• Mike Minor

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

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

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

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

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

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

    Much, much better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    —30—

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

    Braves at the Deadline: The Ring is The Thing, and The Time is Now to Go for It

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA — Imagine for a moment it’s the night before Thanksgiving, and you are in the car, off in search of that one last item to make the holiday meal absolutely perfect.

    The highways are as congested as the Downtown Connector on a Friday afternoon. Finding what you need is as easy as securing that last gallon of milk in the hours before a Southern snowstorm. And when you finally do return home with the missing piece, the one element you hope makes this family gathering the moment they rave about for decades to come, you also shutter at the price you paid.

    Sounds fun, right?

    Welcome to the next two weeks of Alex Anthopoulos’ life.

    When we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner this November, how we view the Atlanta Braves 2019 season likely will be shaped by what their general manager accomplishes between now and the July 31 trade deadline. That’s not to minimize what these Braves have accomplished to this point, sitting in first place in the National League East as the Washington Nationals head to town for a key four-game series starting Thursday at SunTrust Park. But make no mistake about it: while the results through the first 97 games of this season may not have altered the overall master plan, it should flip the short-term narrative.

    These Braves are very good. These Braves are close to being great. These Braves are on the verge of being something incredibly special.

    These Braves need to go for it.

    Now.

    (Let’s take a step back for a little perspective – because the masses that read this likely will want to stop here and grab their pitchforks, convinced I’m advocating trading everything not nailed down in Lawrenceville and Pearl and Kissimmee for one swing at the summit.)

    No more than I would advise somebody blowing the January mortgage in order to buy the greatest Christmas present ever, I do not think Atlanta should take dynamite to its carefully calculated, painfully executed plan for returning to long-term prominence in exchange for one lone shot at October glory. Even with no moves at this year’s deadline, the Braves are as well situated as any team in the majors to contend year-in, year-out, for the foreseeable future.

    But that doesn’t preclude you from realizing the metamorphosis of this team the past two months, the dynamics of this year’s roster and the sum of its parts, measured against what you think is possible with an addition or two. That must be weighed against the current and future cost, of course, and the impact such moves would deliver to the current roster.

    None of this is anything new for Anthopoulos. He developed a gun-slinging reputation as general manager in Toronto, dealing prospects by the boatload in pursuit of a title. And while the Blue Jays never reached the World Series under his watch, they did play for the pennant twice. Ironically, the two most painful players lost in the bevy of deals Anthopoulos pulled the trigger on north of the border may be on the move at this year’s deadline: Detroit starter Matthew Boyd and Mets star Noah Syndergaard.

    The thought that a player with Syndergaard’s talent and pedigree could be available (I personally do not think he will be traded) speaks volumes to the fascinating, and – for a team wanting to buy, like Atlanta – frustrating landscape in which teams find themselves with two weeks left before deals must be done by 4 p.m. ET on the final day of the month. The sense of urgency is heightened because of a rule change that dictates no waiver trades are allowed in August, plus a glut of teams that reached mid-July with at least a puncher’s chance to stay relevant over the season’s final two months.

    Consider this: Entering play Wednesday, there were seven teams in the National League within four games of the second and final wild-card spot. In the American League, two teams sat tied for the final wild card, with three teams within 4 ½ games of that position. Twenty-two of the 30 teams in the majors began play Wednesday within five games of a playoff spot, adding to the urgency to play well in the final days of the month.

    Certainly, some of those teams will struggle leading up toward the deadline and will elect to sell. Others caught in the mired mess of the wild-card pack will realize their franchise benefits more from selling than trying to leapfrog the pile for the guarantee of one game – especially in the NL, where the winner of the wild-card game likely draws the Dodgers in the NL Division Series.

    It’s a seller’s market, indeed, and many of the top teams like the Braves find themselves seeking the same two commodities: a starting pitcher for one of the top spots in the rotation, and a dependable closer. Pitching at the deadline does not come cheap, especially this year, with so few sellers and plenty of buyers seeking the same thing.

    Under normal circumstances, it might be plausible for the Braves to shoot lower, avoid the most crowded, expense parts of the store. But these are not normal times. The Braves have blossomed, going 40-19 since early May and establishing themselves as the second-best team in the National League. Were the playoffs to start today, they would be favored to beat the Cubs or Brewers or Cardinals in the NLDS, and clearly are more of a threat to the Dodgers in a playoff series than last season, when the emerging Baby Braves of ’18 battled gamely but were vastly overmatched in a four-game NLDS defeat.

    Anthopoulos knows this. Joking with a member of the Braves Radio Network while standing outside the press box at Wrigley Field pregame last month, I laughed as we discussed the constant drumbeat on social media for the Braves GM to “do something!” I get it, though. Since coming to Atlanta, Anthopoulos has followed a more measured approach than in his ultra-aggressive Toronto days. Perhaps a byproduct of the lessons learned after leaving Toronto and spending time in the Dodgers front office. Perhaps a byproduct of learning the Braves loaded minor-league system and not wanting to make the wrong move, while still getting up to speed on the value of all the assets at his disposal.

