• David Hale

    Braves snap interleague losing streak, welcome Phillies

    Where the Braves struggled in strike outs and scoring runs last season, an immense frustration for followers of the team and the players themselves, they’ve upped that struggle this season and have added to it inconsistencies on defense as well as out of the bullpen. Despite their frustrations, the Braves took 2 of 3 from the visiting Angels.

    Friday night the Braves once again saw great pitching from the unlikely Aaron Harang who has been nothing but solid for the Braves since they signed him late. Harang’s outing Friday led the team to finally snapping a 6-game losing streak in interleague play. Additionally, the team improved to 24-6 when scoring 4 or more runs. Harang finished his outing with 6 innings of 1-run ball. He allowed 4 hits, 3 walks and struck out 2.

    As the long man, David Hale got plenty of work this series.

    As the long man, David Hale got plenty of work this series. Hale entered the first 2 games of the series, pitching 3 1/3 innings.

    Aaron Harang was relieved by David Hale who saw plenty of time over the series with the Angels, particularly in the 13-inning marathon Saturday night. Over Friday and Saturday, Hale pitched 3 1/3 innings. He allowed 5 runs on 3 hits, walking 2 and striking out 1. Hale was out of sorts in the final inning of work Saturday night, but Fredi Gonzalez had only Shae Simmons and possibly Mike Minor to turn to. Fredi had said before the game that he didn’t want to use Simmons.

    Sunday afternoon Fredi Gonzalez said that Minor was in the ‘pen and ready to enter if the game had gone to the 14th or 15th inning. Minor, of course, was the scheduled starter Monday. Fredi also said that Wren was told that if Minor did enter the game then the Braves would need a reliever called up from Triple-A. The Braves didn’t end up making a roster move Sunday, despite the ‘pen logging 6 2/3 innings Saturday night. Aaron Harang was available in the ‘pen Sunday night–his scheduled ‘pen day–and would still have been available to pitch Wednesday against the Phillies. Fortunately, Harang wasn’t needed.

    One more note on Minor: Minor was, in a word, a mess at Coors Field. He contends that Coors doesn’t get to him, but it doesn’t seem that is the case. When he entered Sunday night’s game, he recorded strikes with each of the 6 breaking balls he threw. His breaking stuff was the big problem for him in Colorado and rebounded nicely at home against the Angels. Minor’s outing saw him give up his 70th career homer. 46 of those home runs, including the homers given up to Aybar and Trout in the finale, have been solo shots.

    Two bats that the Braves would love to see get hot or those of Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman. Since June 1st, Justin Upton has hit only .179 with 1 homer and 3 RBIs. He has recorded 14 strikeouts in that time. Justin could have put an end to the marathon game Saturday night in the 11th inning with a hit to right field, but yet another dramatic play in game of dramatic plays cost the Braves the win. Kole Calhoun went full extension facing the plate to rob Justin Upton of the potentially game-winning hit.

    Freddie’s bat has been slumping mightily recently. Prior to a clutch double in the 9th inning of the 13-inning game, Freeman had an 0-for-14 slump. That double may have propelled the struggling hitter back to more successful at-bats. Freeman hit a double in his first plate appearance of the series finale and through the 6th inning accounted for 2 of the 3 Atlanta hits. He has now doubled in 2 of his past 6 at-bats. Before Saturday night’s 9th inning, he had 2 extra-base hits in his previous 47 at-bats. Like Justin, Freddie has been sliding since June 1st. He has hit .163 in June with only 2 homers. His batting average dropped from .297 to .272.

    A bat that is anything but slumping is that of catcher Evan Gattis. Gattis took a 14-game hitting streak into the series finale with the Angels, a streak that has seen him hit .411. He extended his hitting streak to 15 games with an RBI-single in the 6th inning. The catcher was part of one of the more perplexing moves by Fredi Gonzalez in the series when he was pulled in the late innings of the marathon Saturday night game for pinch runner Dan Uggla. Not only is Gattis the most consistent hitter for Atlanta right now, Hale had pitched only 1 inning at that point and the bench was all but empty. Hale would go on to crumble in the top of the 13th inning, the team was without Gattis’ bat going forward and Dan Uggla’s base running skills were questionable when he was doubled off second base to end the inning (and rally). Despite the managerial snafu, Gattis remains the best hitting player on the team and the catcher with the most homers in either league. A few things worth noting about Gattis: He has 7 homers in his last 15 games and of the last 7 times Atlanta has hit back-to-back homers in a game, El Oso Blanco has been part of 6 of them.

