• Detroit Tigers

    Saying Goodbye to The Skipper, and The Ted

    The Top 10s of the 2010s, Part 3

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – We continue looking back at my top 10 most memorable moments of Braves baseball I watched in person in the 2010s with part three, a focus on two farewells: Bobby Cox’s last game as manager before retiring, and the final game held at Turner Field in 2016.

    As a reminder, you can check out previous entries in the series below:

    Part 1: A Big Bang … Then A Choke

    Part 2: What Could’ve, Should’ve, Would’ve Been

    The Skipper’s Final Ride: Oct. 11, 2010

    Bobby’s Hall of Fame Career Ends with Game 4 Loss to Giants

    Say what you will about his bullpen management, his lineup construction, his postseason win/loss record. But let me say this. I said it as a kid watching him manage my hometown team in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I said it as a young sports writer who on occasion got to cover his teams and deal with him. I said it after watching his daughter play in the state softball playoffs in Columbus one year, when I kindly asked him if I could speak to him about being a dad and not a major-league manager, a moment he recalled the next spring when I found myself ducking into his office at his main job for a few pregame thoughts.

    I appreciate Bobby Cox.

    Sure, you can beat the drum all you want about winning only one World Series championship during the great run of the 1990s and the first part of the 2000s. That’s fair. I think about sitting next to him in the first-base dugout at Champion Stadium during spring training in 2005 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., asking if he had a moment to talk about what spring training was like in the 1960s when he was a hopeful major leaguer, for a front-page story I was working on about how the Grapefruit League had become big business, and him chatting with me for 15 minutes like I had been on the beat for 20 years.

    I think about watching him take grounders at first base during batting practice in 2000, when I got to cover a few home games in the first half of the season. Hearing those spikes click-clacking along the concrete walkway from the locker room to the first-base dugout at Turner Field. Seeing that mini-fridge in his office with the glass door that held his postgame beverages and tobacco.

    Mostly, I think about how much he loved being at the ballpark, talking shop, those quips of “c’mon kid!” the dugout mics would pick up, and how hard he fought for his players.

    It didn’t matter if you were the 25th man on the roster or a suburban newspaper reporter who occasionally dropped in to ask a question. Bobby Cox treated you with like you were a superstar or a full-time beat writer. To me, it was quite fitting that somebody who was so similar to him but plied his craft on the opposite coast, Bruce Bochy of the Giants, would be in the opposing dugout for the legendary Braves skipper’s final game, Game 4 of the 2010 NL Division Series at Turner Field.

    Atlanta, by all rights, should’ve been ahead 2-1 in the best-of-five series. The bottom line is they weren’t, and as I watched the game with my best friend from the outfield bleachers, it was in the back of our minds this could be Bobby’s last game. Brian McCann’s homer off Madison Bumgarner in the sixth snapped a 1-all tie, but Alex Gonzalez’s error in the seventh led to two runs scoring. The Braves got the tying and winning runs on base in the ninth, only to see one of my least-favorite Braves of all time, Melky Cabrera, ground out.

    When it was finished, everybody in Turner Field realized far more than a season had ended. Bochy did, too, so he instructed his Giants to applaud the Atlanta skipper while on the field during the aftermath of the series-ending victory. That singular gesture from one classy professional – who recognized the moment – to another brought tears to our eyes. Yes, the Braves should’ve won that series. They didn’t, but Bochy recognized the finality of the moment in his team’s own moment of triumph. I was proud to stand in SunTrust Park on Sept. 22, 2019, and cheer for Bochy during his final visit to Atlanta and final road game as Giants skipper.

    And what happened after the Game 4 loss and the team filed into the locker room? Cox, who never liked to go into the locker room, held court long into the night with his players. Perfect. How else would this baseball lifer close up shop on his final day on the clock than talking about the sport he loved?

    One Last Time at the Ted: Oct. 2, 2016

    Closing 50 Years of Ball Downtown with a Playoff-Type Victory

    There should’ve been zero reason for a postseason-esque buzz walking into Turner Field on Oct. 2, 2016. The Braves were 67-93 entering the finale of another lost season (remember, Atlanta played just 161 games that season, as the game seven days earlier in Miami was cancelled following the tragic death of one of my favorite non-Braves of all time, the brilliant and transcendent Jose Fernandez).

    The Braves had endured a brutal start to the season but actually played well at times in the second half, entering the season finale winning 17 of its previous 27 games. Dansby Swanson had taken over at shortstop after being promoted in early August, and interim manager Brian Snitker had steadied things somewhat following the early May firing of dead-man-walking Fredi Gonzalez. As best he could, because this team wasn’t very good.

    I spent pregame trying to find some friends of mine tailgating, to no avail. But with my two sons and their non-baseball caring cousin in tow – the cousin wearing a Braves shirt we gave him, one of my sons wearing one of my Braves jersey, and the other wearing (for some reason, but God bless him nonetheless) my Ilya Kovalchuk Thrashers jersey – we headed into the ballpark.

