• Dan Uggla

    What Could’ve, Should’ve, Would’ve Been

    The Top 10 of the 2010s, Part 2

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – It’s time for part two of my top 10 most memorable moments of Braves baseball I watched in person in the 2010s, looking at baseball’s epic final day of the 2011 regular season that found Atlanta land outside the postseason party after a painful late-season swoon, then taking a stroll through two games in which Braves starters nearly pitched no-hitters (and a nod to the lone no-hitter, at any level of baseball, I’ve witnessed in person across 40 years that also contains an interesting perspective on a tragic night in my hometown’s history).

    As a reminder, you can check out the introductory piece of the series below:

    Part 1: A Big Bang … Then A Choke

    The Long, Painful Death of a Season: Sept. 28, 2011

    Epic Late-Season Stumble Costs Braves Playoff Berth

    As late August 2011 arrived, it felt like only an act of God could keep the Braves from a second-straight NL playoff appearance. The Phillies were running away with the NL East but the Braves had found their footing, winning 16 times in 21 games to enter the final weekend of the month with the second-best record in the Senior Circuit and a 9 ½ game lead over the Giants for the NL’s lone wild-card spot.

    The Cardinals? Pfft, 10 ½ games behind the 79-53 Braves at 68-63.

    Atlanta flew to New York after taking three of four in Chicago, but Hurricane Irene was heading toward the nation’s largest city, too. The opening game of the Mets series was played in front of less than 23,000 at Citi Field and journeyman Chris Capuano destroyed the Braves, striking out 13 during a two-hit complete-game shutout. The final two games of the series would be cancelled and, with a Monday off day, the Braves suddenly had a three-day break as they were playing their best baseball of the season.

    They never recovered.

    The weirdness of that weekend in the Big Apple began the unraveling. It concluded at Turner Field on Sept. 28, the final day of the regular season. It would go down as one of the wildest, craziest days in baseball history (the Red Sox simultaneously were giving away the AL wild card), and the Braves entered that Wednesday night matchup with the division-champion Phillies having lost four in a row to fall to 10-19 since flying into New York.

    The Braves and Cardinals were tied at 89-72 as I walked into Turner Field alone for what I hoped would not be the final time that season. My sons were home with the next day being a school day, but downstairs in my filing cabinet were tickets to the first two home NL Division Series games. The sheer thought of those tickets being refunded was ridiculous just four weeks earlier, but as the losses piled up in September my sense of dread grew, and I don’t know if I’ve ever walked into a ballpark with so much doom-and-gloom as I headed to my seat in the lower level, midway between first base and the right-field corner.

    For six innings, everything was fine, and I started growing more confident. The Braves took a 3-1 lead on a Dan Uggla homer in the third and Tim Hudson cruised into the seventh inning. But with one out came two hits and an error by Jack Wilson at shortstop to score a run, and I started thinking again about how my heart was going to be shattered. After all, I sat in this stadium nearly a year before and watched the Braves fall apart in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the NL Division Series. I remember looking around and seeing people who must’ve been thinking the same thing, the wheels spinning in our heads with that, “here we go again” refrain.

    Was the seventh the start of the train careening off the tracks?

    Perhaps not. Craig Kimbrel made his first All-Star team, led the National League with 46 saves and won NL rookie of the year in 2011. Save No. 47 would at worst send the Braves into a one-game playoff with St. Louis. But Kimbrel proceeded to give up a single, get a strikeout, then walk two hitters before Chase Utley’s game-tying sacrifice fly. And as extra innings began to march on, I couldn’t help but think of all the opportunities the Braves had squandered over the past month to avoid being in this situation.

    I saw the Braves win the World Series in person in 1995. Three years earlier, I saw the Braves score three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the 1992 NL pennant in person. I’m generally an optimistic person. But that night I found myself fighting that feeling of “not again” over and over. It only grew after Chipper Jones flew out to deep left-center with a runner on to end the 10th, and it grew even more when Jason Heyward reached third on a wild pitch before Martin Prado struck out to close the 12th.

