season, the first not coming until the 17th of April. Simmons is hitting .300 with an on-base percentage of .310 and is slugging .488. In the Cincinnati series we saw Andrelton steal a bag, only his 2nd of the young season. The Braves certainly have players that can steal–Andrelton, B.J. Upton, Heyward and even Justin Upton. However, the running game has not been a factor as of yet. Simmons might still be hesitant on the base paths due to the broken pinkie injury in the 2012 season that landed him on the DL.

    Also on the offense side, B.J. Upton has shown great improvement in recent games. He is now sporting a pair of black-frame glasses that appear to help his vision at the plate. In the second game of the series against the Reds, B.J. notched his 1,000th hit in the big leagues. While his batting average remains just above the Mendoza Line, it is his on-base percentage that is showing signs of life. Over the past 8 games he is hitting .214 (6-for-28) with a double and an RBI. His on-base percentage over that span is .333 (5 walks to his 9 strikeouts).

    Despite the strengths of the offense, there are weaknesses. Chris Johnson is slumping. Dan Uggla shows signs of life from time to time, but his power is one of the few things he has to offer. The real problem for the Braves isn’t the individual stats of the guys that are still trying to find a rhythm. The real problem for the Braves’ offense is consistency. Too often in the young season the starting rotation has put together a gem of a start and hasn’t been rewarded with run support. Not unlike the 2013 season, the Braves rely on the long ball and they strike out at an alarming rate. Though they got away with a win in the series finale against the Reds, it’s unfortunate that Julio Teheran’s beautiful outing was not rewarded with the win. In fact, in 3 of the last 6 games, the win went to a reliever due to this run support issue.

    That said, the Braves did secure 5 wins in their 6-game home stand including a clean sweep of the Reds. The Braves now stand at 17-7 with 3 1/2 game lead in the National League East. They take a 4 game win streak on the road to Miami.

    BRAVES FACE ROTATION QUESTIONS ON ROAD…

    For a team that was forced to regroup right before the season started with news that starters Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen would both undergo their second Tommy John surgeries, the Braves now face a very welcome problem of having too many starting pitchers.

    Mike Minor was shutdown in spring training with shoulder soreness and has yet to make his 2014 debut. After several rehab starts, Minor appears ready to rejoin the Braves. His latest rehab start was brutal on the scoreboard–he allowed 5 runs on 10 hits including 4 homers in 7 innings–but, Minor has proven healthy and up to the task of pitching in what amounts to a regular-length game. Minor’s return presents the question of who then is either sent down or joins the bullpen.

    A look at what Atlanta’s rotation has done thus far:

    • Aaron Harang: 3-1, 0.85 ERA, 31.2 IP, 33 Ks
    • Julio Teheran: 2-1, 1.47 ERA, 43 IP, 26 Ks
    • Alex Wood: 2-3, 1.54 ERA, 35 IP, 35 Ks
    • Ervin Santana, 3-0, 1.95 ERA, 27.2 IP, 31 Ks
    • David Hale, 1-0, 2.31 ERA, 23.1 IP, 15 Ks

    When the starter with the highest ERA is a mere 2.31, you really can’t send him down to Triple-A Gwinnett or into the bullpen, can you? That is the question facing Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez.

    Another question that comes up is if the pace that either Wood or Teheran are off to is worrisome in terms of innings pitched. Teheran is proving himself an ace and the chances of him being the odd man out seem slim to none.

    Given the recent injury to Minor, could he be headed to the bullpen for a few games? That, too, is a possibility, but seems unlikely given Minor’s success last season. Minor had a 13-9 record in 2013 with a respectable 3.21 ERA in 204 2/3 innings pitched with 181 strikeouts. Given injuries to the elbows of Medlen, Beachy and former Braves Hanson and Jurrjens, should there be concern around the workload of Minor? Certainly it is a question that should be asked.

    One possibility is that David Hale go to the bullpen as either the long man or a dominant righty. The Braves have a solid righty who is now tested in the ‘pen in Ian Thomas. And it isn’t David Hale’s fault that his ERA reflects some of the worst defensive games the Braves have had. The odd man out if Hale does join the ‘pen will inevitably be Gus Schlosser who recently notched his first big league hit against the Mets. Schlosser has a 5.59 ERA with 1 loss in 9 2/3 innings.