    What we saw, as my two kids said repeatedly that day, was a game possessing the energy of a playoff game. It was a playoff game for the visiting Tigers, as they needed to win to get into the AL postseason party, and of course they had ace Justin Verlander on the mound. The Braves countered with Julio Teheran, and following all the pregame pomp and circumstances, the one dependable arm amid the Braves rebuild shined brightest.

    Freddie Freeman scored Ender Inciarte on a first-inning sacrifice fly and Teheran took it from there, striking out 12 while allowing three hits and one walk in seven sparkling innings. Verlander was great, too, giving up six hits with one walk and eight strikeouts in seven innings as the 51,200 brought an energy and vibe that, had you closed your eyes, you’d thought it was the early part of the decade when the Braves were relevant.

    Jose Ramirez and Jim Johnson each gave up a hit in one inning of relief but kept Detroit off the scoreboard to finish a 1-0 victory, knocking the Tigers out of the postseason and officially sending the Braves nine miles northwest to the confluence of Interstates 285 and 75, where SunTrust Park was being constructed. Home plate was dug up and taken up the road via police escort during an extensive postgame ceremony that, in retrospect, felt like a celebration after clinching a playoff berth.

    There was so much emotion that afternoon for me personally. I covered a World Series game in that ballpark. I covered an All-Star game in that ballpark. The third date with my wife was in that ballpark. I took my two sons to their first Braves games in that ballpark. In May 1996, while still sports editor of the Georgia State student newspaper, I covered the first event in that ballpark, when it was a track-and-field stadium, some two months before the 1996 Summer Olympics would happen there. In October 1996, I attended media postgame events in that ballpark, trying to process the Braves slow-motion World Series train-wreck occurring across the street, while machines moved earth below the suites and continued the ballpark’s transformation from the center of the global sports universe to the new home of the Braves.

    Who could dare to dream as the sun set on the final major-league baseball game played downtown after a 50-year run, that a mere 24 months after saying goodbye to Turner Field, these rebuilding Braves would host postseason games in their new digs?

    —30—

    On Deck: Stunned Silence After a Pair of Gut-Wrenching Losses

    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 at the Deadline: AA Says Enough ‘Bull,’ Positions Braves for Deep October Run

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – Since taking the reins of the Atlanta Braves as general manager in November 2017, Alex Anthopoulos has followed a measured approach, one that belied his aggressive reputation and track record from his days leading the Toronto front office.

    Fans rubbed their hands together in frustration, screamed from every social media mountaintop, and vented to any and all who would listen as last year’s trade deadline and a full offseason passed with a few notable moves, and many more opportunities – perceived or real – missed.

    But there would be no such consternation Wednesday as the 4 p.m. ET trade deadline passed, almost simultaneous with the Braves concluding a 4-2 road trip with a hair-raising victory at National League East rival Washington. The finale saw Atlanta follow a script recited far too often during 2019, the Braves bullpen coughing up a late lead before its offense saved the day to ensure a lead in the division standings of no less than six games.

    Now, that team will be better when it takes the field Thursday at SunTrust Park for the first of four games with Cincinnati.

    Much, much better.

    At the very moments Anthony Swarzak, Luke Jackson and Sean Newcomb were trying to tip-toe through the eighth and ninth innings, Anthopoulos was putting the finishing touches on two deals that immediately transforms Atlanta’s biggest vulnerability into one of its strengths. The Braves authored two trades for proven veterans with closing experience, acquiring All-Star closer Shane Greene from Detroit and moments later landing former All-Star Mark Melancon from San Francisco.

    Add the Tuesday night trade that netted Texas setup man Chris Martin, and the Braves suddenly have a trio of high-quality, impactful relievers at the back end. How impactful? Jackson – the default closer who admirably has given his all in the role while walking the tightrope for large portions of the season – now slides to at least fourth on the big-league depth chart. His stuff will play outstanding in a setup role. He’s not a closer.

    The deadline’s aftermath was a stark contrast from what Braves fans are accustomed to, as the praise rang in from the national media talking heads that never hesitate to bash Anthopoulos and the franchise at every turn. Several reporters traveling with the team reported cheering in the locker room when news of the Greene and Melancon deals broke. Even Braves fans on social media universally treated the news like someone stumbling across a water fountain in the desert.

    In some respects, who can blame them? A very good team, one that many pleaded with to be aggressive at the deadline, did just that. The Braves now have a bullpen as capable of mixing and matching in the middle of games as anybody, a strategy that plays in October when starters don’t go as deep and quality arms in the middle innings can swing the balance of playoff series.

