• Freddy Garcia

    Braves sign veteran Harang, release Garcia

    Camp for the Atlanta Braves has been tumultuous, to say the least, due to the constant question mark surrounding starting pitching. Over the weekend, the Braves sent The RHPs Brandon Beachy, Gavin Floyd, Kris Medlen and LHPs Mike Minor and Jonny Venters to the 15-day disabled list. In addition to those injuries, Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, of course both needing second Tommy John surgeries on their pitching elbows and out for the entire season, recent acquisition Ervin Santana won’t be ready by Opening Day. Without Beachy, Medlen and Tim Hudson, who departed in free agency this winter, a veteran presence is desperately needed on the staff.

    GarciaUp until Monday, the belief was that veteran Freddy Garcia would fill that void and round out a strong rotation of young arms lead by Julio Teheran who has been named as the Braves’ Opening Day starter. But Frank Wren had other plans, apparently.

    Freddy Garcia’s 1-year contract this winter had an opt-out clause if Garcia didn’t make the starting rotation out of camp. With concerns about velocity and whether Garcia would be durable in the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation, the Braves released Garcia. Garcia had been a much needed addition late in the year for the Braves in 2013 when he recorded a 1.65 ERA in 3 starts and 3 dazzling relief appearances.

    Not long after that announcement was made, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Braves were going after veteran Aaron Harang who had been released by the Cleveland Indians the same day. By afternoon, the Braves announced a 1-year deal with Harang.

    Harang, 35, will begin his 13th big league season with the Braves. With the Indians this spring, Harang pitched 9 innings, allowing 2 runs on a total of 8 hits and 2 walks. In 2013, Harang had a bumpy road split between the Mariners and the Mets. He finished 2013 with a 5.40 ERA  (143 1/3 innings) and a 5-12 record. Harang has a career record of 110-116, with a 4.28 ERA. In 5 starts at Turner Field in his career, Harang has a 1-1 record with a 3.41 ERA over 34 1/3 innings, surrendering only 2 homers.

    How the Braves made the decision between Garcia and Harang is unclear, but it likely came down to money. Frank Wren has said that the Braves are about $10 million over their $100 million budget for 2014, mostly due to the urgent signing of Ervin Santana a few weeks ago. Garcia would have received $1.5 million if he made the team out of spring training and then $1.5 million plus in performance incentives.

    Both Garcia and Harang were in a similar situation for the Braves and Indians, respectively. Under union rules, their teams had to guarantee them a spot on the Opening Day roster, pay a retention bonus, or release them. Garcia spoke briefly with reporters yesterday and said the Braves didn’t want to pay his contract and that’s why he was leaving.

    The financial details of the Harang signing have not been released yet.

    With the signing of Harang, the Braves will likely begin the season with a 4-man rotation of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Aaron Harang and David Hale. Ervin Santana will be a few weeks behind joining the rotation due to his late signing. Winter acquisition Gavin Floyd and Mike Minor could both join the rotation during the week of April 20-26. Both Floyd and Minor begin the season on the DL, Floyd is returning from Tommy John elbow surgery and Minor is recovering from shoulder inflammation. How the rotation will look at that point has everything to do with how Gavin Floyd looks and how David Hale performs in the early going.

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

    Atlanta’s Offseason: A Review

    Now that the Braves have begun exhibition games in the Grapefruit League, fans are getting their first look at the 2014 Braves. Asking what happened to so-and-so or who the new young reliever is comes naturally for any fan. It seems a good time to review what happened over the offseason including who left the team and who joined the Braves.

    The Departures:

    • hudsonStarting pitching: Tim Hudson (Giants), Paul Maholm (Dodgers).
    • Relief pitchers: Eric O’Flaherty (A’s), Cristhian Martinez (unsigned), Scott Downs (White Sox), Luis Ayala (Nats).
    • Position players: Brian McCann (Yankees), Paul Janish (Rockies), Elliot Johnson (Indians), Reed Johnson (Marlins).