    What many thought would eventually come appears to have with B.J. Upton–his struggles at the plate have now started dogging him in the field. B.J. committed costly errors in games 1 and 2 of the series, the error in game 2 potentially costing them the game and dragging the game into extra innings. He seems to have no sense of the strike zone, arguing with umpires about pitches that were clearly in the middle of the plate. His contract gives the Braves no leverage with the struggling center fielder. Going forward, fans can only hope that Upton is moved out of the 2-hole, possibly for La Stella.

    BRAVES OPEN SERIES AGAINST PHILLY AT HOME…

    Arriving in Atlanta Monday is the last-place team in the National League East. Jimmy Rollins surpassed the franchise record-holding Mike Schmidt for most career hits this week and now says he is open to being traded. It would appear that the Phillies are out of contention entirely.

    Look for the hot-hitting Evan Gattis to see plenty of playing time against the Phillies. Gattis has punished Philly pitching in his short career. He has a career .319 BA against Philly and has slugged .787 with 7 homers in 12 games. Evan Gattis has good numbers in limited appearances against veteran Cole Hamels. He is 2-for-3 (.667) with 2 homers in those

    One of the ongoing struggles for the Braves is consistency out of the bullpen. While the bullpen continues to struggle in high-pressure situations, they have relied heavily on closer Kimbrel for consistency in those spots. However, Kimbrel gave up a Pujols lead-off double and an RBI single to Hamilton, allowing the Angels to reclaim the lead in 10th inning Saturday night. Coming into the game, 13 of the 17 fastballs Kimbrel had thrown in his past 2 appearances registered 98 or 99 mph. The other 4 fastballs? 97 mph.

    David Carpenter continues to be the tough-luck man on the staff and with Alex Wood back in Triple-A, David Hale seems to be committed to the role of long man. Where the ‘pen had been the biggest strength of the Braves in recent years, it seems to be a liability right now. Having rejoined the team in Colorado, Jordan Walden’s presence hopefully will stabilize the ‘pen. Walden as set-up man for Kimbrel gives the Braves 2 innings they can count on. And Shae Simmons turns out to be a cool customer who doesn’t get rattled in tight spots. Hopefully Carpenter will return to the shutdown guy he came up as and Luis Avilan will continue improving against lefties.

    The Braves face growing specialty in bullpens in their division. By developing specialty arms, National League teams are averaging 8.72 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched per reliever. This was something the Braves were competitive with, sending Walden, Avilan and Kimbrel out there as well as Venters, O’Flaherty and Kimbrel the year before. They have the talent to keep up with the league, it’s simply a matter of Carpenter recovering his confidence, Walden staying healthy, Simmons introducing himself to the league and Avilan returning to the Avilan of old.

    A few notes on injuries: Heyward was hit in the hand at the plate in the first game of the series with L.A. The ball got him on his last 3 knuckles of the right hand. After treatment on the hand, Heyward was able to play Saturday. Also, Gerald Laird, who missed time following a Tulowitzki back swing in Colorado that hit Laird in the jaw and side of the head while knocking his mask off, entered the Saturday game in the late innings. Laird passed concussion tests in Colorado and was cleared by Rockies’ doctors to fly back with the team to Atlanta.

    The 3-game series against the Phillies will kick off Monday with Hamels (2-3, 3.07) vs. Teheran (6-4, 2.41). Kendrick (2-6, 4.09) is pitted against Santana (5-3, 4.09) Tuesday. And the series finale will feature Hernandez (2-5, 4.26) vs. Harang (5-5, 3.20). The Braves will then go on the road to face the Nationals.

