• Justin Upton

    J. Upton, Northcraft traded to Friars for 4 prospects

    In a much anticipated move, the Braves traded away slugger Justin Upton for a package of prospects. Friday the front office completed a 6-player trade with the San Diego Padres. Joining Upton in the trade to San Diego is Aaron Northcraft, minor league RHP prospect. In return from the Padres, the Braves receive much-touted prospect Max Fried (LHP), Jace Peterson (INF), Dustin Peterson (INF), and Mallex Smith (OF).

    northcraft

    Aaron Northcraft was ranked 14th among Braves’ prospects prior to the trade and won’t be in the top 20 prospects of the Padres’ organization.

    The headliner headed to San Diego is Justin Upton, of course. But the Padres also receive 24-year-old pitching prospect Aaron Northcraft. Northcraft had a rough 2014 season when he went from a pitcher with a 7-3 record and 2.88 ERA while at Double-A to an 0-7 pitcher with an elevated 6.54 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett. He never had the speed or power to be a piece of the Braves’ bullpen and given his struggles in AAA, he wasn’t projected to be a possibility for the rotation. While he could add depth eventually to the Padres’ young rotation, his loss isn’t one the Braves can’t absorb.

    In 2 seasons with the Braves, the 27-year-old Upton hit 27 and 29 home runs, some would say at the cost of 160+ strikeouts per year. His .263 and .270 averages came up short of the marks he tallied the previous 4 seasons in Arizona. His defense seemed to be down while in Atlanta, though that could arguably be due to the shadow of the greatest defensive right fielder in the league–Jason Heyward–to compare him to. While playing with his big brother B.J. didn’t seem to hurt or help his game, the opposite was true for B.J. There is always the possibility that B.J. might play better without his brother on the roster with him. Time will tell.

    Upton’s bat will be replaced in the lineup by the full-time bat of Evan Gattis, presumably. Gattis will man LF while rookie Bethancourt takes on the responsibility of being behind the plate full-time.

    BRAVES MOVE AHEAD IN PUSH FOR 2017 STADIUM OPENING…

    For fans who don’t quite grasp what the Braves are doing with their offseason moves, it is helpful to understand that in 2017 the Cobb County stadium (SunTrust Park) will open. This isn’t the type of fire sale that would see the team sell off their highest valued pieces for a load of young prospects to restock the farm. This is simply letting go of players that they would otherwise only have control of for a year before they left for free agency, the case with both Heyward and Upton. In return, the Braves may not be receiving pieces that are big-league ready (which is the case with all but Max Fried in the Padres trade), but they will be by 2017 when the team hopes to have a club that can not only only compete, but can win it all.

    That said, don’t count Atlanta out. Adding Shelby Miller makes for a young, talented rotation with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Alex Wood and possibly David Hale. Adding Nick Markakis gives the Braves’ lineup some pop, pop that will come with less strikeouts than the Braves’ OF has brought to the equation in the last 2 years. With the signing of Callaspo, the Braves add a sure hand that can provide leadership for the up and coming young players like Pastornicky, Gosselin and Perraza.

    Trading with the Padres brought 4 prospects to the club that will help in various ways with the current plan to build for a great 2017 run. Max Fried, the prospect most likely to break into the big leagues first, had Tommy John surgery near the end of the 2014 season. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing for Atlanta, however. Fried was the No. 7-overall pick in the 2012 draft by San Diego and with the TJ surgery behind him, he could prove to be similar to Alex Wood in his availability once healed. At 20-years-old, Fried had a successful 147 innings in Class A rookie ball this year before being shutdown with elbow soreness. He posted a 3.61 ERA in 38 appearances.

    With Fried come 3 fielders. Jace and Dustin Peterson, of no relation, are both infield prospects. Jace played 27 games with the Padres last season and Dustin was the second round pick of the Friars in 2013. Mallex Smith is the 3rd position player in the group and was drafted in 2012. He hit .327 in 55 games in A-ball in 2014. All 3 of the fielders are 24 or under.

    Going forward John Hart hasn’t ruled out additional trades, but he has suggested that they’ll “circle back” on free agents. For now and likely for the 2015 season, Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson will remain with the club.

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

    Braves sign Markakis, Johnson

    In a much anticipated move, the Atlanta Braves made a deal for a right fielder today with long-time Oriole Nick Markakis. It was the second move of the day for John Hart and the front office in Atlanta after signing former Oriole closer Jim Johnson. Markakis agreed to a 4-year, $44 million deal while his former Baltimore teammate signed for 1-year, $1.6 million.

    Markakis, a 9-year veteran of the AL, is coming home to Georgia with today's signing.

    Markakis, a 9-year veteran of the AL, is coming home to Georgia with today’s signing.

    While it was clear after the Braves traded Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins that they would be looking for a replacement for Heyward in right field, it wasn’t clear where they would look to fill that hole. The possibility of moving Justin Upton back to right field while utilizing Evan Gattis in left field was the only in-house scenario available. On the trade market, the free agents available included Markakis, Nori Aoki, Michael Morse, Melky Cabrera and Torii Hunter. With Hunter signing yesterday with the Twins, it was clear the pieces were going to begin falling. Enter the talks with Nick Markakis.

    Markakis, who attended high school and college in Georgia, has spent his entire big league career with the Baltimore Orioles. He has 9 years of service on his stat sheet with a career .290 average, .358 on-base percentage and .435 slugging. He has averaged 152 games per season, notching 155+ games in all but two of those seasons. He is coming off his second Gold Glove season in right field and a season where he batted .276.

    Atlanta has not had the best luck with long-term contracts in recent years, eating significant money on Derek Lowe and Dan Uggla as well as continuing to watch the B.J. Upton disaster play out. The structuring of Markakis’ deal could turn out to be a bargain during an offseason that finds nearly every team needing OF help. The signing of Markakis also leaves many wondering if this was merely setting up the club for a further move that would send Justin Upton elsewhere for pitching help and prospects. If this is to be the case, the Braves’ outfield would presumably be Gattis, the elder Upton and Markakis.

    Prior to the Markakis signing, the Braves announced that they had signed former Orioles and A’s closer Jim Johnson to a 1-year deal. Johnson, also a 9-year veteran of the league, spent 2006-13 with the Orioles before signing a big contract with the Oakland A’s that fizzled. He ended last season with the Detroit Tigers.

    Over his career, Johnson has posted a 3.57 ERA. Though he was unlikely to return to closing duties with any club after losing command of his sinker when he signed with Oakland, his services were needed by the Braves with the departure of Walden. He will likely serve as set-up man for Kimbrel. The hope is that Roger McDowell, who lived and died with an exceptional sinker in his big league career, will be able to straighten out Johnson and get him back on track.

    When his career went off the rails with the A’s, Johnson posted a 7.14 ERA with 2 saves in 38 appearances for the A’s. His time in Detroit, beginning in August, saw him appear in 16 games where he posted a 6.92 ERA. While both of those numbers are elevated, his ERA was inflated by a few games of no command when he was left in. Many baseball commentators contend that 2014 was an anomaly for Johnson.