    With no waiver-wire trade deadline in August, teams entered the dying days of July knowing they had one shot to get it right. It brought about some weirdness, such as the Mets dealing for Marcus Stroman and the Reds (the Reds!) trading for Trevor Bauer, who incidentally will make his Reds debut in Atlanta this weekend. Some of the names speculated about the most, such as Mets ace Noah Syndergaard, Tigers starter Matthew Boyd, and Rangers hurler (and former Brave) Mike Minor, stayed put. Some of the deals pulled off Wednesday would have been executed in August if the waiver-wire deadline still existed, the Braves acquiring catching depth by trading for Arizona backstop John Ryan Murphy as an example.

    In the final 72 hours before the deadline, experts repeatedly talked about teams trying to “thread the needle” and balance cost effectiveness with acquisition impact on this season and, for some teams, next season. Anthopoulos pulled it off flawlessly, striking the right balance of addressing the team’s most glaring need while not sacrificing its future:

    • Martin (3.08 ERA, four saves, 43 strikeouts, four walks – no, that’s not a typo – in 38 innings) was acquired for Kolby Allard, the Braves No. 10 prospect according to MLB Pipeline who had been leapfrogged by one group of arms and was close to getting passed by another batch.
    • Melancon (3.50 ERA in 43 games, 183 career saves) cost Tristan Beck, ranked No. 17 and one member of a deep core of Atlanta pitchers, and reliever Dan Winkler, who battled inconsistency this season while toggling between the majors and Triple-A.
    • Greene (1.18 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 10.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings, 22 saves) was secured for promising lefty Joey Wentz (No. 7 prospect) and Travis Demeritte, an infielder-turned-outfielder who was acquired from Texas for Lucas Harrell during the depths of the Braves rebuild and did not have a clear path to the majors at any position.

    While some fans may be shocked Anthopoulos did something to this scale, the real stunner is the cost – or rather, the lack thereof – to Atlanta’s vaunted farm system. The Braves have horded prospects like canned goods to the point where their minor-league pantry is overflowing. Some of that depth needed to be thinned out, and the time was now to do it.

    Mission accomplished. The crown jewels of Cristian Pache, Ian Anderson and Drew Waters remain in the system. Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, William Contreras and Kyle Muller are still here, too. Only 10 percent of the Braves Top 30 was sacrificed to add three arms that could take the ball in the ninth inning for a playoff team.

    Landing a starting pitcher would have put the cherry on top of this day, but Anthopoulos told reporters late Wednesday it was pretty clear there wasn’t a match as the deadline approached. He pivoted quickly, ensuring the bullpen was fixed with a double-barrel approach that addressed the source of so much frustration not just for this year, but moving forward as both Greene and Melancon are signed through 2020.

    There is delicious symmetry in the fact these moves occurred in tandem with what could have been the two most devastating losses of the season. Atlanta sprinted to a 9-0 lead Tuesday and all was well when the Martin news broke, but the Braves bullpen leaked for six runs with three walks and five hits in 2 1/3 innings of an 11-8 triumph, a game in which Jackson had to be summoned to throw 27 pitches and survived despite giving up three hits and a walk in the ninth.

    Then came Wednesday when Jackson – inexplicably brought on by Brian Snitker to start the ninth with a two-run lead – surrendered two tough-luck hits to begin the frame. Enter Newcomb, who has shined as a reliever this season but gave up a hit and a walk in allowing the two inherited runners to score. A nod here to the big lefty, who got out of the inning with the winning run on third, an escape that allowed Josh Donaldson – one of the few big moves Anthopoulos has made since arriving in town – to launch a 10th-inning homer for the winning margin.

    It came down to Josh Tomlin, a 10-year veteran pitching in his 220th career game, surviving a hit and a walk to earn his second save of the season – and of his career. It capped a scary roller-coaster ride that could have ended with the Braves lead whittled to 2 ½ games in the East.

    Suffice to say Tomlin, or Jackson, won’t be closing games for this team moving forward.

    Anthopoulos has taken his share of criticism, in some respects warranted. But at this moment, he deserves kudos. He’s given Snitker multiple viable options in the late innings, and in turn a team poised to reach October again has a much better chance to do serious damage once it gets there.

    —30—

    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 (opens in a new tab)">@bud006.

    The Austin Riley Experience Leaves Us Speechless Again

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – The radio hosts kept offering suggestions that the general manager considered, but it didn’t take long to tell there wasn’t a whole lot of decisiveness in the, “that’s pretty good,” and “yeah, that’s not bad,” answers.

    Alex Anthopoulos spent a few minutes on the Atlanta Braves flagship radio station Friday afternoon, and part of the 680 The Fan interview with the Braves GM focused on vetting nicknames offered by fans to encapsulate what has become The Austin Riley Experience. And while several of the suggestions were good, Anthopoulos – and quite frankly, the rest of the planet – is at a loss to describe what’s occurring on a nearly nightly basis.

    Riley – the 22-year-old third-baseman-of-tomorrow turned left-fielder-of-today-because-he-destroyed-Triple-A – did it again on a sun-splashed Saturday at SunTrust Park, belting an opposite-field 428-foot homer high above the Braves bullpen during Atlanta’s 10-5 triumph over the Detroit Tigers.