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

    Braves pitching rocked in Miami, Minor to debut

    A rotation with a team 1.90 ERA was bound to fall to Earth eventually. And so it was in Miami with Alex Wood, Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana. The Marlins swept the Braves in a 3-game series, a down point in an otherwise exciting season. Despite the month-ending series, the Braves have had a strong April behind the solid pitching of Harang, Wood, Santana, Teheran and Hale and the offensive dominance of Freeman, the younger Upton, Gattis and Simmons. They entered May with a 17-9 record.

    A few of the best stats from April:

    Julio Teheran finished April with a 1.47 ERA, the lowest of the starting rotation.

    Julio Teheran finished April with a 1.47 ERA, the lowest of the Braves starting rotation.

    • The Braves pitching staff (starters and relief corps) put up the lowest ERA in the National League at 2.69 (244 2/3 innings pitched).
    • Braves’ starters finished April with a 2.40 ERA and an 11-7 record, the best ERA in the NL.
    • David Hale put together the 2nd best ERA of MLB rookies in April (2.10).
    • Justin Upton finished April with the best batting average on the club at .323. He put up 4 doubles, a triple, 8 homers and 18 RBIs with 3 stolen bases.
    • Freddie Freeman finished April with a .305 batting average. He had 7 doubles, 6 homers and 17 RBIs in 105 at bats.
    • Andrelton Simmons put up great offensive numbers to match the stellar defense Braves’ fans are used to. He hit .280 with 3 doubles, 3 triples, 3 homers and 7 RBIs. His number of strikeouts, 3, matched the number of triples, doubles and homers he had.
    • Julio Teheran leads the Braves and is 2nd in the league in ERA (1.47).
    • Until the final series of the month, Aaron Harang led the NL in ERA at 0.85.

    MINOR MAKES 2014 DEBUT, HUDSON RETURNS TO ATLANTA…

    The Braves return to Turner Field for a weekend series against the visiting San Francisco Giants. The series marks the season debut of Mike Minor and the return of fan favorite Tim Hudson who left Atlanta in free agency this past offseason.

    Mike Minor missed most the early days of spring training due to a urethra surgery in the offseason. He then injured his pitching shoulder. Reliever Gus Schlosser, who recorded his first big league hit and pitched 11 innings, was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett with the arrival of Minor. David Hale, who had a great April in the rotation, moves to the bullpen for the time being.

    Atlanta will miss Tim Hudson’s spot in the Giants’ rotation while they’re in town. Hudson, speaking to Atlanta press Friday, said that was fine by him because pitching against the Braves would have been strange. He said he can’t help but root for Atlanta, but hopes they have a “mini slump” while his Giants are facing them.

    Lincecum (1-1, 5.96) will take the mound against Minor (–) in his 2014 debut. Saturday’s match-up with feature Vogelsong (0-1, 5.40) vs. Teheran (2-1, 1.47). The series finale will pit Bumgarner (2-3, 3.74) vs. Wood (2-4, 2.93).

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

    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.

    Pitching continues to be story of Braves’ April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    With series win, Braves head home to honor Hank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Braves magic number holds at 4, Nats up next

    Atlanta went into the 3-game set against the struggling San Diego Padres with high hopes of dropping their magic number to within division-clinching distance before the series in D.C. began Monday. However, best laid plans never seem to pan out in these situations. The Braves suffered 2 losses at the hands of the Padres and came away from the series with their magic number of 4 not budging. The next stop for the Braves is a 3-game set in the nation’s capital where they hope to crush the Nationals’ playoff hopes and clinch the division.

    freddie

    Freeman has lifted his batting average to .314 with 160 hits, 21 homers and 99 RBIs.

    In Freddie Freeman’s last 7 games, he has contributed 13 hits (2 doubles, 2 homers) and 3 RBIs. He is currently 1 RBI away from having 100 on the season. Friday, Freeman entered the Padres series with 20 homers on the season. It is the newly 24-year-old Freeman now has 3 consecutive seasons with 20 or more home runs.

