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    Ten Games In, and the Braves are Off to a Hot Start

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    SOMEWHERE IN NORTH GEORGIA – The Atlanta Braves played a Sunday home game today, and I wasn’t in the ballpark. As someone who’s held a 27-game A-List membership since the franchise moved into what is now called Truist Park for the start of the 2017 season, I can count on one hand the number of Sunday home games I have not attended in recent years.

    Most of those can be attributed to coaching my kids’ baseball team in 2017, their final year of baseball. One kid played for 11 years; the other played for eight years, opting to do other sports in those three years. The fees for all that baseball, and other pursuits, were paid in part by freelance work I did for Gracenote Sports, starting all the way back in November 2010.

    That relationship ended with a contract termination email landing in my inbox Friday morning, thanks to the global pandemic. But no tears here. I choose to tip my cap and remain thankful for the opportunity to spend nearly a decade writing game previews for the Braves, the Winnipeg Jets, the Hawks, and SEC and ACC football and basketball. It’s yet another reminder of just how tenuous the year 2020 is in so many respects, and how we all should count our blessings.

    We are 11 days into the regular season, and the Braves not only have avoided an outbreak of COVID-19 positive test results, their opposition also has stayed healthy enough to avoid any schedule disruptions. Atlanta has completed 1/6th of its season, and arrives at this junction in a place far, far better than I anticipated. Today’s 4-0 home shutout victory over the Mets pushed the Braves to 7-3 on the season.

    Remember, I wrote and said if Atlanta completed its 20-games-in-20-days opening stretch at 8-12, there would be no need to panic.

    The Braves have opened this crazy 2020 season by scoring runs in bunches, rallying from behind as if there were 40,000 of us in the stands cheering them on, riding two arms at the top of the rotation who look as good as anybody in baseball, and with zero regard to the starting pitching they have faced from the Mets and Rays.

    Now that we’re through 16.6% of the season (wasn’t opening day just yesterday?), and with no guarantee we’ll actually get to play the final 50 games of this unprecedented campaign, a few observations about the hometown nine, one that’s tied for the most wins in the majors as the first full week of August begins:

    2.7 is the new 1: In this new baseball world of 2020, we remember a 60-game season means each game carries 2.7 times the weight of one contest in a 162-game stretch. To put the Braves start in perspective, in a normal season, a 7-3 beginning equates to roughly a 19-8 start. That’s not too shabby. It also goes to show, after going 2-3 through the opening five games of the season, how a good week can tilt the tables with so few games on the schedule.

    Mike and Max, and that’s the facts: There are some things you can toss aside given the shortened schedule, but the top of the Atlanta rotation is legit. Let’s go ahead and say it right here and now: both Mike Soroka and Max Fried are aces. Flat-out studs. Fried pitched maybe the best game of his career Thursday against the Mets after an impressive performance in his season debut at Citi Field last weekend, while Soroka has shined in his first two starts. Bottom line: both guys not only give you a chance to win when their turn arrives, but we’re now at the point where you except the Braves to win when they toe the slab. Those two are that good, and that’s a great feeling. Now, for the rest of the rotation …

    Looky looky looky, here comes Touki: The Cooks Pest Control jingle on the Braves Radio Network has a new connotation, and one the Braves desperately need after a rough showing from the back side of their rotation. Touki Toussaint, pressed into the rotation after Mike Foltynewicz was designated for assignment and, after clearing waivers (still a surprise to me that some team didn’t take a chance on him), headed to the team’s alternative training site at Gwinnett, gave Atlanta four scoreless innings in Saturday’s 7-1 victory. The young right-hander did his job on that night, despite three walks and throwing just 45 of his 74 pitches for strikes, and he absolutely has to get the ball again Thursday against Toronto. And if it’s four clean innings out of the gate for now, we certainly will take it.

    Dansby is doing it: Dansby Swanson singled in Sunday’s victory, giving him at least one base hit in each of Atlanta’s first 10 games. Slowed by injury in the second half of last season after a good start, the Marietta kid – he played high-school baseball nine miles from Truist Park – is hitting .368 with a 1.005 OPS and 14 hits through the first 10 games. Never mind his go-ahead single in extra innings against the Mets on July 25 and his stellar defense. Is this the season we see the Vanderbilt product break through offensively? So far, so good.

    Comeback player of the … decade?: Colorado selected left-hander Tyler Matzek 11th overall in the 2009 draft. He made his big-league debut five years later with seven innings against the Braves, but after 25 appearances in 2014-15, he was out of the majors. Across the next few years, he battled the yips and didn’t pitch professionally in 2017, landing in the Braves organization in 2019. But the 29-year-old impressed in spring training and summer camp, and in four appearances in the majors in 2020 has allowed four hits with nine strikeouts across 5 1/3 scoreless innings, getting the win Sunday (his first MLB win since April 27, 2015, against Arizona) after fanning four hitters in two innings.

    The kid will be fine, part I: Ronald Acuna Jr. entered Friday’s series opener 4-for-28 on the season with one extra-base hit and 14 strikeouts. Parts of social media already were losing its never-reasonable mind over the slow start by the Braves outfielder, but the 22-year-old had squared up several balls against the Rays after a rough showing in the opening weekend in New York. Acuna enters Monday on a three-game hitting streak, belting his first homer Saturday night and not striking out in a game for the first time this season by going 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored in Sunday’s victory.