    Of the departures, the three that will certainly sting the most for the Braves as the 2014 season gets underway are Hudson, McCann and O’Flaherty. Hudson and McCann have offered leadership on and off the field for the Braves. O’Flaherty, with the exception of last season’s Tommy John surgery ending his year, has been a force in the bullpen for the Braves. Since joining the Braves in 2009, O’Flaherty pitched in 295 games (an average of 69 per 162 games) and a total of 249 1/3 innings (average of 58 per 162 games). He notched a stunning 1.99 ERA from 2009-2013 with a 13-7 win/loss record. His strikeout/per 9 innings rate was 7.2. With Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, the Braves boasted the best bullpen in baseball. While both O’Flaherty and Venters recovered from Tommy John surgeries last season, the Braves got an idea of what the ‘pen would look like when one or both moved on. Luis Avilan stepped up in a big way and the addition of Jordan Walden proved crucial.

    The Signings:

    • GarciaFreddy Garcia (SP): Garcia, you’ll remember, was fierce for the Braves in September when they desperately needed his veteran leadership. He went 1-2, that record not reflective of his dominance, with a 1.65 ERA in 6 games that final month. Garcia’s minor league deal with his spring training invite leaves open the option for The Chief to be the fifth starter in the rotation. Part of Garcia’s minor league deal worth $1.25 million includes a provision in the contract that allows Garcia to opt-out if he doesn’t make the rotation out of spring training. Garcia, a 12-year veteran of the big leagues, has no interest in being sent to the bullpen or pitching in the minor leagues. Garcia has posted a 156-108 career record with a 4.15 ERA. His postseason record is of great interest to clubs; 6-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 11 postseason games, 10 of those starts.
    • Gavin Floyd was signed to a 1-year contract Monday with Atlanta.Gavin Floyd (SP): Like Garcia, Floyd is a veteran with a huge upside–the potential far outweighing the risk. The Braves signed Floyd to a 1-year contract for $4 million. Floyd’s best year came in 2008 for the White Sox when he had a 17-8 record with a career-best 3.84 ERA (in 206 1/3 innings pitched). Over his 10-year career he has a 70-70 record (in 199 games) with a 4.48 ERA. Floyd had 5 starts in 2013 before having to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair both a torn ulnar collateral ligament and torn flexor tendon. He is likely to be ready to pitch by mid-May.
    • DoumitRyan Doumit (OF/C/1B): One of the more interesting signings by general manager Frank Wren this offseason was that of Ryan Doumit. Doumit had spent the last 2 seasons with the Minnesota Twins and prior to that he spent 7 years in the National League with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his career in the NL, Doumit posted a .271 batting average and in the AL a .261. The Braves acquired Doumit for minor league pitcher Sean Gilmartin who had ceased making progress on the Braves’ farm. Gilmartin had a rough 2013 season at Triple-A Gwinnett where he went 3-8 with a 5.74 ERA. In addition to Gilmartin to the Twins, the Braves will pay Doumit $3.5 million in 2014. Doumit comes from a mold similar to Evan Gattis. He is average on defense, nothing spectacular, at both catcher and the outfield. He can play first base in a pinch. But the upside with Doumit is that he can hit. As a bench bat, there is a huge upside for the Braves. Also, with Gerald Laird aging, Doumit could catch if Gattis needs a day off and Laird isn’t able to step in.
    • VasquezLuis Vasquez (RP): Vasquez, the more interesting of the two pickups, is a reliever with a great deal of potential despite underwhelming numbers in both Double A and Triple A. Playing in the Dominican Republic Winter League, Vasquez had posted an 1.15 ERA in 20 appearances for Licey. He had 19 strikeouts to 3 walks in 15 2/3 innings while allowing only 4 hits. His dropped arm slot has been a huge success, something he did while with the Dodgers in 2013. He routinely throws between 94-96 MPH. He comes with the rave reviews of current Dodger and former Brave Peter Moylan.

    The Extensions:

    • Freddie Freeman (1B): 8 years, $125 million
    • Jason Heyward (OF): 2 years, $13.3 million
    • Craig Kimbrel (RP): 5 years, $59 million
    • Julio Teheran (SP): 6 years, $32.4 million
    • Andrelton Simmons (SS): 7 years, $58 million

    In addition to the contract extensions of the young core, both GM Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez saw their contracts extended. The specifics of those contracts have not been made public, but both will be with the team through at least the 2015 season.