    Of course, the Phillies scored in the top of the 13th on Hunter Pence’s single that barely cleared the infield dirt. Of course, the Braves would get a runner on with one out in the bottom half, only to see Freddie Freeman – the runner-up to Kimbrel for rookie of the year – ground into a 3-6-3 double play. We knew the Cardinals already had won some 30 minutes earlier, that 8-0 result glaring on the out-of-town scoreboard in the ballpark, and when Freeman slammed his batting helmet into the ground behind first base as the season died, the deflation nearly was overwhelming.

    Other than Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, I don’t think I’ve ever sat in a ballpark after a loss as long as I did that night. But the worst part didn’t come on Sept. 28. It came the morning after, when I had to wake up two little boys for school and tell them their favorite baseball team’s season was over.

    Oh, So Close, But No No-No: June 5, 2013 and July 29, 2018

    Julio, Newk Flirt with Every Pitcher’s Dream

    In all the baseball games these nearly 47-year-old eyes have watched through the years – from playing to coaching my kids to my sports writing days and countless games as a fan – I’ve witnessed exactly one no-hitter. It came the night after the bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics, in an American Legion playoff game on July 27, 1996, in Gainesville, Ga. Andy Hussion, who would help pitch Gainesville High to a state title the following spring, twirled the gem with his dad, former Furman play-by-play man Chuck Hussion, working the PA at Ivey-Watson Field along the shores of Lake Lanier.

    The bombing was the topic of conversation everywhere, including at the ballpark. I was interning as The Times in Gainesville that Olympic summer. We were owned by The Gannett Corp. (which owned USA Today) at the time, and there were veteran newspaper people with decades of experience onsite. When the bomb went off, the presses actually stopped (just like in the movies, but never in real life). Page 1A was redone and our morning edition had the news, while other newspapers that served our area did not. I lost track of how many people in our circulation area awoke on that fourth Saturday of July 1996 with no idea what had happened downtown until they grabbed our paper from their driveways.

    Why do I share this, something that occurred so long ago? I watched two Braves take no-hit bids beyond the seventh inning in the past 40 years. Both occurred this decade. Both hold significant meaning to me, so I cheated a bit to combine both as one entry.

    June 5, 2013: The Braves had won four in a row entering a Wednesday get-away date with the Pirates at Turner Field. Both my kids were with me, ages 10 and 9 and soaking in the initial days of summer vacation. We sat in the upper deck and watched Julio Teheran dazzle the Pittsburgh lineup. Teheran at the time still sat mid-90s with his fastball, and he had everything working. We got to the top of the eighth, everybody was standing, and I was telling my kids repeatedly not to say what all of us were thinking – fortunately, they both were old enough to understand what was happening.

    Two outs in the inning, four outs away. Brandon Inge came on as a pinch-hitter, worked a 1-1 count, then lined a single to left. Teheran retired Starling Marte to end the eighth, David Carpenter worked a perfect ninth to finish the one-hitter, and my sons and I were stunned as how close we had come to seeing a MLB no-hitter in person.

    Not too long after, something happened that made my life just about completely collapse. In some of those darkest days that followed over the next two to three years, in a season of my life where hope was almost nonexistent, that Wednesday afternoon in the sunshine at Turner Field with my boys was a bright memory and a sign of better days to come.

    It just didn’t result in a no-hitter. And that wasn’t the only close call, either.

    July 29, 2018: By the grace of God, I was in such a better place as that final Sunday of July unfolded. It was the day of Chipper Jones’ induction into the Hall of Fame. My oldest son and I gathered with friends in a hotel suite near SunTrust Park to break bread and catch up, then it was on to the ballpark for the series finale with the defending NL champion Dodgers. The Braves were working to avoid a sweep after being outscored 9-2 in the first two games, as many of our thoughts were some 965 miles northeast in interior New York.

    Sean Newcomb took the mound for his 40th major-league start. He got two runs of support in the first inning and two more in the third, and the Massachusetts lefty took it from there, walking Yasiel Puig in the sixth but allowing nothing else entering the ninth. The ballpark, already an emotional mess as many of us had strained to stream Chipper’s acceptance speech during the third inning, was teeming as Newcomb took the mound to start the ninth.

    I had no doubt Newk was going to do this. Zero. Everybody was standing. I couldn’t breathe. My oldest son was pacing like I’d never seen, and he would admit later he thought it was done, too. After two flyouts. Newcomb was one hitter away. Chris Taylor worked the count to 2-2, including a somewhat questionable pitch he took for a ball, then lined a single to left field as third baseman Johan Camargo dove to his left in vain. The Braves would win 4-1, Newcomb would throw 129 pitches on the day, and the two teams would meet 2 ½ months later in the NL Division Series.