    And yes, perhaps a byproduct of nondisclosed constraints applied to the team by Liberty Media’s corporate ownership. The “shop in any aisle” and “financial flexibility” comments have been deadpanned to death by Braves fans, and with good reason. But this team has soared in the past nine weeks, and signing free-agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel in early June provided a positive jolt throughout the locker room and the fanbase.

    If that was a jolt, it’s time for a thunderbolt, one that vaults the Braves shoulder-to-shoulder with Los Angeles at the top of the Senior Circuit. Yes, it will be costly. Yes, it will hurt. Yes, there will be criticism, and it will be harsh. But step back a second and consider this: Atlanta has five prospects in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100. Several of the prospects ranked 6-to-15 in the Braves Top 30 would sit in the top five of many other organizations. If Atlanta has to part with two or three of its top five to land the pieces needed to make it a honest-to-goodness World Series championship contender in 2019, the time has arrived to do so.

    It must be the right deal, and for the right asset. For example: I’m not dealing Cristian Pache for two months of Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith – truth be told, I’m not dealing Pache for anybody. But if a controllable elite closer (Felipe Vazquez and Brad Hand, for example) or a starter with at least one more season of control after 2019 (Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, Mike Minor and Boyd are names that jump out) becomes available, pieces that would push the Braves into the short group of elite MLB teams, nobody outside of Pache should be off limits.

    Because while we all love prospects, face it: The Braves can absorb those types of moves as well, if not better, than any team in the sport. Nobody wants to see Ian Anderson pitching for another organization. Or Kyle Wright, or Kyle Muller, or Joey Wentz, or Bryse Wilson. Nobody wants to see Drew Waters wear a major-league uniform missing a tomahawk across the chest. The list goes on and on. Many teams could not recover from dealing just one of those guys. Honestly, the Braves could deal multiple members of that group and still be OK.

    For all the criticism of Anthopoulos’ conservative approach in his first 20 months on the job, the fact remains the Atlanta farm system is stocked with tremendous talent, and a lot of it is not too far away from knocking at the major-league door. There simply isn’t room for all of them. It’s time to cash out on some of the exceptional young talent the Braves have spent the past half-decade aggregating.

    Sometimes, it takes just an extra sprinkle of spice to make a blue-ribbon recipe. On Aug. 25, 1995, the Braves pulled off a mostly unnoticed waiver-wire deal, acquiring outfielder Mike Devereaux from the White Sox. All the veteran did was play in 13 postseason games, hit .308 in the NLCS en route to MVP honors, and provide the missing piece to the only World Series champion this city has known.

    This time around, the missing piece or pieces require a far, far heavier investment. But the Braves have the payroll flexibility beyond this season and a pantry full of high-end prospects to make the right deal before this month ends. It would not cripple the future, and could result in this year’s team ending October in a place none of us dreamed it could reach even a few short months ago:

    Standing alongside its 1995 counterparts, as World Series champions.

    It’s worth the shot to try and get there.

    Now.

    —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.

    Springtime surprises for revamped Braves

    When the Atlanta Braves arrived at Champion Stadium this spring, nobody in baseball knew what to expect of the revamped, ragtag group of players assembled by the team’s front office in the offseason. In fact, many of the players themselves didn’t know what to expect, but were excited about the talent and youth coming together. The team looked so different that Craig Kimbrel had shirts printed for all of the players with the humorous ‘My Name Is ______’ tag. Humorous as it may have been, it turns out there are many players that not only broke camp with the club that no casual follower of the club has heard of or knew was with the team but many of those players look to be on the opening day roster.

    Coming into camp, the common wisdom was that there would be one roster spot up for grabs. This changed when Mike Minor began his throwing program and reported shoulder discomfort and tightness. Minor is no stranger to this ailment, but the timing of it made for an unexpected battle for not one but two rotation slots. The news now is that Minor has begun a throwing program after a series of exercises prescribed by Dr. Andrews improved his range of motion. The hope is that what plagued Minor throughout 2014 will no longer bother the lefty. But even with his progress, Minor is expected to miss at least a month of the season. This has opened the door for none other than veteran Wandy Rodriguez.wandy2

    You’ll remember that Wandy Rodriguez was cut loose by the Phillies’ front office after failing a physical as spring training was getting underway. The Braves signed Wandy to a minor league contract with an invite to camp. If he makes the 40-man roster on opening day, he will received $2 million for his services in 2015. This, of course, is no longer an if. Barring any catastrophic outing between now and opening day, Wandy has secured the 4th rotation spot after a fantastic spring with his new club. Rodriguez holds a 91-94 record with a 4.06 ERA in his career. Additionally, he posted 6 consecutive seasons with an ERA under 4.00 while playing for the Astros and Pirates.