    A decision will have to be made about Minor by Thursday when the Braves return to the Ted to face Tim Lincecum and the Giants.

    The Marlins’ tilt sets up this way: After an off day on Monday, Tuesday’s game will send Wood (2-3, 1.54) to the hill against Fernandez (3-1, 1.99) for a rematch of last week’s incredible pitching duel. Wednesday’s game will feature Harang (3-1, 0.85) vs. Eovaldi (1-1, 2.87). And the series finale in Miami will have Santana (3-0, 1.95) on the hill against Alvarez (1-2, 2.73).

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

    Braves drop series by the Bay, Upton’s return to Arizona

    Atlanta has gone through a terrible stretch of baseball having lost 4 of their last 6 games on the road. With just 3 more games on the road before a travel day and a return to Turner Field for a 6-game home stand, the Braves need to salvage as many of the the remaining 3 road games as possible. Taking 2 of the 3 games in Arizona would give the Braves a winning percentage for the 10-game road trip.

    Before a preview of Justin Upton’s return to Chase Field as the Braves square off against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a wrap-up of the series in San Francisco:

    Game 1:

    Starting the series off on the right note was important in Cincinnati and the Braves looked to repeat that in the first game of the series against the Giants against Ryan Vogelsong. The Braves had hit Vogelsong well in their prior match-ups, but the Vogelsong on the mound for the Giants Thursday night was hardly the Vogelsong of games past. He has had only 1 quality start in 2013. Vogelsong was unable to locate his pitches, allowing 6 runs on 7 hits in 4 1/3 innings. The Braves were able to close the door on Vogelsong and the game in the 4-run 5th inning.

    The Braves’ bullpen (with appearances by O’Flaherty and Kimbrel) was solid, allowing 1 hit and 0 runs between them. With the 7 innings Teheran pitched, the ‘pen didn’t have to get far. There seems to be a trend with the ‘pen–when the starter goes deep, the less they have to accomplish, the sharper the bullpen is.

    Brian McCann homered in the 2nd inning off Vogelsong, his 1st of the season and since his return from the disabled list Monday in Cincinnati. McCann has looked healthy and effective, both at the plate and behind it. In his 5 games since returning, he now has 5 hits, 7 RBIs, and 2 HRs including the one he hit in game 1 of the series.

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

    W: Teheran (2-0) L: Vogelsong (1-3) SV: Kimbrel (11)

    Game 2:

    Tim Hudson had been nothing but dominant against the San Francisco Giants in recent outings. However, notching his 202nd career win against them was not in the cards. His opponent on the mound, Matt Cain, took a nasty line drive off his hip and still managed to pitch 8 innings of 2-run baseball. Hudson, on the other hand, lost control of the game in the 4th inning when the Giants scored 6 runs. Hudson was only able to pitch 3 2/3 innings before turning the game over the bullpen. Strangely enough, Hudson recorded 4 strikeouts, despite giving up 8 hits, 1 walk and those 6 earned runs.

    The Braves were unable to break the stranglehold Cain had on them until the 5th inning when they scored 2 runs. Those 2 runs would be the only of the entire game for Atlanta. Brian McCann’s 2-run homer off of Cain in the 5th accounted for both runs. His 2nd homer of the series looked even more like vintage McCann and may be the ultimate clean bill of health for the All Star catcher.

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

    W: Cain (2-2) L: Hudson (4-2)

    Game 3:

    Paul Maholm had another outing where he received no run support in the early innings and then lost control in the 5th inning. We have seen this trend with Maholm where he pitches great until the 4th or 5th inning and far too often has received little to no run support up until that point. Saturday’s game was no exception. Maholm pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up 8 hits, 3 walks and 6 earned runs. Gearrin and Avilan picked it up from there, not allowing any runs, but when Anthony Varvaro came in to relieve, he gave up an additional 3 runs.

    While it wasn’t the sharpest pitching the Braves have ever put on display, the hitting was nonexistent. This, too, is a trend with the Braves. It is feast or famine. The only RBI recorded in the game came at the hands of the pitcher, Paul Maholm. Gattis had a double, but that was not enough given the number of runs surrendered by the pitching staff. The Braves recorded 12 strikeouts.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 7 0
    Giants 1 0 0 1 4 0 0 4 x 10 14 0

    W: Bumgarner (4-1) L: Maholm (4-4)

    Game 4:

    Kris Medlen has had the worst luck in baseball so far this year. For as hot as he was last season after joining the rotation, he has been equally cold this season. It hasn’t helped that he has received an average of 2.66 runs of support in his outings. Compare that to the 4.94 average runs in support of Hudson’s outings, the 4.43 average in support of Minor, the 6.24 for Teheran and the 3.68 for Paul Maholm. The baseball gods must not be smiling on Medlen because the bats go cold when Medlen takes the hill.