    On the first day of June, Riley continued doing what he’s done at a historic rate since making his major-league debut a scant 17 days ago:

    Forcing us to try and find the right words to sum up what we’re seeing.

    Good luck with that.

    Consider the facts, silly as they may sound. Riley is the fourth player in big-league history (Rhys Hoskins, Trevor Story and Carlos Delgado) to hit eight or more homers in the first 16 games of a career. His 22 RBIs tie the mark for most in 16 career games (Mandy Brooks in 1925; Jim Greengrass – an 80-grade last name, for what it’s worth – in 1952). He’s yet to go longer than three games without a homer; has yet to go more than two games without an RBI. He brings a .349/.388/.762 slash line into Sunday’s series finale, with a 1.150 OPS, 10 extra-base hits, 11 runs scored and a BABIP of .438.

    And we all thought Ronald Acuna Jr.’s at-bats last season were the type of must-see TV we only experience once in a generation. Riley is every bit as compelling, every bit as enticing, every bit as “oh my, did you see that!?!” A buzz rises through the ballpark when his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame strides to the plate. It’s downright palpable, and I noticed it on May 16, just his second big-league game in which he went 3-for-4 – the first of his six multi-hit efforts to date.

    This is not your prototypical pull-happy, light-tower power, strapping slugger who’s feast or famine at the plate. Yes, there are the 23 strikeouts in 67 plate appearances. But there also is the 94.7 mph average exit velocity, nearly 6 mph harder than the MLB average. There is the approach: looking for an Adam Wainwright curveball in his fifth big-league at-bat that he served into center field, the soft single with two strikes down the right-field line to plate a game-winning run in the 13th inning in San Francisco, the long homer Saturday to the opposite field, the fact that 31.6 percent of Riley’s batted balls have been launched oppo – 6 percent above league average.

    Suffice to say Riley won’t see Gwinnett County again, unless he’s taking a drive up Interstate 85. Ender Inciarte’s back injury opened the door for Riley to reach the majors. Inciarte threw and ran on the field prior to Saturday’s game, but has yet to swing a bat. There is no urgency coming from anybody in the organization for the three-time Gold Glove center fielder to rush back.

    Can you blame them?

    Even with the swing and miss, Riley makes a good Braves lineup downright dangerous. To be honest, several key Braves have sputtered at the plate in the past three weeks. Riley has been good enough to shoulder a heavier-than-deserved load, similar to how Acuna carried the Atlanta offense for large parts of the final two-month sprint to the National League East title last summer.

    That effort by Acuna, along with the aura surrounding every time he stepped into the batter’s box, won him NL rookie of the year last November. Might we see a similar storyline unfold that leads another one of the crown jewels of the Great Atlanta Rebuild to the same honor in five months? Perhaps. The NL is littered with standout rookie talent, and not to be forgotten is yet another shining byproduct of the Braves teardown, ace-in-the-making Mike Soroka. The Kid From Calgary gave up more than one earned run for the first time this season Saturday, raising his ERA (yes, raising!) to 1.41 as he improved to 6-1.

    Soroka’s starts are must-watch, and he persevered on a day where he had a bit of ball-in-play bad luck. But a struggling offense that netted just 10 runs during a minor three-game losing streak roared back to life with runs in the final five innings.

    And smack-dab in the midst of it all was the Mississippi Masher, who once again sent us grasping for our thesauruses in a futile attempt to describe another jaw-dropping moment in The Austin Riley Experience.

    —30—

    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.

    Snitker the Brave Receives Well-Deserved Extension

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – It was a moment that otherwise would be forgotten amid the wreckage of a lost season, the 72nd game of a campaign in which the Atlanta Braves would win but 68 times, would finish 26 ½ games out of first place, would promote an organizational lifer to the manager’s seat after a 9-28 start merely to steer the listless ship toward October and incoming certain change at the helm.

    The Braves hosted the New York Mets on June 23, 2016, at Turner Field, Brian Snitker filling out the lineup card as a major-league manager for the 35th time since replacing the fired Fredi Gonzalez six weeks earlier, 39 years after debuting as a minor-league catcher for Atlanta’s rookie-league affiliate in Kingsport, Tenn., 34 years after starting his first season as a manager for Atlanta’s Single-A affiliate in Anderson, S.C. The Braves were hosed out of the tying run in the bottom of the seventh, a blown call that (surprise!) replay upheld.

    Mets announcers, not surprisingly, were pleased with the call …

    But Snitker promptly strolled onto the field for an explanation from umpire Mike Everitt, who promptly ejected the interim skipper.