    With 2 rotation spots, the battle for the 5th roster spot continues. Another surprise this spring is the promise of Mike Foltynewicz. When the Braves made their trade with the Houston Astros sending away Evan Gattis, it wasn’t expected that any of the prospects coming back would be big league ready. Despite a tough outing Tuesday when he was lit up by the Phillies, Folty remains in the mix for a rotation spot. Also fighting for the spot is former Padre Eric Stults, veteran starter Chien-Ming Wang and former Yankee Manny Banuelos.

    ATLANTA’S ROSTER COMING TOGETHER ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL…

    Coming into camp, the Braves expected big stories from some of their newest acquisitions. What nobody expected was for Andrelton Simmons to walk into camp with his offense and defense firing on all cylinders. In 10 games and 30 ABs, Simba is hitting .467 with a club-leading 12 RBIs.

    Joining the hot bat of Simmons are the two guys battling for the spot as his double-play partner. The Braves signed Alberto Callaspo in the offseason with the assumption that he would be their opening day second baseman, but his presence in camp has not yet materialized in much positive. Instead, Jace Peterson and Pedro Ciriaco have stepped up in big ways. Showing adequate defense for their age and lack of experience, the true test was whether either player had progressed at the plate. In 41 ABs over 16 games, Peterson has 14 hits and 8 walks with a .341 average. However, with those astonishing numbers come 11 strikeouts. Ciriaco has a comparable 41 ABs in 17 games. Over that span he has put together 15 hits, 9 RBIs and a .366 average. The major difference between the two 2B candidates is OBP. Jace at .449 and Pedro at .372.

    The biggest acquisition for the offense over the winter was veteran outfielder Nick Markakis. It came as both a surprise and a blow immediately following his signing when he underwent cervical spinal fusion surgery. For much of the winter it was unclear when Markakis would be able to return to full baseball activity. That he wouldn’t be ready for opening day seemed a foregone conclusion until he made his spring debut this week and put all doubts to rest. In his first 2 games and 6 ABs, Markakis has 2 runs, 2 hits and a .333 average. His progress on the field seems to indicate that he will be ready for the April 6th first game against the Marlins.

    A regular that came into camp with something to prove that has remained unproven is third baseman Chris Johnson. Johnson had a major fall off after his first remarkable year with the club, but the Braves remain hopeful that last season was the anomaly and not his successful batting title-contending year. However, Joey Terdoslavich has been given some time at the hot corner to determine whether he can pick it. With Terdoslavich in the mix as well as veteran Callaspo, Johnson’s starting job looks not to be as solid as previously thought. As we saw more and more at the end of 2014 with B.J. (now Melvin) Upton and former (and still on the payroll) Brave Dan Uggla, the team will not allow for one player to bring down the lineup day in and day out.

    Still in contention for bench spots are the aforementioned Terdoslavich, the rejuvenated Kelly Johnson and Almonte. Much of what happens with the bench will come down to who wins the 2B starting position, whether Eric Young, Jr. is the starting center fielder and how much the Braves think they can rely on Alberto Callaspo and Johnson.

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

    Braves split series in Cincy despite flirting with no-no

    After breaking out the bats in the series opener against the Reds at Great American Ballpark, the Braves were once again the victims of their own lack of run support for quality starting pitching. Walking away from the a series split in Cincy, Atlanta missed an opportunity to improve in the wild card standings.

    The Braves leave GAB for Citi Field for a 3-game set sitting 8 games back in the division and 1 game behind the Giants for the second wild card slot.

    Andrelton Simmons has hit .429 over his career at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

    Andrelton Simmons has hit .429 over his career at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

    In the lead up to the series in Cincinnati, we broke down the slugging numbers for several players, but overlooked the hitter with the best numbers at Great American Ballpark: Andrelton Simmons. In 6 games over his young career, Simmons has hit .429 at Great American. He has slugged an ungodly .893 in that band box. He was 12 hits, 4 doubles, 3 homers and 6 RBI. In the 3 games he started over the series, Simba hit .267/.267/.600 with 2 doubles, a homer and 2 RBI.

    Keeping pace at the plate over the series, Justin Upton knocked another homer and hit .267. He also recorded his 2nd triple on the season. In August, Upton is hitting .288 with 4 doubles, a triple and 6 homers. Upton’s RBIs, 23 in August, continue to lead the Braves (nearly 20 more than the next closest hitter, Freeman). Upton is 3rd in the NL in RBIs right now behind only Giancarlo Stanton and Adrian Gonzalez. Additionally, he is 4th in homers in the league behind Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and Lucas Duda.