    Oh man, talk about the ultimate “what if.” I chatted with my kid while writing this and he said to this day, he was 100 percent certain Newcomb had it. His stuff was that good. I know there’s been ups and downs with Newcomb at times, but that day in July 2018 shows his potential to dominate a great lineup.

    It also shows that no-hitters are so hard to complete, and seeing one is such a rare treat. And, every day you walk into the ballpark, there’s a chance it happens. Perhaps one sweet day, Andy Hussion will have some company on my list.

    —30—

    On Deck: Saying Goodbye to The Skipper, and The Ted

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    Braves part ways with Uggla, welcome back Gattis from DL

    It was only a matter of time before the Atlanta Braves could no longer afford to play with a 24-man roster due to the abject failure of Dan Uggla. While Frank Wren had shopped Uggla to numerous teams in the month prior to the all-star break, no teams were willing to trade with the Braves for a second baseman who seems to have lost what once made him a formidable bat in the National League.

    The Braves were not only facing a continued short bench, a 24-man roster, if you will, they were facing the possibility that if the Braves didn’t find a trade partner for Uggla, they would eat a large chunk of money. Unfortunately for the Braves, the lack of trade partner will cost them the remainder of Uggla’s $13 million salary for 2014 as well as the $13 million he is owed for 2015.

    Think back to July of 2010 when the Braves learned that utility man Omar Infante had been selected to the All Star Game. It was a highly unusual selection by Charlie Manuel and much talked about. Infante was a sure hand in the field, filling in for the veteran Chipper Jones and stepping up at second base. His bat, of course, was a huge part of his value. Infante finished the 2010 campaign with a .321 batting average with 15 doubles, 3 triples, 8 homers and 47 RBIs in 134 games. It was Infante’s finest season and upped his value considerably. It wasn’t surprising that when power-hitting Dan Uggla was available, the Braves pounced on the chance to trade with the Marlins to bring Uggla to Atlanta for Infante. But like so many trades have in over the long history of baseball, it turned out to be a bust for Atlanta.

    While Infante continued to put up respectable numbers as the everyday second baseman for the Marlins before being traded to the Detroit Tigers, Dan Uggla’s numbers have been headache-inducing for the Braves’ front office, coaching staff and fan base. Like Infante, 2010 was Dan Uggla’s strongest year. He put together a .287 average with 33 homers and 105 RBIs (average and RBIs were a career high). His value was highest when he joined the Braves. From there it spiraled downward. In his first season with Atlanta he posted a .233 average with a career high 36 homers. His bulked up frame seemed to hurt his overall ability at the plate, but his defense remained solid. As his batting average plummeted (.220 in 2012, .179 in 2013, .162 in 2014), his defense alone couldn’t continue to secure him a spot in the lineup. In 2014, we’ve seen the Braves cut Uggla’s playing time and call up rookie La Stella.

    Uggla was released by the Braves on Monday and this morning the latest on Dan was that the Giants had signed him to a minor league contract. He’ll join their Triple A affiliate in Fresno. He has an August 1st opt-out clause if he isn’t called up to the big league club, a club really hurting for a younger, healthier second baseman. If he makes it to the big leagues, the Giants will be responsible for the league minimum salary while the Braves continue to be on the hook for his 2014 contract salary.

    Nobody wanted to see Dan Uggla fail, including Dan Uggla himself. He handled the situation as best he could and was always respectful to the club and its fans. This is how the game of baseball works–good or bad. There is no denying that Dan Uggla had some amazing games for the Braves. While he struggled mightily with the team, let’s not forget that he also had some amazing runs. When Dan Uggla’s bat was hot, there was nobody more feared by pitchers. It was a pleasure watching Uggla step to the plate to face dominant pitchers like Strasburg and leave them in awe and frustration. Let’s choose to remember those times and wish Uggla well.

    THE RETURN OF EL OSO BLANCO…

    Evan Gattis was hitting .290 before landing on the disabled list at the end of June.

    Evan Gattis was hitting .290 before landing on the disabled list at the end of June.