    Then, we saw it. Yes, it’s been there since 1977 and those days squatting behind the plate in the Appalachian League, but here on a major-league diamond was Snitker, stomping behind Everitt, arms flailing violently, Braves cap in his left hand, screaming at the top of his lungs, fighting for the team that brought him up only to keep a seat warm in the dugout, a demonstrative outpouring of passion and loyalty to the lone franchise he’s known, an outburst that made the 22,324 in the ballpark that night sound like 40,000.

    It truly feels like a fairy tale, this 2018 season that culminated in a National League East championship, a trip to the NL Division Series, the confluence of veteran leadership with young blooming talent. And in the midst of it all stood Snitker, who long shed the interim label, who Monday sat proudly in a red shirt and a blossoming offseason beard (mustache, too!) as the Braves announced a two-year contract extension with a third-year option for 2021.

    When Snitker was summoned from Triple-A Gwinnett to take the helm after Gonzalez was relieved of his duties, I joked on Twitter that he should bring Ozzie Albies with him. No way did I ever think this stint would last beyond the final game of 2016, but lo and behold, we saw something else that muggy June night in the ballpark that now is the home of Georgia State football.

    We saw the Braves rally. Adonis Garcia belted a two-run homer an inning after Snitker was sent to the showers, the come-from-behind 4-3 victory serving as foreshadowing for how Atlanta would become the battling Braves in years to come. Atlanta has won 57 games in its last at-bat since Snitker became manager, including 20 this season as the Braves raced past expectations and past the rest of the NL East, fashioning one of the most memorable campaigns in these parts since the franchise relocated from Milwaukee in 1966.

    For context, that was 11 years before Snitker joined the Atlanta organization.

    He deserves a ton of credit, and it started during those dark days of 2016. The Braves were an embarrassment in the final two months of 2015 and it continued through the early weeks of the next season, Atlanta going 34-76 in Gonzalez’s final 110 games as manager. Certainly, it wasn’t all his fault, with a stripped-down roster as the organization dove head-long into rebuild mode. Snitker managed 52 games before the All-Star break, the Braves going 22-30, then put together a 37-35 second half and knocked Detroit from the playoff race in the final game before home plate at Turner Field was dug up and transported via police escort to the dirt pile that would become SunTrust Park.

    Snitker found himself at the helm for 2017, an evaluation year that certainly would end with bumbling executives John Coppolella (trying to circumvent MLB rules) and John Hart (trying to lower his handicap) seeking a new manager for 2018, the man who would lead the Braves out of the darkness. Holes remained in the roster, of course, but Snitker helped squeeze a 45-45 start before Atlanta finally ran out of gas, and by late summer there was every indication the lifelong organization man would be in a different role come 2018. We’ve heard the stories by now, how right fielder Nick Markakis stood up for Snitker after Hart screamed at the manager following a loss in August, how Coppolella’s lack of people skills pushed Snitker to the point of telling a clubhouse attendant to pack his stuff while the Braves were finishing the season on the road, the affable lifelong Brave so disgusted, he had no desire to even return to his home ballpark.

    We all know how the story played out from there. Snitker, the beacon of steadiness, one beloved by players and staff alike, was the perfect person to guide the Braves one more season while new GM Alex Anthopoulos assessed the reeling organization top-to-bottom in 2018. Loyal to the brand to the very end, Snitker embraced the new regime’s reliance on analytics, formed tight bonds with several new members of the coaching staff brought into the dugout in the offseason, and continued to hold the steering wheel with a steady, firm hand as the trickle of young, promising talent reaching the majors grew into a wave.

    And his confidence grew, too. Two years on the job, more comfortable with the media, more relaxed. Brian Snitker had a chance – a real, fair chance – to manage for his job in 2018. He seized it. He benched Ender Inciarte, one of Snitker’s more vocal proponents, for failing to run out a ground ball. It didn’t change the center fielder’s feeling for his manager, but helped spark him to a strong second half. Snitker tried to single-handedly tear through the Miami Marlins roster to get at Jose Urena after Ronald Acuna Jr. was nailed on purpose with a pitch, his emotional postgame comments in which he described the Braves boy wonder as “my kid … I’m going to protect him,” resonating throughout baseball.

    And of course, the crowning moment, fighting back tears on the infield at SunTrust Park moments after the Braves won the East, saying simply, “I’m a Brave.” It’s a moment I’m not ashamed to say has made my eyes water every time I’ve watched it.

    He’s a Brave, indeed, and the gig is his. There are times where the tactical decision-making leads me to shake my head. I guess you could say that about any manager, coach, boss, person in power. But there is no denying this: I coached my kids in baseball for more than a decade. I would be honored for them to play for this man.

    Brian Snitker, the good company man, finally has his just reward. It’s not a retirement party or a gold watch or a farewell pat on the back. It’s this opportunity, one that made all those long bus rides and rain delays and time spent away from family across four decades worth the sacrifice.

    It’s a chance to manage a team that very soon figures to be a World Series contender. It’s a chance richly earned and well deserved.

