• Kansas City Royals

    BRAVES AT THE DEADLINE: Anthopoulos must make the right move

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – And to think, just four months ago we all assumed this week would be about getting some type of return for Brandon McCarthy and Nick Markakis.

    Unless you’ve been hiding on another planet since March – and if you have, pull up a chair because you’re truly not gonna believe this – you realize the preconceived notion of the 2018 Atlanta Braves has transformed greatly thanks to the team winning 54 times in the season’s first 98 games. At least a year ahead of the expected opening of its contention window, Atlanta sits in a very enviable and yet difficult spot as the hours tick toward Tuesday’s trade deadline.

    We could spend the next 40 paragraphs discussing the craziness that has transpired with this franchise since last summer, when Atlanta’s midsummer moves included releasing Bartolo Colon and Eric O’Flaherty, and dealing Jaime Garcia and Anthony Recker to Minnesota for a little-known prospect named Huascar Ynoa (who incidentally today was promoted to High-A Florida and is considered by many as an intriguing pitching prospect).

    Imagine that, another young impact arm in the Braves system, a system that despite the sanctions imposed by Major League Baseball in the wake of Coppygate still bursts as the seams with talent that could make waves in the majors for years to come.

    “Could” is the key word, and therein lies the rub as general manager Alex Anthopoulos surveys the madness of a market that one person described to me today as quiet for now, but “would not surprise me if it becomes frantic in the next three-to-four days.”

    The Braves, among several other teams, deserve credit for that madness. The National League was to be a victory lap for the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers in 2018, with Arizona and Colorado and Milwaukee fighting for the two wild-card spots. Alas, the standings are chaos, with 10 teams sitting within five games of a playoff spot.

    Alas, the Nationals are not among them.

    How to sort through this unexpected landscape, especially with a team contending a year ahead of schedule and a fanbase starving for a postseason game and a system overflowing with players who could impact your future in a good way (or bad, if you deal the wrong ones)? This is when general managers make their money.

    I’m on record in this space in saying I don’t expect an earth-shaking move to come in the next seven days. It would not be prudent to deviate from a plan that has caused so much pain in order to chase a short-term gain – as sweet as October baseball would be – at the risk of negating what many expect to be a long-standing swing at championships extending into the next decade.

    Again, back to my conversation today. I was reminded of two names.

    “Stephen Strasburg.”

    “Matt Harvey.”

    Strasburg blitzed through the league in 2012 as a 23-year-old, winning 15 games with a 3.16 ERA, but was shut down after 159 1/3 innings to protect his arm. The Nationals did as the Nationals do, flopping in the NL Division Series. Six seasons later, Washington has won as many playoff series as you and I combined, and woke up today six games out of a playoff spot.

    Harvey led a young, talented Mets rotation to the 2015 NL pennant, then famously refused to yield to manager Terry Collins after eight innings of a must-win Game 5 of the World Series. He gave up a walk and a double leading off the ninth before being yanked, the Royals won in extra innings to capture the championship, and today the Mets are a dumpster fire while Harvey pitches every fifth day for Cincinnati.

    One, an organization decision based on belief opportunities would present themselves without fail for years to come. The other, a manager who was convinced to change his mind with good intentions and perhaps lost the only shot that franchise will have at the brass ring for years to come.

    Both are cautionary tales of counting on a future that may not arrive. And so, as the clock ticks toward the deadline, Anthopoulos and his charges won’t sleep much. That’s life in a major-league front office in the days before the deadline, but the challenges facing this Braves regime as July crawls to a close are equally unique, daunting and exciting.

    For his part, Anthopoulos is not shying away from the task at hand. On SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio Monday morning, he stated the Braves are able to make the moves they need to make, provided it’s right for the organization for 2018 and beyond. It’s comforting to know this front office won’t empty the farm system for one run at a ring, but at the same time one wonders just how far they should push.

    After all, the right move – not the biggest move, and not just for the biggest name, but the right move – could vault Atlanta alongside the Dodgers as NL favorites. There is a three-headed beast in the American League, four if the Brad Hand deal stabilizes Cleveland’s bullpen, so many think the Senior Circuit is playing for runner-up honors. But the fact is you can’t win the World Series until you get there, and the Braves are in the mix of NL teams who could find themselves getting the chance to win seven games (or eight, depending on if they are in the wild-card game) in October to reach the big stage.

