• Paul Maholm

    Braves make moves with magic number down to 6

    Georgia native David Hale will make his first big league start Friday against the San Diego Padres.

    Georgia native David Hale will make his first big league start Friday against the San Diego Padres.

    With their magic number whittled down to 6 games, the Atlanta Braves welcome back familiar faces and have high hopes for the return of others as they head home to Turner Field to face the under .500 San Diego Padres for the weekend series.

    In the first game of the weekend series, the Braves will send to the mound David Hale who was called up during the last series. Hale has pitched 9 innings over 5 games since being called up and has a 3.00 ERA. In 22 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this season, Hale had a record of 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA. His minor league appearances have, for the most part, been starts, though he has been utilized as a reliever thus far. This will be his first big league start.

    The Braves made numerous moves and received news about injured players during the Miami series. The Braves activated Reed Johnson who had been on the disabled list since July 28th with a pesky Achilles injury. Also, the Braves called up catching prospect Christian Bethancourt during the 4-game set with Miami. This season for Double-A Mississippi, Bethancourt hit .277 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 90 games. Bethancourt has been hailed as the replacement for Brian McCann as he enters free agency this coming offseason. The Braves also have reliever Jordan Walden back who has survived yet another injury this season. His return will take some of the pressure of Luis Avilan who has not been as sharp since his consecutive scoreless streak ceased.

    As the team arrives back in Atlanta, the Braves will get to see Jason Heyward taking batting practice for the first time Friday. Heyward, recovering from a fractured jaw, is hopeful to be in playing shape in time for a few games at the end of September prior to the playoffs. Heyward’s absence has been felt as the Braves have juggled playing time between B.J. Upton, Jordan Schafer, Evan Gattis, the now injured Justin Upton and call-ups from Triple-A Gwinnett. Clearly, having Heyward back will be hugely important to postseason success.

    Paul Maholm, who had experienced elbow discomfort dating back 2 starts when he pitched against the Mets, had an MRI on his pitching elbow that revealed inflammation, but no structural damage. The Braves are hopeful that he will make his next start as scheduled. This recent issue seems to indicate that Maholm won’t be the 4th arm in the starting rotation for the playoffs. Like Maholm, Brandon Beachy underwent an MRI that revealed continued inflammation of his repaired elbow. Beachy returned from Tommy John surgery to make 5 starts before being shut down with elbow discomfort. At this point, it would seem most likely that Beachy will sit out the remainder of the season and start anew at spring training.

    With just over two weeks to go, the Braves are in great shape with an 88-58 (.603) record. They currently trail only the surging Boston Red Sox in wins. Their record stands as the best record in the National League. Their 11-game lead on the Washington Nationals with the Nats on the schedule after the Padres will likely put the Nats’ last flicker of hope out for 2013. The Braves must continue to push themselves in the final days as home field advantage based on the best record in the league will be highly advantageous.

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

    Braves suffer sweep, move on to Miami

    Ask any Braves fan and they will tell you that the Braves are at their best when they are competing against teams above .500 who are likely headed for the playoffs. That same Braves fan will tell you just how frustrating it is to watch their club fall to teams like the Mets, Marlins and Phillies who, by the numbers, shouldn’t have a chance at bringing down a club with a record as strong as the Braves. That said, it happens, and Braves Country was witness once more to this phenomenon over the weekend in Philly.

    Evan Gattis hit 2 homers in the series finale in Philly. His 1st, in the 2nd inning off Hamels, was estimated to fly 441 feet.

    Evan Gattis recorded first career multi-HR game Sunday. First HR was estimated at 486 ft. 

    While there were frustrating moments and scary moments alike, there were moments for Braves fans to cheer about. Evan Gattis stepped up in a big way, providing all of the offense in the series finale against Cole Hamels. El Oso Blanco went yard twice against the Phillies’ ace, once in the 2nd inning when he launched a homer that was estimated to travel 486 feet (those in the press box say that estimate was conservative) and again in the 7th inning, providing the only 2 runs for Atlanta Sunday.

    Though Paul Maholm has struggled in the first inning throughout the season, his 2 runs allowed Sunday should have been enough to keep the Braves in the game. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t come through for Maholm on a day when he tried to establish himself as a postseason rotation option. Maholm pitched 6 solid innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks, and striking out 5 on a pitch total of 108.

    Those frustrating and scary moments during the series? Strikeouts being the most frustrating, of course. It’s become clear that when the postseason arrives, not taking for granted that the Braves will be in the playoffs, Fredi Gonzalez will have to consider the danger of placing both Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton in the lineup at the same time. Saturday night B.J. Upton struck out in each of his first 3 at-bats, ending the night with the Golden Sombrero. While there was a hope that B.J. had turned things around and would be able to contribute, even in a small way, in the absence of injured Jason Heyward, it’s hard to believe that at this point.

    Also frustrating were the losses in game 1 and 2. Mike Minor had an awesome start in the series opener, but recorded the loss. His 7 strong innings of 9-strikeout ball allowed the Phillies just 2 runs. However, without adequate run support, that alone wasn’t enough to topple Cliff Lee who went just 1 inning longer than Minor and allowed just 1 run fewer. Game 2 delivered another blow to the Braves. Though it is never easy to stomach a walk-off win when it comes at the hands of your opponent, it was especially tough after the Braves had tied up the game with a homer in the 9th by shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

    A scary moment of the series came when Scott Downs took a come-backer off his glove hand. After leaving the game, x-rays revealed a broken finger. Downs insists that the broken finger won’t slow him down, but it is certainly worrisome for the Braves’ bullpen, especially given the ongoing groin injury of Jordan Walden. One other issue that arose during the Philly series is the knee soreness of first baseman Freddie Freeman. Fredi Gonzalez is trying to give Freeman rest as much possible. The 12-game the lead the Braves have in the division with 20 regular season games remaining certainly gives the Braves options. Unfortunately, to continue to win games the most consistent bat the Braves can insert in their lineup is that of Freeman. Since the start of the 2012 season, Freddie Freeman is 3rd in National League in RBIs behind Jay Bruce and Allen Craig. Clearly his bat has been important to Atlanta’s success.