    The kid will be fine, part II: Ozzie Albies is off to a slow start, hitting .194 with a .550 OPS through the first 10 games, and has not started two of the past three contests due to right wrist soreness. It’s a cause for concern but, remember, this is a season of the likes we’ve never experienced before (and hopefully, never will again). Albies will be fine and likely is back in the lineup for Monday’s series finale against the Mets.

    The other shoe … when does it drop?: Anybody else waking up daily and wondering if we’ll get the news that baseball is closing up shop, or at least is pausing for a few days? Because I am, as much as I hate to admit it. We can’t deny the facts: The Marlins and Phillies have played three games. Washington has played seven. The Cardinals have played five; the Brewers have played six. To see so many teams sitting idle on the opening weekend of August should underline how unprecedented these times are, and how every game is a gift.

    A gift the Braves have paid back to their adoring fan base more often than not through the opening 10 games of 2020. Let’s continue to hope that the season continues, because for Braves fans, it’s started in about the best way imaginable.

    —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 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.

    Questions Abound As Braves Leave Town

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – The first full month of the season sits in the rear-view mirror, 31 games are in the books and the Atlanta Braves find themselves in a position they did not reach at any one point during their glorious run to the 2018 NL East championship.

    Under .500.

    The Braves have befuddled many of us through the first five weeks of 2019, looking at times like a World Series contender and at other times like an also-ran – sometimes within an inning or two of each other – as they now begin their first extended road trip. A 10-day, 10-game, three-city journey begins Friday night in Miami, where old friend Jose Urena awaits his assured retribution for his gutless plunking of Ronald Acuna Jr. last season. From there, Atlanta flies west for three games against the pennant-winning Dodgers and four at Arizona, against the same Diamondbacks squad that swept a three-game series two weeks ago at SunTrust Park.

    Often, the first weeks of the season begin answering the questions we all have about a team throughout the offseason and spring training. In some respects, I think we can begin drawing early conclusions on some topics. For others, I have no better clue now than I did in late March, before attending 11 games in person and watching/listening to every pitch of the season to this point.

    Atlanta leaves town for a while, but questions remain. Such as …

    Is this team where you’d thought it would be at this point of the season?

    In a word, no. I didn’t expect the Braves to be below .500 through 19.1 percent of the season. Granted, they’re one game under. It’s not like their buried in the East. But I thought if there was a month early in the season that might challenge them, it would be the month we’re in now, and not the one that preceded it. That concerns me a bit, to be honest.

    What’s the most disappointing part of Atlanta’s start?

    Duh! It’s the pit of misery … eh, the bullpen. Look, many of us – myself included – thought the Braves needed to upgrade their relief corps and were disappointed Alex Anthopoulos could not secure at least one upgrade for the bullpen. But did I think that group would be this bad? No, and I don’t believe they’re as bad as they’ve shown.

    But they’re not great, either, and they’ve already cost the Braves games they can ill-afford to blow in a tightly contested division. A.J. Minter has shown rust and inconsistency after missing most of spring training. Darren O’Day remains missing in action. Jesse Biddle hit a funk you wouldn’t wish on anybody. Others have taken their turns struggling to throw strikes.

    There have been signs, albeit small ones, that a correction is coming. Minter looked good in Wednesday’s save. Jacob Webb earned a win and a save on back-to-back days. Josh Tomlin has become a revelation once he started getting work. And what else to say of Luke Jackson, who has gone from fanbase whipping post to downright lovable? Action Jackson is the most unexpected singular aspect of this season.

    Is what we’ve seen from Max Fried and Mike Soroka real?

    In my opinion, yes. That’s not to say Soroka will pitch to a sub-2 ERA all season and Fried will win 22 games and the Cy Young. But both young hurlers have filthy stuff, which we’ve seen in flashes.

    But now, we’re seeing it every fifth day. Fried isn’t getting yanked between the rotation, the bullpen, and Gwinnett. Soroka is healthy. Both are pitching with a ton of confidence, and guided by veteran catchers Brian McCann and Tyler Flowers, each is showing the ability to trust their stuff, pound the strike zone, shake off the inevitable mistake, and keep on rolling.

    Fried reminds me so much of a young Steve Avery, it’s scary. Soroka has the poise and makeup of a young Tom Glavine. High praise, yes, but these two kids are good. Really good. Legit, rotation-anchoring good.

    How concerned are you about Mike Foltynewicz?

    A little bit, but only because he’s made just two big-league starts and we’re roughly 1/5th of the way through the season. Folty’s fastball velocity is down a tick from last year, and today his slider was flat against San Diego. Coupled with some shaky defense (including a bad throw of his own doing), and it’s easy to see how today came off the rails.

    But he was locked in for much of his first start against Colorado. If Folty has five, six starts under his belt and he’s still sitting 94 mph, then I’d be more concerned. Hard to read too much into two starts, for a guy who won 13 games and made the All-Star team a season ago, then spent four weeks in Triple-A going through his spring training. Give it time and let him get into a rhythm.

    Is the offense better than you thought?