    But at what cost? What will it take? And remember, for all the folks on Twitter begging the Braves to get “this guy” or “that guy” or “those guys,” it takes two to tango. Some of the proposed moves by basement GMs border on absurd. At the same time, Atlanta could offer the moon and sun in any one deal and still have a top-10 system. That’s the result of four years of misery and all the work that’s transpired to rebuild this once-proud franchise.

    Sorting out the varying possibilities and the potential impacts, good and bad, always are part of the recipe of July for front offices. For the one residing at the confluence of Interstates 75 and 285 on Atlanta’s northwest flank, figuring out the straightest path through the winding madness could yield an amplifying boost for the next three months while not negating the opportunity to contend for the foreseeable future.

    After today, I have backed off my earlier stance of the Braves not doing anything, for what it’s worth. Call it intuition, call it a feeling, call it a guess. But the closer we get to 4 p.m. ET on July 31, the more I think Anthopoulos and the Braves will strike.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    Braves drop series to Brewers, hold ground in NL East

    Brian McCann snapped the Braves consecutive shutouts in game 3 with a grand slam in the 1st inning.

    Brian McCann snapped the Braves’ consecutive shutouts in game 3 with a grand slam in the 1st inning.

    When baseball writers use the phrase “feast or famine” in baseball, they usually apply it to streaky players. However, the Atlanta Braves’ offense is as streaky collectively as the most streaky player in the game. Never has this “feast or famine” pattern been more obvious than it was while the Braves were in Milwaukee. They managed just 2 hits in the first game, 4 in the second and then a whopping 14 hits in the only game they walked away with a win from.

    Game 1:

    W: Peralta (5-8) L: Teheran (5-4) SV: Henderson (10)

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

    Julio Teheran’s win/loss record, somewhat like Kris Medlen’s record, does not reflect just how brilliant the young man has been for the Braves in his second chance with the club in 2013. Like Hudson in game 2, Teheran just didn’t have the backing of the offense. While Teheran’s ERA improved in his start, his record did not.

    An incredible stat turned up this series: The Braves hadn’t scored an earned run on the Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen in 72 consecutive innings.

    Game 2:

    W: Badenhop (1-3) L: Hudson (4-7) SV: Rodriguez (6)

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

    Tim Hudson pitched an absolute gem and remained the losing pitcher. Hudson is now winless over his last 9 starts going back to May 5th. In those 9 starts, Huddy has received a total of 10 runs of support. 6 of those runs came in Hudson’s last 5 starts. Where Kris Medlen was once the recipient of hard luck, receiving very little run support in games when he was pitching exceptionally well, Hudson now appears to have taken on that role for the Braves.

    When the Braves wrapped up game 2 at Miller Park, they had gone scoreless for 24 consecutive innings. They lost via the shutout for the 2nd straight day, a first on the season. This particular stat is surprising given the number of shutouts the Braves have been on the bad end of this season and how frequently their offense has failed their solid pitchers.

    Game 3:

    W: Maholm (8-6) L: Figaro (1-2) SV: Kimbrel (21)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 4 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 7 14 0
    Brewers 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 4 9 0

    Of the three pitchers the Braves sent to the mound against the Brewers, Maholm was perhaps the least sharp and likely to notch a win. The only thing Maholm had going that neither Tim Hudson nor Julio Teheran had was the support of a robust offense.

    The Braves were finally able to get runs on the board with a 14-hit effort. It was the 2nd time in the last 20 games that the Braves scored 7+ runs. And as Mike Minor noted on Twitter following the game, the Braves are now 3-0 when a Braves starting pitcher hits a homer in the game.

    Perhaps the offensive highlight of the entire game was when Brian McCann stepped to the plate in the 1st inning and hit a grand slam. McCann is now in the top 3 active catchers in home runs and trails only Hank Aaron in grand slams among Atlanta Braves.

    The Braves managed to survive many things on the trip through Milwaukee including a so-called haunted hotel and the dreaded sweep.