    In all the all-star talk about Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Justin Upton, the first half of Evan Gattis mostly was forgotten. His rhomboid injury, eventually learned to be a bulging disc, put an end to an incredible run for Gattis. When he landed on the disabled list, he was hitting .290 with 16 homers and 39 RBIs. His at-bats were electric and powered the Braves back from the brink in many games. His clutch hits are renowned in the league in this his second season. But even the 6’4″ Gattis is not invincible.

    After a long stint on the DL, Gattis is back for Monday night’s game. His Triple-A rehab assignment went without incident and he has been cleared to both hit and call the game behind the plate.

    With Gattis returning, it goes without saying that the Braves have to evaluate how they want to proceed. In the absence of Gattis, veteran Gerald Laird stepped up not only behind the plate, but as a leader and mentor for young Christian Bethancourt. Bethancourt has hit .240 in 13 games since being called up. Coincidentally, Gerald Laird is also hitting .240 on the season.

    Fredi Gonzalez can certainly say that the kids are alright. With Bethancourt proving he can call games behind the plate and get hits, his time in the minor leagues may be limited going forward. Additionally, Tommy La Stella has been a gift from the baseball gods. Since being called up at the end of May, La Stella is hitting .297 with 11 doubles and 21 RBIs in 165 at-bats. His defense is proving better than advertised and the Braves are no longer sending Ramiro Pena in as a defensive replacement late in games due to La Stella’s clutch hitting. That La Stella has been such a marvel to watch on the field has taken some of the sting out of the failure of Dan Uggla.

    One other young gun worth noting is Shae Simmons. Simmons recently broke a 2-year streak of not having given up a homer. Since joining the ‘pen on the last day of May, Simmons has put together a 1-1 record with 8 holds, a 2.18 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. With the bad run of David Carpenter and the floundering Luis Avilan who has been demoted to Gwinnett, the dominance of Shae Simmons has been much needed in Atlanta’s ‘pen. Simmons, like Bethancourt and La Stella, seems to have a bright future ahead.

    With Gattis back in the lineup, the Braves get underway tonight against the Miami Marlins. Monday night’s game will feature Koehler (6-7, 3.99) vs. Teheran (9-6, 2.71). Tuesday night will pit Turner (2-6, 6.22) vs. Minor (3-5, 4.86). Wednesday’s game will send out Eovaldi (5-5, 4.08) vs. Santana (8-6, 4.03). And the series finale will see Harang (9-6, 3.36) take the mound against an unnamed starter for Miami who definitely isn’t Jose Fernandez.

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

    Braves swept by Boston in split series, looking for consistency

    Despite quality outings from many of the Braves’ starters and a shakeup at second base, the Braves continue to lack consistency among the offense and shutdown innings from their bullpen. The Red Sox arrived at Turner Field with a 10-game losing streak and after 2 games at the Ted and 2 games back home at Fenway, they walked away from the 4-game series with a sweep. In 3 of the 4 games, the Braves handed a lead to their bullpen and watched it disappear including the walk-off in the finale. It was a tough series for Braves fan who not only watched the sweep, but also watched more Red Sox fans than ever before flood into the Ted to outnumber Braves Country.

    Tommy La Stella was called up during the series with the continued shakeup at 2B. He went 2-for-3 in his debut.

    Tommy La Stella was called up during the series with the continued shakeup at 2B. He went 2-for-3 in his debut.

    In another attempt to shake things up with the offense, Fredi Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren called up Tommy La Stella from Triple-A Gwinnett to man second base. Sending Tyler Pastornicky back down and leaving Dan Uggla on the bench (where he will likely stay until his time with Atlanta has closed), the Braves hoped the hot bat La Stella was swinging in Triple-A would carry over to the big leagues. La Stella brings his minor league .322/.407/.474 slash line to the club, numbers that more than replace those of Uggla (.177/.254/.257), Pena (.164/.243/.299) or Pastornicky (.200/.300/.257). Fredi hopes La Stella’s numbers will transfer as an everyday second baseman in the bigs. He also hopes that Pena and Uggla will offer flexibility off the bench and occasional match-up numbers that warrant a start.