    —30—

    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 drop series in Detroit, head home for Nats

    With a team as talented as the Braves, it hasn’t been easy to watch them struggle over the course of the last several games. Striking out a total of 17 times against Anibal Sanchez in the first game of the series set a terrible tone for the team’s time in Detroit. Kris Medlen was the recipient of some more tough luck. And the shuffle of players in the lineup in the absence of Jason Heyward doesn’t compare to what the Braves could have with a consistent Heyward.

    The Tigers scored 25 runs in the series to the mere 7 scored by the Braves.

    The good news is this terrible road trip is now over and the Braves can put the tough losses and rough weather behind them.

    Game 1:

    In every possible chance, the Braves seemed to have runner on the bases in front of the 3-4 punch of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. This hurt them early and often in the series.

    The story of the game was that Anibal Sanchez, who spent most of his career in the National League facing the Braves, struck out 17 Braves. Those 17 strikeouts set a franchise record for the Tigers. The Braves went on to strike out a total of 18 times in game 1. Both Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla were crowned with a Golden Sombrero–each striking out 4 times.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 2
    Tigers 0 0 4 6 0 0 0 0 x 10 15 0

    W: Sanchez (3-1) L: Maholm (3-2)

    Game 2:

    Justin Upton smashed his 12th home run of the season off Rick Porcello. Upton’s didn’t 12th homer of last season didn’t come until September 1st. Even in his best season, the earliest he’s hit his 12th bomb was June 11th of the 2009 season. 7 of Upton’s homers have come with 2 strikes. He leads the league in 2-strike homers. Upton now holds the Major League record with 10 solo home runs in the month of April. Prior to Upton, the record was held by Larry Walker with 9.

    The second game of the series got away from Medlen, but the team had a chance to stay in it that was thrown away in the 8th inning when they allowed 2 runs. Medlen had pitched well, but continues to be the guy on the staff suffering from the tough luck. Medlen began game 2 with what is becoming signature Medlen–a picked off runner at first base. Few would contend that there is a right hander in the game with a better pick off move than Medlen. Where the Maddux/Medlen comparisons ring true is with the glove. Medlen appears to have many gold gloves in his future as one of the best fielding pitchers in the National League.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 4 7 2
    Tigers 0 2 1 2 0 0 0 2 x 7 13 0

    W: Porcello (1-2) L: Medlen (1-3) SV: Valverde (2)

    Game 3:

    In an attempt to right the ship after 2 tough losses to the Tigers, Fredi Gonzalez shook up the lineup for the final game of the series. Gonzalez put Reed Johnson in right field, Jordan Schafer in center field and Tyler Pastornicky at second base while utilizing Dan Uggla in the DH spot. Schafer became the fourth man to bat leadoff for Fredi Gonzalez in April. Giving B.J. Upton the night off may pay dividends in the upcoming home stand. Uggla could have benefitted from sitting. He went 0-for-11 with 7 strikeouts in Detroit.

    What looked on paper to be a pitching duel in the making with Doug Fister and Mike Minor turned out to be exactly that. Prior to giving up a 2-run blast, Minor had given up only 1 hit. Fister’s command and fastball movement was dominant in the early frames. As Fister lost command and the rain picked up in Detroit, the Braves took advantage, scoring 2 runs off of Fister and a 3rd run on a wide throw to first by former Brave Omar Infante. Infante got the run back for his team, however, with a 7th inning solo home run off Minor. Infante went 6-for-11 in the series off his former team.

    The Braves were hurt once again when the combination of Cory Gearrin and Mike Minor had two runners on the bases for reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera who took Gearrin deep. Gearrin’s scoreless streak of 12 games came to an end with the Cabrera blast in game 3.

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

    W: Fister (4-0) L: Minor (3-2)

    BRAVES HEAD HOME TO FACE THE NATIONALS…

    After a road trip that included some of the worst weather the Braves have seen in several years, the team returns to Turner Field to face off against National League rivals the Washington Nationals followed by the New York Mets.

    Kris Medlen gets a chance to turn around his luck in the coming series with the Nationals by facing off against Dan Haren who has been on a roller coaster so far in 2013. Both Maholm and Medlen didn’t get out of Detroit unscathed and both need to put their last 2 losses behind them. A win against someone as dominant as Strasburg would be a huge confidence boost for young Julio Teheran. One of those strange things that sometimes happens in all the numbers generated in baseball is when two pitchers end up with exactly the same record and ERA. Two such pitchers, Gio Gonzalez and Tim Hudson, will face off on Tuesday.

    Braves hitting has been a story of drought and onslaught. The first 2 games the Braves lost this season were shutouts. This may be a trend throughout the season as the offense continues to struggle with the strikeout. The Braves struck out 39 times in Detroit. Something that the Braves must figure out is how to get players on the bases in front of hard-hitting Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. That 11 of 12 of Justin Upton’s homers have been solo shots speaks to the struggles of the 1 and 2-hole hitters.