    BRAVES HOPE TO REBOUND IN MIAMI…

    Arriving at Marlins Park, the Braves sit just under .600 with a record of 85-57. The Marlins are 27 games back in the division, but their record isn’t the one the Braves will be watching. With their 12-game lead in the division, there is little hope of the Nationals catching up at this point. However, the Braves will be watching the Dodgers who currently hold a 83-58 record. Home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs will depend on the best record in the league. Currently, as the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals battle it out in the NL Central, the Dodgers are the biggest threat to the Braves for the best record in the NL.

    It would be great to see Alex Wood rebound from his outing against the Phillies. Though it could have been worse, Wood only went 4 2/3 innings, surrendering 9 hits, 4 earned runs and 3 walks on 94 pitches. At this point in the season, the Braves are auditioning a potential 4th starter for the playoffs. It would seem that the starters that will go 1-2-3 in the playoffs at this point are Minor, Medlen and Teheran (in no particular order). Wood, prior to his last couple starts, seemed the most likely option for the 4th spot in a postseason rotation, assuming the Braves utilize a 4-man rotation. However, he will have to prove that he has an edge over Maholm.

    The Braves are approaching a franchise record for most the most players in a season with double-digit home run totals. Currently, the team record is 9 players, established in 2007. The 2013 club currently has 8 players with 10 or more home runs. B.J. Upton is currently sitting at 9 homers on the season.

    The 4-game set against the Marlins will kick off Monday with Medlen (12-12, 3.48) vs. Alvarez (3-3, 3.95). Rookie Teheran (11-7, 3.01) vs. Koehler (3-9, 4.70) will match up Tuesday. Look for a pitching duel Wednesday with Minor (13-6, 3.06) vs. Fernandez (11-6, 2.23). And the series will wrap Thursday with rookie Wood (3-3, 3.45) vs. Eovaldi (3-6, 3.80).

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

    Heyward to Atlanta, Braves to St. Louis

    The worst case scenario of any batter is that they will be standing at the plate when a fastball gets away from the pitcher and hits them square in the head or face. This is, of course, the worst case scenario for any pitcher as well. Nobody can adequately prepare to be hit in this way. The Braves, Mets and their respective fans watched this scenario play out Wednesday when Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward stepped into the box and took a Jonathan Niese fastball off of the right side of his face. Unfortunately, the ear flap on his helmet did little to protect the slugger and the players and viewers watched in horror as the big man fell to the ground. Though Heyward never lost consciousness, that he was immediately taken out of the game and then sent to a NYC-area hospital spoke to the severity of the injury. The Braves later announced that he had fractured the right side of his jaw in 2 places, would be sent back to Atlanta to have surgery and would miss 4-6 weeks.

    The severity of the loss cannot be overstated. Heyward had been the most consistent outfielder on both sides of the ball for months and as lead-off man had given the Braves the jolt that propelled them to their 15-game lead in the NL East. In 64 games since June 2nd (the greater part of the first 2 months of the season lost to an emergency appendectomy), Heyward hit .301 with 27 extra-base hits, 11 homers, 43 runs and 29 RBIs. Heyward has 64 defensive runs saved in right field since 2010. No other outfielder has 40 over that span.

    The Braves claimed infielder Elliot Johnson off waivers from the Kansas City Royals.

    Braves claimed IF Elliot Johnson off waivers.

    Take a second to appreciate just how many Braves have spent time on or currently are on the the disabled list this season: Brandon Beachy, Tim Hudson, Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer, Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Cristian Martinez, Jonny Venters, Ramiro Pena, Blake DeWitt, Eric O’Flaherty, Freddie Freeman, Evan Gattis, Brian McCann, Gerald Laird, Luis Ayala, Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan, Paul Maholm, Tyler Pastornicky and Dan Uggla. Of those 22 players, 5 of them are currently on the DL with season-ending injuries. The Braves are hopeful that Jason Heyward’s 4-6 weeks missed for a fractured jaw will have him healthy and returning in time for the postseason.

    To help shore up what had become a glaring hole in the middle of the infield, the Braves acquired veteran infielder Elliot Johnson off release waivers from the Kansas City Royals this week. Elliot Johnson may be best remembered for his time in Tampa Bay where he played in 2011 and 2012. Johnson was the player to be named later in the deal that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for Wil Myers and 3 prospects. Johnson was hitting .179/.218/.241 in 173 plate appearances with the Royals. His final year in Tampa he hit a respectable .242/.304/.350. Johnson will add to Janish, Gosselin and Simmons in the middle infield until Dan Uggla returns from eye surgery. Uggla has already taken BP since surgery and appears to be on pace to return upon eligibility.

    Lost in the injury to Heyward was the fact that Craig Kimbrel did something only one other Atlanta Brave ever has–he recorded his 40th save in Wednesday’s win. After a 10th inning 3-run blast by Chris Johnson, Kimbrel was called in to record the save and did what he has now down 40 or more times in 3-consecutive seasons. He got the save. Kimbrel joins only John Smoltz as Atlanta closers with 3 seasons with 40 or more saves, Kimbrel’s happen to be consecutive seasons. In addition, Kimbrel converted his 30th straight save on the season. He’s allowed 1 earned run on 20 hits in 38 innings pitched (an ERA of 0.24) with a ridiculous 57 strikeouts over that period of time. He is a large part of the reason the Braves remain the best bullpen in baseball despite major injuries that would have crippled any other team.