    The Bench Battle:

    • GamelMat Gamel (IF): Signed to minor league contract in December, released by the team in February. Gamel was a touted prospect for the Brewers and heir-apparent to Prince Fielder at 1B until he required two knee surgeries. Gamel’s likely option with the Braves was on the bench. In 290 games at Triple A, Gamel hit for a .301 average with 53 homers and an .886 OPS. However, the Braves released Gamel this month when it became apparent that problems with his surgically repaired knee would prevent him from being available. Gamel’s release opens up a spot on the bench that could potentially be filled by infielder Tommy La Stella.
    • LaStellaTommy La Stella (IF): In 81 games with the Mississippi Braves (Double-A) in 2013, La Stella posted a .343 batting average with 97 hits, 21 doubles, 4 homers, 41 RBIs, and a .422 OBP. Over the winter, La Stella played in the Arizona Fall League where he had success with a .290 batting average in 62 at-bats. In addition to his offensive strength, La Stella is a decent fielder with room for improvement. He could adequately step in at second base to relieve Dan Uggla who struggled mightily last season on offense. With the departure of Gamel, La Stella now has a shot at making the team out of camp.

    The Injuries:

    • Mike Minor (urethra): Minor required a procedure to repair his urethra over the winter. He wasn’t able to throw in January and arrived at camp with continued soreness. His throwing program at camp was delayed a week due to soreness, but he will be on track to make his first start in the rotation opening week.
    • Tyler Pastornicky (knee): Pastornicky tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in August last year when filling in for the struggling Dan Uggla. He arrived at camp with the only remaining limitation being that of lateral movement. He missed the first week of camp, but, like Minor, should be on track quickly.
    • Jonny Venters (elbow): Venters required Tommy John surgery last May after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. The current time table for his return is late May or early June.
    • Gavin Floyd (elbow): Floyd, like Venters, tore his ulnar collateral ligament last May. The projected timetable for his return is mid-May.

    Perhaps the biggest news of the winter for the Braves was not a signing, not a departure and certainly not an injury. The Braves announced that they will leave Turner Field in 2017 for a new stadium in Cobb County. This announcement has opened doors for the Braves that wouldn’t have been possible had they stayed in Atlanta at the Ted. Projected revenue from the new stadium meant that Frank Wren was able to go out and sign the extensions with Freeman, Heyward, Kimbrel, Teheran and Simmons. After 17 years at Turner Field, a stadium that was built for the 1996 summer Olympics and then retrofittef for the Braves, the Braves will part with an average stadium that came with obvious problems. The new stadium not only made the winter contract extensions possible, it will give the Braves payroll flexibility in the coming years as they approach arbitration and free agency with Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, Mike Minor, Evan Gattis and others.

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

     

     

    Braves fall to Dodgers, begin long offseason

    The story of the 2013 Atlanta Braves season was one of resilience. With a core of young, talented guys, big off season acquisitions and a few veterans, the Braves won the National League East and entered the playoffs despite a season riddled with adversity. That the Braves even made it to the postseason is, in itself, quite surprising. That they couldn’t rise to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers stung, but their postseason performance aside, it was a successful season for Atlanta.

    Take a moment to consider what the Braves overcame this season:

    • Season-ending injuries to starting pitchers Tim Hudson (one of the few veteran leaders in the clubhouse) and Brandon Beachy.
    • Season-ending injuries to two of the best relief men in the business, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.
    • Injuries that led to DL stints to nearly every outfielder on the roster including Jordan Schafer, B.J. Upton, Evan Gattis, Reed Johnson and Jason Heyward (the fractured jaw that cost Heyward weeks down the stretch being the biggest blow).
    • Minor injuries piled up for pitchers Paul Maholm, Scott Downs, Luis Ayala and the oft-injured Jordan Walden.
    • Sub-.200 batting averages for starters Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton.
    • Losses of Tyler Pastornicky and Ramiro Pena to season-ending surgeries.