    Absolutely, and it’s not just because of Josh Donaldson (who is so much better defensively than I realized) or Freddie Freeman or Acuna, even though the superkid has struggled the past two weeks. It’s because Ozzie Albies has solidified himself at the top of the lineup – and credit Brian Snitker for recognizing the second baseman needed to hit leadoff regardless of that night’s starter – Nick Markakis has regained his early-2018 form, and the strides Dansby Swanson has made offensively.

    Add in the production out of the veteran catchers, and the Braves 1-through-7 in the order have been every bit as tough as any lineup in the game. There has to be a bit of regression somewhere, at some point, but even if Markakis and the catchers cool off their opening-month pace, this still is a very good offensive team that can help carry it through some bumpy nights pitching-wise.

    Swanson? Sustainable? Or just a hot start?

    I’ve preached patience with Swanson since his struggles in 2017. Last year he was hindered (more so than we realized at the time) by a wrist injury. He’s healthy now, and he’s blistering line drives all over the field. His power has expanded, he’s hitting the ball just as hard to right-center as left-center, and he’s still playing outstanding defense.

    It’s 31 games, so let’s see it continue to play out. But I think it’s real. And if Swanson continues to hit like this – and you have to expect some of those liners right at folks are going to find grass at some point – you suddenly have an elite shortstop to add to the linchpins of this lineup. The Braves already have locked up Acuna and Albies. A continuation of this type of play for Swanson the rest of the season certainly makes his next-man-up to sign on the dotted line long term.

    There’s one hitter not mentioned yet … why does Ender keep getting playing time?

    Oh, I don’t know … maybe because he’s won three straight Gold Gloves in center field and he’s historically a poor offensive performer in April? There are plenty of people who have cried for Cristian Pache or Drew Waters to be promoted to the majors after their hot starts at Double-A Mississippi. That would be a mistake, plain and simple.

    Inciarte infuriates the fan base with grounders to second and swinging at the first pitch. He also collected 200 hits two seasons ago and does his best offensive work once school lets out. Some of the patience asked for with Swanson the past two years can be applied here. You have a good idea what you’re going to get out of Inciarte. You just have to … wait for it.

    If Ender still is struggling in six weeks, maybe you have a conversation. For now, the pseudo-platoon of putting Acuna in center and sitting Inciarte against some lefties is doable. Credit Snitker for putting Inciarte lower in the order, and we’ve started to see some signs of life with the bat and a few more balls hit to left and left-center.

    What else has stood out to you in the first five weeks?

    Sean Newcomb had to go back to Triple-A to try and find his rhythm, and he’s turned it around with back-to-back outings with zero walks. … Matt Joyce, signed late in camp, actually has been a nice asset off the bench from the left side. … I’ve been pleased that Snitker has given Johan Camargo starts all over the field, and the two hits today hopefully signifies he’s getting right at the plate. … Julio Teheran hasn’t been that bad, actually, but cannot afford outings like his doubleheader debacle in Cleveland. … The Gwinnett shuttle has worked out for the most part, although I remain befuddled and upset Bryse Wilson didn’t get a longer look in the major-league bullpen before being demoted last weekend. … I hope Wes Parsons gets back and continues to excel. … Charlie Culberson is my favorite position-player pitcher of all time, and his work off the bench – despite too few at-bats – has been impressive.

    What needs to happen this month?

    The other three contenders in the East have flaws just as damning as the Braves, so I don’t expect anybody to have an 18-8 month and pull away. Given Atlanta makes two separate trips to the coast, plays six games against St. Louis and three with Milwaukee, I wouldn’t be upset with .500. That means you don’t stub your toe against Miami or San Francisco, get some payback at Arizona, and hold your own against the Dodgers.

    That keeps you well within striking distance once June begins, and that’s where it’s going to get interesting. I think teams falling out of the race are going to look to move guys earlier. The Giants already are listening on several bullpen pieces. Does the Corey Kluber injury shift the balance of power in the AL Central? Will Baltimore cave in on dealing Mychal Givens? And with the draft in early June, does that finally push somebody to sign Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel?

    Those questions will be answered in time. For now, the Braves have plenty of questions of their own as they fly toward South Beach, and the sprint to October ramps toward full speed.

    —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.

    After Discouraging Homestand, Braves (and Their Fans) Need to Catch Their Breath

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – A 48-hour span without a game in the midst of the long slough that is a baseball season is pretty rare, a time to step back from the blur of the day-to-day spent dissecting a team and a campaign and the nearly nightly doings under the microscope of increasing pressure and expectations.

    It should be a time of quiet reflection, a quick respite to catch one’s breath, to look around – maybe introduce yourself to the people with whom you share a house – and perhaps even go to sleep at a decent hour.

    If you seek that calming pause in the midst of this surprisingly successful 2018 campaign for the Atlanta Braves, may I share a piece of advice:

    Shut off your phone/laptop/tablet. Now.

    (Well, not right now. Finish reading this first. Then shut off your device, unplug it, disconnect your internet connection and run to the closest place where wi-fi doesn’t exist.)

    There, my friend, you will find peace. Otherwise, prepare yourself for the wrath that currently consumes Braves Country.

    Atlanta flew home from Toronto last Wednesday staring at a gift from the schedule makers: back-to-back home series against a pair of last-place teams, Baltimore and Cincinnati, a golden opportunity to build onto its National League East lead before a difficult 10-game road trip that will carry the team with a week of the All-Star break.

    (Insert narrator voice: “It did not go well.”)