    On Friday the 13th, a 2-run blast for Brian McCann marked the catcher’s sixth consecutive 20 or more home run season. Also Friday night, Justin Upton launched his 25th homer on the first pitch he saw in the 4th inning.

    The story of the Padres series was truly the Braves’ starting pitching. Over a 7-game stretch, the Braves will have used 7 different starting pitchers. While the start of Kameron Loe was a disaster for Atlanta, the Braves got more than they expected from veteran Freddy Garcia against the Marlins and rookie David Hale in the Padres series.

    David Hale’s had a great Major League debut, despite the team giving up the 3-0 lead he left the game with. His line: 5 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 87 pitches/56 strikes. Hale’s 9 strikeouts in his MLB debut, including the strikeout of Wil Venable to start the game, far exceeded his season-high of 6 strikeouts, achieved 4 times, at Triple-A Gwinnett. Hale’s 9 strikeouts tied a franchise mark for strikeouts in a Major League debut–it was last achieved by Kenshin Kawakami in 2009. Of course, Atlanta has high hopes for Hale, hopes that don’t include anything resembling what Kawakami went through when he signed with the team. While some questioned why he wasn’t allowed to continue, it was the right move for a young arm that hadn’t started a game in 11 days.

    Kris Medlen pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings on Saturday. He allowed 4 hits, 2 walks and struck out 5. It was the 7th consecutive start for Medlen in which he has pitched into the 7th inning and the 3rd start this season that he made it into the 8th inning. Medlen has recorded the win in his last 4 starts, bringing his season record to a winning 14-12. Over the last 4 games dating back to August 29th, Medlen has given up only 3 runs, 23 hits and struck out 26 hitters in 27 2/3 innings. His ERA in those 4 games was 0.98.

    Unfortunately, pitching just wasn’t enough for the Braves to get out of the Padres series with a win. This season, the Braves went 1-5 against San Diego. Perhaps the best player the Padres have, Chase Headley, had 3 homers in the 3-game set. His 2-run shot off Julio Teheran in the series finale put the game out of the reach for the dead Braves offense.

    Like so many other times this season, the Braves lost a series to a team that shouldn’t have been hard to beat. The Braves have dominated winning teams, teams that will likely be in the playoffs, but they have suffered sweeps and losses to teams like the Phillies, Padres, White Sox and Mets. It’s a bizarre phenomenon. It might bode well in the postseason, however, when the Braves face off against teams they have had success against all season.


    BRAVES HOPE TO PUT AWAY NATS AND SECURE SLOT IN POSTSEASON…

    Heading into Washington, D.C., the Braves are in perfect position to not only clinch the division, but put the rival Nats out of their misery for the season.The Braves enter the 3-game series with a record of 89-60, while the Nats have a record of 79-70. The Nats are 10 games back in the division and 4 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race. A series win would give the Braves the division win and would likely knock the Nats out of contention for the Wild Card spot.

    With the division berth approaching, both Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward will join the team on the trip to D.C.. Heyward, recovering from a fractured jaw, took batting practice while the Braves were at home and the hope is he may be able to face live pitching by the end of next week. J-Hey has been hitting with a special batting helmet that has an attachment to protect his injured jaw. He has said that he doesn’t bother him to be using the helmet and that he feels safe when he steps into the batter’s box.

    Jordan Walden joined the bullpen in the nick of time as the fractured finger Scott Downs has been dealing with has really made him a liability. The only player that the Braves are currently hoping to get back before the postseason is Paul Maholm who had a MRI that showed inflammation of his pitching elbow, but no structural damage. They hope he returns on or before September 20th. While the loss of Beachy and Maholm this late in the season would be crippling for other teams, the Braves have been lucky to have Freddy Garcia, Alex Wood and David Hale to rely on.

    To kick off the series, the Braves will send Minor (13-7, 3.15) vs. Haren (9-13, 5.02). Tuesday’s game will feature veteran Garcia (1-1, 1.32) vs. Roark (6-0, 1.30). The series finale will pit Wood (3-3, 3.45) vs. Ohlendorf (4-0, 3.15). The first game of the series will be featured nationally on MLB Network.