    BRAVES TAKE FLIGHT WITHOUT HEYWARD TO ST. LOUIS…

    The last place the Braves want to be right now is on the road to St. Louis without their gold glove outfielder Heyward. However, the division is safe and the Braves have options in the outfield until Heyward can return. The likely choice is for the Braves to call up Todd Cunningham from Triple-A Gwinnett, continue to platoon Schafer and B.J. Upton in center field and then use Evan Gattis and Joey Terdoslavich is left as needed with Justin Upton patrolling either left or right.  From the lead off spot, this is more of an issue, given that B.J. Upton has shown no consistency out of that spot and Andrelton Simmons is by no means a prototypical lead off man. However, the Braves can make do with the pieces they have and, unlike most of the league, those pieces together have been pretty dominant all season.

    The Braves will send returning lefty Paul Maholm to the mound tonight for his first start since injuring his wrist. Bringing Maholm back now and utilizing a 6-man rotation gives Fredi Gonzalez the opportunity to observe each of the 6 starters (Beachy, Maholm, Wood, Minor, Teheran and Medlen) to see which 4 will be the most effective when the postseason comes around. The 2 odd men out will join the bullpen and can be used in the event of injury. Maholm has veteran experience, something that obviously none of the other starters really do and that is always important in the playoffs. Until Fredi makes a decision otherwise, we can expect to go forward with all 6.

    The 4-game series in St. Louis will get underway tonight with Maholm (9-9, 4.41) vs. Kelly (4-3, 3.01). Friday night’s game will feature Medlen (10-11, 3.71) vs. Wainwright (14-7, 2.66). Saturday’s game will pit battling rookies Teheran (10-6, 2.96) vs. Miller (11-8, 2.98). And Sunday’s season finale will feature Beachy (2-1, 4.50) vs. Lynn (13-7, 3.97). The first 3 games of the series will be on MLB Network and the finale on TBS.

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

    Braves holding lead in East, look to bury Nats

    Uggla-1

    Dan Uggla (2B) will miss 3-4 weeks after undergoing Lasik surgery to correct his vision. Uggla is hitting .186 on the season with 21 home runs, 53 RBIs and 146 strikeouts in 388 at-bats.

    In the 3-game series between the Braves and visiting the Phillies, Atlanta experienced many losses. First, and most unfortunately, a fan was killed at Turner Field after falling from the fourth level of the stadium into the players’ parking lot. A situation no team is truly prepared to deal with, the Braves offered a moment of silence in the fan’s memory the following night.

    The team lost Dan Uggla to the disabled list as he and the team made the decision to send the second baseman for corrective eye surgery, hoping to have him back in time to help them in a playoff run. Uggla hopes to begin a rehab assignment 10 days after surgery. He and the Braves do not expect his time on the DL to last longer than 15 days. Also, Uggla’s replacement at second base, Tyler Pastornicky, went down with a knee injury after colliding with Jason Heyward in the outfield. Pastornicky’s time table for return, as determined by an MRI revealing a torn ACL, is by Spring Training. Should the Braves need a second baseman in addition to Paul Janish, the likely option is 24-year-old Tommy La Stella. La Stella is only 64 games into the season at Double-A.

    Despite a few question marks on the field, the Braves have a lot to be hopeful about. After going 8-11 with a 4.26 ERA during the period beginning on July 3rd and ending on July 25th, the Braves are now 17-2 with a staggering 2.26 ERA in their past 19 games. Pitching has received run support, yes, but they’ve also held their opponents to little to no runs. They have now held opposing teams to 2 or fewer runs in 46 games in 2013. The August record of the Braves is a far cry from that of their 2012 season. In 2012, they were 15-14 in August. With Wednesday’s win, they improved to 11-2 in August (5-2 home; 6-0 road). Atlanta has not lost back-to-back games since July 20th and 21st while in Chicago facing the White Sox. They haven’t lost back-to-back games at home since July 3rd and 4th against the Miami Marlins.

    Three players that have been so consistent this season to not warrant mentioning after each series are Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson and Craig Kimbrel. They are, of course, a huge part of the reason the Braves have the record they do. This season with the bases loaded, Freddie Freeman is hitting a whopping .750 (6-for-8), with 3 doubles & 14 RBIs. He has an other-worldly slugging percentage of 1.125. Craig Kimbrel has been lights out this season. Unlike his previous seasons of dominance in the National League, Kimbrel has had more consecutive saves in 2013. With his 38th save on the season, Craig Kimbrel passed Braves hall-of-famer John Smoltz for the franchise record in consecutive saves with 28 straight. Kimbrel has not blown a save since May 7th. And in 34 appearances since May 9th, Kimbrel has only allowed 16 hits. He is currently leading the NL in saves on the season. Kimbrel now has 127 saves in his young career. Chris Johnson, who continues to lead the league in hitting with a .337 average, has 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position and is hitting .333 in his past 4 games with 2 doubles, 1 homer and 8 RBIs.

    As of Thursday, the Braves have 9 players that are among the leading top 10 in 7 key categories in the National League: In batting, Chris Johnson (1st, .337) and Freddie Freeman (8th, .310); In home runs, Justin Upton (6th, 22) and Dan Uggla (7th, 21); In RBIs, Freddie Freeman (T-4th, 80); In wins, Mike Minor (T-5th, 12); In ERA, Mike Minor (10th, 2.87); In saves, Craig Kimbrel (1st, 38); and, in wins above replacement (WAR), Andrelton Simmons (8th, 4.7).