    The series against the Nats gets underway with Strasburg (1-4, 3.16) vs. Teheran (1-0, 5.48). Game 2 will feature Gonzalez (2-1, 4.50) vs. Hudson (2-1, 4.50). Game 3 features Zimmermann (4-1, 2.00) vs. Maholm (3-2, 3.30). And the final game of the 4-game series will be Haren (2-3, 6.29) vs. Medlen (1-3, 3.26). Game 1 of the series will be featured on ESPN’s Monday Night Baseball and game 3 will be the featured game on Wednesday Night Baseball.

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

    Braves take series in tundra, prepare for Tigers

    The Braves knew that going into Colorado they were going to be facing tough weather. However, they had no idea that Colorado would bring a postponed game, a doubleheader, and the loss of right fielder Jason Heyward to a burst appendix. With game 1 postponed due to snow flurries and poor visibility, the Braves and Rockies squared off in a doubleheader Tuesday with a game time temperature of 23 degrees. The grounds crew at Coors Field did a phenomenal job preparing a field that had been covered in snow mere hours before and were able to maintain the field throughout the series. By the time game 3 rolled around, the Braves were thrilled to be playing in 48 degree weather.

    Game 1 of doubleheader:

    Returning to place where he once worked as a ski lift operator, Evan Gattis thrived. Gattis had both a game-winning RBI and a game-ending put out when he threw out a runner at second base. The rookie smashed his 6th homer of the season. He has now homered in each of the stadiums in which he has played.

    Reed Johnson started in right field in place of Jason Heyward who will be on the 15-day DL as he recovers from laparascopic surgery to remove his appendix. Reed took advantage of the playing time, going 4-for-4, 3 of those doubles. He hasn’t had many chances this season given that the 3 outfield starters are more or less every day guys, but getting some playing time in Heyward’s absence may improve his bat when he comes off the bench in the future.

    The Mike Minor that emerged in the second half of the 2012 season is becoming one of the better pitchers in the Braves’ rotation. Minor pitched 6 innings, giving up 5 hits and 3 runs. He struck out 5 and walked 2. Coincidentally, Minor has allowed only 5 hits in each of his 4 starts this season. His next start against Doug Fister is the best pitching matchup of the Detroit series.

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

    W: Minor (3-1) L: Francis (1-2) SV: Kimbrel (8)

    Game 2 of doubleheader:

    Braves’ bats didn’t go cold between games in the doubleheader. Justin Upton smashed his 11th homer. He now holds the Atlanta Braves franchise record with 11 homers in April. Prior to Upton’s 11th homer, the record stood at 10, a feat accomplished by Ryan Klesko and twice by Andres Galarraga. His 11 homers in April add to the 6 he hit in Spring Training. He has certainly made a case for National League Player of the Month, though his biggest competition comes from the rival Washington Nationals in Bryce Harper.

    Game 2 saw something the Braves hope to see more of this year: Justin and B.J. Upton knocked back-to-back home runs. The Uptons became the 2nd pair of brothers in Major League Baseball history to hit back-to-back homers in a game. Prior to the Uptons, the only brothers to do so were Lloyd and Paul Waner who did it in 1938 with the Pirates. This was the third time the Uptons have homered in the same game since joining the Braves this season. B.J. Upton has yet to homer in a game in which his brother didn’t.

    It certainly helped the Braves that the Rockies went an incredible 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Clearly, they had plenty of opportunities, but squandered them. Julio Teheran gave up 8 hits in his 7 innings pitched, but managed to hold the Rockies to only 1 run. The run support Teheran received in the 4th and 5th innings allowed him to continue a few more innings. This was Teheran’s first win of the season and hopefully gives him a confidence boost going into his next start.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 3 2 1 0 0 4 10 14 1
    Rockies 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 12 0

    W: Teheran (1-0) L: Garland (2-1)

    Game 3:

    Veteran Tim Hudson took to the mound in frigid Colorado attempting to get his 200th career win under his belt. Unfortunately, the baseball gods were not smiling on Huddy again Wednesday. He had a great outing, going 6 innings and leaving with a 2-run lead, but the game got away from the Braves in the late innings as the game finally ended after 12 innings. Tim Hudson’s next shot at his 200th career win will come Tuesday against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field.

    Dan Uggla is hitting .185, but the final game of the series showed signs of life with Uggla. Recovering from a calf strain, Uggla stepped up in game 3 going 3-for-3 with a pair of singles and a double. He improved his batting average from .167 to .185. He challenged himself on the base paths, though he clearly still doesn’t have full strength in that left calf. Of course, it didn’t help anything that it was so cold in Colorado. An off day before the Detroit series begins is exactly what Uggla needs. The Braves would surely love to have his bat in action and they would love to see him get on base, whether by hit or walk, keeping down the strikeouts.