    The two former Orioles round out several new additions or returning additions to the club and could still be joined by other new faces before the winter is over.

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

     

     

    What the future holds for Braves’ offense

    When the non-tender deadline passes today, teams around baseball will know exactly where their rosters stand. Like the twenty-nine other teams around the league, the Braves have been aware since the season ended what their biggest holes. For Atlanta, as Kent Covington pointed out, the most glaring problems have been with pitching. An ongoing crisis of arms that began with the fall of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens continues today as the Braves decide which of Kris Medlen or Brandon Beachy to tender. However, the offense is not without its problems and its hole, too.

    Yesterday the Seattle Mariners signed slugger Nelson Cruz to a 4-year deal. The deal itself seems likely to blow up for Seattle somewhere between seasons two and three. Seattle had been one of the teams that seemed the most likely fit for a guy like Justin Upton. Though the Braves contend they haven’t been shopping Upton around, they have been getting plenty of calls about he and fellow slugger Evan Gattis. Prior to the Cruz signing, it would have seemed that Upton and Gattis together could answer all of the Mariners offensive woes (protection for highest-paid player Robinson Cano, backup for everyday catcher Mike Zunino) while giving the Braves what they need most: starting pitching. This didn’t work out and as of this writing the Braves still have both Upton and Gattis.

    Tommy La Stella was sent to the Chicago Cubs in November for former Brave Arodys Vizcaino.

    Tommy La Stella was sent to the Chicago Cubs in November for former Brave Arodys Vizcaino.

    With the possible trade partner of Seattle, the Braves were all but assured a starting pitcher. Whether that be Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, that would have answered the pitching need that saw the Braves trade away Jason Heyward to the Cardinals for starter Shelby Miller and Tommy La Stella to the Cubs to reacquire Arodys Vizcaino. The Mariners, unlike the Braves, have a flexible and growing budget. It was a better organizational decision to seek out a free agent. The Braves, despite the growth in their budget in the last two years, do not have this luxury.

    Where does this leave Atlanta with possible trades? They have spoken for nearly a year with the Astros about Evan Gattis. Their requirement of Houston seems a bridge too far, though. The Braves would require the Astros to pick up the remainder of the B.J. Upton deal in addition to swapping Gattis for Dexter Fowler. This, of course, wouldn’t answer the question of what to do in rightfield with the departure of Heyward. Fowler could potentially be a lead off man, but not exactly the prototypical lead off man it seems Atlanta has been looking for over the past four to five years.

    A small market for outfielders means the prices will be high for free agents. This would include aging and health-plagued bats like Torii Hunter and Nick Markakis. Other OF options out there are Alex Rios and Matt Kemp. The chances of the Braves taking on the money and potential health risks of Kemp are slim. Rios looks to be more likely to stay in the American League.

    Let’s take a step back for a moment and assume the Braves don’t make a deal to send Justin Upton elsewhere. Upton is due to make $14.5 million in 2015. He will then leave as a FA, assuming he is too expensive for the Braves to hang on to. If they make a qualifying offer after the 2015 season and he chooses to walk, they are assured a draft pick. For a guy who still hit 29 homers and posted 102 RBIs in 2014, that’s not a terrible bat to keep around despite the strikeouts. Unlike his brother, there is a still a huge upside to keeping Upton.

    As far as Evan Gattis, he is more expendable for Atlanta (yes, it breaks my heart to say that). Young and cheap for the team, he isn’t breaking the bank sticking around, but he is a semi-valuable trade chip. If they could come to terms with Houston in a deal that would bring either a hitter like Fowler or even a starting pitcher like Feldman to the club, it would be worth it to the front office to do so. Gattis has the potential to be a very good American League hitter–given the ability to DH regularly–and would still be able to catch either in a starting or backup role. Let’s face it: He’s not a great option in left field for any club.

    While on the topic of backup catchers, let’s discuss our old friend David Ross. Ross left two years ago to go win a World Series with the Boston Red Sox and now his contract is up. Because his battery mate Jon Lester is also looking for a team, the probability that they end up in the same place is good given their chemistry and Lester’s improved numbers with Ross behind the dish. But if Lester were to sign with Atlanta, a club he has talked to, or Ross were to sign away from Lester, Ross would be a great guy to have back with the club in a backup role. The front office has been looking for a veteran guy to fill the backup role behind either Gattis or Bethancourt and Ross fits that bill on top of already having amazing chemistry with the other guys on the roster. A few other options for Atlanta to consider: Retaining Gerald Laird, signing A.J. Pierzynski, approaching John Buck or continuing their offseason trade partnership with the Yankees to get Austin Romine. Of those options none add much to the offense above and beyond what Laird has the last two years. In fact, Laird, despite not having much power, is the better bet at getting on base. But if the Braves are looking for a guy who can lead the staff every few days, you can’t go wrong with John Buck.

    On a final note let’s return to the issue of who will fill the lead off hitter void that Jason Heyward leaves. Heyward was never meant to be a lead off hitter. It just so happened he was the Braves’ best option. Andrelton Simmons isn’t meant to be a lead off hitter and B.J. Upton’s lead off days went the way of the dodo when his strikeout rate went through the roof. With Ramiro Pena and Tommy La Stella gone, the options are few. If the Braves ever give Jose Constanza a true shot in the big leagues he could presumably lead off. And the latest Yankee to join the club, Zoilo Almonte, is too much of a wild card. That leaves the possibility of signing Fowler and asking him to step into that role or doing something else entirely.

    Here’s a thought: Say the Mariners are still interested in Justin Upton or Evan Gattis. They do still need a right fielder and maybe a backup catcher. They have a backlog of outfielders in Triple-A (guys like Julio Morban and Stefen Romero) and players they have been hanging onto despite talks during the trade deadline last year. What about Dustin Ackley? He, too, isn’t a prototypical lead off man. But he brings speed, good base running and exceptional baseball IQ to his game. After wanting to bring up Nick Franklin and then Chris Taylor followed by signing premiere second baseman Robinson Cano, Dustin Ackley was tried in the outfield and turned into a decent left fielder. His speed would be an asset in the large expanse of Turner Field as well as on the base paths. He’s a grinder and one any club would love to have. Are you reading this John Hart? A trade for Ackley, depending on the circumstances, could also bring with him a reliever from one of the best rated and least talked about bullpens in either league.

    Perhaps it’s merely wishful thinking on my part to see the Mariners and Braves become trade partners. Never rule out the wild card in baseball: Billy Beane. It’s said that the A’s also have interest in Gattis, Upton or both. If that’s the case, who knows what will happen.

    With the non-tender deadline today and winter meetings to begin soon, it looks like we’ll have answers soon.

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

     

    After near sweep in Pittsburgh, Braves head to Cincy

    This team. This team is frustrating. This team is exciting. This team is agonizing. This team slumps. This team surges. This team dominates.