    Guys that haven’t been consistent enough throughout the season to be among league leaders, but who have turned around their seasons and have been consistent for the Braves of late are Jason Heyward and Kris Medlen.

    It’s important to remember how dominant Medlen has been in the league since he first came up. In his career starts when the Braves have given him a lead of at least a run, he is 23-3. Medlen has been 4-0 in his last 4 starts with a 3.46 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched. He has pitched 7 innings in each of his last 2 starts and 6 innings in his 2 starts before that.

    Jason Heyward is having a torrid summer. Heyward, in 59 games since June 2nd, is hitting .308 (70-for-227) with 25 extra-base hits (9 of those homers), .384 OBP, and a .502 slugging percentage. In Heyward’s past 17 games, the majority of which have been in the leadoff spot, he is hitting .400 (26-for-65) with 9 extra-base hits, .466 OBP, and a .631 slugging percentage.

    BRAVES HOPE TO END NATS’ PLAYOFF HOPES ONCE AND FOR ALL…

    Reliever Jordan Walden played catch Wednesday and again Thursday. He hopes to be available for the series opener against the Nationals. Starter Paul Maholm will throw 6 innings or 90 pitches Saturday in single-A Rome, likely his second to last rehab outings. Fredi Gonzalez has yet to decide where Paul Maholm will fit in the Braves pitching rotation. He still has about 9 days before he would be ready to pitch for the big league club. Both Walden and Maholm have been out with wrist/hand injuries.

    In the other dugout, the Washington Nationals come into the series with a bad case of Natitude. Gio Gonzalez and Jayson Werth had a bit of a spat in the dugout recently and it has been reported that Bryce Harper, the sophomore slugger, had to step up and tell his team to get it together and not give up on the season.

    The Braves are unsure what they will see on the mound given recent injuries to Gio Gonzalez (back) and Stephen Strasburg (groin). Strasburg also threw a bullpen Thursday and didn’t appear to have any groin issues while Gio’s back is reportedly better. In addition to the injured pitchers, battery mate Wilson Ramos re-injured his left hamstring for the 3rd time this season. Ramos has not returned to the offensive prominence that he exhibited prior to tearing his ACL and missing almost the entire 2012 season. Not because of injury, closer Rafael Soriano blew the save and recorded the loss against the Giants in their most recent series finale, leading a bullpen that has been terrible. The Nats are certainly not looking like the team everyone said was the team to beat when the season opened.

    Though the Braves have a 14 1/2 game lead on the Nats in the NL East, the Nats’ hopes of the 2nd Wild Card spot aren’t entirely out of the question. 9 1/2 games back from the 2nd Wild Card spot currently held by the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals could be put out of their misery by the Braves with a sweep or even 2-for-3 weekend in Atlanta’s favor. Without question, the Braves would love for the playoff hopes of the Nationals to be ended once and for all, by their own hand no less.

    The series opener will feature young pitchers Jordan (1-3, 4.14) vs. Wood (2-2, 2.78). Game 2, featured on the MLB Network, will pit Strasburg (6-9, 2.83) vs. Minor (12-5, 2.87). And assuming he is able to start as scheduled, Gonzalez (7-5, 3.42) vs. Teheran (9-6, 3.08) will wrap the series.

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

    Hudson injury dampens Mets series, Braves head home for Cards

    In what should have been a terrific series for the Braves to continue their dominance in the National League East, the Braves watched as veteran ace Tim Hudson pitched a gem that ended suddenly with a freak accident. To say that the Braves were shaken by the injury to Hudson would be an understatement given Hudson’s role as a veteran leader in the clubhouse. Unfortunately, the Braves will face the remainder of the season without the ace.

    Following the injury and the news that Tim’s right ankle, his push off foot, was fractured and would require surgery once swelling subsided, his wife Kim tweeted the following:

    The response not just of his teammates, but of Mets’ players including Eric Young, Jr. who actually stepped on Hudson’s leg as he hit the first base bag, was moving the night of the injury. Matching it was the reaction online of current and former players across baseball from teammates Freddie Freeman, Alex Wood to former players Dale Murphy, Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine and even Burt Blyleven. Baseball writers Jon Morosi, Buster Olney and Jayson Stark all commented on how valuable Hudson is in the clubhouse and how fierce he is as a competitor. In fact, friends, fans and teammates alike all referred to Tim Hudson as a great guy before mentioning his skill as a player.

    Prior to the bizarre incident on the first base bag, Hudson was pitching the best game of his 2013 season. In 7 2/3 innings, Hudson gave up 4 hits, 2 earned runs, walked 3 batters and struck out 9. With the season-ending surgery, he will have put together an 8-7 record with a 3.97 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and just shy of 100 strikeouts. Given some of the struggles he endured in the first half, Hudson finishes his injury-shortened season strong. He had a rocky June, going 0-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 6 starts, but had turned his season around in July where he went 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 3 starts.

    One point worth noting is that this was Hudson’s final season under contract with the Braves. At his age, 38, and the extent of his injury, there is the possibility that he won’t be back in a Braves uniform, if a big league uniform at all. Braves fans everywhere are wishing that not to be the case and sincerely wishing Huddy a speedy recovery.

