• Houston Astros

    Braves Go Cyber Monday Shopping, Bolster Lineup

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – There were plenty of people who did their research, scoped out the best buys, figured out their budget and set their sights on Cyber Monday, one of those holiday events where many of us upgrade our wardrobe, electronics or household.

    Who knew Alex Anthopoulos also had that day circled on his calendar?


    Now granted, the Braves general manager probably did not set out specifically to make the first two moves of this pivotal offseason on the same day you were saving 30 percent on a pair of jeans and a flat-screen TV. But when you slip on those new jeans and fire up that TV come April, you’re going to see a familiar face and a hugely impactful face wearing Atlanta Braves jerseys.

    Atlanta welcomed home longtime catcher, Duluth (Ga.) native and eternal fan favorite Brian McCann on Monday, signing the veteran catcher to a one-year, $2 million deal. Injuries and decreased offensive production diminished his impact the past two seasons in Houston, but one of the better framing catchers in the game did help the Astros win the 2017 World Series. Reportedly, the soon-to-be 35-year-old turned down more lucrative offers for the chance to play in front of family and friends in his hometown.

    Certainly, this move did not move the needle holistically as much as it did for sentimental reasons. This correspondent even tweeted that this move did not look great at the moment, but likely would in a month or two given the moves that would come, taking care of the catching position, not spending but a mere pittance (in baseball terms) to get it done. After all, this is not the same player who made seven All-Star appearance wearing an Atlanta uniform earlier in his career.

    Then came news – merely minutes after McCann’s signing was announced by the club – that made adding a catcher who hit .212 in 63 games last season much more tolerable, sentiments be darned.

    The Braves inked slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal late Monday, reuniting the former Blue Jay with Anthopoulos, the general manager who acquired the Auburn University product after the 2014 season to help Toronto reach back-to-back AL championship series.

    That’s a lot of money for a guy who, like McCann, has dealt with injuries the past two seasons. But any return to form for Donaldson, who will be motivated to parlay this one-year deal into a huge free-agent contract come next winter, would pay tremendous dividends for an Atlanta lineup that – for all its sizzle and shine a season ago – lacked the right-handed power threat to slot behind Freddie Freeman in the cleanup spot.

    There’s a lot to like about these deals together, from an inward and an outward perspective.

    Inward, the Braves are a better team now than they were at sunrise. McCann will provide tremendous leadership behind the plate for Atlanta’s youthful staff, the catcher certainly benefitting from working with the likes of CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander since he left the Braves after the 2013 season. He gained valuable experience playing in the postseason with the Yankees (who he signed with after leaving Atlanta) and Houston, including the 2017 World Series title.

    Likewise, Donaldson has his share of playoff experience, including the aforementioned two years with Anthopoulos north of the border. The soon-to-be 33-year-old only played 52 games a season ago, but slugged 33 homers with a .944 OPS in 113 games the year before, and only is three years removed from a MVP campaign in which he blasted 41 homers and drove in 123 runs. Anything approaching those numbers in 2019 gives the Braves one of the absolute most dangerous lineups in the NL, hands down.

    And what of Johan Camargo, the young fan favorite whose anchoring of third base the final four months of 2018 is hailed as one of the reasons the rebuilding Braves transitioned into the playoff-clinching Braves? Folks, I can’t see Camargo going anywhere. He has experience playing three infield positions, will get some work at first base and corner outfield in camp, and profiles exactly as the type of player Martin Prado was at one time and Marwin Gonzalez (McCann’s former Houston teammate) is at this time.

    Those guys are incredibly valuable. Baseball today has changed. Used to be, the best eight guys played every day. Not anymore. Remember the NLDS, where the Braves fell in four games to Los Angeles? Atlanta’s bench was piecemeal, while the Dodgers routinely brought guys off the bench who could’ve started for the majority of teams in the majors.

    Camargo will see time on the bench, sure, but also will get plenty of starts spelling Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Donaldson (the beauty is Donaldson does not have to play 150 games for this deal to be a winner for the Braves), a few starts in a corner outfield spot. Social media lit up immediately after the Donaldson news broke with questions of whether Camargo or Swanson would be moved.

    My feeling is neither. Anthopoulos and Brian Snitker – ironically, the man who as a minor-league manager told a 21-year-old McCann at Double-A Mississippi in 2005 that he was going to the majors for the first time – realize depth is a need if this franchise is going to play deeper into October in 2019. Donaldson’s addition allows that to happen. Consider that on a particular night, you could have Camargo (or Swanson, or Albies, or Donaldson) as your top option off the bench, with McCann as the second catcher on days Tyler Flowers starts, along with the ever-versatile Charlie Culberson?

    Beats Ryan Flaherty and Danny Santana.

    It’d be foolish to think the Braves are done, either. Certainly, Anthopoulos will take some of the remaining payroll flexibility and save that dry powder for spring training or the trade deadline, but Atlanta still has money to spend (even more so if it can find a taker for Julio Teheran, knowing it likely will have to eat some of his $11 million owed for 2019). Were Donaldson an everyday player last season, there is no way he takes a one-year deal. McCann three years ago would not have come home for $2 million.

    But here they are, and there still is room for the Braves to work.

    Not to mention Atlanta has dealt exactly zero prospects from its overflowing pantry of young talent. The capabilities are there to make a major move on the trade front, and I think that’s where the Braves will strike next. Could Cleveland’s Corey Kluber be had for a high prospect price, giving Atlanta three years of control of a perennial Cy Young candidate who is a bona fide ace? Could Seattle be enticed to deal outfielder Mitch Haniger and/or closer Edwin Diaz for a big package, allowing the Braves to address corner outfield and closer with long-term controllable pieces?

    Anthopoulos filled two needs on Cyber Monday. Time will tell if he got the most bang for his buck. And with the Winter Meetings looming and plenty of options on the table, today’s spending spree likely is only the beginning.

    —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 Head West with Sense of Urgency After Wednesday Meltdown

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – There are certain defeats each season that feel like the proverbial kick in the, well, you know where. Then there are the couple of losses that feel like you’re flying down one of those old 10-foot metal slides we had at my elementary school, and just as you reach maximum speed and just before you reach the bottom, there’s that one little jerk in every fourth-grade class who sticks out his fist at the absolute worst possible time.

    Fifteen minutes later, when you’ve been convinced that, yes, you are medically OK and no longer a danger to land in suspension for strangling the instigator, the heartrate drops, you look around and try to figure out just what in the heck happened.

    Welcome to Wednesday for the Atlanta Braves.