    Yes, you may have thought these things about the Atlanta Braves throughout the season or even this month alone. You may have even thought these very things in the last week alone. How the Braves are playing now is how the Braves should have played all along had they any consistency on their side. How they play tomorrow and in the final run will come down to exactly that–consistency. They have the pieces. They have the talent. They have the potential, certainly. With a little luck and a heap of consistency, there is no reason this club couldn’t catch the Washington Nationals.

    Upton is hitting .417 on the road trip with 1 homer, 6 RBIs and only 1 strikeout.

    Upton is hitting .417 on the road trip with 1 homer, 6 RBIs and only 1 strikeout.

    One of the most important pieces of the Braves’ offense in the last few series has been Justin Upton. Upton is on one of those torrid streaks that have defined his career. Over his last 12 games, the younger Upton has hit .350/.480/.700 with 4 homers, 2 doubles and 15 RBIs. Despite a miscue in the outfield in the tough loss to the Pirates in the final game of the series, his defense has been steady. He has been as much a reason for the Braves resurgence as any player on the roster.

    The other gold glove caliber outfielder has had a series to remember as well. Jason Heyward hit .462 in Pittsburgh with 6 hits, including a double and a home run, and 5 RBI. He, like Upton, only struck out once at PNC Park. Heyward continues to make highlight reels on a nearly nightly basis with gems that defy physics. As was said last week about Freddie Freeman, if there isn’t a gold glove for Heyward at the end of this season, a Twitter campaign of epic proportions must be launched.

    Let’s talk about pitching for a moment. Despite the terrible loss last night mostly at the hands of Jordan Walden, the Braves have seen improvement in their bullpen in the last few games. While they received tough news that Shae Simmons had been shut down again at Triple-A Gwinnett with shoulder soreness, there have been glimmers of hope for the setup men and all relievers whose name does not end in Kimbrel. Anthony Varvaro and David Hale have recovered from the horrendous roadtrip out west. In fact, since the second game in San Diego, Hale has not allowed a run. That’s 4 innings of work with where he has allowed 3 hits and 0 runs. Luis Avilan seems to have settled down considerably since being sent down as well. If these pieces have something to offer to the 1-2 punch of Walden and Kimbrel, the Braves are in great shape down the stretch.

    While Jordan Walden was part of the stinker served up in the final game against the Pirates, let’s talk about the numbers for Walden overall. Since June 14th (30 games), Walden has a 1.00 ERA with 3 earned runs allowed in those games and 33 strikeouts. He held opponents to a .179 batting average against him. Since the aforementioned horrendous roadtrip, he has pitched with a 1.23 ERA in 7 1/3 innings pitched (1.17 overall in August). His 2.23 ERA on the season is very respectable. If the Braves have any hope of making it to the postseason and beyond, Walden’s health is paramount. His dominance followed by the unhittable Kimbrel limit opposing teams to 7 innings to try to score.

    POWER-HITTING BRAVES ENTER THE BANDBOX…

    Since the Braves are heading into the most notorious bandbox in the National League, let’s talk about slugging numbers among Braves starters.

    While the masher of mashers Evan Gattis is slugging only .516 on the season, he has 2 homers in his last 5 games. He has played only 3 games at Great American Ballpark and hasn’t hit a dinger there. Look for that to change this series.

    Freddie Freeman is slugging .490 in 2014. Since the last roadtrip his slugging percentage is respectable .667. Strangely the consistent Freeman has only hit .235/.316/.294 at Great American.

    Slugging .520 on the season, .700 over his last 12 games, Justin Upton’s power numbers fare the best heading into Cincy. Though his numbers there are similar to Freddie’s, there is no stopping Upton when he gets hot and if he’s smashing balls out of the Ted, Cincy stands no chance against him.

    While Chris Johnson is down nearly .100 in slugging since 2013, CJ has a .268 average when playing in Cincy with a .442 slugging percentage.

    Of course good pitching will always beat good hitting no matter the park, so this weekend’s probables are important. And they are: Teheran (11-9, 3.06) vs. Holmberg (0-0, 15.00) tonight. Friday will see Minor (5-8, 5.16) vs. Latos (4-3, 3.10). Saturday will see Santana (13-6, 3.71) vs. Leake (9-11, 3.65). And Harang (10-7, 3.50) will take the mound against his former team vs. Simon (12-8, 3.35).

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

    Braves end skid, Uptons set mark

    Beginning the weekend against the rival Washington Nationals, the Braves knew that they needed wins to keep pace in the NL East. A sweep could put the division out of reach going into the late days of August. However, the Braves stepped up and took 2 out of 3 from the Nats, placing themselves 3 1/2 games back in the division.

    After an 0-8 road trip, coming home to Turner Field is exactly what the struggling Braves needed. Getting to face Stephen Strasburg at the Ted helped their cause greatly, ending the losing streak and removing the monkey from their back.

    Stephen Strasburg had not given up 3 home runs in a game before Friday night’s home run derby off him when he didn’t give up just 3 dingers, he gave up 4. He has now given up a career high 18 homers on the season. Brothers Justin and B.J. Upton both hit 2-run blasts to dead center field. Then Freddie Freeman broke out of his slump to go yard off Strasburg. Then Tommy La Stella hit his very first big league home run. It wasn’t Strasburg’s night. Though it’s beginning to look like it is never Strasburg’s night when visiting the Ted. Against the Braves this year he has allowed 17 runs on 24 hits (5 of them homers). In his career at Turner Field, Strasburg has given up 7 homers and has allowed the Braves a .295 batting average against him. Strasburg left Friday’s game after 5 innings after giving up 7 runs on 7 hits and somehow striking out 9 batters.

    When the Braves signed B.J. and Justin Upton they certainly thought that there would be many a game when the two brothers went deep in the same game. It may have taken much longer to do it, but the Uptons have surpassed the record for the most times where two brothers went deep in the same game. With 5 such games, the Uptons now hold the record. There is now the possibility they put that record out of reach for any set of brothers to come.

    Justin Upton made some personal history of his own over the weekend. On his 21st homerun of the season, the younger Upton recorded his 1,000th hit and 500th RBI.

    For whatever reason, Major League Baseball had no qualms with the Braves beginning game 2 of the series after a 4 hour delay to the start due to rain. Despite the marathon delay, Aaron Harang pitched superb baseball but wasn’t helped out by his teammates who only managed 1 run in the 10 inning game that didn’t end until the wee hours of Sunday morning.

    The rubber match was a pitcher’s duel in every sense. Alex Wood stepped up and pitched as he had before being sent to the ‘pen earlier in the season and then down to Triple-A Gwinnett. Wood went 7 1/3 innings, gave up 1 run on 5 hits and struck out a personal best 12 hitters. After securing 2 additional runs in support of Wood, Kimbrel recorded his 34th save of the season.

    MIKE MINOR REJOINS ROTATION…

    As the Dodgers arrive in Atlanta, they have called up Kevin Correia to give their rotation an extra day rest. This means the Braves will luck out and miss both Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke this series.