    Hudson was the story of the series, but here are a few notes on the series:

    • The Braves took 2-of-4 in New York, bringing their season record to 57-45. The Braves lost 4-of-7 on the road, pushing them to 25-30 on the road this season.
    • Alex Wood made a spot start for the injured Paul Maholm in the season finale, notching a no-decision after going 4 1/3 innings, giving up 8 hits, 4 earned runs and striking out 5.
    • Shortstop Andrelton Simmons Simmons now has more homers with 11 than Freddie Freeman (10), Heyward (7) and B.J. Upton (8).
    • Dan Uggla hit his 21st home run of the season off Zach Wheeler. Uggla leads the club in homers.
    • After being helped out by an incredible defensive play by Jason Heyward preventing the tying run and perhaps the winning run in the 9th inning of the 2nd game of the series, Craig Kimbrel recorded his 28th save of 2013 (3rd most in the NL).
    • In the game that saw Tim Hudson go down, Evan Gattis hit his first home run since returning to the Braves lineup with an injured oblique. It was El Oso Blanco’s 15th home run of the season.

    BRAVES OPEN HOME STAND AGAINST CARDINALS…

    The Cardinals, fresh off a sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies will arrive in Atlanta for a 3-game weekend series that kicks off the Braves’ home stand.

    Brandon Beachy was solid in his recent outing with the Gwinnett Braves.

    Brandon Beachy was solid in his recent outing with the Gwinnett Braves.

    After the series in New York, the question everybody is asking is what’s next for the rotation? It cannot be said frequently enough how important pitching depth in a big league system is.

    The night that Tim Hudson was injured, Brandon Beachy pitched at Triple-A Gwinnett. His numbers were exceptional, pitching 6 innings, giving up 2 hits and 1 earned run on 99 pitches. Prior to needing Tommy John surgery just shy of last year’s all-star break, Beachy held a league-leading 2.00 ERA in his 13 starts. Brandon Beachy will make his 2013 debut on Monday in the place of Hudson.

    If Alex Wood can start again in the place of Maholm while he remains on the disabled list, the Braves have enough arms with Beachy back. However, how well this rotation can pitch is another matter. Kris Medlen had more or less prepared himself for a trip back to the bullpen after his last three starts. Over his last 3 starts, Medlen went 0-3 with an 8.59 ERA. Paul Maholm had been inconsistent in his last several outings, putting up an 0-3 record with a 10.13 ERA in his last 3 stars. The best news was that Tim Hudson was turning around his season. That leaves Minor and Teheran who have been the most consistent pitchers in the rotation and perhaps two of the better pitchers in the league. The Braves’ rotation was in a good position among the NL. For that to continue, Maholm and Medlen must straighten out their issues and Beachy will need to be the Beachy of old. Atlanta’s front office will now be focusing on a starter prior to next week’s trade deadline, either instead of or coinciding with looking for a bullpen arm.

    Now for the pitching match ups against the St. Louis Cardinals. Friday’s game will feature Wainwright (13-5, 2.44) vs. Minor (9-5, 2.98) and will air on MLB Network. Saturday’s game, telecast on FOX, will feature Kelly (1-3, 3.88) vs. Teheran (7-5, 3.25). The series finale on Sunday will air on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and will feature Miller (10-6, 2.77) vs. Medlen (6-10, 3.78).

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

    As trade deadline approaches, Braves hold ground in NL East

    With ten days left before the trade deadline, the Braves are in the precarious position of deciding whether to pull the string on a trade or stand pat. Despite their tough series loss in Chicago, the Braves held their ground in the NL East with a 6-1/2 game lead over the Phillies and a 7 game lead over the Nationals. Their tough loss in the series finale thanks to little run support for a great Mike Minor outing came on an afternoon when both the Nats and the Phillies also lost.

    The Braves are decimated by injuries as they return from the all-star break, with key injuries to Jordan Schafer, Freddie Freeman, B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward and Paul Maholm. Jordan Schafer is expected to be out at least another 4 weeks with a right ankle fracture. B.J. Upton was placed on the DL just before the break with shoulder woes. Jason Heyward was given 3 extra days rest in addition to the break for his ailing legs. He is expected to start in the first game of the Mets’ series and will be plugged into B.J. Upton’s spot in centerfield. And Freddie Freeman was forced to hand over his playing spot at the All Star Game to Brian McCann due to the jammed thumb he suffered just prior to the break. He was back in the lineup for Sunday’s series finale.

    However, none of the injuries the Braves have sustained recently play into the question of whether they will make a trade before the deadline. The likely spot the Braves would look to improve is in the bullpen. Looking for a reliable reliever, the Braves have cobbled together a strong ‘pen in the absence of Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez (who had season-ending shoulder surgery just prior to the break). They could certainly improve in the ‘pen, though they have the 2nd best bullpen ERA in the National League.

    One piece of the ‘pen that is still untested is the recent call-up of RHP Kameron Loe. Loe had had a rough few years in the big leagues with Seattle and Milwaukee before signing a minor league deal with the Braves. His numbers at Triple-A Gwinnett:

    Year Team W L W-L% ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
    2013 Gwinnett (AAA)  4 2 .667 3.19 21 4 2 42.1 40 18 15 2 8 24 1.134

    Unfortunately, what the Braves would like from Kameron Loe is what they got from Chad Durbin in his year with the team. That isn’t likely to happen. However, Loe has improved his pitching in Gwinnett and it appears his sinker is finally back to being as dominant as it once was in his early years with Texas. If his sinker can in fact sink, Loe could be a good situational pitcher out of the ‘pen for Fredi Gonzalez.

    BRAVES RETURN TO CITI FIELD FOR 4-GAME SET…

    With the wrist injury to Paul Maholm in his last start, the Braves now face the question of whether or not to activate young ace Brandon Beachy. Maholm is returning to Atlanta to have his strained wrist examined. The Braves will not know whether he can make his start against the Mets until the wrist is examined. If Maholm cannot start, Beachy has been progressing in his rehab assignment at Triple-A Gwinnett.