    BRAVES TO PLAY 2 AT KAUFMANN STADIUM…

    The Braves arrived in Kansas City following Sunday afternoon’s win against the Brewers with a day off. They will get underway Tuesday with a 2-game set against the Royals before returning home to face off against the Arizona Diamondbacks. While in Kansas City, manager Fredi Gonzalez and coach Terry Pendleton stopped by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

    With the day off behind them, the Braves will buckle down and hope to get another win for Kris Medlen who has been pitching well of late and finally getting a few wins for his effort. He will face off against Erwin Santana who has had similarly bad luck this season despite exceptional pitching. The other pitcher the Braves send to the mound, Mike Minor, suffered a loss in his last outing, but has kept his ERA below 3. His pitching has made him a likely choice for the All Star Game that will be held at Citi Field in New York next month.

    A few updates on injuries: Brandon Beachy threw from 30 and 60 feet on the 23rd and is scheduled to throw bullpen session week this coming week. This is after shutting down for a short time with elbow inflammation on the eve of his first big league start since Tommy John surgery. Ramiro Pena was sent to the 15-day DL with a shoulder strain and in his place Paul Janish was called up from Triple-A. Janish has not been seen with the big league club in 2013 after having shoulder surgery alongside Brian McCann. Luis Ayala, who has been on the DL while treating an anxiety disorder, was sent out on a rehab assignment beginning June 20th. His return to the bullpen could be very useful for the Braves as they continue to make due without 2 of their most valuable arms in Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. Justin Upton is hoping to avoid the disabled list, still battling a sore hand. Upton was held out of Saturday’s game and it was announced on Sunday that Upton’s hand was bothering him. Giving him 3-consecutive days off might be the ticket to keep him off the DL.

    The first game of the 2-game set in Kansas City will feature Medlen (4-7, 2.96) vs. Santana (5-5, 2.64). The second game of the series will feature Minor (8-3, 2.89) vs. Mendoza (2-4, 4.30).

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

    Braves win streak snapped by KC, next up: Pittsburgh

    The 2-game set between Atlanta and Kansas City at Turner Field ended in a draw. While Atlanta rebounded in spectacular fashion with a 4-run 8th inning off Kelvin Herrera in game 1, Atlanta’s bats went cold in game 2. The expanded strike zone of plate umpire Doug Eddings and the pitching of Wade Davis shutout the Braves, snapping their 10-game win streak.

    Game 1:

    What started out as a solid outing by Kris Medlen with merely little run support behind him turned into a home run parade in the 8th inning when Juan Francisco, Justin Upton and Dan Uggla went back-to-back-to-back. Francisco had his first career multi-homer game.

    Justin Upton’s 8th home run of the season continued his torrid April and put him atop the league in homers. 6 of those 8 home runs have come with 2 outs. In addition to being atop the league leader board in home runs, Justin Upton became the first player in Braves history to hit 8 homers in the first 13 games of the season. Prior to his 8th homer, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Eddie Mathews held that record with 8 homers in the first 16 games of a season.

    After an incredible roller coaster on offense, the wind was let out of the sails when when Luis Avilan came into the game in relief and crumpled to the ground as he was about to throw. He immediately grabbed for his leg and was helped off the field. It turned out that Avilan had a hamstring strain, luckily not an arm injury of any kind, and was dealing with muscle cramping. After hydrating, Avilan was limping around today, but is hoping to avoid a trip to the disabled list. Avilan has a 1-0 record with a 2.08 ERA in 4 1/3 innings pitched. He has been a reliable arm out of the ‘pen for the Braves and has contributed to the relievers’ record of not allowing a single inherited runner to score.

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

    W: O’Flaherty (3-0) L: Herrera (1-1)

    Game 2:

    Mike Minor took the bump and did a fantastic job despite a very unusual strike zone employed my plate umpire Doug Eddings, but he took a tough loss when the Braves couldn’t get a run on the board. Minor went 6 innings, gave up 5 hits, 1 run and struck out 5. The only run for the Royals to cross the plate was thanks to former Braves Jeff Francoeur in the 4th inning with 2 outs. Francoeur plated Alcides Escobar.