    Any other team would have crumbled and ended their season at the bottom of their division. But the Braves, to their credit, forged on and made it to the playoffs knowing that they might lack consistent offense, would be without their starting second baseman due to his offensive woes and may or may not get much out of the veteran starter Freddy Garcia.

    The Braves may have headed back home to Atlanta to begin the long offseason with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths, but they do have a few performances to remind themselves of from their playoff experience.

    • Freddy Garcia, the veteran righty who wasn’t even a lock for the roster until the day the playoffs began, gave the Braves 6 solid innings in Game 4. He surrendered only 6 hits and 2 runs, both runs homers off the bat of Carl Crawford. His performance was timely. Unfortunately, he walked away with the no-decision.
    • Chris Johnson continued his hot hitting, showing the baseball world just how he managed to stay in the batting title race until the final week of the season. Johnson hit .428 in the NLDS (7-for-16) with 5 RBIs.
    • Mike Minor’s NLDS start was reminiscent of his consistency and dominance all season. Minor pitched 6 1/3 innings giving up 8 hits but only 1 earned run (1.42 ERA). Minor struck out 5 batters.
    • Luis Ayala and Luis Avilan were exceptional in their combined 4 2/3 innings of relief. Avilan was in top form when he allowed only 3 hits and 0 earned runs in 4 appearances (2 2/3 innings). Luis Ayala was as brilliant as he had been in the prime of his career. He allowed only 1 hit and 0 earned runs in 3 appearances while striking out 3 batters (2 innings).
    • Craig Kimbrel secured a 4-out save in the single win of the postseason. He did not surrender a hit or a run and struck out 2 batters.

    Following the loss to the Dodgers, there were two story lines that dominated Braves’ coverage.

    Brian McCann was called up in 2005 spending 9 years with the Braves organization. He is now a free agent.

    Brian McCann has spent the first 9 years of his career with the  Atlanta Braves. He is now a free agent.

    The first being that game 4 would be Brian McCann’s final game in an Atlanta uniform. In the business that is baseball, there is no way the Braves can cobble together the money to sign free agent McCann. Unfortunately, the Braves will watch one of their young leaders walk away to a bigger contract, likely with an American League team. McCann was terrible offensively in the playoffs. He went hitless in 13 at-bats, striking out 6 times. However, McCann’s career in Atlanta will be remembered for his offensive prowess and his leadership. Since being called up in 2005, McCann has a .277 average with 1070 hits, 176 homers, 227 doubles and 661 RBIs in 1105 games. He was a 7-time all-star with 5 silver slugger awards. At the age of 29, he may be leaving Atlanta with his best years behind him.

    The other story line that followed the Braves’ loss was whether or not manager Fredi Gonzalez bungled game 4 when he brought David Carpenter out of the ‘pen rather than go to Craig Kimbrel for a 6-out save. Kimbrel had never been called in to get a 6-out save and though he said he was ready to do so, Fredi was prepared to bring Kimbrel in once there were only 4 outs remaining. Of course, Juan Uribe didn’t allow the Braves to get to within 4 outs with the lead. Was it the right call by Fredi Gonzalez? Whether or not it was, this is not a firing offense. Consider what Fredi had to lead the team through to get 96 wins and the NL East championship banner. If it weren’t for the Pirates’ incredible season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fredi Gonzalez get consideration for manager of the year.

    While the 2013 team had a special chemistry and overcame great odds to reach the postseason, the experience for the young core of starters will be beneficial in 2014 forward.

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

    Braves prepare for Cubbies. Magic number: 2

    Evan Gattis hit 2 homers in the series finale in Philly. His 1st, in the 2nd inning off Hamels, was estimated to fly 441 feet.

    Evan Gattis hit his 20th HR Tuesday. 8 of Gattis’ 2013 homers have given the Braves a lead.

    The Braves were plowing toward the postseason with teams in their rear view mirror and then September hit. The injury to Jason Heyward was just the beginning of a series of bad luck for Atlanta. Their young pitching, which had been phenomenal, wore down. Their flawless closer has had a few rough games. Their supposedly dynamic outfield never clicked. The bench bats that had been strong for Fredi Gonzalez seemed to all go cold at once. And the bullpen that has survived injuries that would have put any other club in the bottom of the heap from then on, finally showed signs of turmoil.