    The Braves dropped both series, needing an Ozzie Albies extra-inning homer in the middle of the night to avoid being swept by the Reds.

    In the process, Atlanta saw both Albies and Ender Inciarte injured – albeit reports indicate neither is serious – lost Anibal Sanchez to a cramp in the middle of a desperately needed quality start – left enough baserunners to start a small city and, most notably, watched its bullpen crumple into a heap of exhausted arms as closer Arodys Vizcaino landed on the disabled list and the revolving bullpen shuttle between Atlanta and Gwinnett shifted into overdrive.

    How much so? Longtime Braves minor-leaguer Wes Parsons found himself signing a major-league contract Wednesday morning. He was packing his locker six hours later, bound for Gwinnett after serving as an emergency relief arm that was not used.

    Perhaps he should’ve pitched. He couldn’t have fared any worse than the relievers deployed in Wednesday’s come-from-ahead 6-5 loss to the Reds.

    The maddening thing is Parsons isn’t the only Atlanta reliever who experienced the same major-league “debut” during this cursed six-day span, the promising Evan Phillips getting the call Sunday only to sit, then return to Triple-A without throwing a pitch.

    Roll all this together, and you have a fanbase that completely and utterly has lost its collective mind on social media. Braves Twitter has its moments on a good day, but even by longtime observer and participant standards, this week has been one for the books. Or one for the panic button, which it seems the good folks in Braves Country have pushed en masse.

    There is credence to the “sky is falling” argument because, heck, it sure feels that way. The Braves bullpen is gassed, plain and simple. No group in the history of baseball needs Thursday’s day off in advance of a night game Friday in St. Louis more than Atlanta’s relievers. Manager Brian Snitker’s heavy reliance on his bullpen, in part a byproduct of the rotation failing more often than not to pitch deep into games, already is starting to catch up to this team, and we’re still in June.

    It doesn’t help that the offense, while scoring enough runs to win and getting plenty of runners on base, struggled mightily the past week in driving home runners from second and third base. Even getting a fly ball to the outfield with one out and a runner at third base has proven problematic for an offense that has spent most of the first half of the season taking advantage of nearly every opportunity to pounce on opposing pitchers.

    We quickly are approaching the time where Atlanta has to decide whether to ride out the good vibes of arriving a season earlier than many expected, or to commit to trying and crash the postseason party come October. No, nobody is saying empty the farm for a rental. Doing so would be foolish.

    But what will Alex Anthopoulos do as the trade deadline approaches in four weeks? Six games do not make a season, but it is clear the Braves need bullpen help. Premium relievers carry a heavy price tag (prospect capital as much as dollars).

    How much of the bullpen management (mismanagement?) falls at the feet of Snitker, who does not have a contract for 2019 and was not hired by Anthopoulos, but clearly is the player’s choice to lead this team?

    To be fair, these questions were going to be asked at some point, regardless. But given the events of the past week, the spotlight shines brighter now on the go-forward plan for this team for the remainder of 2018. And that’s not a bad thing. I mean, who wouldn’t have signed up for this in March, that the Braves would own the East penthouse for the better part of two months, playing at a 90-plus win pace through 79 games?

    And while it feels the sky is falling, it’s important to remember for all the fits and starts of the past six days, the Braves at worst are going to lose only one game in the standings pending Philadelphia’s game late Wednesday. A decent final few days of June will give Atlanta its third-consecutive winning month. Phenom Ronald Acuna Jr., feared lost for the season after a nasty injury at the end of May, likely returns to the lineup this weekend. Vizcaino could be back by the end of the weekend.

    There are 83 games remaining in the season, and the next 10 won’t be easy: three in St. Louis, three in Yankee Stadium, four in Milwaukee. Nary an off day to be found in that stretch. The wild roller coaster of this season resumes before you know it.

    The Braves – and their fans – best take advantage of the next few hours to rest, to recover and to refocus.

    —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 take opening series, on to DC

    With pitching, particularly starting pitching, the biggest concern for the 2014 Atlanta Braves, the opening series on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers showed a rotation that can likely hold on until the cavalry arrives in mid to late April. Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and new Brave Aaron Harang stepped up for the team and proved that they can certainly hold their own until Mike Minor, Erwin Santana and Gavin Floyd join the team.

    Aaron Harang made his Braves debut Wednesday, pitching into the 7th inning without allowing a hit.

    Aaron Harang made his Braves debut Wednesday, pitching into the 7th inning without allowing a hit.

    The Braves leave Milwaukee with 2 out of 3 games in the win column. The rubber match of the series saw the first start of Aaron Harang in a Braves’ uniform. Harang stepped up in a big way, pitching 6 2/3 no-hit innings against Matt Garza who was equally impressive until giving up a solo homer to Chris Johnson. Harang surrendered only 2 hits in his outing, walking 1 and striking out 3. His outing was supported by only 2 hits by his teammates against new Brewer Matt Garza and 1 off the bullpen. One of those hits was a 2-out solo homer by third baseman Chris Johnson that proved the deciding run of the game. In addition to Harang’s brilliant debut, Craig Kimbrel secured his second save of the young season. For their part, the defense was solid behind Harang including 2 incredible plays by Jason Heyward in right field.