    It flowed swimmingly for seven blissful innings in the matinee finale of a disappointing eight-game homestand, the NL East leaders building a 7-1 lead on a Boston squad that looks like – outside of Houston – a hands-down World Series title contender, but on this day fielding a junior-varsity squad on getaway day for the bunch with baseball’s best record.

    And then it all fell apart, in spectacular, slow-motion train-wreck fashion. The Braves endured their cruelest defeat of the season, a parade of relievers spitting the bit constantly and the infield defense cracking yet again in a six-run eighth to level the score, only to see Freddie Freeman put the Braves ahead again, only to see former friend Brandon Phillips, making his Boston debut, hit one halfway to his home in Stone Mountain with two outs in the ninth.

    Got all of that? If not, pull up a barstool. There’s plenty of Braves Country already here tonight, deep into a drowning of sorrows that resembles anything but a happy hour.

    The game came unhinged in a number of moments, but go big picture here. That portrait was splendid for the first six innings, as Mike Foltynewicz continued pitching like an ace and limited the Boston sub-varsity to two hits and one run while his teammates smashed out of a recent offensive funk. Foltynewicz threw a scant 87 pitches through six frames, and conventional wisdom dictated with the starting pitcher and his mates on cruise control, in a game which the Braves needed to win to finish the homestand at .500, in advance of a seven-game road trip to two locales in Arizona and San Francisco where the Braves typically play like crap, you keep it in fifth gear and keep on trucking.

    Then Brian Snitker fumbled the shifter, missed the clutch and pulled arguably his most bonehead move of the season.

    Yes, I love Snit and root for him. Yes, I know the players love him. Yes, I criticize his in-game management at times. Yes, he only can fire the bullets that have been loaded into the guy by Alex Anthopoulos. But this was over-management at its highest, worst-timed level. It triggered a series of dominos that eventually led to the Braves losing a game no team ever should lose, regardless if Boston rolled out maybe the best bench in baseball history in the late innings as the game morphed from a getaway-day play-it-out-and-fly-home, to a stirring victory on the Red Sox’s march to 110 victories.

    In fairness to Snitker, the very talented writer from The Athletic Atlanta and the Marietta Daily-Journal, Nubjyas Wilborn, shared with us tonight that Foltynewicz noticed his velo had dipped in the sixth inning, plus he was feeling the impact of the bone-spur issue that has impacted him at times this season.

    Still, it could not have resulted in a worse outcome. How so? If the Braves miss the playoffs, Wednesday might cost Brian Snitker his job. And that would be a shame given the job he’s done in steering this ship from the wreckage of 90 losses to surprise contention in a scant 28 months.

    But winning in October – the destination for a franchise stripped to the foundation, at a time that may not be now but darn well will be by 2019 – comes down to those tactical decisions. When you are in first place in a tightly contested playoff race, you ride your horses deeper in September than you do in April or May. That’s why this is the worst loss of the season. Miss me with the Cubs wind-and-rain-palooza at Wrigley in April. That was April.

    This is September, pennant-race baseball. It only gets hotter from here, and now the Braves fly across the continent with the unenviable task of washing away the most bitter loss of recent vintage and set their sights on two teams against which Atlanta is 1-5 this season.

    Yeah, that painful feeling just came back in the pit of your stomach, didn’t it?

    Having to cover nine outs with a bullpen that’s struggled at times and has a multitude of arms at or approaching career highs in innings is different from covering six outs. Snitker loosened the lid of the jar and unleased the fury, but there also is responsibility for the folks who took the ball.

    Dan Winkler had surrendered three hits in his past nine appearances before beginning the eighth inning by giving up four hits in a row.

    Jonny Venters, he of the 3 ½ Tommy John surgeries, made his fourth appearance in seven days, giving up one hit and two runs. Both Venters and Brad Brach, who had allowed two hits total in his previous seven outings, each saw a pair of inherited runners score.

    While all this chaos was breaking loose on the mound, an Atlanta defense that is playing tighter as the calendar gets deeper into September reared its ugly-of-late head at the absolute worst moment. Johan Camargo bobbled a potential inning-ending double-play ball and then sailed the throw past fill-in first baseman Ryan Flaherty – remember, the Braves were up big, and Freeman did not start for the first time this season. Turning two there ends the inning with Atlanta ahead 7-5.

    In the previous 41 games leading into the homestand, the Braves allowed 11 total unearned runs. Care to guess how many Atlanta gifted to opponents during the eight games at SunTrust Park? Yep, you guessed it: 11.

    Freeman did his part to save the day, belting a dramatic homer in the eighth that put the Braves ahead by one. But all that did was set the stage for Phillips, the Atlanta-area native who endeared himself with fans during his brief stint with his hometown squad last season, so much so that he drew a nice round of applause before his first at-bat.

    His last at-bat deflated those left in the ballpark, save the thousands of Red Sox fans who infiltrated STP and The Battery throughout the series.

    It now remains to be seen how deflated Atlanta is moving forward. One thing about these Braves is they’ve proven resilient beyond their years at every crossroads this season. That’s a big reason why, for all the gore and angst of Wednesday, Atlanta will arrive in Phoenix leading the East with 22 games to go.

    But a cautionary tale, especially with seven games remaining against the Phillies in the season’s final 11 days. These are the types of defeats that have felled many a talented team amid the glow of a pennant race. A loss like this at this point in the calendar doesn’t just highlight a missed opportunity within a singular 24-hour window, but can pull a team into a tailspin that its players and fan base spend months, if not years, lamenting.

    Was Wednesday’s loss that bad? We’re about to find out.

    —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 Drawing Attention from Near and Far

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    AUSTIN, Texas – There are moments when, in the midst of transitioning from rebuilding to contending, something happens that illustrates the shift in fortunes is grabbing attention.

    For me, it occurred some 965 miles west of SunTrust Park earlier this week.

    On a business trip to Austin, I strolled into the lounge at my hotel Monday night after arriving a few hours earlier. Relieved of deadline and work activities on arrival day, I grabbed a seat at the bar and looked forward to some quiet time while watching the NCAA Super Regionals. I ordered dinner and a beverage, and upon delivering my food, the bartender noticed my Braves shirt and hat.

    “You have one heckuva baseball team there,” he said, which sparked a conversation that lasted more than an hour. In that time, between bites of food and sips of Austin amber brew – which, for the record, really is good – I learned from the bartender and a couple of waiters that while they still are riding the emotional wave of the Astros winning the World Series, they recognize what’s happening in North Georgia.