    Braves’ fans saw something they rarely see in game 3–a blown save by Craig Kimbrel. Though the Braves didn’t lose the game on that blown save alone, it set up the 3 extra frames pitched by Cory Gearrin, Jordan Walden and Luis Ayala. Ayala hoped to avoid letting a lead-off double Wilin Rosario hurt him by pitching around hot-hitting Michael Cuddyer, but that strategy backfired when Yorvit Torrealba ended the game on an RBI single.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 3 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 10 0
    Rockies 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 6 15 2

    W: Belisle (1-1) L: Ayala (1-1)

    BRAVES MEET TIGERS FOR NEGRO LEAGUES WEEKEND…

    This weekend is a special one in baseball as the Detroit Tigers host Negro Leagues Weekend. It is the 11th annual weekend celebrating the African-American leagues that features the talents of men like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston. On Saturday, the Detroit Tigers will wear throwback uniforms honoring the Detroit Stars and the Atlanta Braves will be sporting Atlanta Black Crackers throwbacks. The Detroit Stars played in the Negro National League from 1920-1931. The Atlanta Black Crackers played in the Negro Southern League during that period. The Detroit Stars saw many talented players come through including Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe and Norman “Turkey” Stearnes. One of the most recognizable names from the Atlanta Black Crackers was Red Moore, the first baseman who is in the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame. Saturday’s game will be one of the three featured games on FOX and the series finale will be on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

    One of the biggest things the Braves need to improve on is getting runners on before Justin Upton gets to the plate. His home runs are more often than not solo shots. Atlanta’s leadoff hitters are .207/.275/.341. and hitters in the 2 hole are even worse at .147/.270/.293. Getting Andrelton Simmons and B.J. Upton into a consistent rhythm would be very beneficial to the Braves as they clearly have pop in the middle of the lineup with Gattis and Upton (even to a lesser extent with Freeman and Uggla).

    Something worth noting is that the Braves are not taking advantage of their speed while on the base paths. Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons and B.J. Upton, all with significant speed and base running intelligence, have only 5 stolen bases between them. In fact, Gerald Laird has as many stolen bases as Jason Heyward with 1. Justin Upton actually looks to be improving on the base paths, with 3 stolen bases so far. He showed speed from time to time with Arizona, stealing around 20 bags a season. His older brother averaged a least a dozen more per season. Fredi Gonzalez is no Bobby Cox by any means, meaning he doesn’t put the runners in motion often, but an improvement of a few bags per player could really add a dimension to Atlanta’s game.

    The Braves will luck out and miss both Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in their trip to Detroit. Instead, the series will begin with Maholm (3-1, 1.03) vs. Sanchez (2-1, 1.75). Saturday’s game will feature Medlen (1-2, 2.16) vs. Porcello (0-2, 11.08). Perhaps the best matchup of the series comes in the finale: Minor (3-1, 1.80) vs. Fister (3-0, 2.00).

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

    Braves fall in Grapefruit debut, Minor shines

    By Jim Pratt

    LHP, Mike Minor

    Even though the Braves fell to the Tigers 2-0 Saturday in their Grapefruit League debut, the bid for the final rotation spot hit the ground running with Mike Minor taking the mound in game one.  He got off to a quick start striking out the side in order in the first inning, including Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera swinging on a strike three changeup.

    With second baseman Dan Uggla playing a shallow right field, newly acquired Prince Fielder singled up the middle to start the second inning. After walking Brandon Inge with two outs, Minor got Brandon Laird to fly out to left field to get out of the inning unscathed.

    Along with tossing two scoreless innings, Minor finished the day allowing one hit, a walk and struck out three batters on 37 pitches, 21 of those for strikes.

    The offense needed a Jordan Parraz single to right field to start the eighth inning to end a no-hit bid by the Tiger pitching staff led by starter Doug Fister.

    Reliever AnthonyVarvaro took the loss after giving up a third inning lead-off homerun to outfielder Jerad Head. Other pitchers used by the Braves on Saturday included Arodys Vizcaino, Cristhian Martinez, Adam Russell, Dusty Hughes, Eric Cordier and Zeke Spruill.

    MORE NEWS …

    • Saturday’s starting lineup: 1.Bourn (CF) 2.Prado (LF) 3.Chipper (3B) 4.McCann (C) 5.Uggla (2B) 6.Hinske (1B) 7.Heyward (RF) 8.Diaz (DH) 9.Pastornicky (SS)
    • Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are both scheduled to pitch two innings on Sunday against the Tigers in Lakeland, FL.
    • Freddie Freeman took live batting practice before the game Saturday. He told David O’Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constituion, “I let it loose and I feel great” and that he didn’t even think about the knee. Also, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports Freeman could be cleared for to take infield within the next two days.
    • Tommy Hanson took the ImPACT concussion test again Saturday and early indications are he will throw live batting practice on Sunday if eligible.

    By the way, the Spring Preview Fried Baseball podcast up now. You can hear it here.

    Also, before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.