    Harang’s dazzling outing came on the heels of Alex Wood’s 2014 debut. Wood was asked to step up in the wake of injuries to Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor. Wood, in the second slot of the rotation, did as he had throughout spring camp by shutting down Brewers’ hitters. With the exception of a first pitch solo homer given up to Carlos Gomez, Wood was solid. He allowed 5 hits, 1 earned run and 3 walks in 7 innings.

    In the second game of the series, the offense stepped up with power behind Alex Wood’s solid outing. Jason Heyward launched a homer off Kyle Lohse in the 5th inning and Freddie Freeman, continuing the torrid offense he put on display in camp, launched 2 homers–the first off Lohse in the 6th inning and then following up with his second off Duke in the 8th inning. Also contributing an RBI was Andrelton Simmons with a sacrifice. Dan Uggla, hoping to have reset himself over the winter, hit 2 doubles in the game, showing that he is much quieter in the batter’s box and is no longer swinging for the fences with every pitch. Wrapping up the 5-2 win over the Brewers was closer Craig Kimbrel with a 3-strikeout save.

    Of the 3 starting pitchers, Opening Day starter Julio Teheran fared the worst, though his outing was just as much affected by a complete lack of offense from his teammates as it was by his pitching. Teheran went 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned runs while striking out 2. Teheran lobbed 55 strikes of his 84 pitches. His control did not seem to be as sharp as we had seen in spring training, but this could be chalked up to Opening Day jitters, the responsibility of being the Opening Day starter or the self-imposed pressure that comes with a big offseason contract.

    After Teheran’s 6 innings, rookies Ian Thomas and Gus Schlosser made their big league debuts. Thomas allowed a hit in the 1/3 inning pitched. Schlosser fared better going 1 2/3 perfect innings with 1 strikeout.

    The team went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left 7 men on base in the opener.

    BRAVES BEGIN WEEKEND SERIES IN NATION’S CAPITAL…

    In the span of 7 days, the Atlanta Braves will have participated in 3 home openers including their own at Turner Field. The second home opener they’ll play in will be that of rival Washington Nationals in D.C. Friday night. After a day off Thursday, the Braves will face the Nats in a 3-game series.

    Tanner Roark will be making the Friday afternoon start in the spot of Doug Fister who was placed on the disabled list by the Nats. Roark and rookie Jordan pitched very well at spring training, but there was only one rotation spot to be had. In the end, new manager Matt Williams was not forced to choose between them due to the injury to Fister. Roark went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA last season for the Nats. Roark went 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings in camp.

    Stephen Strasburg is fresh off a tumultuous start against the Mets on Opening Day where he struck out 10 batters while giving up 4 earned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. The Nationals pulled out that game in 10 innings after the Mets’ bullpen collapsed and gave up 5 runs.

    As is often noted when the Braves face off against Strasburg, Dan Uggla has the best numbers against the fireballer. in 30 plate appearances Uggla has a .407 batting average (.467 on-base percentage, .704 slugging) with 11 hits, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 3 walks and 8 RBIs. Another Brave with outstanding numbers against Strasburg is the hot hitting Freddie Freeman. Freeman holds a .417 batting average against Strasburg in 21 plate appearances with 7 hits and 6 RBIs.

    Jordan, Sunday’s starter, had a strong spring going 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA in 20 2/3 innings pitched. Last season with the Nats, Jordan recorded a 3.66 ERA in a limited 51 2/3 innings. Jordan led all Washington pitchers in spring training, including Strasburg, with 20 strikeouts.

    The Braves will continue their 4-man rotation in D.C., sending rookie David Hale (0-0) to the mound Friday afternoon against Tanner Roark (0-0). Saturday’s night game pits Julio Teheran (0-1, 3.00) against Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 6.00). The final game of the series Sunday features Alex Wood (1-0, 1.29) and Taylor Jordan (0-0).

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

    Braves are NL East champs

    It may have taken a few extra games and a little help from the Miami Marlins, but as Craig Kimbrel struck out his third batter to close out Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Atlanta Braves became the champions of the National League East for the first time since 2005. According the Major League Baseball, the Braves since joining the NL East for the 1994 season, have the second best winning percentage (.576) in baseball.

    Brian McCann is the only remaining position player from the NL East champion 2005 Atlanta Braves.

    Brian McCann is the only remaining position player from the NL East champion 2005 Atlanta Braves.

    Much has changed since that 2005 team clinched the NL East. The only remaining players on the roster from that team are veteran Tim Hudson and soon-to-be free agent Brian McCann (then a rookie). In 2005, current manager Fredi Gonzalez was the bench coach for the great Bobby Cox. Also on that roster, as a player, was current bullpen coach Eddie Perez. John Smoltz, Brian Jordan and Chipper Jones played on that 2005 team, as did Andruw Jones and Adam LaRoche. But that team would lose the NLDS in a heartbreaking 4th game that lasted 18 innings, nearly 6 hours at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

    The 2013 team has similarities to the last team to win the NL East. It is stacked with impressive young rookies including Alex Wood, Julio Teheran, David Hale, David Carpenter, Evan Gattis, Joey Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza. Only time will tell if they have successful careers ahead of them like the rookies of 2005, guys like McCann, Jeff Francouer, Kelly Johnson, Brayan Pena and Kyle Davies. The 2013 team has a dynamic young shortstop in Andrelton Simmons, not unlike the shortstop on that 2005 team–Rafael Furcal. The 2005 Atlanta Braves had an MVP candidate in Andruw Jones and the 2013 Braves could presumably be given multiple MVP votes with Freeman, Chris Johnson and Simmons all contending. In 2005, Andruw Jones won a Gold Glove in the outfield. In 2013, it’s plausible that Heyward, Freeman and Simmons all win hardware. It will be a travesty if the latter does not. There is also the possibility that either Kris Medlen or Julio Teheran win the Gold Glove for their incredible defense while on the mound. In 2005, only Andruw Jones won a Silver Slugger award. In 2013, Freeman and Johnson certainly stand a chance of winning the award.