    The bartender, who appeared to be around my age, kept referencing the big arms that defined the Braves for the better part of two decades – Smoltz, Maddux, Glavine, Avery, Neagle, Millwood. But the difference is those references to yesteryear began to intertwine with comparisons to the present day.

    Foltynewicz. Newcomb. Soroka, Nearly 1,000 miles away from home, these folks rolled those names off the tip of their tongue at every opportunity.

    What to take from that conversation while bellied up to the bar on the second floor of the Intercontinental in downtown Austin?

    It shows just how far the Braves already have come.

    In the words of the older bartender – who obviously knows his stuff about ball, from mentioning Jeff Blauser to Charlie Leibrandt to, gasp, Dion James and Damaso Garcia – he’s watched the Braves a few times this season and summarized, “this team is about to burst through and ascend toward the top of the majors.”

    Walking out of SunTrust Park late Sunday afternoon – six days after that conversation – the Braves only had added more validation to this phenomenal surge. Atlanta wrapped up a 5-1 homestand by downing the Padres 4-1, as Julio Teheran returned from the disabled list with six no-hit innings.

    Here are the Braves, 13 games above .500 for the first time in five seasons, leaders of the National League East by 3 ½ games. Sample size bias? Nah, not now. Atlanta has played 71 games, nearly 44 percent of its schedule, and it sits on a 95-win pace with a favorable schedule.

    Back to Austin a few days ago. There were conversation tracks focused on Ozzie Albies, on Freddie Freeman, on Dansby Swanson and on Ronald Acuna. But the talking points kept coming back to pitching. And can you blame them? These folks watched Houston’s dominant rotation pave the way to a world title last fall that brought so much joy to this part of the world.

    To step away from the biased viewpoint of tweets and text messages, to hear folks I never had met before and may never meet again, hit on the same observations, leads me to realize that what the Braves are doing is resonating far beyond the borders of Braves Country. In this part of the world, the Astros endured a miserable rebuild that featured three consecutive seasons of 106-plus losses and finishes in the division of 40-plus games out of first.

    Houston’s win total jumped from 51 games in 2013 to 70 games in 2014, to 86 and 84 the following two seasons, then 101 wins and the world championship in 2017. A dynamic pitching staff with young star power aplenty has the Astros poised to compete deep into autumn for years to go.

    But they’re not the only team following such a blueprint. There’s another team, one based in Georgia’s capital city, that is on the rise. And people far from SunTrust Park are starting to take notice.

    —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.

    A Reality Check, But Not A Wet Blanket After 24 Hours in Boston

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – So the last time the Atlanta Braves graced SunTrust Park, I was unable to see them play in person. One game I had tickets for was washed away by rain, and the other game which I was slated to see in person instead was spent in my Braves room, cheering like crazy for my favorite NHL team in an elimination playoff game.

    Alas, the Winnipeg Jets – perhaps you remember them as the Atlanta Thrashers (and yes, there still are four guys on the active roster who skated in those beautiful baby blue unis at Philips Arena once upon a time; one of them, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, sported a Braves cap during press interviews and hereby has earned a standing invite from me to visit SunTrust Park) – fell short last Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. While the final seconds ticked away on the Jets season and the tears welled up in my eyes, at the same time the Braves were authoring a comeback for the ages, scoring six times in the bottom of the ninth inning to upend the Miami Marlins and put yet another brushstroke on two months of absolute greatness.

    That unfathomable 10-9 victory bolstered Braves County in a way we have not seen in these parts since the 2013 squad rolled to 96 victories, a division title and the last playoff appearance this fan base has experienced. Four miserable seasons followed, with fan favorites traded for kids barely old enough to shave and two different front offices telling us to be patient.

    There is no denying the Braves are baseball’s biggest surprise through the first eight weeks of 2018. At or near the top of the National League East most of the way with equal parts veterans playing well and brash young rookies announcing their presence. The crazy comeback against Miami felt storybook in every sense of the word, and the national media began locked in on this team in advance of this week’s road trip to NL East rival Philadelphia and AL powerhouse Boston.

    So here we sit in the fading hours of Saturday night. There is no hockey until Monday. The Jets have cleaned out their lockers. It’s Memorial Day weekend. Many of us have spent time today grilling out, squeezing what few dry hours remain before Tropical Storm Alberto nails the Southeastern U.S. with tons of rain and wind. The Rockets and Warriors just concluded a NBA playoff game on my big screen.

    And I could not care less, because I sit at my laptop conflicted.

    The Braves dropped two games in Philadelphia, which is OK. After all, Atlanta won the first three series against the Phillies before this week’s meeting. These two teams won’t meet again until Sept. 20, only from that point to play seven times in the season’s final 11 days.

    Geez, unbalanced schedule, thanks for that. Not like we’re in the same division or anything.

    But I digress. After the visit to Philly, the Braves headed to Boston, which is where this franchise’s story began some 142 years ago. Arriving in Beantown, Atlanta found itself squared up with the Red Sox, one of baseball’s gold standard franchises, one of the three American League teams (along with the Astros and Yankees) that many feel will emerge in early November as champions.

    Talk about a measuring stick as we close in on completing the first third of the marathon that is a baseball season. This young and emerging team, against one of the few established powers.

    In a span of 24 hours covering Friday night through Saturday afternoon, the Braves dropped two games. In that timeframe, we saw just how far this franchise has come, and how much further it has to go.

    Look at both games through two different viewpoints, if you will:

    On one hand, Atlanta had ample opportunities to win both games. The Braves left a multitude of runners on base in Friday’s series opener. The starting pitching could not hold the line. The bullpen wasn’t much better. The bullpen management was abysmal.

    You want specifics? How in the world can you have a failed starter just recalled from Triple-A face the frontrunner for AL MVP in a one-run game? That’s on Brian Snitker, folks, plain and simple.

    Let’s go to Saturday, which may be the most agonizing game any of us have watched this season – and yes, I’m including the “weather-n-walk” disaster in Chicago in that discussion. The middle game of this series drug on like a bad early-morning conference call with that one person who keeps butting in mid-sentence to say, “sorry, I was on mute!”

    And yet, Atlanta had multiple chances to seize control of both games. It did not happen, and as of this moment when my fingers are hitting the keyboard late on a Saturday night, the Braves no longer reside in first place in the NL East. That honor belongs to those Phillies, albeit by a scant ½ game.