    Two weeks ago, it looked like Atlanta would easily secure the National League record, however now that the Dodgers have clinched the NL West, it now seems likely that the best record (therefore home field advantage in the playoffs) will be held by the NL Central or West winner. The Braves had lost 5 games straight before getting the win Wednesday against the Nats. They have lost 10 of their past 14 games. Unfortunately, the Braves had twin shutout losses over a period of 3 days.
    The Braves were slated to begin a 3-game series Monday at Nationals Park when news of the shooting at the Navy Yard broke. Monday afternoon when the Braves and Nats would have been heading to the park, the Navy Yard was still an active scene just blocks from the ballpark. The Nats were asked to stay home until told otherwise and eventually Monday’s game was postponed. The Braves and Nationals scheduled the game to be made up Tuesday as a doubleheader. Prior to the first game of that doubleheader, the Nationals observed an extended moment of silence for those who lost their lives and those whose lives were forever changed by Monday’s tragedy. Nationals’ players all held hats with the Navy emblem over their hearts during the national anthem, hats they wore during team warmups.

    The final game of the series, the Braves were able to secure the win, thus dropping their magic number for clinching the NL East to 2. Wednesday’s win also prevented them from being swept while in D.C.

    It wouldn’t be a Braves/Nats game without some fireworks. In the final game, Fredi Gonzalez got tossed after he went out to make sure Wood wasn’t tossed for arguing with home plate umpire CB Bucknor. Wood was irritated with a bad call on a 3-2 pitch and voiced his objection loudly. Once Werth, the batter during the scuffle, walked,  Alex Wood was removed from the game. While leaving the field, he barked at Bucknor, earning his first career ejection. It wasn’t the best moment for the young rookie, but, in his defense, the call was terrible. As the game carried on, Bucknor warned both benches for no apparent reason after Varvaro hit Rendon. We have seen Bucknor make terrible calls before, but this was an all-time low for the ump.

    Homers by Dan Uggla and Justin Upton in the 3-run 6th inning got the Braves in the lead, a lead they held on to. Solid outings from injured Scott Downs and the impressive David Carpenter held the Braves’ lead and Kimbrel entered and ended the game with the 3-run lead in tact.

    Kimbrel had a rough outing in the second game of the doubleheader where he did something he had never done in his previous 224 career appearances. He allowed 3 runs. Kimbrel was scored upon in consecutive appearances for the 1st time since the 3 in-a-row catastrophe April 29th through May 4th of last year.

    Kimbrel had been given every opportunity to get the Braves the win. Evan Gattis stepped into the box in the 8th inning of that game, securing the lead. Gattis homered off of reliever Tyler Clippard who, in 6 appearances against the Braves in 2013, gave up 9 hits, 7 earned runs, 3 homers, 6 walks (for a 11.12 ERA) in 5 2/3 innings pitched.

    A final note on the Nats’ series: Freddy Garcia, despite a brilliant effort, could not secure a win in the doubleheader. Freddy pitched 7 brilliant innings giving up only 7 hits and allowing only 1 run. The veteran surrendered 2 walks and struck out 6 in 84 pitches. Since joining the Braves from the Orioles Triple-A team, Freddy Garcia has pitched 20 2/3 innings, allowed a mere 3 runs, walked 4 and struck out 13. He has a stunning 1.31 ERA with Atlanta.

    BRAVES HEAD TO WRIGLEY FIELD…

    With their magic number down to 2, it would seem likely that the Braves will clinch the NL East while on the northside of Chicago. That said, it looked like they’d clinch the division while in D.C. and clearly that did not happen. The Braves arrive in Chicago with a 90-62 record. The lovable Cubbies sit in the bottom of their division with a record of 64-89.

    One point that the Braves desperately need to improve on in their final games before the playoffs is production off the bench.