    Though the 2005 and 2013 clubs have their similarities, there are differences between the teams that bode well for the postseason chances of the current club.

    The 2013 Atlanta Braves have weathered more than their share of adversity. When you consider that at season’s start, the Braves had a healthy Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Tim Hudson and anticipated getting back young ace Brandon Beachy, it is stunning that their postseason hopes were able to survive those losses alone. Then consider the talent that has spent quality time on the disabled list this season. Brian McCann began the season on the disabled list. Outfielders Reed Johnson, Jason Heyward, Jordan Schafer, Evan Gattis, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton all had stints, some of them multiple stints, on the DL. The Braves lost Ramiro Pena, Tyler Pastornicky and Cristhian Martinez during the year to season-ending surgeries. Dan Uggla and Paul Maholm were the most recent DL-destined players. And the bullpen was mired with injuries this season. Luis Ayala, Jordan Walden and Scott Downs all suffered injuries. Any other team would have crumbled with this luck, but not the 2013 Braves. In fact, they seemed to thrive amidst the adversity.

    Injuries were not the only battle the Braves waged throughout the season. The huge signings of the Upton brothers didn’t bring the results everyone expected, but in the place of big numbers from Justin and B.J., other players (like “throw-in” Chris Johnson) stepped up in big ways. Two starters for the Braves will finish the season below .200, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. Even rookie pitcher Julio Teheran has a higher batting average than Upton and Uggla. Perinneal all-star and silver slugger Brian McCann will finish the season lower than expectations around .261. Despite his hot start to the season, Evan Gattis will finish the regular season around the .233 mark. And Jason Heyward, who has always been touted as a player who should be able to hit for average, will end up around the .250 mark. But in the face of these unusual numbers and below average seasons, Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson, MVP contenders, will finish above .300 at around .314 and .330, respectively.

    SS Andrelton Simmons and RF Jason Heyward

    SS Andrelton Simmons and RF Jason Heyward

    Going into the postseason there will be much talk about the youth of Braves’ pitching. Perhaps this, more than anything, will be where pundits and analysts say the Braves are not built for the playoffs. However, don’t count the pitching staff out. Go back up and read about the major blows to Braves’ pitching this season and then consider just how strong Atlanta’s pitching was despite huge losses to the staff. Alex Wood stepped up in a huge way when Paul Maholm went on the disabled list and Tim Hudson had his season ended on the first base bag in New York. Mike Minor has taken on a role not unlike that of most veterans with this young staff. And Kris Medlen, despite an upside down first half, has returned to the dominant pitcher we saw when he joined the starting rotation last season and set the baseball world aflame.

    Let’s not discount one other thing that bodes well for the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs: The 2012 Wild Card debacle and loss at Turner Field. Some may scoff at this, but for a team with little playoff experience collectively, that experience may turn out to be the thing that gets this team deep into the postseason. Their stunning loss to the Cardinals last year provided a group of young guys with all the experience that is necessary going into a postseason. When you suffer a loss like that one, it’s hard not to internalize what it felt like, how it went wrong and how it could have been avoided.

    With 7 games to play in the regular season, the Braves have one goal in mind: Home-field advantage via the best record in the National League. The Braves currently hold a 92-63 record going into a 3-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cardinals currently have a 92-65 record in the NL Central and the Dodgers hold a 90-66 record in the NL West. The next 7 games are crucial to giving the Braves every possible advantage in a postseason that looks to be a dog fight.

    The pitching match-ups for the next 3 games: Monday will feature Estrada (6-4, 4.26) vs. Minor (13-7, 3.19); Tuesday will pit Thornburg (3-1, 1.96) vs. Garcia (1-2, 1.31.); and, the series finale and final regular season game at the Ted will feature Lohse (10-10, 3.51) vs. Maholm (10-10, 4.44).

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

    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 baffled by Met pitching, face Brew Crew

    RHP Kris Medlen was the only starting pitcher to notch a win in the 5-game set against the Mets.

    RHP Kris Medlen was the only starting pitcher to notch a win in the 5-game set against the Mets.

    The Braves at times seemed baffled by the pitching thrown at them by New York in the 5-game series at Turner Field. They faced Matt Harvey who didn’t allow a hit until the 7th inning of his outing and found themselves scuffling for hits until the final game of the series when they managed to put 13 hits on the board in the loss. The only starting pitcher for the Braves to walk away with a win in the 3-loss series was Medlen who scratched out a win with the 5 runs the Braves put on the board–3 or 4 runs more than he has become accustomed to getting in support of his outings.