    There are two talk-tracks that have emerged from the past two games:

    One, is the Braves are not ready for this level of play. They ran up against one of the game’s best teams and they could not handle the pressure, could not handle playing in Fenway – let’s face it, were the Braves to somehow win the pennant and reach the World Series, odds are they would have to deal with a venue like this, be it in Boston, Houston or the Bronx – and could not answer the counter punches from one of the top squads in MLB.

    One, is the Braves needed this. They have rolled through the NL, found success in their division, sport a favorable run differential and have been swashbucklers on the road. They needed to see how the penthouse teams live, how they thrive, how they take every little mistake you make and bury you for it, and this will serve their development well. This is a good teachable moment that will help this bunch moving forward more than any of us right now can grasp.

    Want to know my take?

    Both are true.

    Is Atlanta ready to face a team like Boston in a seven-game series in the 10th month of the season, with the bunting on the railings and all the media and all the cameras and a billion people worldwide watching and that trophy with 30 gold pennants on it? Probably not. And that’s OK. Do I dream about it? Absolutely! I’ve been there. These two aging blue eyes saw the trophy with the pointy pennants brought onto our home field, albeit on the wobbly (read: drunk) head of Ted Turner, and paraded on top of a fire truck through the streets of my hometown.

    Is this weekend a good measuring stick and a good barometer for this team that hasn’t played for anything meaningful the past 55 months, when the bullpen door in Los Angeles remained locked for reasons none of us ever will freaking understand? Yes, certainly. We are 50 games into this season that has engaged us so much. Yes, it is disappointing to lose the first two and be left with resorting to salvaging the finale, but would any of you not sign up for this back in February if you had a crystal ball and realized Atlanta arrived the day before Memorial Day with a 29-21 record?

    There are challenges afoot, for sure, and questions to answer and holes to fill. And yes, the schedule does not get easier, not with a doubleheader at home on Monday with the Mets (if Tropical Storm Alberto allows such festivities to commence) and the always-dangerous Nationals in town after that, followed by the usual west-coast roadtrip that includes three with the defending NL champion Dodgers.

    Many of us longtime fans used to bemoan that early June swing out west, that back in the day would constitute trips to San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I always called it the “June Swoon Trip,” the one that let me know it was time to look forward to Falcons or Hawks or Dawgs season because the Braves would arrive back home buried in the old NL West.

    I certainly don’t see that happening this season. This team figures to be relevant deep into summer. The fits and starts in the Northeast this weekend only help fuel the development of this fun, exciting and intriguing team, as we continue shifting from rebuilder to contender.

    —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 Are Fun Again: From Every Angle, Lots of Positives

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – Pardon us for doing a little celebrating on this night, but the Atlanta Braves have won 11 games.

    Eleven wins through April’s third week doth not make a postseason team. For some franchises, it hardly would cause a blink of the eye. But consider this tidbit: we are talking about a franchise that did not win its 11th game last season until May 2.

    Two years ago? Win No. 11 came on May 20.

    Welcome to the early minutes of April 20. The Braves are 11-7 through 18 games, a mere 11.1 percent through the season, but for those of us who predicted this team to finish around .500 – I’m on the record saying 80-82 – Atlanta already is nearly 14 percent there and we still have 10 games left in the opening month of this 2018 campaign.

    Braves Manager Brian Snitker briefs reporters after Thursday's 12-4 win over the Mets.

    Braves Manager Brian Snitker briefs reporters after Thursday’s 12-4 win over the Mets.

    These Braves may not be a playoff team, but this team has been an absolute joy to watch. Aggressive baserunning, good starting pitching, clutch hitting and, yes, some overachieving performance at the plate. And thewunderkid Ronald Acuna Jr. remains in Gwinnett, trying to settle his swing and string together enough hits to warrant a promotion.

    Where to begin with this intriguing bunch? Let’s hit a few topics as we go around the horn following Thursday’s series-opening 12-4 rout of the Mets to kick off a four-game set at SunTrust Park:

    Just Win Series

    We heard the sage Bobby Cox say this mantra over and over again during his second run as Atlanta manager (remember, he managed this team from 1978-81, when individual victories were cause for celebration). The Cox approach was if you win series, that’s a recipe for success.

    The Braves entered Thursday’s four-game series with the Mets having played six series. Four of those series, 11 games, came against playoff teams from last season. Three of those series were played against playoff teams, on the road, in miserable conditions.

    (As an aside, the scheduling by Major League Baseball is awful.)

    Atlanta emerged from that 11-game stretch – one game lost due to weather; another game that should’ve been lost due to weather, a contest the Braves lost – at 6-5. You could argue two of those losses were giveaways, the middle game in Colorado and the final game in Chicago, but on the whole, for a team that’s lost 90-plus games the past three years, it definitely was a strong showing.

    Unsung Heroes

    Every team that overachieves has to have guys who step up and provide that “did he really do that?” moment. The Braves have provided plenty of those through the first 18 games. Consider:

    Braves OF Preston Tucker on Thursday pulled even with Washington's Bryce Harper for the NL lead in RBI (18)

    Braves OF Preston Tucker on Thursday pulled even with Washington’s Bryce Harper for the NL lead in RBI (18)

    ♦  Preston Tucker: He was just a placeholder for Acuna, and yet the former Houston farmhand has 18 RBIs through 18 games after driving in five runs in Thursday’s victory over the Mets. He’s belted a trio of three-run homers, his defense has been better than expected, and he provides left-handed power in the lineup that sorely is needed.

    ♦  Ryan Flaherty: How does this guy keep hitting? He arrived with a great glove to fill in at third base while Johan Camargo rehabbed from an obliqueinjury, but the journeyman Flaherty has established himself for now as a viable piece in the lineup. He’s hitting .352, belted a three-run homer Wednesday against Philly, drew two walks against the Mets (bumping his OPS to .954) while providing the steady defense we expected. The early-season production for Flaherty is not sustainable. Tucker likely is not sustainable, either. But Atlanta is deciding to ride the hot hands for now, starting Flaherty over Camargo and keeping Acuna in Gwinnett while Tucker does his thing.

    ♦  Matt Wisler: When Anibal Sanchez – who himself has bolstered the pitching staff – injured his hamstring the night before he was scheduled to start the series opener against the Mets, the Braves tapped Wisler, one of the “early rebuild” arms who failed to meet expectations. But he brought a renewed confidence and aggressiveness against a Mets team that entered the series opener at 13-4, carving up New York across seven tremendous innings. If nothing else, he earned the right to take the fifth starter’s turn in the rotation Tuesday at Cincinnati. He was that good.

    What About Acuna?