    Pitching in the series was mostly solid, though Aaron Harang struggled in the 4th inning of the finale costing the Braves the game. Julio Teheran got the team off to a great start with 6 shutout innings where he allowed only 4 hits and struck out 3. Behind him came Russell in relief, a shaky sight for those who have watched the Braves since the trade deadline brought the club James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio. However, Fredi Gonzalez is not longer going to use Russell for lefties only and in his 2 innings of relief work for Teheran, Russell didn’t allow a hit or run.

    Of course, the greatest pitching performance came from Mike Minor who flirted with a no hitter. Unfortunately, Minor didn’t get the no-no or the win. After 7 2/3 innings pitched allowing only 1 hit, Minor gave way to a series of relievers including Walden, Carpenter, Varvaro, Hale (who got the win) and Kimbrel. Despite giving up that 1 hit and 1 earned run, Minor got the no decision and the Braves finally got the win in extra innings thanks to a 12th inning blast by none other than Justin “Clutch” Upton.

    Since having his spot skipped in the rotation early in the month, Minor is 1-1 in 3 starts (21 1/3 IP) with a 2.53 ERA. In those 3 games he has given up only 2 homers, has held opponents to .176 batting average and has 19 strikeouts. If the Braves hope to make a run at the Nats and/or stay in the wild card hunt, they need this Mike Minor to show up every time.

    BRAVES VISIT TO CITI FIELD TO CAP ROAD TRIP…

    It’s impossible for the Braves to play the Mets at Citi Field without mentioning the ridiculous numbers Freddie Freeman has against the Mets. Picking up the mantle of Chipper Jones, Freeman has hit .317 at Citi Field with 12 doubles and 5 homers. Against the Mets overall, Freeman has hit .324 in his career. He has been nothing but a pest for the Mets. This season Freddie has hit .392 against New York with 7 doubles, a homer and 13 RBIs. On the season, Freeman has hit .310 with RISP and .364 with 2 outs and RISP. His clutch stats in addition to his career history against the Mets bodes well for a team that gets going with Freeman as the spark.

    Over the weekend, the Braves acknowledged that during their talks with the Cubs prior to the trade deadline they did attempt to trade B.J. Upton. The Cubs instead sent over Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell and the Braves kept B.J. This news isn’t too surprising given the struggles of the elder Upton since joining the Braves. However, the Braves willingness to trade him and presumably eat a huge amount of his contract might also signal that the Braves are willing to sit B.J. the way they previously had Dan Uggla. With Emilio Bonifacio’s versatility, the Braves can continue to use him in center field. In August for the Braves, Bonifacio has hit .255 with a .296 on-base percentage. He has stolen 3 bases as a Brave. By comparison, in August B.J. Upton is hitting .119 with a .257 on-base percentage. Their defense appears comparable. How the Braves proceed will likely have an impact on their overall success. It may simply come down to money.

    The Braves will send Wood (9-9, 3.05) to the mound vs. Gee (4-6, 3.84) tomorrow. Wednesday will pit Teheran (12-9, 2.96) vs. Wheeler (9-8, 3.48). The series will wrap with Minor (5-8, 4.90) vs. Niese (7-9, 3.47). The Braves will then travel back to Turner Field for a homestand beginning with the Miami Marlins.

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

    Atlanta rebound from Dodgers’ visit, sweep A’s

    With a 6-run first inning in Pittsburgh tonight, it’s a good time to look back at the last two series and how the Braves fared against two visiting California clubs.

    As the end of the season inches closer and closer, the Braves continue to be one of the most frustrating and inconsistent clubs in the National League. Managing to win just one against the first place club in the NL West over a four-game set, they then turned around and swept the first place club of the AL West. Sitting 6 games back in the division and a game and a half back in the wild card race, it’s too early to count this team out. It may, however, be too late for the team to make a run at the surging rival Nats. Their 64-60 record in no way reflects the true potential and talent of this team.

    Since the Braves took the series from the Nationals at Turner Field the weekend of the 8th, they have won 4 of 7. Prior to that make or break series against Washington, the Braves went on an historically terrible road trip in which they 0-and-8.

    What we can say from the last 2 series:

    Mike Minor had a solid outing against the A's, going 7 innings with 2 runs allowed.

    Mike Minor had a solid outing against the A’s, going 7 innings with 2 runs allowed.