    Heading into the finale with the Red Sox, In the last 11 innings for the Braves bullpen, they’ve given up 11 runs (10 earned) and walked 11 batters. The Braves seem to be hurting with Walden on the disabled list and have still not established a definitive timetable for the return of Jonny Venters. Avilan has not been the Avilan of 2013 when he was all but perfect. Varvaro has been the most consistent, aside from Kimbrel. However, the Braves really need Thomas to not be costly in high pressure situations. They also need to decide what they are going to with David Hale. They have said he would be their long man, but in situations of high pressure it would seem that he would be a better option than Thomas. That doesn’t seem to be the thinking of Fredi, however. Whatever the Braves do, they can’t rely on arms from Triple-A to fix the problem. The recent minor league signing of Kameron Loe is thankfully not for a big league spot. Whatever fix the Braves are going to do to the ‘pen will be done with the arms they have.

    While Braves fans are largely happy with the demotion of Dan Uggla from everyday second baseman, many continue to call for less playing time for B.J. Upton. This is problematic for the Braves because of his contract and fans should understand that. Also, B.J. Upton has been much improved in recent weeks. Hitting .222 at home may not seem like a great stat, but for B.J. that is a huge improvement and one that is showing up in the box score. His average on the season has improved to .208 (.284 on-base). In his last 8 games, B.J. is hitting .258 with 8 hits (4 of them extra-base hits) and only 6 strikeouts. Every little improvement from hitting with runners in scoring position to strikeouts is a step closer to the player the Braves they thought they were getting when they signed him to his $75 million contract.

    BRAVES RETURN TO MIAMI, SIGHT OF SIGN-STEALING SWEEP…

    The Braves will send three of their best to the mound in Miami against a rotation that is now without ace Jose Fernandez. Teheran (4-3, 1.77) takes his 15 inning scoreless streak into the opener vs. Koehler (4-4, 3.10). Santana (4-2, 4.06) hopes to get back on track in the pitcher-friendly lime green confines against Turner (1-2, 5.35). And veteran Harang (4-4, 3.29) will close out the series against Eovaldi (4-2, 3.36).

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

    Braves take shortened series, head to Big Apple

    What was supposed to be their Achilles heel–starting pitching–has turned out to be the greatest strength in the early going for the 2014 Braves. The rain-shortened series in Philadelphia once again put the dominant starting pitching on display with great outings from Ervin Santana, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood. Unfortunately, the all or nothing offense was only able to notch one in the win column of Julio Teheran after waiting ’til Santana left the game to explode Monday night and offered no run support for Alex Wood in another solid outing from the young pitcher.

    Evan Gattis went on a tear in Philly hitting .667 while slugging 1.667.

    Evan Gattis went on a tear in Philly hitting .667 while slugging 1.667.

    Part of that all or nothing offense was Evan Gattis. In 2 of the 3 games played in Philadelphia, Evan Gattis reminded us of why he was one of the most dynamic hitters on the club last season. He hit .667 with 6 hits, 3 homers and 4 RBI with only 1 strikeout. Wednesday night Gattis put 4 hits on the board, a career high. He added to his superb career April numbers. Over 30 games going back to last season, Gattis has hit .303 (33-for-109) with 8 doubles, 10 homers, 23 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .342 and a .651 slugging percentage. Gattis has 5 dingers in his past 3 games at Citizens Bank Park.

    Justin Upton arrived in Philly the hottest hitter in baseball and the reigning NL Player of the Week. Unfortunately, his terrible road numbers weren’t snapped in Philly. At home, Justin is hitting  .591, with 4 diners and 8 RBIs (6 games). His road numbers are another story. He is batting .118 with a .211 on-base percentage (9 games).

    The surprise of the series was, of course, Dan Uggla’s offense. Where his defense stumbled, including a costly error in Philly’s game 1 rally, his offense made up for it. The highlight of the series for Dan was a grand slam in game 1 that capped a game-winning rally by the Braves. It was Dan’s second homer of the game. He and Gattis both notched 2 homers in that game. Uggla finished the 3-game series in Philly with 3 hits, 2 homers, 5 RBIs, 1 walk and 2 strikeouts. He hit .273 with an on-base percentage of .333 and slugged .818.

    With an all or nothing offense there are bound to be nights when gems from starting pitching don’t get rewarded with a win. Such was the case with both Ervin Santana and Alex Wood in Philly.