    A break down of Beachy’s numbers while on rehab assignment following Tommy John surgery:

    Year Team W L W-L% ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WP WHIP
    2013 Rome (A) 1 0 1.000 0.00 1 1 5 3 0 0 0 1 3 0 0.800
    2013 Mississippi (AA) 1 0 1.000 5.40 1 1 5 6 3 3 1 1 4 0 1.400
    2013 Gwinnett (AAA) 1 3 .250 3.38 6 6 24 21 10 9 3 14 23 2 1.458

    Adding Beachy to the rotation in Maholm’s spot only prolongs the question of what to do with 6 potential starters, but for the time being, the Braves will have dodged that question once again.

    At end of upcoming series against the Mets, the Braves will have played New York 14 times in 2013 and will have lucked out by only facing Matt Harvey once. This is similar to their luck in not facing Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.

    The upcoming series against the New York Mets will open at Citi Field with Teheran (7-5, 3.35) vs. Gee (7-7, 4.32). The second game of the series will feature Medlen (6-9, 3.64) vs. Torres (0-1, 0.79). Hudson (7-7, 4.08) vs. Hefner (4-7, 3.93) will face off in the third game of the series. Slated to pitch in the final game of the series is the injured lefty Maholm (9-9, 4.41); whether he will be able to pitch vs. Wheeler (3-1, 3.58) is still up in the air.

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

    Win against SF pits Beachy-less Braves against Mets

    The Braves will be without Brandon Beachy for their 5-game set against the Mets. They'd hoped to start him in the 1st game of doubleheader.

    The Braves will be without Brandon Beachy for their 5-game set against the Mets. They’d hoped to start him in the 1st game of the Tuesday doubleheader.

    The Atlanta Braves wrapped a 3-game series at Turner Field against the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants with one question on their minds: What will the pitching schedule be against the New York Mets? The Braves were waiting for the final game against the Giants to make an announcement about who would be pitching in one of the doubleheader games Tuesday after ace Brandon Beachy struggled in his most recent rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett with inflammation/fluid in his repaired pitching elbow. That decision is Alex Wood. Atlanta will welcome the Mets for an unusual 5-game series, making up for weather-postponed games earlier in the season at Citi Field.

    Before we can focus on how the series against the Mets will pan out, a recap of the weekend series against the Giants:

    Game 1:

    W: Bumgarner (6-4) L: Medlen (3-7)

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

    Medlen wasn’t sharp, but once again he received no run support. This seems to be the story of Medlen’s season. While Minor has cited run support as a big part of his success this season, Medlen could easy decry the offense for leaving him in a lurch. Medlen was pitching with the added pressure of not knowing which of the starters might be sent to the ‘pen with the looming return of ace Brandon Beachy. Medlen had said repeatedly that he didn’t want to return to the ‘pen after much success as a starter last season. However, the two odd men out appeared to be Kris Medlen and Paul Maholm.

    The Braves continue to lead the National League in strikeouts (615) and are tied with Colorado in home runs (91). Those two stats seem to be a huge part of the problem with run support for Medlen. In his starts, he has all too often seen his team record strikeouts and not home runs. The Braves have struggled in games that they haven’t hit a home run, winning only 4 games in which a home run isn’t put on the board.  Medlen has also watching his team be shut out more in his starts than anyone else in the rotation, 3 shut outs, something that has become a trend for the Braves. In half of Medlen’s starts, the Braves have scored 2 or fewer runs.

    Game 2:

    W: Kimbrel (2-1) L: Romo (3-3)

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

    The two big stories to come out of the second game of the series were the 2 homers by B.J. Upton and the crazy 9th inning that saw the Braves tie up the game and go on to win it on a walk-off single by first baseman Freddie Freeman.

    In his last 7 games, B.J. Upton is hitting .273 with 6 hits, 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 strike outs, 3 walks, a .360 on-base percentage and .636 slugging. His average is up almost 10 ticks in a week. This is a very good sign for the outfielder and the Braves who have been patient as he has worked diligently to regain his swing. Something else that is noteworthy in his last 7 games is that he has stolen 2 bases and scored 3 runs. These are both things that the Braves expected from B.J. Upton when they signed him.

    While Freddie Freeman is currently 5th among 1st basemen in All Star balloting, he continues to lead the Braves offense and put his ballerina-like defense on display. Freddie finished game 2 of the series with an unbelievable .407 average with 2-outs and runners in scoring position. That puts him 7th in the National League in that category. He is now 2nd in the NL with a .446 with RISP.

    Game 3:

    W: Teheran (5-3) L: Lincecum (4-7) SV: Kimbrel (19)

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

    The difference between Julio Teheran in the 2013 season versus when he was first put in the rotation in 2012 was no more obvious than in the final inning of Teheran’s 6-inning outing last night. Teheran allowed back-to-back singles to Posey and Pence before striking out Belt and Torres with those runners on. He allowed another single to Arias, increasing the pressure of the pinch he’d pitched into, but was able to get Noonan to pop-up to get out of the inning. While Julio Teheran can dominate on his good days, just as he had in 2012, he can now pitch out of situations that would get the better of him last season.

    Teheran notched 8 strike outs before turning the game over to Avilan, Walden and Kimbrel who kept the shutout of the Giants intact while striking out 4 batters collectively. Kimbrel recorded his 19th save of the season, tying him with Mujica of the Cardinals for 2nd in the NL in saves behind Grilli of the Pirates who has an unreal 25 saves before the all-star break.

    The Braves did not tally a home run in the game, looking more like a small ball team than they have most of the season when their power bats have led the way.