    Due to 2 days off this past week, the Braves were able to give Mike Minor some extra rest, missing his spot in the rotation. He will rejoin the rotation this series and will face Dan Haren in game 2. Minor has struggled mightily this season, in no way looking like the pitcher he was last season. In 2013, Minor had a 13-9 record with a 3.21 ERA. This season he is 4-7 with a 5.42 ERA, including a stint on the DL with shoulder soreness.

    After turning his ankle in a weird event covering third base, Andrelton Simmons has been out of the lineup and off of his ankle hoping to avoid the disabled list. The Braves reported that Simba got treatment on the ankle most of Saturday and Fredi Gonzalez has said he would like to pencil Simmons into the lineup for Tuesday. Simmons will potentially test the ankle running Monday and barring any problems, will be in the lineup as Fredi wants. In the meantime, Emilio Bonifacio and Ramiro Pena have filled in for Simmons. Bonifacio has hit leadoff 4 of the past 6 games.

    The Dodgers send Correia (-,-) to the mound vs. Teheran (10-8, 2.92) tonight. Tuesday will feature Haren (9-9, 4.57) vs. Minor (4-7, 5.42). Wednesday’s game will pit Ryu (13-5, 3.21) vs. Santana (11-6, 3.69). And the finale of the series will send Hernandez (0-0, 3.00) to the mound vs. Harang (9-6, 3.31).

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

    Braves sending 3 to ASG, J-Up part of final vote

    The Braves learned Sunday that Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel would represent the team at the upcoming All Star Game at Target Field in Minnesota. They, like the rest of us, were also thrilled that Justin Upton is one of 5 players vying for the final roster spot. The Final Vote closes at 4 p.m. (ET) on Thursday.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton has put up exceptional numbers despite deep slumps in the first half of the season. He has a .275/.350/.505 slash with a club-leading 17 homers and 50 RBIs. He has hit .318 at home this season, notching 11 homers and 31 of his RBIs at the Ted.

    Fans can vote at MLB.com or by tweeting #VoteJUp. Upton is up against Justin Morneau of the Rockies, Anthony Rendon of the Nationals, Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs and Casey McGehee of the Marlins.

    Freddie Freeman will now have two All Star appearances in his young career. This year he was selected by the NL players. As you will remember, Braves Country put Freddie in the game last year with the Final Vote. Freddie’s numbers are by far the best offensive numbers on the club in the first half. He has a .299/.390/.507 line with 26 doubles, 13 homers and 47 RBIs. Freddie already has a career high 3 triples on the season. His best numbers have come in clutch situations. He has hit .345 when the game is tied, .297 with 14 RBIs in the 7th inning or later and a ridiculous .313 with 16 RBIs in at-bats when there are 2 outs. And his .344 average when the Braves win is, of course, a huge reason for their success.

    Julio Teheran has been the ace that the Braves needed this season with the loss of Beachy and Medlen at the beginning of the season and Floyd recently. While his 8-5 record doesn’t quite reflect just how good Teheran has been, his 2.29 ERA does. In 126 innings pitched before the all-star break, Teheran has struck out 108 batters while walking 26. He has thrown 2 complete game shutouts this season to add to his clear dominance.

    The Braves have already said that Teheran will attend the All Star Game in Minnesota. However, it is unlike that Teheran will pitch in the game.

    It’s no surprise to the baseball world that Craig Kimbrel is making his 4th ASG appearance in as many seasons. Kimbrel has a lights-out 2.04 ERA and is tied above the NL leader board with 27 saves. In 35 1/3 innings, Kimbrel has 60 strikeouts. In addition to putting up shining numbers, Kimbrel surpassed future hall-of-famer John Smoltz to take the franchise record in saves this season.

    A player that wasn’t selected to the All Star Game and could have been had he not been injured is Evan Gattis.

    Prior to going on the disabled list with a right rhomboid spasm that they eventually learned was a bulging disc, Gattis was putting up exceptional numbers. In 63 games as the everyday catcher for the Braves, he put together a .290/.342/.558 line. Prior to the injury, his 16 home runs led all MLB catchers. He had 10 doubles, a triple and 39 RBIs.

    With Gattis behind the plate, the Braves pitching staff has a 49-40 record with a 3.22 ERA (third best in the National League). Against other NL teams, the Braves have a 3.08 ERA, good for second in the league behind their rivals the Washington Nationals. In teams won by the club, the pitching staff has a 2.02 ERA.

    Gattis has morphed into a great all-around catcher. His footwork behind the plate has improved immensely, much of it thanks to the tutelage of veteran Gerald Laird, and he is calling consistently good game behind the dish. It is only a matter of time before we can say Evan Gattis, all star catcher.

    All Star Game festivities include the All-Star Futures Game and the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, the Gillette Home Run Derby Monday night and the 85th MLB All Star Game on Tuesday.

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

     

     

    Braves wrap outstanding home stand, face rotation questions

    With the Braves facing the upcoming decision of what to do with the best starting rotation in the National League when Mike Minor returns from the DL, the offense went into the home stand looking to remind the league that the Braves are not just a team of stellar pitchers.

    Freddie Freeman was the hero of the hour with his walk-off single in the series finale against the Reds.

    Freddie Freeman was the hero of the hour with his walk-off single in the series finale against the Reds.

    In 13 plate appearances against Cincinnati, Freddie Freeman notched 5 hits (.384), including a homer, 3 RBIs and a game-winning hit in the series finale. The eye dryness Freeman battled during the Miami series seems to have cleared up (as you’ll remember, Freeman has dealt with eye dryness over the last two seasons–switching to glasses for some time). Freeman is now hitting .344 on the season with a .421 on-base percentage, .613 slugging and 1.033 OPS. His 18 strikeouts on the season are balanced nicely with 11 walks. He leads the club in both average and RBIs.

    Freddie’s numbers are not an outlier for Atlanta. Justin Upton has reminded Braves Country how much he likes the month of April. Over his last 15 games, Justin Upton is hitting .404 with 11 extra base hits.  Upton is currently 18-for-32 (.563) with 3 doubles, 6 HRs, 12 RBIs and only 8 strikeouts in the past 10 games at Turner Field. He is now hitting .330 on the season (.406 on-base & .625 slugging) with 3 doubles, a triple, 7 homers and 16 RBIs. Justin already has 3 stolen bases. In all of 2013, he stole only 8 bags.

    Not to be overlooked is the impressive production of Evan Gattis and Andrelton Simmons. Gattis got off to a slow start in the first week of the game, hitting .208 in the first 7 games. But since April 11th, El Oso Blanco is hitting .386 with a .395 OBP and is slugging .780. He has 2 doubles, 5 homers and 11 RBI in that period including a 10th inning walk-off homer, his first, against the Marlins in the first game of the home stand. Simmon, for his part, has been the hardest out of the entire Braves’ lineup. He has only 3 strikeouts this season, the first not coming until the 17th of April. Simmons is hitting .300 with an on-base percentage of .310 and is slugging .488. In the Cincinnati series we saw Andrelton steal a bag, only his 2nd of the young season. The Braves certainly have players that can steal–Andrelton, B.J. Upton, Heyward and even Justin Upton. However, the running game has not been a factor as of yet. Simmons might still be hesitant on the base paths due to the broken pinkie injury in the 2012 season that landed him on the DL.