    • Mike Minor is beginning to look like the Mike Minor of old. While he continues to give up an unusual number of home runs, he tends to give up the solo variety. In his start against the visiting A’s, he pitched 7 innings with only 4 hits allowed and 2 runs surrendered. With 7 strikeouts, Minor seemed to have a feel for his pitches. Whatever was eating Minor seems to have let up for now. If Minor can be the Minor of old down the final push to the postseason, the Braves would have a tough 1-2-3 punch of Teheran, Santana and Minor.
    • Freddie Freeman is HOT. Over the last 14 games, there is no hotter hitter in baseball than the Braves first baseman. With a slash of .396/.475/.642, Freeman is 21-for-53 with 7 doubles, 2 homers and 9 RBIs. Freddie continues his clutch hitting, finally returning to his absolute dominance with runners in scoring position. Additionally, if Freeman doesn’t win a gold glove this season, I suggest some sort of angry Twitter drive against the powers that be. Freeman’s strength with the glove is impressive.
    • Julio Teheran has settled down and rebounded from two terrible starts against the Mariners and Dodgers. In his start against Oakland, Julio pitched 6 innings of 2-run baseball. This after giving up 5 and 6 runs in his previous 2 starts.
    • Inserting the rookies–Tommy La Stella and recently called up Phil Gosselin–has been a spark for the Braves. Since letting go of Dan Uggla to open up regular playing time for La Stella and now Gosselin. Since being called up, Tommy La Stella has hit .273/.352/.345 (including hitting .360 from the 7-hole). La Stella has hit .310 with RISP with 4 doubles, a triple and 26 RBIs. Phil Gosselin, in a more limited role of 15 games, has hit .310 including his first big league homer. Both have offered solid defense up the middle.

    BRAVES FACE PIRATES IN IMPORTANT SERIES…

    While every series seems important for the Braves at this late stage in the season, facing the Pittsburgh Pirates after sweeping the Oakland A’s sets the Braves up for an important test of consistency. Getting wins in back-to-back series is a feat the Braves have struggled with this season, especially in August.

    If the Braves are going to contend the keys will be getting the lead off and 2-hole hitters on base, something that seems doable with Gosselin in the lineup, and keeping Freeman and Justin Upton hot in the heart of the order. Chris Johnson’s recent resurgence will help the club immensely. And for Fredi Gonzalez to have a plan with B.J. Upton and Emilio Bonifacio in center field will prove important. Whether the Braves are willing to make a decision on Upton is yet to be seen. From a pitching standpoint, the Braves need consistency in the ‘pen from the setup men. For all his talent, Craig Kimbrel cannot do it all. Walden, Simmons, Carpenter, et al must step up. Julio Teheran needs to continue to lead the rotation as the young ace that he is. With Minor settling down and Santana solidly contributing, the Braves will need Wood to be the dominant pitcher he was at the beginning of the season before being sent down and they will Harang’s veteran leadership.

    A final note before the pitching match ups against Pittsburgh. Bullpen coach Eddie Perez recently became an American citizen. Perez spent parts of 9 seasons with the Braves as a catcher and has been a coach with the team since 2007. Perez, born in Venezuela, signed a minor league contract with Atlanta in 1987. Perez took the naturalization oath on August 13th. We here at BravesWire would like to commend and congratulation Eddie for this important event in his life. He continues to be a great mentor to the young Latin American young men that end up in the Braves farm system and with the team.

    Ervin Santana got the start tonight against the Pirates while Harang (9-7, 3.51) will take the hill Tuesday vs. Liriano (3-9, 3.78). Wood (9-9, 3.07) vs. Cole (7-4, 3.78) will get underway Wednesday to wrap the series.

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

     

     

    Braves swept by M’s, meet D-backs in desert

    Hot off a sweep of the Tigers and a makeup game with the Yankees, the Mariners flew into Atlanta and swept the Braves in the 2-game interleague set. Seattle improved to 24-15 record since April 22nd. The Braves did their best to keep pace with the M’s on both sides of the ball. The difference in the series came down to runs allowed by the Braves’ ‘pen in game 1 and no run support for Mike Minor’s brilliant effort in game 2.

    As was a concern coming into the series, the Braves’ ‘pen seems to be on a bit of a slide of late, allowing runs rather than coming in and shutting down the opponent’s offense. The Mariners’ ‘pen was the opposite, now having gone 13 innings without allowing a run. One reason that might have contributed to the 2 runs given up by Alex Wood in relief of Gavin Floyd is that he had been up getting warm twice prior to actually being called on in the ‘pen. Wood has yet to truly fall into a rhythm of any kind as a reliever. Like Wood, David Hale is in an unusual situation given that he is supposedly the long man and hasn’t been called into high-pressure situations like other relievers. What the roles of Wood and Hale will be going forward is uncertain. What is certain is that Jordan Walden is nearing his return to the club. Walden, who was sent to the DL with a hamstring strain, is currently making rehab starts with Triple-A Gwinnett. We could see him in the upcoming series in Arizona.

    Because the Braves never made it into a save situation, Craig Kimbrel remains at 154 career saves and will likely earn his next save on the road. His 155th save will make him the sole record holder in franchise saves. He currently shares the top spot with John Smoltz.

    Mike Minor lead the category of things that went incredibly well for the Braves over the 2-game set. Minor went 7 innings of 1-run baseball, giving up 6 hits and striking out 10th strikeout a season-high 10 batters. It was the third double-digit strikeout of his career and his first since May of last season against the Mets. Unfortunately, Minor was bested by Iwakuma who threw 8 innings of shutout ball, striking out 7 before handing over the game to closer Fernando Rodney for the save.