    The 20-year-old, who crushed at every level of the minors last season, then won Arizona Fall League MVP honors last fall, and then dominated the Grapefruit

    OF Ronald Acuna continues to struggle at Triple-A Gwinnett

    OF Ronald Acuna continues to struggle at Triple-A Gwinnett

    League this spring, remains in Triple-A. The main reason? He’s pressing, going 8-for-44 with 17 strikeouts at Gwinnett through his first 11 games. For an organization that sent him down to work on “development” stuff – in other words, to guarantee an extra year of contract control – it would seem odd to promote a .182 hitter and pronounce that development compete.

    Folks, Ronald Acuna is going to be in the majors, and soon. Nobody expected Tucker to perform like he has, and likely didn’t expect Acuna to struggle so far through his first 51 plate appearances at Gwinnett. But the bottom line is once Acuna gets on a roll – and it’s coming – he will be in the majors. There is no worry there. I’d hit that kid cleanup from the get-go once he gets here, but that’s just me.

    Bautista and Bat Flips?

    Young Ronnie has some pretty good bat flips in his arsenal, but Atlanta signed the bat-flip master Jose Bautista to a one-year, minor-league deal on Wednesday. The longtime Toronto slugger, who maintained his relationship with new Braves GM Alex Anthopolous, is at extended spring training, working at third base and looking to prove he can play in the majors.

    I have my doubts. This Bautista is not the guy who finished in the top eight in American League MVP voting four times in six seasons from 2010-15. His on-base percentage has dropped each of the past four seasons, and his slugging percentage has fallen each of the past three seasons. Bautista struck out 170 times a season ago.

    I know some folks want to envision the 2014 Bautista hitting behind Freeman. I don’t see that at all. If he provides a right-handed power bat off the bench, that is a bonus. But I’m not counting on him.

    A Star in the Making

    Is there anybody in the majors today who is more fun to watch than Ozzie Albies? The kid is flat-out awesome to watch, be it diving to snag ground balls, turning double plays, blasting balls into the seats and hitting line drives into the gap.

    Seeing Ozzie round first on his way to an extra-base hit is one of the pure joys of watching baseball today. He plays with so much passion and joy, and he is so fast. His speed and baserunning is game-changing stuff.

    When the All-Star ballot comes out, punch Ozzie’s name at second base, repeatedly. If his production stays anywhere near the level we’ve seen through 18 games – .316 average, .995 OPS, five homers, 11 RBIs, 15 extra-base hits, outstanding defense – he has to be the front-runner for top second baseman in the Senior Circuit.

    What About Julio?

    RHP Julio Teheran

    RHP Julio Teheran

    Teheran has made a big change in his past two starts – relying more on his slider and changeup and mixing in a curveball, as well. In his first two starts of the season, Teheran relied solely on his fastball and opposing lineups pounded the heat, which sat around or just under 90 mph with little movement.

    Maybe Julio has found something with more mixing in of the breaking stuff. I think we all know he’s not an ace, but with four pitches in the mix, JT becomes more effective and more attractive – given his contract status – if Atlanta looks to deal him.

    ***

    It’s just 18 games, but compared to recent history, these Braves in 2018 have pushed the envelope. It’s a fun bunch to watch. There is so far to go but, so far, so good.

    —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.

    Gattis traded to Astros, exodus out of ATL continues

    If any question remained what Atanta’s offseason plan was, it was made perfectly clear Wednesday when the Braves traded fan favorite Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros for a package of three prospects. The Braves are undoubtedly rebuilding for the 2017 debut of their new stadium, Sun Trust Park.

    Evan Gattis will move to a hitter friendly park in a pitching dominant AL West in his new role as a designated hitter.

    Evan Gattis will move to a hitter friendly park in a pitching dominant AL West in his new role as a designated hitter.

    The Braves’ trade of Gattis continues a busy offseason with trades of big names and big bats including Justin Upton to the Padres, Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, Jordan Walden also to the Cardinals, David Carpenter to the Yankees, Tommy La Stella to the Cubs and Anthony Varvaro to the Red Sox. Nearly all of the trades resulted in no big league ready players returning to the club. Additionally, the Braves parted ways with Ramiro Pena, Tyler Pastornicky, Gerald Laird, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Jonny Venters, Gavin Floyd, Erwin Santana, Ryan Doumit, Aaron Harang, Emilio Bonafacio and Cory Gearrin, most to free agency. Atlanta’s trades and departures have accounted for holes in two of the three starting rotation spots, a lack of backup catcher or starting catcher, depending on the status and maturity of Christian Bethancourt, loss of right fielder, left fielder and second baseman and a completely depleted bench. They have filled some of the holes in the return for trades and via free agency, but there is no question than an exodus has happened out of Atlanta.

    Evan Gattis had been projected to play left field for the Braves in 2015 with the loss of Justin Upton, but those around the Braves knew if the price was right the Braves would trade him for the right prospects. That right price seemed to come together with the Houston Astros, pending a physical, when the Astros offered prospects Rio Ruiz (3B), Andrew Thurman (RHP) and Mike Foltynewicz (RHP).

    The Astros will have Evan Gattis for 4 years of control and will likely use him as a DH. Gattis has always been a player with great potential in the American League. He has potential to be 30-HR hitter in the AL, especially at Minute Maid Park, a middle of the pack park in terms of hitter friendliness with the wall in right field being 315 feet from home plate. In 3 career games at Minute Maid Park, Gattis has hit .250/.250/.500, his 3 hits all doubles.

    Gattis, in addition to falling into a new role as DH with an American League team, will be going home. El Oso Blanco was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in that part of the state where he became an elite high school baseball player prior to walking away from a baseball scholarship at Texas A&M.

    We here at BravesWire wish Evan nothing but luck with his new team. He has been a thrill to watch with the Braves and every indication is that he is a truly nice young man. Gattis homering in his first hit off of Doc Halladay will not soon be forgotten in Atlanta.

    BRAVES CONTINUE TO COMPILE HIGH QUALITY PROSPECTS…

    John Hart and the Atlanta front office have brought in top prospects in nearly every trade they have conducted this winter. While only a couple of the prospects are nearing what would be considered big league ready, notably Max Fried though he is currently coming back from Tommy John surgery (acquired in the Justin Upton trade), they are positioning themselves well for being competitive in 2017 and beyond. That trend continued with the Evan Gattis trade.