    Also on the offense side, B.J. Upton has shown great improvement in recent games. He is now sporting a pair of black-frame glasses that appear to help his vision at the plate. In the second game of the series against the Reds, B.J. notched his 1,000th hit in the big leagues. While his batting average remains just above the Mendoza Line, it is his on-base percentage that is showing signs of life. Over the past 8 games he is hitting .214 (6-for-28) with a double and an RBI. His on-base percentage over that span is .333 (5 walks to his 9 strikeouts).

    Despite the strengths of the offense, there are weaknesses. Chris Johnson is slumping. Dan Uggla shows signs of life from time to time, but his power is one of the few things he has to offer. The real problem for the Braves isn’t the individual stats of the guys that are still trying to find a rhythm. The real problem for the Braves’ offense is consistency. Too often in the young season the starting rotation has put together a gem of a start and hasn’t been rewarded with run support. Not unlike the 2013 season, the Braves rely on the long ball and they strike out at an alarming rate. Though they got away with a win in the series finale against the Reds, it’s unfortunate that Julio Teheran’s beautiful outing was not rewarded with the win. In fact, in 3 of the last 6 games, the win went to a reliever due to this run support issue.

    That said, the Braves did secure 5 wins in their 6-game home stand including a clean sweep of the Reds. The Braves now stand at 17-7 with 3 1/2 game lead in the National League East. They take a 4 game win streak on the road to Miami.

    BRAVES FACE ROTATION QUESTIONS ON ROAD…

    For a team that was forced to regroup right before the season started with news that starters Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen would both undergo their second Tommy John surgeries, the Braves now face a very welcome problem of having too many starting pitchers.

    Mike Minor was shutdown in spring training with shoulder soreness and has yet to make his 2014 debut. After several rehab starts, Minor appears ready to rejoin the Braves. His latest rehab start was brutal on the scoreboard–he allowed 5 runs on 10 hits including 4 homers in 7 innings–but, Minor has proven healthy and up to the task of pitching in what amounts to a regular-length game. Minor’s return presents the question of who then is either sent down or joins the bullpen.

    A look at what Atlanta’s rotation has done thus far:

    • Aaron Harang: 3-1, 0.85 ERA, 31.2 IP, 33 Ks
    • Julio Teheran: 2-1, 1.47 ERA, 43 IP, 26 Ks
    • Alex Wood: 2-3, 1.54 ERA, 35 IP, 35 Ks
    • Ervin Santana, 3-0, 1.95 ERA, 27.2 IP, 31 Ks
    • David Hale, 1-0, 2.31 ERA, 23.1 IP, 15 Ks

    When the starter with the highest ERA is a mere 2.31, you really can’t send him down to Triple-A Gwinnett or into the bullpen, can you? That is the question facing Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez.

    Another question that comes up is if the pace that either Wood or Teheran are off to is worrisome in terms of innings pitched. Teheran is proving himself an ace and the chances of him being the odd man out seem slim to none.

    Given the recent injury to Minor, could he be headed to the bullpen for a few games? That, too, is a possibility, but seems unlikely given Minor’s success last season. Minor had a 13-9 record in 2013 with a respectable 3.21 ERA in 204 2/3 innings pitched with 181 strikeouts. Given injuries to the elbows of Medlen, Beachy and former Braves Hanson and Jurrjens, should there be concern around the workload of Minor? Certainly it is a question that should be asked.

    One possibility is that David Hale go to the bullpen as either the long man or a dominant righty. The Braves have a solid righty who is now tested in the ‘pen in Ian Thomas. And it isn’t David Hale’s fault that his ERA reflects some of the worst defensive games the Braves have had. The odd man out if Hale does join the ‘pen will inevitably be Gus Schlosser who recently notched his first big league hit against the Mets. Schlosser has a 5.59 ERA with 1 loss in 9 2/3 innings.

    A decision will have to be made about Minor by Thursday when the Braves return to the Ted to face Tim Lincecum and the Giants.

    The Marlins’ tilt sets up this way: After an off day on Monday, Tuesday’s game will send Wood (2-3, 1.54) to the hill against Fernandez (3-1, 1.99) for a rematch of last week’s incredible pitching duel. Wednesday’s game will feature Harang (3-1, 0.85) vs. Eovaldi (1-1, 2.87). And the series finale in Miami will have Santana (3-0, 1.95) on the hill against Alvarez (1-2, 2.73).

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

    Braves wrap successful road trip

    Despite hairy defense in the last 2 games of the series, the Braves managed to squeak out a series win in Flushing. The Braves were carried to the series win by yet another near no-hitter by Aaron Harang in a handful of games, dominant offense by Mets’ killer Freddie Freeman, continued April prowess by Justin Upton and another gritty start by Ervin Santana.

    Aaron Harang pitched 7 no-hit innings against the Mets, giving up 6 walks and striking out 5 before being pulled.

    Aaron Harang pitched 7 no-hit innings against the Mets, giving up 6 walks and striking out 5 before being pulled.

    Aaron Harang has quickly ingratiated himself to his new Braves teammates with 2 outings where he has flirted with a no hitter, going at least 6 innings in each of his 4 starts, a 3-1 record and a 0.70 ERA. Friday’s game in New York was his first game back to Citi Field where he pitched last season and was his best start yet for his new team. Harang went 7 innings without allowing a hit before being pulled by Fredi Gonzalez when he reached the 121-pitch mark. Afterward, Harang sang the praises of Fredi for having his and the team’s best interests in mind with that tough move. Once Harang left the game, Luis Avilan attempted to continue the no-no, but gave up the first and only hit to the Mets.

    Ervin Santana, much like Harang, has quickly showed the Braves why he was worth the late spring free agent signing. Santana threw 7 innings against the Mets, allowed 6 hits and 1 earned run, while striking out 7. Santana now holds a 2-0 record with an impressive 0.86 ERA. Like Harang, he has pitched at least 6 innings in each of his innings.

    While David Hale may not have been as dominant as veterans Harang and Santana, it wasn’t all his own doing. Hale’s start in the series finale was mired down in costly defensive blunders. The Braves recorded 3 errors, 1 by Justin Upton and 2 by Dan Uggla. Hale completed 6 innings, allowing 6 hits and 2 earned runs (1 unearned). He walked 2 and struck out 5. Hale’s ERA now stands at 2.93. Hale, of course, my be the odd man out when Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd return to the rotation in the next few weeks. However, he has made the case that he deserves to be in the big leagues and could potentially wind up in the bullpen.