    The first game of the set is much less easy to explain. While the Braves got to starter Erasmo Ramirez early, chasing him after he pitched 4 innings, the M’s bullpen was lights out and the Braves ‘pen faltered. Gavin Floyd once again missed securing his first win in a Braves uniform. He went 5 innings, game up 3 earned runs and now holds a 2.80 ERA. Floyd, for his part, has been great for the Braves. He simply seems to be the hard luck pitcher of the season for the Braves. We’ll see Floyd again in the Arizona series and hopefully he can secure that elusive first win then.

    BRAVES MEET DIAMONDBACKS IN THE DESERT…

    Entering the series in Arizona, the Braves are 31-27 and tied with the surprising Miami Marlins for first place in the National League East. The Diamondbacks who struggled mightily in the first two months of the season have won 3 games straight to improve to 26-36, still last in the National League West.

    The Braves will take the hot-hitting Justin Upton to the desert where he once played to face off the team with the newly minted Martin Prado bobblehead. Justin is hitting .294 on the season with 12 doubles, a triple, 13 homers and 33 RBIs. Thus far he is living up to his billing when he joined the Braves. The position player that headlined the trade for Upton, Martin Prado, got off to a slow start this season but has improved to a .275 batting average with 10 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers and 26 RBIs. Prado has really kicked it into gear for the D-Backs in the last 18 games, going 22-for-63 (.349) with both of his homers coming over that period. While Prado and Upton were never meant to be a bat-for-bat trade, both are turning out to be what each team hoped they’d get when the trade was made.

    Another key piece of the Upton trade, Randall Delgado, fell out of favor and was demoted to the bullpen. He has an 0-1 record with a 7.24 ERA in 27 1/3 innings this season. The oft-called “throw in” piece of the Upton trade was Chris Johnson. After a season that marked career highs in multiple categories and nearly a batting title, Johnson has struggled this season. He has seemed lost at the plate in recent weeks. Johnson is 14-for-70 (.200) with 1 homer, 20 strikeouts, 0 walks and a disappointing .197 OBP over the last 18 games. As is always the case with a lineup, it ebbs and flows. Luckily for the Braves, Johnson’s struggles have been mostly covered up by the resurgence of Jason Heyward and the on-base percentage of B.J. Upton.

    Jason Heyward continues his streak of being Atlanta’s hottest hitter. J-Hey has a .330 (29-for-88) average with 3 homers, 9 RBIs and a .404 on-base percentage in his past 22 games. He and B.J. Upton are getting on base, the problem seems to fall with inconsistent contact rates among the 3 through 6 hole hitters. An additional improvement with Heyward and Upton is speed. They have each stolen 9 bases this season. Keeping their running game hot will help the Braves keep atop the standings.

    The Braves will send Teheran (5-3, 1.83) to the mound against McCarthy (1-7, 5.20) in the series opener. Santana (5-2, 4.10) will take the bump against Miley (3-6, 4.85) on Saturday. And pitted against one another in the series finale will be Harang (4-4, 3.24) and Anderson (4-0, 3.32).

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

     

    Skidding Braves welcome Cardinals

    It now appears that the hiccup in Miami was not a fluke. What was a 3-game sweep by the Marlins turned into a 6-game skid with a follow-up sweep by the San Francisco Giants of the Braves at Turner Field. Sunday’s 4-1 loss marked just the 1st time the Braves had been swept by the Giants in a 3-game set at home since June of 1988. The 6-game skid is the longest for Atlanta since an 8-game losing streak in the 2012 season. The Braves have now lost 6 games, a series on the road and a series at home, while struggling mightily with runners in scoring position.

    While there have certainly been mistakes made by Atlanta’s pitching, the few mistakes the Giants were able to capitalize on, the offense was to blame in the latest sweep. Unlike the series in Miami, Braves’ pitching was solid and offered the offense every opportunity to overcome the Giants. However, with a team .183 batting average and a total of 10 runs scored over 6 games, the best pitching can’t overcome a lack of offense. Over the last 7 games, the team has scored a total of 11 runs and more than 1 run in only 2 of those games.

    B.J. Upton is sporting new glasses and an improved on-base percentage in recent games.

    B.J. Upton is sporting new glasses and an improved on-base percentage in recent games.

    Before breaking down the offensive struggles of the Braves in the 6-game skid, first some good news. B.J. Upton is much improved on the bases, stealing his 7th bag Sunday after a double. B.J. is not only sporting new sports glasses, he’s sporting a much improved .350 OBP in the past 14 games.