    Jordan Schafer is 15-for-92 (.163 average) in the 27 games he has played since returning from the disabled list. Over that span, he has a disappointing .238 on-base percentage. Schafer is 1-for-24 with 4 walks and 10 (10!) strikeouts in his past 9 games. The Braves need Schafer to offer production off the bench going forward, especially with the lack of production from B.J. Upton. Also without Heyward and a lack of production from B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer, the Braves need Reed Johnson to step up in a big way. Reed Johnson has only 2 plate appearances in 2 games since returning from the disabled list on the 17th, but the veteran will need to be the bat he built his reputation on. With Gattis getting more playing time, split between the outfield and catching, there hasn’t been a concern about his offense. However, it would be great to see Gattis out in left field before the next few games taking some pointers from veteran Reed Johnson on positioning and how to best approach various situations. Remembering that he is a catcher, it’s understandable that Gattis has showed some inconsistency on defense while in the outfield.

    Jason Heyward has continued to take batting practice while on the road with the team. It is possible that he could return next week, though he’ll need to face live pitching consecutively first.

    The Braves/Cubs series gets underway Friday with the former Cubbie Maholm (10-10, 4.35) vs. Baker (0-0, 0.82). Saturday’s game will feature Medlen (14-12, 3.32) vs. Wood (9-11, 3.05). And in their final game before returning to Atlanta, Sunday’s game will pit rookie Teheran (12-8, 3.14) vs. Jackson (8-16, 4.75).

    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 secure 5th consecutive winning season, expand roster

    With a 5th consecutive winning season secured, the Braves look to September call-ups and continued success with a hobbled, somehow successful, starting lineup down the stretch. With their Saturday night win, the Braves sat at 31 games over .500 for the first time since October 2, 2004. The Braves won the Miami series taking 2-of-3 from the Fish.

    Freddy Garcia was called up prior to Sunday's game where he pitched 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

    Freddy Garcia was called up prior to Sunday’s game where he pitched 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

    With rosters expanding across Major League Baseball Sunday, the Braves made a single move. The Braves called up veteran right-handed pitcher Freddy Garcia. Garcia joined another Triple-A Gwinnett player, outfielder Jose Constanza, who was called up when Evan Gattis was sent down before the Miami series began. Garcia’s call-up could not have come at a better time given the meltdown of Alex Wood in his start Sunday. Garcia pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief of Wood, giving up 3 hits and 0 runs. They will likely continue call-ups as the regular season for the Triple-A club comes to a close Monday afternoon. Atlanta is allowed to expand their regular 25-man roster to 38 for the month of September. Fans will see rookie catcher Evan Gattis return to the club at that point. Gattis was sent to Gwinnett to try to right his swing in more consistent at-bat opportunities. Also likely to return when ready is outfielder Reed Johnson who has been battling achilles tendinitis.

    Garcia’s Braves’ debut was exceptional given that his last start at Gwinnett was rocky. In 3 2/3 innings, Garcia gave up 7 hits, 5 walks and allowed 8 runs. For him to enter the game Sunday in relief and pitch 4 2/3 innings of 3-hit, scoreless ball with only 1 walk is pretty impressive. His ability to bounce back after that loss with Gwinnett speaks to his experience as a veteran starter. That experience is precisely why the Braves took a shot on him. Wood’s line, the reason for Garcia’s long relief, was the worst we’ve seen of the young rookie. Wood had allowed just 3 runs on 20 hits in 30 innings pitched in his 5 August starts. He had allowed 6 or fewer hits over that stretch. In August, Alex Wood led the National League in ERA with a dominant 0.90. Behind him were 2 former Cy Young winners (Kershaw, 1.01; and, Greinke, 1.23) and fellow rookie Fernandez (1.11).

    While the Braves are patching together a lineup each night with players whose names some fans aren’t yet familiar with, the team continues to get it done. This series was no exception. Every night it seems to be another guy stepping up in a big way. Sunday we saw Freddy Garcia in long relief, Friday and Saturday we saw usual infielder Elliot Johnson in left field, and Saturday night’s extra-innings extravaganza saw B.J. Upton get a walk-off single and reliever Anthony Varvaro record his first career save. This may be a strange time in Atlanta, but there’s no question that it is fun for the players and the fans.