    Ervin Santana pitched 6 solid innings, allowing 4 hits, 1 run and striking out a career high 11. However, Luis Avilan game up 5 runs in relief that allowed the Phillies to rally and take the win out of Santana’s hands. In one of those strange scoring events in baseball, Avilan was credited with the win after the team rallied at the top of the next innings after he crumbled on the mound. David Carpenter recorded his second career save, his first save with the Braves.

    Julio Teheran’s brilliant complete game shutout was matched with a brilliant outing by opponent Cliff Lee who also went the entire game. Teheran went the distance allowing 3 hits, 0 runs and striking out 4. Lee, perhaps more dominant, went the distance while allowing 11 hits. The tipping point was the homer Lee gave up to Evan Gattis, the deciding run for the Braves. Cliff Lee is the only pitcher in big league history to lose 2 games where he has allowed 1 run and struck out 13 or more batters. Lee has had tough luck numbers against the Braves recently. In his last 2 starts against Atlanta he has pitched 17 innings, giving up 2 runs and striking out 26 strikeouts. Yet he has a record of 0-2. It was a great win for young Teheran for many reasons, but that he achieved it against the opponent he did is huge.

    A.J. Burnett threw 7 innings of 3-hit ball that resulted in no runs for the Braves. His 5 strikeouts were outmatched by the 7 K’s of Alex Wood. However, Wood’s 8 innings of 8-hit ball surrendered a single run that proved to be all the Phillies needed when the offense couldn’t get Wood any run support. It was one of the best outings we’ve seen from Wood in his young career.


    BRAVES, HARANG RETURN TO CITI FIELD…

    Aaron Harang spent part of the 2013 season with the New York Mets. In 4 games started with the club, he had an 0-1 record and a 3.52 ERA with 26 strikeouts (23 IP).

    Friday night’s game will be the first time that Jason Heyward will face Jonathan Niese since being hit in the face by a pitch last season, costing him a good chunk of the second-half of the season with a broken jaw. Heyward is 9-for-24 with 2 HRs against Niese.

    Freddie Freeman hits the Mets very well and has taken the place of Chipper Jones as the player with the most success against the club. Freeman is 9-for-27 with 2 HRs against Niese and over the past 21 games Freddie is 29-for-81 (.358) with 6 homers and 20 RBIs against the Mets.

    Atlanta hopes to have closer Craig Kimbrel back in their arsenal this weekend. Kimbrel hasn’t pitched since last Saturday due to shoulder soreness. Shut down, but not placed on the DL, Kimbrel has never had any type of arm soreness or injury before now. The Braves, playing it safe, gave the closer extra time to make sure he was 100% healthy. In a bullpen session Wednesday, Kimbrel reported no discomfort in his shoulder. In 5 2/3 innings this season, Kimbrel has allowed 1 run, has 12 K’s, and has 5 saves. He remains 10 saves away from tying John Smoltz on the all-time list of Braves with the most saves.

    The Braves will send former Met Aaron Harang (2-1, 0.96) to the mound in the season opener against Jonathan Niese (0-1, 3.46). Veterans Ervin Santana (1-0, 0.64) and Bartolo Colon (1-2, 6.00) will square off in the second game. David Hale (0-0, 2.89) will cap the series against Zack Wheeler (1-2, 4.67).

    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 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.

    Notes from Braves sweep of the Tribe

    The Braves swept the visiting Tribe at the Ted this week, bringing their total number of sweeps this season to 12. They now hold a record of 81-52 (.609), the best record in Major League Baseball, with a 13 game lead in the National League East.

    Here are a few notes from the Braves’ sweep of the Indians:

    Medlen on Thursday: 7 inn, 6 hits, 6 K's, 0 BB, 0 ER.

    Medlen on Thursday: 7 inn, 6 hits, 6 K’s, 0 BB, 0 ER.