    Breaking down the offense, or lack thereof, in the past 6 games:

    • Hitters in the 1 & 2 hole are hitting .282; Hitters 3-6 are hitting a paltry .119; 7-9 hitters are hitting .207.
    • Jason Heyward has improved to .292 (.327 OBP) since the 21st of April while teammate Freeman is in a massive slump hitting just .146 in that time.
    • Batters other than Freddie Freeman have now combined to go 8-for-94 (.085) with runners in scoring position and 2 outs.
    • Justin Upton, a notoriously good hitter in the month of April, has realized it is now May. Over his last 7 games he is hitting .158 with only 1 homer and 2 RBIs.
    • Uggla’s numbers have really put his starting job in question, but there is simply no better replacement for either him or Pena/Pastornicky’s spot on the bench. Tommy LaStella at Triple-A remains weeks away.

    Despite the recent skid of the Braves, Buster Olney of ESPN reports that Atlanta still sits 2nd in the power rankings. Like many of the players have noted over this brutal few games, everyone that follows baseball seems convinced that this could be the most potent offense in baseball when firing on all cylinders. The truth of that is clouded, of course, by the fact that we’ve only seen the team truly have a strong offensive game on a couple of occasions so far this season.

    While there were questions surrounding the bullpen in the last few days, Sunday’s game gave the Braves something positive to build on when Alex Wood left the game early, more out of concern for his innings pace than anything, David Hale came in to relieve him and eat up innings, and then the embattled Luis Avilan entered in a high pressure situation with the bases loaded to induce a quick double-play grounder. (A note on Wood’s pitch count and innings count: Wood had thrown 104 pitches through 5 innings Sunday. In his 2 8-inning appearances this season, he threw 103 and 101 pitches. In addition to the concern for his pitch count, the Braves are keeping a close eye on his innings pitched. He currently has 45 IP on the season.)

    One concern apparent during the Giants’ series was the 3 straight games where the Braves tied the game only to give the lead right back on homer the following inning. Luckily for the Braves, all but one of the homers in the series by the Giants were solo shots. The damage could have been much worse.

    Closer Craig Kimbrel, vying to pass John Smoltz for most saves in the franchise, has not had a save since the 26th of April. He has He has pitched only once (May 2nd) in the 9 days since his last save.

    BRAVES LOOK TO SNAP SKID AGAINST ST. LOUIS…

    The Braves have activated Gavin Floyd, sending Ian Thomas to Triple-A Gwinnett. Floyd will start in the place of Santana on Tuesday. Santana will miss his start due to a swollen thumb. Apparently against the Reds, Santana bruised his right thumb when he got jammed on pitch by Homer Bailey. During his next start in Miami, his thumb continued to swell to the point where he could no longer grip the baseball. The swelling forced him out of the game early. The thumb is healing and should only force him to miss one start.

    Gavin Floyd is returning from Tommy John surgery after injuring the elbow ligament pitching with the White Sox. Floyd has a career 4.48 ERA in 10 years in the big leagues. He has an even .500 record (70-70).

    It appears that the role for Floyd with the team with be spot starts and a place in the bullpen as both the long man and a versatile reliever.

    There truly is only one goal going into the series against the Cardinals: Break the 6-game losing streak. The Cardinals come into the series having narrowly avoided a sweep at the hands of the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals, much like the Braves, aren’t one of the better teams at scoring runs. The Cardinals were the best team in the National League last season at scoring runs. This season they are in the bottom of the pack. They’ve yet to see notable offense from Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter or Peter Bourjos. In fact, they sent Kolton Wong down to Triple-A because of a lack of offense and have plugged in rehabbed Mark Ellis in his spot.

    The Cardinals send Shelby Miller (3-2, 3.15) to the mound against Aaron Harang (3-2, 2.97) tonight. Tyler Lyons (0-2, 4.20) will face Gavin Floyd in his Braves’ debut. And the series finale will feature Adam Wainwright (5-2, 2.16) against Mike Minor (0-1, 3.00).

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

     

    Braves pitching rocked in Miami, Minor to debut

    A rotation with a team 1.90 ERA was bound to fall to Earth eventually. And so it was in Miami with Alex Wood, Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana. The Marlins swept the Braves in a 3-game series, a down point in an otherwise exciting season. Despite the month-ending series, the Braves have had a strong April behind the solid pitching of Harang, Wood, Santana, Teheran and Hale and the offensive dominance of Freeman, the younger Upton, Gattis and Simmons. They entered May with a 17-9 record.

    A few of the best stats from April:

    Julio Teheran finished April with a 1.47 ERA, the lowest of the starting rotation.

    Julio Teheran finished April with a 1.47 ERA, the lowest of the Braves starting rotation.