    David Hale’s start may have ended after 6 innings, but the game ended in the bottom of the 14th inning.The last time the Mets defeated Atlanta in a game that went as long as 14 innings was on May 5, 2006. Unfortunately, the Braves paid for the defensive blunders in the game. For his part, reliever Gus Schlosser may have walked away with the loss, but he pitched 3 2/3 innings, 3 of them scoreless, and he recorded his first big league hit. For a guy who stretched out in spring, but wasn’t needed to start, he did an admirable job bridging the gap in a long game.

    Braves’ fans saw something they had only seen one other time: the removal of Craig Kimbrel in a save situation. In his first game back in a week due to shoulder soreness, Kimbrel hit a batter, gave up a single, an RBI double, struck out a batter, allowed an RBI single and then allowed a walk. He seemed out of sorts in a way we may have never seen him on the mound. Jordan Walden was brought in with 2 outs & the bases loaded with a 7-5 lead to close the game. Walden recorded a save.

    There is no question that Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis carried the offense on the road. While Upton’s bat cooled in the frigid Philly temperatures, he was back at it in New York going 5-for-13 (.385) with a triple, homer and 4 RBI. Freeman continued to torment the Mets going 6-for-14 with 2 doubles, a home run and 4 RBIs. Evan Gattis went 6-for-21 on the roadtrip with 3 homers and 4 RBIs.

    B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla continue to have hopeful moments at the plate. B.J. is above the Mendoza Line at .208 with a .269 on-base percentage. He hit .286 against the Mets (4-for-14) with a double and RBI. Another great sign for B.J. is that on the road trip he had 5 walks. Getting B.J. on base gives the Braves speed on the bases that they cannot match with any other player. Upton also had 3 stolen bases on the road (all three in Philly). Uggla is also above the Mendoza Line at .234 with a .286 on-base percentage (.375 slugging). In the 3-game series in Flushing, Uggla hit .333, .429 OBP and .417 slugging. He went 4-for-12.

    BRAVES RETURN TO THE TED TO FACE MARLINS…

    The Braves return to Turner Field today for a 6-game home stand against the Miami Marlins and the Cincinnati Reds.

    Miami is fresh off a sweep at home of the Seattle Mariners. The standouts from the series were starter Eovaldi and the hot-hitting Giancarlo Stanton.

    Mike Minor allowed 3 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits with 4 strikeouts over 6 innings for the Gwinnett Braves Saturday. He will throw a side session on Tuesday in Atlanta and depending on the outcome, could make his 2014 debut on Saturday against the Reds. Minor got a slow start at spring training due to a urethra surgery this winter. He then dealt with shoulder soreness that shut him down.

    Gavin Floyd has made 4 minor league appearances and is expected to make at least 2 additional starts before the Braves consider adding him to the big league club. However, there doesn’t seem to be a need for Floyd at this point. Where Floyd would fit is unclear given the early success of both Santana and Harang. The question becomes one of what happens with the bullpen, most likely. If Floyd and/or Hale were to be added to the bullpen, who would be the odd man out? Early success by Ian Thomas suggests he’d not be going anywhere. Varvaro seems to have taken the position of reliability in clutch outings that Luis Avilan held last season. Would Gus Schlosser lose his spot? For a team that looked like they were short on pitching when Gearrin, Beachy and Medlen all went down, they now seem to have a surplus of arms.

    The series opens Monday night with Koehler (2-1, 1.89) taking the bump against Teheran (2-1, 1.93). Tuesday’s game features reigning Rookie of the Year Fernandez (2-1, 2.66) against Wood (2-2, 1.67). The series finale Wednesday night will get underway with Eovaldi (1-1, 3.55) on the hill against Harang (3-1, 0.70).

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

    Braves’ offense sweeps Nats, takes to road

    Nationals’ pitching brought with them to Turner Field 105 strikeouts in their first 9 games of the season. That kind of stat would generally foretell a tough series for Atlanta’s strikeout-prone lineup. That wasn’t the case. Braves’ offense lit up against the Nats, leading the team to a 3-game sweep against the rival ball club. The Braves outscored the Nats 23-11 in the series. The Braves has now won 22 of their last 29 meetings with the Nationals.

    JUpton (back of jersey) 320px

    Justin Upton has sizzled at the plate. Over the previous 4 games he has hit .786.

    Washington nor any team in baseball stood a chance of getting Justin Upton over a 3-game series. On the home stand, the younger Upton hit .591 with a 1.227 slugging percentage. He went 13-for-22 with 2 doubles, 4 homers and 8 RBIs. In addition to a stunning display of power with a game-tying homer in the late innings of Friday’s game, Justin Upton’s single scored the runner from 1st and won the game. He now has 7 game-ending hits since start of 2011 season. That is the most in the MLB for that span (his teammate Freddie Freeman has 6 game-ending hits). According to Elias, the last time the Braves won a game with a similar RBI single scoring a baserunner from 1st was in 1983.

    Upton is now hitting .386 with 17 hits, 2 doubles, 4 homers and 8 RBI in the first 12 games of the season. He is as locked in this April as he was last April. The hope is that he has simplified his pregame preparation to a point that will allow for this hot streak to cool, but not go completely cold like it did last season.

    Freedie Freeman came into the series against the Nats with a .419 average, on-base percentage of .514 and .677 slugging percentage in the first 9 games. He had gone 13-for-31 with 5 runs scored, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 5 RBIs, 6 walks and only 4 strikeouts. He added to that torrid offense against the Nats going 6-for-12 (.500) with 2 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBIs. He is now 19-for-43 with a .442 average in the first 12 games of the season (4 doubles, 4 homers and 10 RBIs).

    The Braves saw production from nearly every hitter in the lineup, including the struggling Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Saturday’s game saw an unusual sight: B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla had run-producing hits in the same inning.

    In Saturday’s game, B.J. Upton produced hits in his first 2 plate appearances for just the 5th time since the start of last year. The series wrapped with B.J. putting together back-to-back multi-hit games. Dating back to last year, this marks the 3rd time B.J. has had multi-hit performances in consecutive games. He has now achieved the feat twice against the Washington Nationals.

    A few more notes on the series:

    • Two of the three HRs Alex Wood has allowed this year have been to the leadoff hitter. He only allowed 3 HRs in the 2013 season (77 2/3 innings pitched). Each of the 3 dingers in 2014 have come at the top of an inning, 2 of them on the first pitch. He then manages to settle in and has kept his ERA at 1.89.
    • In a scary moment at the plate, Gio Gonzalez plunked Freddie Freeman on the hand in the 4th inning. Freeman said that his choking up on the bat kept his hand from a serious injury. Freeman had homered in his previous at-bat against Gio. Strangely, it was the 1st time Gonzalez had hit a batter since he hit Freeman last August.
    • Atlanta pounced early this series with 14 runs during the first 2 innings of the 3 games played.
    • Aaron Harang had yet another brilliant start. It was his third straight game of going at least 6 innings and allowing 1 or no runs. Harang is now 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA.
    • Jason Heyward stole his third base of the season in Sunday’s finale. This is a great sign for the base-running game for the Braves because Heyward, with above-average speed, stole only 2 bases all of last season.
    • Andrelton Simmons had missed 2 games with a jammed wrist. Inserted as the 5-hole hitter, Simba hit a 3-run blast to dead center. It was the 1st homer on the season for Simmons, though earlier in the game he missed another homer by mere inches.