    Line scores from the 5-game set against the Mets:

    Game 1:

    W: Carpenter (1-0) L: Gee (5-7)

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

    Game 2 (1st of doubleheader):

    W: Harvey (6-1) L: Wood (0-1) SV: Parnell (10)

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

    Game 3 (2nd of doubleheader):

    W: Wheeler (1-0) L: Maholm (7-6)

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

    Game 4:

    W: Medlen (4-7) L: Marcum (0-9) SV: Kimbrel (20)

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

    Game 5:

    W: Hawkins (2-0) L: Minor (8-3) SV: Parnell (11)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 r h e
    mets 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 4 9 1
    braves 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 13 3

    BRAVES IN MILWAUKEE TO FACE BREW CREW…

    The Braves announced during the New York series that Dan Uggla has been dealing with vision issues. He is now trying new contacts. Whether or not his vision has anything to do with his poor productivity is a question that can’t be answered right away. Uggla, of course, has been on an offensive slide since leaving the Florida Marlins. His productivity has not been what the Braves had hoped when they signed him, even though Uggla is a notoriously streaky hitter. As Uggla works through the vision issue, Tyler Pastornicky has stayed with the big league club (he was called back up when Evan Gattis went on the disabled list) and will be getting some playing time. Pastornicky has hit .309 in 57 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this season.

    No timetable has been set on when Brandon Beachy will be getting a shot at his first start since Tommy John surgery. The inflammation in his elbow remains a concern for the Braves.

    Friday night’s game against Milwaukee featured Teheran vs. Peralta. The second game of the series features Hudson (4-6, 4.17)vs. Hand (0-0, 3.38). The final game of the series features Maholm (7-6, 3.57) vs. Figaro (1-1, 3.88).

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

    Braves swept by Brew Crew, final series against Nats

    After sweeping the Mets, nobody would have imagined the Braves would in turn be swept out of Milwaukee. But it happened and all the Braves can do is move forward, shooting for a Wild Card spot.

    Some interesting, sometimes aggravating things happened in Milwaukee. The Braves scored only 3 runs in 3 games. Scores from each of the 3 games add to the Braves record of having scored two or fewer runs in 14 of their previous 25 games. The offense managed 20 hits in 3 games, but went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 19 men on base. Paul Maholm has allowed 7 home runs since joining the Braves, including a 5th inning bomb to Rickie Weeks in game 3 of the series. Andrelton Simmons returned from the disabled list where he had been rehabbing a fractured pinkie only to sprain his ankle in pick-off attempt at second base in game 2 of the series. Jason Heyward hit a career best 26th home run of the season in game 3. Mike Minor struck out 8 batters in 5 2/3 innings in his start, but saw his team lose the game after a terrible outing by Jonny Venters, further bolstering Minor’s reputation as the hard luck member of the rotation.

    Line scores from the 3-game set:

    Game 1:

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

    W: Veras (4-4) L: Venters (5-4) SV: Axford (28)

    Game 2:

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

    W: Estrada (3-6) L: Hudson (14-6)

    Game 3:

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

    W: Gallardo (15-8) L: Maholm (12-10)

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    FINAL SERIES WITH RIVAL NATS…

    Friday: Detwiler (9-6, 3.23) vs. Medlen (8-1, 1.64)

    Saturday: Jackson (9-10, 3.85) vs. Hanson (12-8, 4.35)

    Sunday: Gonzalez (19-7, 2.93) vs. Minor (8-10, 4.42)

    The good news about the Braves’ season is that they have only one Monday game left and their final games come against the Marlins, Mets and Phillies. The bad news is the Phillies are currently surging. They have the ability to end Philly’s hopes for the playoffs after a miserable season that was spent without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for a big chunk of it as well as unusually inconsistent performances by Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. The Phillies are currently 4 games back in the dual Wild Card picture.

    Going into the series, the Braves are 8 1/2 games behind the 1st place Nats in the NL East. While the Nats are in Atlanta, the Braves could potentially be eliminated from NL East contention. The Braves hold a 5 1/2 game lead in the NL Wild Card race. The Nats have an 89-54 record (.622) while the Braves have a 81-63 record (.563) going into the 3-game series. The Braves won 3 of their 6 games on their road trip. The Nats won 4 of their last 6 games (3 at home, 3 on the road).

    If anyone can stop the bleeding following the sweep by the Brewers, Kris Medlen can. As the savior of the rotation, Medlen has been lights out since moving from relief to starting. In his last 10 games (59 2/3 innings), Medlen has 7 wins, an 0.75 ERA, and an unreal 8 walks to counter his 58 strikeouts. Whenever Medlen is on the mound the Braves have to like their chances.

    The Nats and Braves get underway at the Ted tonight at 7:35 (EST). Game 2 of the series will be featured on MLB on FOX at 4:05 (EST) Saturday. Game 3 of the series will be on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN at 8:05 (EST).

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

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

    Braves sweep Mets to extend streak, ready for Brew Crew

    Heating up? Dan Uggla was 6-for-11 w/ a HR & 2 doubles in NY

    With offense coming from sources that have been unusually quiet all season–Brian McCann and Dan Uggla–the Braves swept the Mets in Chipper Jones’ final trip to the Big Apple. Accomplishing the sweep mostly on the backs of phenomenal pitching, for the Braves, it felt like old times.