    • The Braves pitching staff (starters and relief corps) put up the lowest ERA in the National League at 2.69 (244 2/3 innings pitched).
    • Braves’ starters finished April with a 2.40 ERA and an 11-7 record, the best ERA in the NL.
    • David Hale put together the 2nd best ERA of MLB rookies in April (2.10).
    • Justin Upton finished April with the best batting average on the club at .323. He put up 4 doubles, a triple, 8 homers and 18 RBIs with 3 stolen bases.
    • Freddie Freeman finished April with a .305 batting average. He had 7 doubles, 6 homers and 17 RBIs in 105 at bats.
    • Andrelton Simmons put up great offensive numbers to match the stellar defense Braves’ fans are used to. He hit .280 with 3 doubles, 3 triples, 3 homers and 7 RBIs. His number of strikeouts, 3, matched the number of triples, doubles and homers he had.
    • Julio Teheran leads the Braves and is 2nd in the league in ERA (1.47).
    • Until the final series of the month, Aaron Harang led the NL in ERA at 0.85.

    MINOR MAKES 2014 DEBUT, HUDSON RETURNS TO ATLANTA…

    The Braves return to Turner Field for a weekend series against the visiting San Francisco Giants. The series marks the season debut of Mike Minor and the return of fan favorite Tim Hudson who left Atlanta in free agency this past offseason.

    Mike Minor missed most the early days of spring training due to a urethra surgery in the offseason. He then injured his pitching shoulder. Reliever Gus Schlosser, who recorded his first big league hit and pitched 11 innings, was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett with the arrival of Minor. David Hale, who had a great April in the rotation, moves to the bullpen for the time being.

    Atlanta will miss Tim Hudson’s spot in the Giants’ rotation while they’re in town. Hudson, speaking to Atlanta press Friday, said that was fine by him because pitching against the Braves would have been strange. He said he can’t help but root for Atlanta, but hopes they have a “mini slump” while his Giants are facing them.

    Lincecum (1-1, 5.96) will take the mound against Minor (–) in his 2014 debut. Saturday’s match-up with feature Vogelsong (0-1, 5.40) vs. Teheran (2-1, 1.47). The series finale will pit Bumgarner (2-3, 3.74) vs. Wood (2-4, 2.93).

    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 sign Santana, Medlen a likely Tommy John candidate

    Braves, GM, Frank Wren

    Braves GM, Frank Wren

    When starting pitcher Kris Medlen left the mound Sunday, the Frank Wren knew they the Braves were in trouble. With the departure of veteran Tim Hudson to free agency, growing concerns about the health of Brandon Beachy, and a rotation rounded out with the inexperience of youth (Teheran, Wood, Hale), it was clear the Braves would need to make a move if they hoped to contend in the National League East.

    Not taking much time at all, general manager Frank Wren moved quickly to get free agent Ervin Santana in for a physical. Santana, who had been rumored to be in talks with various teams including the Blue Jays and Mariners, was intrigued by the idea of pitching in the National League. It didn’t take long at all for the Braves to reach a deal. He flew from Arizona to Florida Tuesday, took his physical last night and signed with the club this morning.

    The 1-year deal for Santana is worth $14.1 million. The Braves will lose the 26th slot in the MLB draft, which was worth $1,839,400 in 2013. If the Braves don’t re-sign Santana after the season, they’ll have the opportunity to gain a draft pick

    Santana, 31, had a rebound season with the Kansas City Royals in 2013 after a tough go in 2012 with his long-time club the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Santana posted a 9-10 record with a 3.24 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 32 starts (211 innings pitched). Over a 9-year career, he has a career 4.19 ERA, a winning 105-90 record, has had 5 seasons of 200+ innings and has pitched 14 complete games. His experience on the mound will be important to a young staff that features only 1 other veteran–Freddy Garcia (until, presumably Gavin Floyd returns from Tommy John surgery and joins the club).

    The flip side of the Santana signing is the terrible news about clubhouse and fan favorite Kris Medlen. In this morning’s press conference, the Braves announced both the signing of Ervin Santana and the unfortunate news that Kris Medlen’s MRI revealed “involvement” of the elbow ligament that had previously been repaired. It seems a forgone conclusion at this point that Medlen is headed for his 2nd Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. It will be his 2nd elbow surgery in 4 years.

    On top of the Medlen news, the Braves have been watching Brandon Beachy closely. He left his last spring training game early with soreness in his throwing arm. It was announced that he would miss his next spring start to rest that arm. Like Medlen, Beachy has a replaced ligament in his pitching elbow and returned for a short time last season from that surgery before needing an arthroscopic clean-out of his elbow shortly after. Beachy arrived at camp supposedly healthy, but his velocity has been way down (averaging 86-87 mph).

    Also worth noting is that Mike Minor has been dealing with shoulder soreness recently. Camp for him got off to a slow start as he was unable to workout due to pain from a procedure on his urethra over the winter. A rotation that was likely to feature some combination of Medlen, Beachy, Minor, Teheran, Wood/Hale and possibly veteran Garcia will now feature Santana and Teheran for certain and hopefully some combination of Beachy, Minor, Wood/Hale and Garcia to round it out.

    Frank Wren has had his work cut out for him this winter and never more than in the past 4 days. The old adage ‘when you think you have enough pitching, get more’ is once again confirmed.

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