    • With his 3-run home run in the series finale, Brian McCann has not recorded 19 homers on the season. He now has 4 HR and 18 RBI in situations where there are 2 outs and RISP this season.
    • In Kris Medlen‘s 5 August starts, he pitched 33 innings, gave up 11 earned runs, walked only 4 batters, struck out 28 and had a 3.00 ERA. The series finale got Kris Medlen his 4th win of the month, including the strange outing when he was needed in the ‘pen and recorded the win. In Thursday’s win, Medlen went 7 innings, giving up 6 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 6 and strikeouts on 96 pitches.
    • On Wednesday, Dan Uggla (2B) was activated from the 15-day DL after undergoing successful Lasik surgery to correct his vision. Todd Cunningham (OF) was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.
    • Atlanta is 16-3 with 2.21 ERA in their past 19 home games.
    • As a starter this season, Joey Terdoslavich (OF) is hitting .375 (12-for-32). As a bench bat, he is hitting a poor .192 (5-for-26).
    • Luis Avilan, one of the most dependable set-up men in the league, has allowed a run in 3 of his past 7 appearances. He had just 1 unearned run in his previous 35 appearances.
    • In Tuesday’s home opener, Elliot Johnson‘s first home at-bat with the Braves resulted in a 2-run triple. Before that 2-run triple, Elliot had 1 hit in his previous 39 ABs when facing American League pitchers.
    • Justin Upton left Thursday night’s game with a left hand contusion after being hit by a pitch at the plate. While the x-rays were negative, he is listed as day-to-day. Each of the Braves starting outfielders (Upton, Upton and Heyward) have sustained injuries this season, as have backup outfielders Schafer, Johnson and Gattis.
    • Craig Kimbrel continues to dominate opponents. In the series finale, he recorded his 43rd save of the season, 32 of those saves consecutive. Kimbrel’s ERA is now a ridiculous 0.97. Despite having what appears to be his best season yet, Kimbrel has 12.9 Ks per 9 innings, his lowest SO/9 rate of his young career. He is on pace to surpass his Rookie of the Year season high of 46 saves.

    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 holding lead in East, look to bury Nats

    Uggla-1

    Dan Uggla (2B) will miss 3-4 weeks after undergoing Lasik surgery to correct his vision. Uggla is hitting .186 on the season with 21 home runs, 53 RBIs and 146 strikeouts in 388 at-bats.

    In the 3-game series between the Braves and visiting the Phillies, Atlanta experienced many losses. First, and most unfortunately, a fan was killed at Turner Field after falling from the fourth level of the stadium into the players’ parking lot. A situation no team is truly prepared to deal with, the Braves offered a moment of silence in the fan’s memory the following night.

    The team lost Dan Uggla to the disabled list as he and the team made the decision to send the second baseman for corrective eye surgery, hoping to have him back in time to help them in a playoff run. Uggla hopes to begin a rehab assignment 10 days after surgery. He and the Braves do not expect his time on the DL to last longer than 15 days. Also, Uggla’s replacement at second base, Tyler Pastornicky, went down with a knee injury after colliding with Jason Heyward in the outfield. Pastornicky’s time table for return, as determined by an MRI revealing a torn ACL, is by Spring Training. Should the Braves need a second baseman in addition to Paul Janish, the likely option is 24-year-old Tommy La Stella. La Stella is only 64 games into the season at Double-A.

    Despite a few question marks on the field, the Braves have a lot to be hopeful about. After going 8-11 with a 4.26 ERA during the period beginning on July 3rd and ending on July 25th, the Braves are now 17-2 with a staggering 2.26 ERA in their past 19 games. Pitching has received run support, yes, but they’ve also held their opponents to little to no runs. They have now held opposing teams to 2 or fewer runs in 46 games in 2013. The August record of the Braves is a far cry from that of their 2012 season. In 2012, they were 15-14 in August. With Wednesday’s win, they improved to 11-2 in August (5-2 home; 6-0 road). Atlanta has not lost back-to-back games since July 20th and 21st while in Chicago facing the White Sox. They haven’t lost back-to-back games at home since July 3rd and 4th against the Miami Marlins.

    Three players that have been so consistent this season to not warrant mentioning after each series are Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson and Craig Kimbrel. They are, of course, a huge part of the reason the Braves have the record they do. This season with the bases loaded, Freddie Freeman is hitting a whopping .750 (6-for-8), with 3 doubles & 14 RBIs. He has an other-worldly slugging percentage of 1.125. Craig Kimbrel has been lights out this season. Unlike his previous seasons of dominance in the National League, Kimbrel has had more consecutive saves in 2013. With his 38th save on the season, Craig Kimbrel passed Braves hall-of-famer John Smoltz for the franchise record in consecutive saves with 28 straight. Kimbrel has not blown a save since May 7th. And in 34 appearances since May 9th, Kimbrel has only allowed 16 hits. He is currently leading the NL in saves on the season. Kimbrel now has 127 saves in his young career. Chris Johnson, who continues to lead the league in hitting with a .337 average, has 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position and is hitting .333 in his past 4 games with 2 doubles, 1 homer and 8 RBIs.