    The big name in the Gattis trade returning to the Braves is Mike Foltynewicz. MLB.com ranks Folty as #57 among prospects in baseball. He is listed as the #3 prospect in the Astros’ system by Baseball America where they say he has “crazy arm strength . . . if he can’t harness delivery, hard-throwing reliever.” He touts a triple-digit fastball, a respectable changeup and has been working hard on his curveball.

    Third base prospect Rio Ruiz comes to the Braves having hit .293/.387/.436 with 11 homers and 77 RBIs in high-A in 2014. Given the recent trade of Kyle Kubitza, Atlanta’s top 3B prospect to the Angels for pitching prospects Nate Hyatt and Ricardo Sanchez, the Braves desperately needed depth at 3B and may look to groom Ruiz for the future without Chris Johnson.

    Both less known and less appreciated, Andrew Thurman (RHP) was a 2nd round pick for the Astros in 2013. He spent the 2014 season in single-A Quad Cities where he put up a 5.38 ERA in 20 starts (115 1/3 innings) with 107 strikeouts, a 1.405 WHIP and a 7-9 record. Both Thurman and Foltynewicz are solid arms that could both break into the rotation, with Folty having the fallback option of relief work.

    With this trade, the Braves have certainly restocked the farm, but how they will compete in 2015 remains a question mark. Braves fans may need to prepare themselves to finish fourth in the NL East behind the Nationals, Marlins and Mets as they look to 2017 and beyond.

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

     

    Braves gain in division, lose Floyd for season

    As the game got underway in Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park tonight, the Braves knew that the rival Nationals had dropped 3 straight games. This brought Atlanta within a half game of Washington in the National League East. By game’s end, the Braves were tied once again for first place in the division. Hoping to reclaim the lead, the Braves knew that it wouldn’t be an easy feat given the news yesterday that they had lost Gavin Floyd for the season after he underwent surgery to repair his fractured elbow. The team was then dealt a smaller scare when in the first inning in Philly, slugger Evan Gattis appeared to tweak something on a swing at the plate. It was announced quickly after that he had a spasm of the right rhomboid in his upper back. Needless to say, the Braves could really use a few wins against the Phillies.

    Gavin Floyd pitched 6 shutout innings, giving up only 2 hits before leaving what was likely his final start with the Braves.

    Gavin Floyd pitched 6 shutout innings, giving up only 2 hits before leaving what was likely his final start with the Braves.

    When the Braves went out and signed Gavin Floyd for $4 million for his services in the 2014 season, they took a huge chance on a veteran pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery. They couldn’t have been more pleased when Floyd joined the rotation and went 2-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 9 starts. His record doesn’t reflect how well he pitched. The boys averaged 3.25 runs in support of Floyd with them scoring 5 or more runs in only 3 of his games started. 3 of Floyd’s starts the offense scored 2 or fewer runs behind him. Floyd’s surgery is the end of the season and whether he can return from this and pitch is unknown.

    Floyd had been a huge pickup for the Braves once they learned they would be without Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen for the season. Now it would appear that the biggest signing of the offseason and early spring training was that of veteran Aaron Harang.

    In Floyd’s absence, Alex Wood will step into the rotation. If Wood’s start Wednesday is any indication, it appears it will be a seamless transition. Wood pitched 7 shutout innings against Houston, allowing only 3 hits and striking out 4 batters.

    With 1 game and 1 win behind them, the Braves will face off for 3 more games against the Phillies. Saturday will feature a doubleheader. The second game of the doubleheader will see David Hale step back into a starting role, a role he feels is the best fit for him. Because Hale isn’t stretched out like Wood had been when he stepped in to fill the rotation spot of Floyd’s, Hale will need a piggyback reliever and the Braves used their 26th man allowance for doubleheaders to call up Gus Schlosser. Gus is 4-3 with a 4.39 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett this season (55 1/3 innings). In his limited appearance with the big club earlier this season he 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings pitched.

    The remainder of the series at Citizens Bank Park, including the Saturday doubleheader will match up as follows: Saturday, game 1 will feature Santana (5-5, 4.15) vs. Hernandez (3-6, 4.41); Saturday, game 2 will feature Hale (2-2, 3.14) vs. O’Sullivan; and the series finale Sunday will pit Harang (6-6, 3.78) vs. Buchmann (4-3, 4.79).

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

    Braves hold ground, miss chance at first place

    In a 162-game season there are plenty of opportunities to take and lose the division lead, however none present themselves quite like a face off with the rival Washington Nationals in a 4-game series. The Braves entered the series 1 1/2 games behind Washington in the National League East. The Nats entered with a 2-game winning streak while Atlanta had just lost 3 straight to the Phillies. Despite having won 19 of 26 of their last meetings, the Braves spit the series 2-2 with the Nats, rolling through the first 2 games and then scoring only 1 run in the final 2 games.

    Floyd pitched 6 strong innings, giving up only 2 hits and 0 runs before leaving the game with a fractured elbow.

    Floyd pitched 6 strong innings, giving up only 2 hits and 0 runs before leaving the game with a fractured elbow.

    The pitching curse of 2014 once again reared its ugly head in D.C. when veteran Gavin Floyd took the mound. Despite recording the win on 6 innings of work where he gave up only 2 hits and didn’t allow a run, Floyd left the game with what appeared to be a nasty fluid sac on his pitching elbow. After the game Floyd was examined by the Nats’ doctors and it was announced that he had a fractured elbow. The Braves took a chance on Floyd in the offseason while he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery. In 9 starts, Floyd put together a 2-2 record with a 2.65 ERA in 54 1/3 innings pitched. He held opponents to a .266 average, allowed 16 total runs and 45 strikeouts.

    Atlanta announced today that Floyd would undergo surgery on his fractured elbow Wednesday. After being pulled from the start in D.C., Floyd was placed on the 15-day DL and Ryan Butcher was called up from Gwinnett. The Braves have scheduled Alex Wood to rejoin the club and take Floyd’s spot in the rotation Wednesday. There is no timetable on Floyd’s recovery due to the unusual nature of his injury and the speed in which the bone heals.

    Evan Gattis saw his 20-game hit streak come to an end in the final game of the series. Over that span, he hit .372 (32-for-86) with 3 doubles, 8 homers & 21 RBIs. His 20-game hit streak matched the streak of Jason Kendall in 2004 with the Pirates–the longest by a catcher who caught every game during the streak. Gattis has improved on defense this season, too. His hitting is not the only part of his game. During his 20-game hit streak he also went errorless behind the plate with 13 assists.