    Friday night, with Maholm on the mound, the Braves recorded their third consecutive shutout. This feat was last accomplished ten years ago by the Braves, strangely enough on the exact same dates–Sept. 4-7, 2002. In their previous 5 games, they went 4-1 with a 0.60 ERA. Offense was provided by Jason Heyward who blasted a homer in the 4th inning, his 25th on the season, and Dan Uggla who contributed a double and a home run. Maholm pitched 5 1/3 innings with 6 strikeouts. The bullpen, all 5 relievers, contributed 5 strikeouts to the shutout.

    Atlanta has now won each of Kris Medlen’s past 19 starts going back to May 29, 2010. Medlen’s no earned-runs allowed streak ended at 40 1/3 innings. Though he wasn’t as sharp as he has been in his previous outings (i.e. he wasn’t shutting the door on every threat), Medlen had a great 6 innings on the hill before the rain started to fall at Citi Field. After an hour and fifteen minute rain delay, Atlanta’s bats tacked on another 4 runs. Bourn, McCann, Heyward and even Medlen had doubles. McCann got his first of 2 homers of the series and Eric Hinske added a homer of his own. Mac had a 4-for-5 day at the plate, collecting 4 RBIs. The Braves had 17 hits in game 2 and went 6-for-21 with runners in scoring position.

    In game 3,  Brian McCann continued his hot hitting of late, getting his 20th home run of the season. It had been 89 plate appearances since his last homer. Mac now has 2 homers in his past 6 at-bats. Another bat that has come to life of late for the Braves is that of Dan Uggla. Uggla’s double in game 3 was his fourth extra-base hit in his past 12 at-bats. Going into game 3, Dan Uggla had hit .289 in his previous 12 games, a vast improvement from his season average of .214. Tommy Hanson has looked much more in control in his last two starts, but left the game after 5 2/3 innings with little run support backing his effort. Having allowed only 4 hits and 2 earned runs, Tommy had the help of Venters, O’Flaherty, Kimbrel and Moylan to shut the door on the Mets and secured the sweep. One aspect of the Braves defense that just didn’t work Sunday afternoon was the battery’s ability to control the running game. The Braves allowed 3 stolen bases–1 each off Hanson, Kimbrel and Moylan. This certainly could have something to do with the ailing shoulder of Brian McCann, though he says it bothers him to hit more than to throw. Again the Braves struggled with runners in scoring position in game 3 going 1-for-11.

    Line scores from the 3-game set:

    Game 1:

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

    W: Maholm (12-9) L: Niese (10-9) SV: Kimbrel (35)

    Game 2:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 1 4 0 2 1 2 0 1 11 17 0
    Mets 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 3 8 1

    W: Medlen (8-1) L: Hefner (2-6)

    Game 3:

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

    W: Kimbrel (1-1) L: Parnell (4-4) SV: Moylan (1)

    ON TO MILWAUKEE…

    Monday: Minor (8-10, 4.58) vs. Peralta (1-0, 5.14)

    Tuesday: Hudson (14-5, 3.59) vs. Estrada (2-6, 3.99)

    Wednesday: Maholm (12-9, 3.67) vs. Gallardo (14-6, 3.76)

    The Braves are excited to get the bat and glove of Andrelton Simmons back Monday in Milwaukee. Simmons has been on the disabled list since July 8th when he slid into second base on a hustle double and fractured his right pinky. Prior to the injury, Simmons was hitting .296 with 34 hits and 15 RBIs in 33 games with the Braves this season. Paul Janish has been more than the Braves bargained for when they got him from the Reds as Simmons’ short-term replacement, but Simmons offers a more consistent bat and an upgrade in defense.

    As September rolls on, there are quite a few new faces in the Braves dugout. September call-ups brought veteran reliever Peter Moylan back into the ‘pen. Moylan underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and had been rehabbing in Florida all season. Also added to the bullpen with Moylan are Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran and Cory Gearrin. With the ailing shoulder of Brian McCann and the ongoing side injury to David Ross, the Braves are happy to have the September addition of J.C. Boscan. Jose Constanza once again joins the club as a bench player and will get playing time depending on where and when Martin Prado is playing. Two new additions, not just to the big league roster, but to the club are veterans Jeff Baker and Lyle Overybay. Baker was acquired from the Tigers at the end of August after the Tigers designated him for assignment. Baker, a utility infielder, brings versitility on the bench and an always needed right-handed bat for Fredi Gonzalez. Overbay, like Baker, was designated for assignment by the D-Backs and was quickly picked up by GM Frank Wren. Overbay is another bench piece for September.

    Going into Milwaukee and beyond, the biggest question facing the Braves is whether or not Tommy Hanson will remain in the rotation when Ben Sheets returns from the disabled list. Hanson is clearly the number 5 guy in the rotation. Whether Sheets will be healthy enough in his return to overtake Tommy for the last rotation spot is a question that won’t be answered until mid to late September. Sheets is scheduled to throw a simulated game today.

    As the Braves begin a 3-game set with the Brew Crew, they have a 5-game winning streak and are 5 1/2 games up on their next closest Wild Card contender (St. Louis). The Braves have a 81-60 record and are 5 1/2 games behind the 1st place Nationals in the NL East. The Brewers have been on a tear of late, but remain below .500. They have a 69-71 record, are 14 1/2 games back in the NL Central and are 6 games back in the Wild Card picture.

    The Braves and Brewers get underway tonight at 8:10 (EST).

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