    As of Thursday, the Braves have 9 players that are among the leading top 10 in 7 key categories in the National League: In batting, Chris Johnson (1st, .337) and Freddie Freeman (8th, .310); In home runs, Justin Upton (6th, 22) and Dan Uggla (7th, 21); In RBIs, Freddie Freeman (T-4th, 80); In wins, Mike Minor (T-5th, 12); In ERA, Mike Minor (10th, 2.87); In saves, Craig Kimbrel (1st, 38); and, in wins above replacement (WAR), Andrelton Simmons (8th, 4.7).

    Guys that haven’t been consistent enough throughout the season to be among league leaders, but who have turned around their seasons and have been consistent for the Braves of late are Jason Heyward and Kris Medlen.

    It’s important to remember how dominant Medlen has been in the league since he first came up. In his career starts when the Braves have given him a lead of at least a run, he is 23-3. Medlen has been 4-0 in his last 4 starts with a 3.46 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched. He has pitched 7 innings in each of his last 2 starts and 6 innings in his 2 starts before that.

    Jason Heyward is having a torrid summer. Heyward, in 59 games since June 2nd, is hitting .308 (70-for-227) with 25 extra-base hits (9 of those homers), .384 OBP, and a .502 slugging percentage. In Heyward’s past 17 games, the majority of which have been in the leadoff spot, he is hitting .400 (26-for-65) with 9 extra-base hits, .466 OBP, and a .631 slugging percentage.

    BRAVES HOPE TO END NATS’ PLAYOFF HOPES ONCE AND FOR ALL…

    Reliever Jordan Walden played catch Wednesday and again Thursday. He hopes to be available for the series opener against the Nationals. Starter Paul Maholm will throw 6 innings or 90 pitches Saturday in single-A Rome, likely his second to last rehab outings. Fredi Gonzalez has yet to decide where Paul Maholm will fit in the Braves pitching rotation. He still has about 9 days before he would be ready to pitch for the big league club. Both Walden and Maholm have been out with wrist/hand injuries.

    In the other dugout, the Washington Nationals come into the series with a bad case of Natitude. Gio Gonzalez and Jayson Werth had a bit of a spat in the dugout recently and it has been reported that Bryce Harper, the sophomore slugger, had to step up and tell his team to get it together and not give up on the season.

    The Braves are unsure what they will see on the mound given recent injuries to Gio Gonzalez (back) and Stephen Strasburg (groin). Strasburg also threw a bullpen Thursday and didn’t appear to have any groin issues while Gio’s back is reportedly better. In addition to the injured pitchers, battery mate Wilson Ramos re-injured his left hamstring for the 3rd time this season. Ramos has not returned to the offensive prominence that he exhibited prior to tearing his ACL and missing almost the entire 2012 season. Not because of injury, closer Rafael Soriano blew the save and recorded the loss against the Giants in their most recent series finale, leading a bullpen that has been terrible. The Nats are certainly not looking like the team everyone said was the team to beat when the season opened.

    Though the Braves have a 14 1/2 game lead on the Nats in the NL East, the Nats’ hopes of the 2nd Wild Card spot aren’t entirely out of the question. 9 1/2 games back from the 2nd Wild Card spot currently held by the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals could be put out of their misery by the Braves with a sweep or even 2-for-3 weekend in Atlanta’s favor. Without question, the Braves would love for the playoff hopes of the Nationals to be ended once and for all, by their own hand no less.

    The series opener will feature young pitchers Jordan (1-3, 4.14) vs. Wood (2-2, 2.78). Game 2, featured on the MLB Network, will pit Strasburg (6-9, 2.83) vs. Minor (12-5, 2.87). And assuming he is able to start as scheduled, Gonzalez (7-5, 3.42) vs. Teheran (9-6, 3.08) will wrap the series.

    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.