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

    Braves make moves with magic number down to 6

    Georgia native David Hale will make his first big league start Friday against the San Diego Padres.

    Georgia native David Hale will make his first big league start Friday against the San Diego Padres.

    With their magic number whittled down to 6 games, the Atlanta Braves welcome back familiar faces and have high hopes for the return of others as they head home to Turner Field to face the under .500 San Diego Padres for the weekend series.

    In the first game of the weekend series, the Braves will send to the mound David Hale who was called up during the last series. Hale has pitched 9 innings over 5 games since being called up and has a 3.00 ERA. In 22 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this season, Hale had a record of 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA. His minor league appearances have, for the most part, been starts, though he has been utilized as a reliever thus far. This will be his first big league start.

    The Braves made numerous moves and received news about injured players during the Miami series. The Braves activated Reed Johnson who had been on the disabled list since July 28th with a pesky Achilles injury. Also, the Braves called up catching prospect Christian Bethancourt during the 4-game set with Miami. This season for Double-A Mississippi, Bethancourt hit .277 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 90 games. Bethancourt has been hailed as the replacement for Brian McCann as he enters free agency this coming offseason. The Braves also have reliever Jordan Walden back who has survived yet another injury this season. His return will take some of the pressure of Luis Avilan who has not been as sharp since his consecutive scoreless streak ceased.

    As the team arrives back in Atlanta, the Braves will get to see Jason Heyward taking batting practice for the first time Friday. Heyward, recovering from a fractured jaw, is hopeful to be in playing shape in time for a few games at the end of September prior to the playoffs. Heyward’s absence has been felt as the Braves have juggled playing time between B.J. Upton, Jordan Schafer, Evan Gattis, the now injured Justin Upton and call-ups from Triple-A Gwinnett. Clearly, having Heyward back will be hugely important to postseason success.

    Paul Maholm, who had experienced elbow discomfort dating back 2 starts when he pitched against the Mets, had an MRI on his pitching elbow that revealed inflammation, but no structural damage. The Braves are hopeful that he will make his next start as scheduled. This recent issue seems to indicate that Maholm won’t be the 4th arm in the starting rotation for the playoffs. Like Maholm, Brandon Beachy underwent an MRI that revealed continued inflammation of his repaired elbow. Beachy returned from Tommy John surgery to make 5 starts before being shut down with elbow discomfort. At this point, it would seem most likely that Beachy will sit out the remainder of the season and start anew at spring training.

    With just over two weeks to go, the Braves are in great shape with an 88-58 (.603) record. They currently trail only the surging Boston Red Sox in wins. Their record stands as the best record in the National League. Their 11-game lead on the Washington Nationals with the Nats on the schedule after the Padres will likely put the Nats’ last flicker of hope out for 2013. The Braves must continue to push themselves in the final days as home field advantage based on the best record in the league will be highly advantageous.

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

    Braves take series from Mets, continue on course to playoffs

    The Braves put another series win under their belts as they make their way to the postseason. Their record stands at 85-54 and they hold a 14 game lead on the Washington Nationals in the National League East.

    Kameron Loe surrendered 11 hits & 5 ER in 4 1/3 inn Wed.

    Kameron Loe surrendered 11 hits & 5 ER in 4 1/3 inn Wed.

    Though the Braves took 2-of-3 from the Mets, they weren’t without a hiccup or two. The Braves dropped the series finale to the Mets after spot starter Kameron Loe struggled mightily against Mets’ offense and continued his trend of giving up far too many long balls. Loe, who has pitched for 3 MLB teams this season, has allowed 11 dingers in 22 big league innings. Unfortunately, that trend continued when Loe gave up 2 homers in the game. In 4 1/3 innings, Loe allowed 5 runs on a whopping 11 hits.