    BRAVES BEGIN 7-GAME ROAD TRIP…

    Saturday’s save for Craig Kimbrel, his 5th on the season, marked yet another perfect inning by the Braves’ closer. Kimbrel struck out the side in that outing. He has now faced 900 batters in his career and struck out 392 of them (an incredible 44% strikeout rate). All of this is important as we look ahead to the next several series because Kimbrel is now 10 saves away from tying John Smoltz’s franchise record of 154.

    The Braves are the eve of two pitchers returning from injury. Gavin Floyd, who hasn’t pitched in over a year due to Tommy John surgery, had another rehab outing this weekend at Gwinnett. Floyd threw 3 2/3 innings, giving up 2 hits, 2 runs (1 unearned), with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. Mike Minor, returning from shoulder inflammation, pitched 5 innings at Rome giving up 1 hit,  1 walk and no runs while striking out 4. The question will become who in the rotation loses their spot with the return of Floyd and Minor. At the moment, it appears the odd man out may be David Hale.

    Another injury update involves reliever Cory Gearrin. Gearrin has elected to have Tommy John surgery to repair the torn UCL in his pitching elbow. His surgery will take place Wednesday. He saw 3 different doctors for their opinion on his elbow and the advice was unanimous. The righty was pulled from a spring training game against the Detroit Tigers and had hoped to avoid surgery. Gearrin has put up 69 1/3 innings for the Braves over the last 3 seasons. Gearrin joins an unusually high number of pitchers undergoing Tommy John surgery in the 2014 season including his teammates Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. Gearrin will be out for a year, if not more.

    The 4-game series against the Phillies will kick off Monday night with Ervin Santana (1-0, 0.00) vs. Roberto Hernandez (1-0, 4.35). Tuesday will feature David Hale (0-0, 2.89) vs. Cliff Lee (2-1, 5.50). Wednesday the Braves will send Julio Teheran (1-1, 2.84) to the mound against a pitcher to be named later. The series finale will pit Alex Wood (1-1, 1.89) against Jonathan Pettibone (0-0, 1.80).

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

    Braves wrap up the season, prepare for October

    While the Braves were unable to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Braves 96-66 record secured the NL East and second seed going into the postseason. The Braves will have home field advantage against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, the first game of which begins Thursday in Atlanta.

    Before the posteason gets underway, let’s look back at the 2013 season and just how the Braves were able to take back the NL East.

    The Surprises (Good and Bad)

    The brothers Upton were quite often a disappointment in their first full season in uniform for the Atlanta Braves.

    While Justin Upton largely lived up to expectations, it was a nightmarish 2013 campaign for big brother BJ.

    • The brothers Upton were two of the most hyped players this past off season. The $75 million contract given to B.J. Upton was the biggest free agent signing in Atlanta Braves history and the trade for Justin Upton sent the beloved Martin Prado and key prospect Randall Delgado to the Diamondbacks. As it turned out, B.J. brought very little offense to the Braves, finishing the season with a horrible .184 average with 151 strikeouts in 391 at-bats. His average, RBIs (26), hits (72), stolen bases (12), homers (9) and walks (44) were all career lows for B.J.

      Justin fared considerably better, finishing the season with a .263 average with 27 homers, 70 RBIs and 8 SBs. His average was the lowest since his 2008 season and dropped from the .280 of the 2012 season. There wasn’t just room for improvement in Upton’s offense, either. He had some strange lapses defensively that made fans cringe. However, there is a high ceiling for this young man and nobody believes he has hit it yet.

    • Freddy Garcia was one of the more surprising trades made by Frank Wren this season. In many ways, it was an important and timely in the 2013 season as the Ben Sheets pickup was in the 2012 season. Both brought to a young rotation veteran leadership and to the team key wins during times of injury to others on the staff. In 3 starts, Garcia had a 2-1 record with a stunning 1.83 ERA. In those 19 2/3 innings, he allowed only 18 hits, 4 earned runs, 1 homer, 4 walks and struck out 16. Prior to joining the rotation, Garcia also provided relief out of the ‘pen, notching an 0-1 record in 7 2/3 innings with an 1.17 ERA. Garcia became a great long man out of the ‘pen in his first games with the club. Garcia will likely be a key component of the 4-man rotation going into the playoffs.
    • The cost was high to acquire Justin Upton, however, the Braves had no idea what they were receiving in Chris Johnson. Coming out of spring training in a platoon pairing with Juan Francisco, Johnson won the position at third base in his own right and has worked hard to prove that he was as important as Upton and a more than adequate replacement at the hot corner in the wake of the retirement of Chipper Jones. Until the last 4-5 days of the season, Johnson lead the NL batting title race. Johnson finished the regular season with a .321 average (3rd best in the NL), .358 on-base percentage and .457 slugging. He had 165 hits, 34 doubles and 12 homers with 29 walks. Additionally, his fielding was better than expected at 3B. He finished the season with 14 errors at the hot corner for a .951 fielding average.
    • Dan Uggla had been a disappointment to Braves’ fans since his signing in 2011, but never as much as he was this season. Uggla finished the season with a .179 average, only 80 hits, 55 RBIs and 22 homers. The sticking point seems to be his strikeout rate, though. In 446 at-bats, Uggla recorded 170 strikeouts. His Lasik surgery several weeks ago in preparation for the postseason doesn’t seem to have had an effect on his ability to hit consistently. Uggla won’t be eligible for free agency until 2016.