    Medlen pitched 5 1/3 innings, gave up 8 hits and 5 runs (3 of them earned and 3 off the home run ball). The real struggle of the game was the strike zone. He walked 5 batters with his spotty command.

    In 2 of the 4 games in San Francisco, the hitting of Evan Gattis accounted for most, if not all, of the Braves’ scoring. Gattis recorded   a 2-out RBI double. The Braves struck out only 8 times against Lincecum and the Giants’ pitching staff, but it was clear they could not get a read on the improved stuff of Lincecum.

    Something unusual happened in the final game of the series: The Braves’ defense was terrible. Offensive struggles seemed to follow the team onto the field. Both Dan Uggla and Justin Upton received errors in the field.

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

    W: Lincecum (3-2) L: Medlen (1-5)

    JUSTIN UPTON RETURNS TO CHASE FIELD…

    When the Arizona Diamondbacks made their interest known to the league that they’d be entertaining offers for Justin Upton, the Braves knew that Justin Upton could be a star in Atlanta. However, like other teams, including the Seattle Mariners who had a deal ready to go until Upton blocked it, the Braves couldn’t understand why the D-backs had given up on a young man with such potential and so many tools. A change of scenery may have been just what Justin Upton needed, though. Since joining the Braves, he is hitting .269 with 35 hits, 12 homers and 21 RBIs. In the first 37 games of last season, Upton hit .234 with 30 hits, 4 homers and 13 RBIs.

    In comparison, two of the players that the Braves gave up to get Justin Upton haven’t exactly panned out for the D-backs. Martin Prado, the most versatile the Braves have had in years, has been versatile for the D-backs, but hasn’t produce the way he had for the Braves. Prado is currently hitting .223 with 35 hits and a mere 9 RBIs. Randall Delgado, part of Atlanta’s rotation last year, is not even a part of Arizona’s starting rotation. At Triple-A Reno, Delgado has a 9.09 ERA in 34.2 innings pitched.

    During the SF series, the Braves signed left-handed reliever Juan Cedeno. Cedeno’s minor league contract with the Braves could result in his call-up to the big club quickly given the struggles of Atlanta’s ‘pen in recent days. Cedeno, who is the same age as Varvaro (29), was part of the Yankees organization as a prospect. He pitched with their Triple-A affiliate in Scranton during the 2012 season and was released in 2013. In 11 innings at Scranton, Cedeno recorded an 0.82 ERA. He surrendered 8 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), 5 walks and 9 strikeouts. In his 2 years in Triple-A, Cedeno has a 2.52 record in 75 innings with 66 strike outs.

    Jason Heyward is close to returning to his spot on the roster. In his 3rd rehab game at Triple-A Gwinnett yesterday, Heyward had 2 hits and 3 RBIs. This was a vast improvement over the 1st game at Gwinnett when he went hitless in 5 at-bats (striking out 3 times). He then missed the Saturday game due to soreness around the site where his appendix was removed. As of now there is no exact date for Heyward’s return.

    In attempt to right the ship, the Braves will pit Minor (4-2, 2.96) vs. Miley (3-1, 2.93) in game 1 of the series. Tuesday’s game will feature Teheran (2-0, 4.84) vs. Corbin (5-0, 1.75). And the series finale features veterans Hudson (4-2, 4.70) vs. Kennedy (1-3, 4.83).

    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 rain-shortened series before heading to Cincy, Mac is back!

    Before the Braves could get on a plane to Cincinatti to welcome back their All Star catcher to the roster, they faced off at home against the Mets. Unfortunately, Mother Nature shortened the series to two games instead of the scheduled three. The Braves have yet to make an announcement about when the game will be made up, but there is a possibility of lengthening the 4-game series June 17-20 into a 5-game set.

    Game 1:

    When Lucas Duda led off the 2nd inning with a home run off Mike Minor, it didn’t appear Minor was long for the game. However, after giving up the blast to Duda, Minor buckled down and pitched 5 consecutive perfect innings. Minor was able to retire 18 straight after that home run.