    ATLANTA CONTINUES ROAD TRIP IN HOUSTON…

    Atlanta continues their road trip following a day off with a 3-game series in Houston before heading to Philly for the weekend. Houston sits at the bottom of the AL East, but has put together a much better pitching staff than last year. The Astros are 33-and-44 and 14 1/2 games back in the division. The Braves enter the series 38-and-37.

    As Alex Wood joins the rotation on Wednesday, look for either Beato or Butcher to be sent back down to Gwinnett to make room on the roster. Also look to see Justin Upton in the lineup going forward as he appears to be on the mend from the sinus problems that caused dizziness and his equilibrium to be off over the last week.

    The Braves will open the series in Houston with Harang (5-6, 3.83) vs. Feldman (3-4, 3.95). Wednesday’s game with feature the returning Wood (5-6, 3.43) vs. McHugh (4-5, 2.76). The final game against the Astros will pit Minor (2-4, 4.20) vs. Cosart (7-5, 3.78).

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

    Braves cap winning homestand, Philly up next

    The Braves wrapped up an 8-2 homestand Sunday afternoon against the Astros. They held Houston to a ridiculous 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position, got behind veteran Tim Hudson for his 100th win as an Atlanta Brave and watched the magic continue for Chipper Jones (the homestand was kind to Chipper who had a .367 BA, 7 RBIs, and scored 8 runs). Anybody who has watched the team this year, against the cellar-dwelling Astros or the best teams in baseball, knows that there is truly something special about the 2012 Atlanta Braves.

    Tim Hudson earned his 100th win as a Braves on Friday

    Tim Hudson is not letting his veteran status stand between him and wins for his club. Taking the mound Friday night, unbeknownst to Huddy, he was pitching for his 100th win in an Atlanta Braves uniform. It wasn’t just any win, it was an impressive 7 1/3 innings without a surrendered earned run. In his last 6 games, Hudson has a 5-0 record and a 2.58 ERA. The 37-year-old has been Atlanta’s most consistent starter since he returned from back surgery early in the season.

    Craig Kimbrel is putting together a Cy Young-caliber sophomore season. Friday night he earned his 31st save, one save behind save leaders Fernando Rodney (Rays), Jim Johnson (Orioles) and Joel Hanrahan (Pirates). In Kimbrel’s 42 appearances this season, he has a 1.29 ERA, an 0.667 WHIP and a ridiculous 73 strikeouts. He has held opponents to a .120 batting average. While his teammates Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty have had their struggles out of the ‘pen, Kimbrel has been one of the most, if not the most, reliable closers in baseball.

    For a streaky team like the Braves, there have been a few consistencies that have been complete surprises. Unlike the consistent quality outings by Tim Hudson, the multi-tool contributions of Michael Bourn and the dominance of Craig Kimbrel, the Braves have looked to Chipper Jones, Paul Janish and David Ross for consistent offense. Yes, you read that correctly.

    Though Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch-hitters to play the game, his production had dropped as he aged and as he battled numerous injuries. To see Chipper having this kind of season is (.320/.396/.516) a surprise to everyone. Each at-bat for Chipper is special because everyone watching knows it is getting closer to being his last, but it’s immensely important to the Braves because he has been clutch. His productivity has lifted the offense and made up for the first half struggles of slugger Brian McCann and season-long slump of Dan Uggla. There’s a reason Fredi Gonzalez recently said that Chipper may be the greatest baseball player he has ever seen.

    David Ross & fellow catcher Brian McCann have combined for 24 HR this year

    When the Braves picked up Paul Janish after the injury to rookie phenom Andrelton Simmons, they weren’t expecting much by way of offense from Janish. Janish has always been known for his glove. However, Janish continues to come through in big situations.  In the final game of the series with Houston, Janish came through with a 2-RBI hit with 2 outs. His .200 batting average may not show a hitter that is contributing to the team’s offense, but he is producing in key spots that have been highly important to his team’s success. With the news that Simmons may not be returning to the team until September and Jack Wilson’s continued problems recovering from a hand injury, too, Janish’s clutch hitting is timely and a welcome surprise.

    David Ross is the best backup catcher in baseball. Period. The Braves would be wise to sign him to an extended contract. It seems every time Ross is in the lineup to give Brian McCann a rest he comes through big. Sunday’s game was no exception when he hit a homerun off Bud Norris in the 6th inning. His 6th dinger of the season matches his home run mark for the 2011 season. Most teams expect some drop off when their backup catcher is in the game, but the Braves have come to expect some heroics at the plate and an absolute cannon behind it in their backup man.

    Chipper, Janish and Ross came through big time for the Braves against Houston. Line scores from each of the three games:

    Game 1:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Houston 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 8 0
    Atlanta 0 1 0 0 0 3 1 1 x 4 6 1

    W: Hudson (11-4) L: Galarraga (0-1) SV: Kimbrel (31)

    Game 2:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Houston 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 3 9 0
    Atlanta 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 4 0

    W: Harrell (9-7) L: Maholm (9-7) SV: Lopez (1)

    Game 3:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Houston 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 8 0
    Atlanta 0 1 0 0 0 3 1 1 x 6 9 0

    W: Venters (4-3) L: Norris (5-9)

    ANOTHER SERIES AT CITIZEN’S BANK…

    Monday: Sheets (3-1, 1.46) vs. Worley (6-6, 3.63)

    Tuesday: Minor (6-7, 5.01) vs. Hamels (11-6, 3.34)

    Wednesday: Hudson (11-4, 3.45) vs. Kendrick (4-9, 4.45)

    As many Braves players have said, the Phillies had the Braves’ number for several seasons and now the tables have turned. With Philly unloading at the trade deadline, they traded Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, and Hunter Pence in a matter of days not to mention Jim Thome and Chad Qualls at the beginning of July, the Braves will be seeing new faces in new places. This isn’t the Phillies team that won five consecutive division titles. The Braves have yet another opportunity to get wins within the NL East this week.

    Mike Minor’s dominant July was spectacular in many ways, but something worth nothing is that Minor has been matched up against some of the best pitchers in baseball, especially the NL East. He has drawn match-ups against Stephen Strasburg, Josh Johnson, CC Sabathia, and other top tier pitchers. He will once again toe the rubber against a top pitcher in Cole Hamels Tuesday night.

    The Braves roll into Philly just as Braves killer Carlos Ruiz lands on the disabled list with ongoing plantar fasciitis in his left foot, an injury that makes doing his job all but impossible for the catcher. This is a welcome Phillies loss for the Braves who have had no luck getting Ruiz out. Ruiz has a career .282 average against the Braves and a .310 batting average against them in 2012 alone.