    BRAVES BEGIN 5-GAME SET WITHOUT BEACHY…

    While the plan was to use Brandon Beachy for the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the ace’s recent setback at Triple-A Gwinnett threw a wrench in the plans of Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren. Beachy has fluid on his pitching elbow, the elbow repaired by Tommy John surgery last summer. This leaves the Braves with a predicament they haven’t experienced yet this year–who to bring from the Triple-A Gwinnett or out of the bullpen to start in his place. The likely choice was Alex Wood and the Braves have now announced that he will get his first big league start on Tuesday. Wood was called up in May, his contract bought from the Double-A Mississippi Braves, to help in the beat-up bullpen.

    Alex Wood’s numbers with Double-A Mississippi:

    Team W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO GO/AO AVG
    MIS 4 2 1.26 10 10 57.0 41 10 8 1 15 57 1.63 .195

    It’s worth noting that Major League Baseball has changed the roster allowance this season so that teams can pick up a 26th man for a day with a doubleheader. For Fredi Gonzalez, you have to assume he will be going with an extra reliever in the event that Alex Wood comes out of the game early or the game goes into extra innings.

    One another note about the 5-game set: Zack Wheeler will be making his big league debut for the Mets against Maholm. Wheeler is from the Atlanta area. Wheeler has had 12 starts in Triple-A with a 4.14 ERA. Wheeler was the 6th overall pick in the 2009 draft by the San Francisco Giants and made his way to the Mets in the Carlos Beltran trade. One of the highest-praised prospects in baseball, his rise to the big leagues was slowed this season when he experienced soreness in his right clavicle.

    While a question mark looms for the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Mets in terms of what the Braves will get out of Alex Wood, the rest of the pitching match ups are as follows: Monday’s game will feature Gee (5-6, 4.84) vs. Hudson (4-6, 4.41); the Mets will send Harvey (5-1, 2.04) vs. a pitcher TBD in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader; the second game of the doubleheader will feature Wheeler (0-0, 0.00) vs. Maholm (7-5, 3.65); Wednesday’s game will pit Marcum (0-8, 5.43) vs. Medlen (3-7, 3.09); and, the final game of the 5-game set features Niese (3-6, 4.15) vs. Minor (8-2, 2.68).

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

     

    Braves fair poorly in SoCal, head home to face Giants

    After going 2-5 against the Dodgers and Padres on their latest road trip, you can’t blame the Braves for wanting to get back home before facing another California team. Especially when their next match-up comes against the reigning World Champion Giants who are third in the National League West with a 33-31 record. The Braves enter the series with a record of 39-27 and a 6-game lead on the Washington Nationals. The Braves will face the Giants for a 3-game set and then welcome the Mets for an unusual 5-game set due to rainouts in their previous match-ups.

    While the Braves managed to salvage 2 games against the Dodgers with wins behind Kris Medlen and Mike Minor, the Braves turned around and were swept by the Padres at Petco Park. In the final game of that series, the Braves had neither defensive nor offensive luck on their side, scoring only 3 runs on 10 hard hits and earning an error on a day that could/should have been a multi-error event. Perhaps it would have taken the sting out of being swept by the Padres if the Braves had performed better in L.A. against a Dodgers team that is without several of their superstars and is trying to decide what to do with a past superstar in Andre Ethier. The silver lining is that the Nationals and Phillies have not made up significant ground on the first place Braves.

    In a season that has not gone well for veteran Tim Hudson on the road, it didn’t help his cause when he notched 2 losses on the swing through southern California. Hudson is 3-0 with a 2.39 ERA at Turner Field while he is 1-6 with a 6.07 ERA on the road. His road woes seemed to be behind him when he exited his start against the Dodgers with only 1 run earned against him. However,  the ‘pen did not fair as well, Cory Gearrin surrendering 4 runs in a 1/3 of an inning. Hudson notched a loss in that outing and again against the Padres when he allowed 3 runs and was not given adequate run support to overcome that. In both outings, Huddy pitched at least 7 innings. This, of course, plays into the biggest question for the Braves: Where will Brandon Beachy fit in the rotation when he returns?

    Let’s explore this further. Kris Medlen has been vocal about his desire to stay in the rotation. Mike Minor has pitched like Atlanta’s ace and will not be the odd man out when Beachy returns. Teheran has been nearly as solid as Minor, showing a few weaknesses lately, but nothing to be concerned about in a young arm. This leaves Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm. The question about Paul Maholm is whether or not he is too valuable an arm to be placed in the bullpen where he would likely be used as a situational lefty or as the long man should a pitcher struggle and leave after only a few innings. The likelihood of Tim Hudson being sent to the ‘pen seems unlikely as well, given his veteran status, his salary and the fact that Hudson has been with the Braves the longest. Seniority would seem to matter in this case. Here lies the problem. Could Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez truly rationalize sending any of the 5 starters to the ‘pen in favor of Beachy who is returning from Tommy John surgery? The question certainly depends on Beachy as well. Pitchers recovered and rehabilitated from Tommy John surgery often return as strong if not stronger than they were when they got injured. There is no question that when he got injured, Brandon Beachy was the best pitcher of the 2012 season in the National League. Having said that, would putting Beachy in the bullpen elongate both this season and the 2014 season by limiting his innings out of the gate? There doesn’t seem to be a consensus among baseball writers and both Wren and Gonzalez have said as late as the Padres season that they don’t know what the decision will be.

    Something good to come from the SoCal swing was the production from Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla. In his last 8 games, Heyward is batting .412 (14-for-34) with 2 doubles, 3 homers, 4, RBI, 7 runs scored, a .459 on-base percentage and is slugging .735. In Uggla’s last 9 games, he is batting .300 with 9 hits, 7 runs scored, 3 homers, 7 walks, 7 RBI, a .432 on-base percentage and is slugging .600. For Uggla, the last 9 games have increased his batting average on the season to .193. His lowest point of the season came on April 28th when he was batting .160. In addition to Heyward and Uggla, the cold bat of B.J. Upton has improved in June. Since June 1st, the eldest Upton has improved his batting average from .145 to .161. The Braves have also seen B.J. on the base paths and have been reminded of why Upton’s speed has always been such a draw.