    The Rookies

    • Rookie pitchers David Hale and Alex Wood were a great surprise for a pitching staff that suffered injuries in the second half. Like Freddy Garcia, Hale and Wood stepped in when injuries to Paul Maholm, Tim Hudson and the ongoing struggles of Brandon Beachy became an issue for Atlanta. In 2 starts, Hale posted a 1-0 record over 11 innings with a 0.82 ERA. He allowed 11 hits, 1 walk and struck out 14. Alex Wood deserves credit for getting the Braves through a terrible stretch when the future of their rotation was in doubt. Wood was called on to start at the end of July and over 10 starts, he posted a 6-4 record with a 3.57 ERA over 53 innings. He allowed 57 hits, 21 ER, 19 walks and struck out 49 batters.
    • When it was announced that Evan Gattis would be on the 25-man roster right out of spring training, there was a question of whether he would stay on the roster when Brian McCann returned. Evan Gattis never questioned it. He burst onto the scene with his power and showed better than expected defense behind the plate. He also stepped into the outfield when asked and helped fill the void when the walking wounded could best describe Atlanta’s outfield. El Oso Blanco finished the regular season with a .243 average, .281 OBP, .480 slugging, 21 homers and 65 RBIs. Perhaps the biggest impact Gattis had for the Braves came in the clutch. 9 of Evan Gattis’ 21 home runs gave Atlanta the lead and 4 of his homers were of the game-tying variety. He finished the season 1st in RBI (65), 2nd in HR (21), 3rd in slugging (.477) and 4th in extra-base hits (42) among National League rookies.
    • Julio Teheran may be the most impressive rookie pitcher to come along since Craig Kimbrel. The way Teheran pitched this season must be the way the front office expected him to pitch all along when they agreed to send Randall Delgado to Arizona for Justin Upton. Teheran showed moments of absolute brilliance this season, but overall was one of the most consistent pitchers in the rotation. Teheran finished the regular season with a 14-8 record and an impressive 3.20 ERA. Prior to the final weeks of the season, the rookie led the rotation with the lowest ERA, but was surpassed by Medlen. In his 185 2/3 innings pitched this season, Teheran notched 182 strikeouts while allowing 45 walks. In addition to the traditional stats that are cited for pitchers, Teheran helped the Braves tie with the Tigers and Blue Jays for the most pickoffs in MLB this season with 18.

    The Consistent Core

    • Freddie Freeman pulled even with Chris Johnson at a .321 average briefly during game 162. However, the average is only part of the reason Freddie Freeman is a candidate for NL MVP this season. As a final vote all-star, Freddie provided the Braves offense with pop, consistency and leadership. His famous hugs kept the clubhouse light and the boys on the bench smiling. His numbers are worthy of MVP consideration. Freddie finished the season with a .319 average, .396 OBP, and .501 slugging. He finished the season with 176 hits, 27 doubles, 23 homers and a team-leading 109 RBIs. Also, Freddie hit .443 (58-for-131) with 84 RBI with runners in scoring position this season. If there is justice in baseball, Freeman will win the Gold Glove for first basemen this season as well.
    • There is no getting around the fact that Craig Kimbrel is one the most dominant and consistent closers in the game. Since the all-star break, hitters are 15-for-107 (.140) against the closer. Kimbrel finished the season with an NL-best 50 saves, 1.23 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and a whopping 98 K’s in 66 innings. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kimbrel snag away a few votes for NL Cy Young this season. As the anchor of a bullpen that lost two key pieces–Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty to Tommy John surgeries–Kimbrel never missed a beat.
    • The most consistent member of the rotation this season was without a doubt Mike Minor. In his sophomore season, Minor stepped up in a big way for a rotation that faced its share of adversity. Without Beachy, with injuries to Maholm and Hudson late in the season, the terrible first half of Medlen and the inexperience of Teheran, Minor’s season was needed. Minor finished the season with a 13-9 record and a 3.21 ERA in 204 2/3 innings pitched (10th most innings in the league). He recorded 181 strikeouts, allowed 73 runs and surrendered 22 home runs.

     

    BRAVES OPEN NLDS AGAINST L.A. AT HOME…

    Despite a decisive win in the NL East and a successful season, the Braves are not without problems that must be addressed or worked with going into the NLDS. The biggest problem for the Braves over the past 7 games, not unlike the rest of their season, is that they’ve had 3 or fewer hits 3 times in that span and 10 or more hits 4 times. The discrepancy in hits has certainly led to far too many shutouts and close games. How the Braves can assure scored runs can be addressed on a player-by-player basis.

    First, the biggest question facing manager Fredi Gonzalez about his offense is whether or not he start B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla in the NLDS. Though Fredi has said that he’s had more fun the past few days than the last few months, the issue of his two struggling fielders has got to be on his mind. The two highest paid players on the roster are also the team’s two biggest liabilities. Uggla has gone 4-for-28 with 15 strikeouts in his past 10 games, nothing to be excited about. Upton, who hasn’t started back-to-back games since the 15th of September, has gone 0-for-16 with 9 strikeouts in his past 10 games. Both players have suitable replacements at their positions in Elliot Johnson and Jason Heyward (with an assist from Evan Gattis in left field). It would seem that starting either of them in the NLDS would be risky and starting them both in the same lineup would be catastrophic.

    It would seem that the questions in the bullpen can be helped by Alex Wood and Paul Maholm joining the ‘pen for the playoffs. After breaking his finger, Scott Downs has been terrible in relief, leaving the need for reinforcements. Jordan Walden, mired throughout the season by various injuries, is not a lock for the playoff roster. The Braves plan to have Walden throw an inning or more in the instructional league or a simulation game before deciding if he will be on the postseason roster. It would seem that we’ve seen the last of both Kameron Loe and David Hale for the season. How Fredi will juggle the arms that are available remains to be seen, however this has been the story of the season for the ‘pen and they have weathered much more adversity than this.

    A few injuries to keep an eye on, both for fans and Fredi: Chris Johnson has been dealing with a jammed right shoulder since a diving play Thursday. He missed the final game of the season with this issue, but has said he will be fine for the first game of the NLDS on Thursday. Also, Brian McCann left Thursday’s game with a right adductor strain, a slight hip injury, and was listed as day-to-day. He was available to pinch hit–the injury simply makes squatting problematic. He has been resting since the initial injury and will hopefully we able to play in the NLDS.

    Kris Medlen is slated to start game 1 of the NLDS. Medlen has a record of 5-0 with an 1.05 ERA in his past 5 home starts. In those 5 starts, he has 29 K’s, 4 BB and 1 HR allowed (34 1/3 innings). Over his past 9 starts, Medlen is 6-2 with a 1.37 ERA. In addition to turning his season around entirely in the second half of the season and catching fire the last 9 starts, Kris Medlen is now in uncharted territory in terms of innings pitched at 197. His previous season high was 138 last season after his return from Tommy John surgery. Medlen finished the season with a 15-12 record and a 3.11 ERA. The rest of the rotation should line up behind Medlen with Minor, Teheran and Garcia.

    A key player to watch is Jason Heyward. On Thursday, Heyward went 4-for-4 with a homer and 3 doubles. Those 4 hits matched a career high (5th time) and his 4 extra-base hits were also a career high. His 10 total bases matched the team season high recorded by Justin Upton in April. Since returning from the jaw injury suffered in New York, Heyward has hit .308 going 8-for-26 with 3 double, 1 homer, 3 walks and an RBI. When playing center, Heyward has hit .290 with 4 doubles, 3 homers and 10 RBI (versus .250 as a right fielder). In the lead off spot this season, Heyward has hit .333, going 38-for-114 with 9 doubles, 6 homers and 16 RBIs. It wouldn’t be surprising to see J-Hey in the lead off spot every game of the NLDS and in center field to start with B.J. Upton as a defensive replacement possibly.

    As it is currently scheduled, the Braves will begin NLDS play on TBS on Thursday in Atlanta with game 2 Friday night before the teams travel to L.A. for a Sunday game. Currently no times have been posted for these games.

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