    Atlanta arrives in Philadephia with a record of 62-46. They are 16 games above .500.

    The Braves and Phillies get underway tonight at 7:05 (EST).

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

    Braves pound Fish, welcome cellar dwelling Stros

    Reed Johnson went 3-for-7 in first two games as a Brave

    Atlanta fans have seen it all season–the Braves are a streaky team. The team carried a 5 game winning streak into the series with the Marlins and tacked two additional wins to the streak before falling to the Fish in game 3. All 7 of the wins during this streak were against National League East opponents. The Braves are 9-1 on this homestand and have won 18 of their last 24 games.

    The Marlins continue to struggle without Giancarlo Stanton’s bat in the lineup.  They didn’t appear to immediately feel the loss of Omar Infante who was traded to the Tigers with Anibal Sanchez and the bat of Hanley Ramirez always brought on and off field baggage, but their roster contains numerous holes that may prevent them from playing spoiler this season in the NL East. Something readily apparent during this series with Miami is the complete lack of a cohesive plan. What the Marlins will be in the future is a mystery to everyone in baseball including, perhaps, the Marlins themselves.

    First and most importantly, the Braves finally got the Monday monkey off their backs. The Braves secured a win against Miami Monday night, their first Monday win of the season. They are now 1-12 on Mondays. The Braves miraculously scored 6 runs in the first 5 innings Monday night. That was a third of the 18 total runs they had scored on all other Monday games this season. The Braves went on to score 2 more runs, beating the Fish 8-2.

    Tommy Hanson had yet another unusual outing, despite gaining the win in Monday’s match-up. In his last two outings, Tommy gave up only 2 runs, but gave up 9 hits and surrendered 10 walks while striking out 11. Run support and phenomenal defense has truly saved Tommy Hanson from giving up more runs. Following Hanson’s Monday outing, the trade for Paul Maholm and the success of Kris Medlen in the rotation on Tuesday, Hanson was placed on the disabled list with what the Braves are calling a back strain. Hanson could definitely benefit from some extra rest.

    Kris Medlen’s outing Tuesday was nothing short of exceptional. Medlen had not started a game since 2010 when he went down with an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery. The Braves gave Medlen 3 runs to work with in the first inning after Medlen surrendered a solo home run to Donnie Murphy. Medlen settled in, giving up only 4 hits, 1 walk, and 1 earned run in 5 1/3 innings before having his game shortened to 57 pitches due to a rain delay. Medlen’s performance was a reminder to the Braves of just how valuable he is, whether they choose to use him in the rotation or out of the bullpen. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has said Medlen will start again on Sunday and will likely move back to the bullpen in the weeks to come.

    Mike Minor looked sharp but rain shortened his Thursday start.

    Mike Minor was the unsung hero of July for the Braves. In his July starts, Minor led led all Major League pitchers in opponents’ OBP at .206 and he led all National League pitchers in batting average allowed at .172. He finished July 2-2 with a 1.98 ERA, his record a poor measure of his success given how little run support he had. Though Minor was limited Thursday night, like Medlen earlier in the week, to 55 pitches due to rain, he pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings before turning the gave over to Cristhian Martinez in relief. As the picture becomes clearer for the Braves’ rotation, Mike Minor will be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch.

    A note on the underrated Braves offense: Dan Uggla has at least one hit and one RBI in 4 of the last 5 games. This is a huge improvement for Uggla who has been the victim of many a strikeout since the all-star break. The Braves need Uggla to stay in this groove for days when the big bats of Freeman, Heyward and McCann are not getting it done. Juan Francisco has added important offsense on nights that Chipper needs a rest. Francisco, or Road Runner as Chipper Jones calls him, has had 2 multi-hit games in less than a week.

    The addition of Reed Johnson has been a godsend for the struggling Martin Prado as well as for the rarely rested Michael Bourn. Johnson can play any of the outfield positions and can therefore be used to rest Prado, Bourn or Heyward. For Bourn to retain dominance on the base paths, it’s important for Fredi to have the ability to rest him on occasion. Johnson also brings a consistent right handed bat to a lineup that has needed one for several seasons. In 9 plate appearances with the Braves, Johnson has a .429 batting average and .556 on-base percentage. These numbers are inflated by sample size, but Johnson has consistently hit above .300 as a utility/role player.

    Chipper Jones has been exactly what the Braves needed from the veteran this season. In his last 18 games, Chipper has a .313 BA and a .384 OBP. His veteran leadership is proving crucial as well. Chipper has become an unofficial hitting coach and this has certainly played a small role in the reemergence of Jason Heyward. He continues to bring levity to the clubhouse and his joining Twitter (@realcj10) has been comical to his teammates as well as fans. As the season wears on, fans of the Braves and baseball alike are really starting to understand just how much Chipper Jones will be missed when he retires at the end of the season.

    The line scores from the 4-game series against the Marlins:

    Game 1:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Miami 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 2 10 1
    Atlanta 0 0 1 1 4 1 1 0 x 8 13 1

    W: Hanson (12-5) L: Buehrle (9-10)

    Game 2:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Miami 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 2
    Atlanta 3 0 1 0 0 2 0 1 x 7 13 1

    W: Medlen (2-1) L: Nolasco (8-10)

    Game 3:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Miami 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 12 0
    Atlanta 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 9 1

    W: Zambrano (6-9) L: Sheets (3-1) SV: Cishek (5)

    Game 4:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Miami 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 8 0
    Atlanta 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 x 6 10 0

    W: Martinez (5-2) L: Eovaldi (2-7)

    ASTROS COME INTO TOWN…

    Friday: Galarraga (0-0, 3.60) vs. Hudson (10-4, 3.68)

    Saturday: Harrell (8-7, 4.03) vs. Maholm (9-6, 3.74)

    Sunday: Norris (5-8, 5.02) vs. Medlen (2-1, 2.43)

    It is hard to find positive in the Houston Astros right now. Their roster is now missing the veterans that had been tied to the franchise for years, including Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez (not to mention Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn at the 2011 trade deadline). The Astros are simply not competitive right now.

    Paul Maholm will make his Braves debut Saturday night against Lucas Harrell, Houston’s most effective pitcher. Maholm is 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his last 5 outings, holding opponents to a .198 batting average.

    The Braves have the chance to continue to add wins to their record. Atlanta goes into the series with a 60-45 record (.571), while the Astros are carrying a 35-71 record (.330).

    The Braves and Marlins get underway at the Ted at 7:35 p.m. (EST) tonight.

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

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