    The Braves had one opportunity to score when Juan Francisco was thrown out at the plate as Chris Johnson doubled. It was a repeat of a play during game 1 when Andrelton Simmons was sent around third and thrown out at the plate by right fielder Jeff Francoeur.

    Like Mike Minor’s outing, Luis Ayala had an impressive outing in relief. Ayala went 2 innings, surrendering only 1 hit and striking out 2 Royals. Since Ayala joined the Braves he has given up only 1 hit in 3 innings and has 2 strikeouts. Should the injury to Avilan send him to the disabled list, the Ayala pickup will turn out to be crucial. Prior to Avilan’s injury, Ayala’s pickup had been important with the loss of Venters and Martinez to the DL.

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

    W: Davis (2-0) L: Minor (2-1) SV: Holland (3)

    BRAVES HIT THE ROAD FOR PNC PARK…

    The Braves begin a 10-game road trip in Pittsburgh tomorrow. Though their streak was snapped by Kansas City, the Braves are by no means slumping. Their 2 losses this season have both been shutouts, but they have won every game that they have hit at least one home run in.

    It was announced just prior to the Kansas City series that the projected return for Freddie Freeman is Monday the 22nd. Freeman will have his first workout tomorrow with Gwinnett. Freddie will have a 3-game rehab stint with Gwinnett and then, if all goes well, will join the team in Colorado on Monday.

    While the Braves have been hot and their 10-2 record has had Major League Baseball abuzz, the team is by no means firing on all cylinders. As @FriedBasballATL" href="https://twitter.com/FriedBasballATL/status/324346330401099777">someone much smarter than me said, the Nationals equivalent to Atlanta’s injury situation would if they were without Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Drew Storen, Ryan Mattheus, and Henry Rodriguez. The Braves have been winning with very little production from Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Those three and Andrelton Simmons are at the Mendoza Line (.200) or below. The ‘pen is without workhorse Jonny Venters and Cristhian Martinez. Walden, who the Braves acquired in the Tommy Hanson trade, has not been a part of the equation thus far. And Julio Teheran has yet to get a win in 2013. Then consider that the Braves are without silver slugger Brian McCann who might be back at the end of the month, backup shortstop Paul Janish who is without a timetable for return, first baseman Freddie Freeman and hurler Brandon Beachy who won’t be back ’til June. Consider just how good this team could be with all the pieces in place and working together.

    The 4-game set against the Pirates will begin Thursday with the face off of Teheran (0-0, 7.36) vs. Locke (1-1, 4.09). Friday night’s game will feature veteran Hudson (2-0, 2.50) vs. TBD. The Saturday matchup will be Maholm (3-0, 0.00) vs. McDonald (1-2, 5.27). The series finale on Sunday will be Medlen (1-1, 1.42) vs. TBD.

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

    Braves sweep the Nats, begin interleague play

    If the Braves were hoping to make a statement with the start of their season, they have. If the Braves were hoping to change minds about their chances in the National League East, they did. The Braves wrapped a road trip Sunday with a sweep of the rival Washington Nationals, Atlanta’s third consecutive sweep and ninth straight win. Heading back to Turner Field for a 2-game set against the Kansas City Royals, the Braves are 11-1.

    Game 1:

    While game 1 began with the potential of ending the winning streak of the Braves, Atlanta rebounded in extra innings and shutdown the Nationals after their initial 4 runs in the first 2. The biggest lesson of game 1 of this series was that this incarnation of the Atlanta Braves cannot be counted out no matter how dire the beginning of a game is. With an incredible bullpen and an explosive offense, the 2013 Braves can rebound in the late innings. Another lesson, both for the Braves and for rookie starter Julio Teheran materialized in game 1. Teheran, who gave up 6 hits, 4 earned runs and 3 walks in 6 innings, could have given up after the first 2 innings, but instead, he buckled down and gave his club 6 innings. It was a very important outing for the rookie.

    An overlooked aspect of the Braves’ club in 2013 may be the bench. While the starters are solid and powerful, the bench has a great deal of talent and power of their own. Ramiro Pena came into the game in a key spot and launched a 10th inning home run. Pena’s homer added to his 7 hits, 6 RBIs and .333 batting average off the bench (in 21 at-bats). Pena ads to depth on the bench that includes a backup catcher (Gattis or Laird, depending on the situation), Tyler Pastornicky, either Juan Francisco or Chris Johnson, Blake DeWitt, the versatile Reed Johnson, and Jordan Schafer.