    One more note on B.J. Upton: In addition to his walk-off single Saturday night, B.J. snapped a string of 142-ABs without a homer. Prior to that homer, his last long ball came on June 15th against the Giants when he put together a 2-homer game. B.J. Upton’s 4 hits were critical in the Braves late-inning win that secured the series win Saturday night. B.J.’s August had high points and low points, but his ability to increase his batting average from .177 to .195 in 17 starts (73 plate appearances) is a sign of life the Braves have been looking for. In the month of August, Upton hit .269 and a .315 on-base percentage. These numbers, aside from the limited number of at-bats, more closely resemble what the Braves expected when they signed the center fielder. Through September, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Upton continue to share time with Schafer in center field.

    The last time an Atlanta Brave won a batting title was in 2008 when Chipper Jones hit a ridiculous .364 in 128 games. Now, in 2013, Chris Johnson has a legitimate chance of winning another batting title from the hot corner with a current average of .333 in 118 games. Johnson leads St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina (.329) as of Sunday night. Johnson took Sunday night off due to leg fatigue/soreness, but provided a pinch hit that gave his average a boost. Prior to this season, the highest finishing batting average for Johnson was .308 with only 98 games played. Despite that strong finish in Houston in 2010, Atlanta has been pleasantly surprised by Johnson’s production. His steady hands at third base and busy bat have taken most of the sting out of losing Martin Prado in the trade that brought Johnson and Justin Upton to the Braves.

    BRAVES HOPE FOR SERIES AGAINST METS SANS X-RAYS…

    It has not been an easy season for the Braves when facing the Mets. Both Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward’s season-ending injuries came when facing the New York Mets. Though Jason Heyward has resumed strength-maintaining workouts, the Braves still won’t have him back until the offseason. Heyward was hit in the face by a Jonathan Niese fastball that broke his jaw in two places. Veteran pitcher Tim Hudson fractured his ankle on a freak play covering first base when Eric Young, Jr. running hard to the bag stepped on Hudson’s lower leg and ankle. Maybe the biggest goal for the Braves in the upcoming series is to make it out of the series without a major injury.

    Speaking of injuries, this week in Buster Olney’s power rankings, the Braves came up 2nd, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers. As has been said here before, it is simply amazing what the Braves have been able to do this season with a constant stream of injuries up and down the roster. Remember, they started the season without Brian McCann who was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. They’ve sustained season-ending injuries to relievers Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Cristhian Martinez, infielder Tyler Pastornicky, and the aforementioned Tim Hudson. In their outfield, they’ve seen injuries to both Uptons, Heyward, Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis. They haven’t had Jordan Walden or Luis Ayala for the entire season. Maholm is just returning from injury. Young ace Brandon Beachy is still dealing with post-Tommy John rehabilitation issues. There were short DL stints for Dan Uggla and Gerald Laird. Even the consistent mainstay Freddie Freeman lost some time. Any other team with this number of injuries would be 20+ games back. How the Braves have done it has truly been to the credit of each guy coming in and picking the team up at just the right time. Instead of nightly highlights featuring the big names, we’ve seen a different name every night. This group of guys truly exemplify what it means to be a team player.

    Though Alex Wood led all NL pitchers in August, the Atlanta starter with the best season ERA is Julio Teheran at 3.01. Teheran is 9th in the NL with that record. His 11-7 record trails only Mike Minor’s 13-5 record for most wins on the club. Julio has been dominant against the New York Mets. Over his 2 starts against the Mets, he has allowed them only 2 runs on 9 hits with 11 strikeouts. Teheran finished August with a record of 4-2 and a 2.80 ERA in 6 starts. He recorded 42 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings pitched. In a league that includes Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller, Teheran has quietly put together a season that is deserving of Rookie of the Year consideration.

    The series opener against the Mets will feature Matsuzaka (0-2, 8.68) vs. Maholm (9-10, 4.37). Tuesday’s game will pit Torres (3-2, 2.77) vs. Medlen (11-12, 3.58). And the final game against the Mets will showcase Gee (10-9, 3.63) vs. Teheran (11-7, 3.01).

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

     

    Braves avoid sweep, reset for visiting Tribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    BRAVES WELCOME THE TRIBE…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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