    Entering Kameron Loe’s start Wednesday, the Braves were 27-8 with 2.66 ERA in past 35 games, and 19-4 with a 2.53 ERA in their past 23 home games. Their starting pitching, minus a few anomalies in Wood’s last outing and as Maholm has returned, has been dominant in the last few weeks. The Braves have watched as confidence has allowed Minor and Teheran to develop into two of the best young pitchers in the game, Wood was barely edged out for NL Rookie and Pitcher of the Month by the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, and Kris Medlen has regained the command he displayed last year when he moved from the bullpen to the rotation and went on an otherworldly tear.

    More on Medlen: Kris Medlen had a solid outing in game 2 of the series. Medlen brought his season record to 12-12 and his ERA to 3.48. He went 7 strong innings, gave up 7 hits, allowed 1 run and struck out 9 batters.

    While the rotation is getting a great deal of ink as they dominate opposing hitters, it cannot go unmentioned just how amazing Craig Kimbrel has been this season. The closer was named August’s Delivery Man of the Month and a case could have been made for him being NL Pitcher of the Month. In August, Kimbrel was 1-0 with 12 saves and 19 Ks in 16 1/3 scoreless innings. Over that span he only allowed 2 batters a free pass on base, gave up only 8 hits and he converted each save opportunity he was given. This is the 3rd time in Kimbrel’s young career that he won this particular award, the previous 2 awards coming in August of 2011 and September of 2012.

    Of course, the entire series wasn’t defined by pitching. A few offensive highlights include Monday night’s Freddie Freeman Show. The dark horse MVP candidate matched a season high with 5 RBIs. In his career he has had 3 games in which he has batted in 5. Freeman appears to have taken the title of Mets’ Killer from Chipper Jones since the third baseman’s retirement. Freddie has hit .306/.377/.566 with 12 homers in 53 games (196 ABs) against the Mets.

    Another offensive highlight of the Mets’ series was the return of El Oso Blanco. After being sent down to Triple-A Gwinnett last week to get some consistent at-bats, the Braves welcomed back Evan Gattis Tuesday. While at Gwinnett, Evan Gattis had 6 hits including 3 doubles and a homer. He continued his hot hitting with 4 hits, including a double, homer and RBI in his 2 games back. In addition to his hitting, Gattis made his presence known on the base paths. In Wednesday’s game, Gattis had a stolen base erased by the official scorer, advancing instead on a wild pitch. In his big league career, he remains without a stolen base.

    BRAVES VISIT NOT SO UNFLAPPABLE PHILLIES…

    The Braves will arrive in Philly as their once dominant division rivals are struggling. Between players past their prime and a slue of new guys playing positions that were once manned by big-name stars, the Phillies are in sad shape. Their defense has been more reminiscent of a little league team than a high-paid big league roster. And their offense has been just as inconsistent. For the Braves, who are rapidly nearing the magic number of games won that will send them to the playoffs, it will be a good time for them to arrive in Philadelphia.

    With September call-ups still making news across Major League Baseball, the latest call-up for the Braves will join the club for the upcoming series. Right-handed reliever David Hale has been recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett. Hale went 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA in 22 games for the Triple-A team. This will be his first appearance on a big league roster. The Braves also made a move in the opposite direction. They have traded catcher Matt Pagnozzi to the Houston Astros.

    As the Philly series opens, manager Fredi Gonzalez has said that outfielder Jordan Schafer should be ready to play Friday. Schafer was scratched from the lineup Wednesday with a quadriceps contusion that was created by him fouling a ball off his leg. Tuesday against New York, Schafer had 3 stolen bases in the first 4 innings of that game. Schafer has 11 steals in 18 games since returning from the disabled list with his foot/ankle inury. That matches the highest season total for any other Brave. B.J. Upton has 11 steals.

    Friday night’s series opener in Philly will feature Minor (13-5, 3.08) vs. Lee (11-6, 3.09). Game 2 will pit the rested Wood (3-3, 3.15) vs. Kendrick (10-12, 4.51). The series finale will feature Maholm (10-10, 4.41) vs. Hamels (6-13, 3.50). The Braves’ road trip will then continue in Miami.

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