    Despite leaving 9 men on base and going 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position, the Braves kept the Nationals at bay after their initial onslaught and set the tone for a series they would go on to sweep.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 2 6 9 2
    Nationals 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 8 1

    W: O’Flaherty (2-0) L: Stammen (2-1) SV: Kimbrel (5)

    Game 2:

    The success of Tim Hudson early into the season has depended entirely on the sink of his sinker. And in game 2 the sinker was vintage Tim Hudson. Huddy went 7 innings, gave up only 4 hits and struck out 3. But the only story wasn’t starting pitching. The bullpen has been nearly untouchable so far. Kimbrel had a shutdown outing and O’Flaherty has been the go-to guy for Fredi Gonzalez.

    Evan Gattis continues to impress the Braves as well as all of baseball with his power. He hit his 4th home run of the season in game 2 off of Strasburg. His 4 home runs and 10 RBIs have made Gerald Laird the backup catcher by default and the talk around the Braves is what will they do when Brian McCann returns from shoulder surgery. Whatever they decide, Gattis will remain on the roster and in the starting lineup in some way for as long as he continues his torrid hitting.

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

    W: Hudson (2-0) L: Strasburg (1-2) SV: Kimbrel (6)

    Game 3:

    Game 3 saw something that has never happened in 3 consecutive starts by an Atlanta Braves pitcher–Paul Maholm did not give up a run, making that 3-straight that he hasn’t done so. His 0.00 ERA makes him easily one of the best pitchers in baseball, however quietly, since the All-Star Break last season when he joined the Braves. Maholm became the 10th pitcher since 1916 to start the year with 3 consecutive scoreless starts when he and the brilliant relief effort of Luis Ayala pitched around a jam in the 8th inning. Maholm now has pitched 20 1/3 scoreless innings to start 2013.

    While Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton showed off their power in the 3rd inning, both with homers, the breakout star on offense was Chris Johnson who had a 4-hit, 2-RBI game. Not to discount the homers, though, because the Braves are 10-0 when they hit at least 1 HR, 0-1 when they don’t. Of course, that is in a sample size that includes some incredible pitching and offense.

    The Braves bullpen shined once again in game 3. Since the season began, the Braves bullpen has allowed 0-of-14 inherited runners to score. Their ability to shutdown hitters and truly help the starters out of a pinch has been an incredible tool for the Braves in the early going. There is no question that they are a huge part of the team’s success.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 3 0 4 0 0 2 0 0 0 9 12 0
    Nationals 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 2

    W: Maholm (3-0) Gonzalez (1-1)

    BRAVES RETURN TO THE TED FOLLOWING PERFECT ROAD TRIP…

    Freddie Freeman will be returning from the disabled list in the next few days. Jonny Venters has yet to resume throwing as he rehabs a strained elbow. And Cristhian Martinez was placed on the DL with a right shoulder strain, his injury presenting an opening for new reliever Ayala who made his debut with the Braves in Washington.

    News this week is that a timetable has been set for the return of Brandon Beachy. Beachy had the best ERA in baseball last season prior to the All-Star Break. He then required immediate Tommy John surgery for an elbow ligament tear and has been working his way back since. With his projected return of June, it will be interesting to see what happens with the rotation. Depending on how Teheran is pitching, it may come down to which of the two should move to the ‘pen. Frank Wren and the Braves may want to take a similar approach to Beachy that they did with Kris Medlen, putting him in the ‘pen initially as not to overtax his arm in the beginning and then moving him into the rotation in time. This worked well for them with Medlen in contrast to the approach the Nationals took last season with Strasburg when they let him pitch in the rotation out of the gate and then had to shut him down long before the playoffs. The Braves see the potential in Beachy and will be sure to protect his arm.

    The unusual 2-game series against the American League’s Kansas City Royals begins Tuesday at Turner Field with the matchup of Guthrie (2-0, 3.55) vs. Medlen (1-1, 1.50), followed by Davis (1-0, 4.00) vs. Minor (2-0, 0.69) on Wednesday.

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