    The offense was lively, but not in the usually explosive ways it has been in games where the Braves have scored multiple runs. Evan Gattis launched a go-ahead home run in the 8th, but had struggled at the plate before that at-bat, striking out in his previous 3 at-bats. Gattis’ home run was the highest high of the game, by far. B.J. Upton  had his 4th multi-hit game of the season and Jordan Schafer walked 4 times, just missing the franchise record of walks in a game (5) set by Dale Murphy.

    If a Braves game requires a high high and a low low, the lowest low came via the bullpen. Game 1 marked only the 13th time since the 2010 season that the bullpen allowed multiple homers in a game. It was the first time in their careers on the same roster that Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel each gave up a homer in a game.

    Closer Craig Kimbrel has been hit hard of late. He has now allowed 3 runs in his past 3 appearances, something that he hasn’t experienced in a very long time, if ever. Before this slide, he had given up 3 runs total in his previous 61 appearances. Kimbrel still has only given up 7 home runs in his big league career. Kimbrel notched his second blown save in 10 days. His first came in that bizarre game in Colorado when they Braves had a 2-run lead and a misplay by Justin Upton contributed to Kimbrel’s blown save.

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

    W: Parnell (2-0) L: Walden (1-1) SV: Familia (1)

    Game 2:

    The Braves were without Juan Francisco for the second game of the series. Francisco left game 1 with a mild right ankle sprain. He is currently day-to-day and says he is feeling better.

    Braves’ offense hit Jonathan Niese hard. In the 3rd inning, the Braves sent 10 men to the plate, including pitcher Tim Hudson twice. Had it not been for the wind, Justin Upton’s sacrifice fly in the 5th inning would have been a grand slam. Nothing Niese threw seemed to be getting hitters out. Dan Uggla hit his first triple of the season off Niese. It was also the Braves’ first triple of the season, the last team in baseball to do so. Uggla’s triple came in game 30 of the season and the franchise record for the latest first triple of the season was set in 1977 during game 31.

    Torrid offense and solid pitching from Hudson gave the Braves the opportunity to add to the oft-cited record of Huddy’s that gives him a record of 138-3 when given a lead of 3 or more runs.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Mets 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 4 6 0
    Braves 0 0 5 0 2 1 0 1 x 9 12 0

    W: Hudson (4-1) L: Niese (2-3)

    BRAVES JOIN BRIAN McCANN IN CINCY…

    The Braves begin their 10-game road trip tonight in Cincinnati. They will ten swing through San Francisco and Arizona before returning to the Ted.

    For the second time in two weeks, two pitchers, Medlen and Bailey, bring the same ERA to the matchup. Last week we saw that with Gonzalez and Hudson.

    The big news for the Cincy trip is that the Braves will have catcher Brian McCann returning to the lineup. And not a moment too soon. McCann holds a .333 average with 3 doubles, 10 homers and 19 RBIs in his 22 games at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. He has a nearly unheard of 1.130 OPS in the Queen City. Mac will face a pitcher that he is very familiar with in his first game back. Against Bronson Arroyo, Mac is 9-for-18 with 4 homers.

    On the matter of the bullpen: While Kimbrel and O’Flaherty have been shaky recently, part of this can be attributed to the state of the Braves’ bullpen of late. Losing Luis Ayala to the 15-day DL with an anxiety disorder was a big blow to a ‘pen that had relied on his consistency. Since returning from a hamstring injury, Avilan has not been as consistent and commanding as he was before. Walden is not tricking batters, except for his one appearance against the Nationals when batters seemed to be perplexed by his change up. And the absence of Jonny Venters is felt. Venters will return in the coming weeks barring a setback and the Braves hope for a speedy recovery for Ayala. However, if the Braves were to go looking for some bullpen help, they need look no further than Double-A where Alex Wood is tearing it up for Mississippi. Promoting him to Triple-A Gwinnett sooner rather than later would set him up to be of service to the big league club should they need it.

    The Braves will send Maholm (3-3, 3.08) to the mound vs. Arroyo (2-3, 3.95) for game 1. Tuesday’s game will feature Medlen (1-4, 3.38) vs. Bailey (1-3, 3.38). The final game of the series features Minor (3-2, 3.26) vs. Leake (2-1, 4.15).

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