    Facing the Giants this weekend, the Braves will have to use home field advantage to get back on track. Sending their best pitchers to the mound against the Giants will go a long way to doing that. The Braves will not face Cain or Lincecum this time, boding well for Atlanta’s offense.

    Game 1 of the series will pit Bumgarner (5-4, 3.58) vs. Medlen (3-6, 2.87). Saturday’s game will feature Gaudin (2-1, 2.32) vs. Minor (8-2, 2.44). And Lincecum (4-6, 4.70) vs. Teheran (4-3, 3.62) will cap the series.

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

    Braves drop series in Detroit, head home for Nats

    With a team as talented as the Braves, it hasn’t been easy to watch them struggle over the course of the last several games. Striking out a total of 17 times against Anibal Sanchez in the first game of the series set a terrible tone for the team’s time in Detroit. Kris Medlen was the recipient of some more tough luck. And the shuffle of players in the lineup in the absence of Jason Heyward doesn’t compare to what the Braves could have with a consistent Heyward.

    The Tigers scored 25 runs in the series to the mere 7 scored by the Braves.

    The good news is this terrible road trip is now over and the Braves can put the tough losses and rough weather behind them.

    Game 1:

    In every possible chance, the Braves seemed to have runner on the bases in front of the 3-4 punch of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. This hurt them early and often in the series.

    The story of the game was that Anibal Sanchez, who spent most of his career in the National League facing the Braves, struck out 17 Braves. Those 17 strikeouts set a franchise record for the Tigers. The Braves went on to strike out a total of 18 times in game 1. Both Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla were crowned with a Golden Sombrero–each striking out 4 times.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 2
    Tigers 0 0 4 6 0 0 0 0 x 10 15 0

    W: Sanchez (3-1) L: Maholm (3-2)

    Game 2:

    Justin Upton smashed his 12th home run of the season off Rick Porcello. Upton’s didn’t 12th homer of last season didn’t come until September 1st. Even in his best season, the earliest he’s hit his 12th bomb was June 11th of the 2009 season. 7 of Upton’s homers have come with 2 strikes. He leads the league in 2-strike homers. Upton now holds the Major League record with 10 solo home runs in the month of April. Prior to Upton, the record was held by Larry Walker with 9.

    The second game of the series got away from Medlen, but the team had a chance to stay in it that was thrown away in the 8th inning when they allowed 2 runs. Medlen had pitched well, but continues to be the guy on the staff suffering from the tough luck. Medlen began game 2 with what is becoming signature Medlen–a picked off runner at first base. Few would contend that there is a right hander in the game with a better pick off move than Medlen. Where the Maddux/Medlen comparisons ring true is with the glove. Medlen appears to have many gold gloves in his future as one of the best fielding pitchers in the National League.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 4 7 2
    Tigers 0 2 1 2 0 0 0 2 x 7 13 0

    W: Porcello (1-2) L: Medlen (1-3) SV: Valverde (2)

    Game 3:

    In an attempt to right the ship after 2 tough losses to the Tigers, Fredi Gonzalez shook up the lineup for the final game of the series. Gonzalez put Reed Johnson in right field, Jordan Schafer in center field and Tyler Pastornicky at second base while utilizing Dan Uggla in the DH spot. Schafer became the fourth man to bat leadoff for Fredi Gonzalez in April. Giving B.J. Upton the night off may pay dividends in the upcoming home stand. Uggla could have benefitted from sitting. He went 0-for-11 with 7 strikeouts in Detroit.

    What looked on paper to be a pitching duel in the making with Doug Fister and Mike Minor turned out to be exactly that. Prior to giving up a 2-run blast, Minor had given up only 1 hit. Fister’s command and fastball movement was dominant in the early frames. As Fister lost command and the rain picked up in Detroit, the Braves took advantage, scoring 2 runs off of Fister and a 3rd run on a wide throw to first by former Brave Omar Infante. Infante got the run back for his team, however, with a 7th inning solo home run off Minor. Infante went 6-for-11 in the series off his former team.

    The Braves were hurt once again when the combination of Cory Gearrin and Mike Minor had two runners on the bases for reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera who took Gearrin deep. Gearrin’s scoreless streak of 12 games came to an end with the Cabrera blast in game 3.

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

    W: Fister (4-0) L: Minor (3-2)

    BRAVES HEAD HOME TO FACE THE NATIONALS…

    After a road trip that included some of the worst weather the Braves have seen in several years, the team returns to Turner Field to face off against National League rivals the Washington Nationals followed by the New York Mets.

    Kris Medlen gets a chance to turn around his luck in the coming series with the Nationals by facing off against Dan Haren who has been on a roller coaster so far in 2013. Both Maholm and Medlen didn’t get out of Detroit unscathed and both need to put their last 2 losses behind them. A win against someone as dominant as Strasburg would be a huge confidence boost for young Julio Teheran. One of those strange things that sometimes happens in all the numbers generated in baseball is when two pitchers end up with exactly the same record and ERA. Two such pitchers, Gio Gonzalez and Tim Hudson, will face off on Tuesday.

    Braves hitting has been a story of drought and onslaught. The first 2 games the Braves lost this season were shutouts. This may be a trend throughout the season as the offense continues to struggle with the strikeout. The Braves struck out 39 times in Detroit. Something that the Braves must figure out is how to get players on the bases in front of hard-hitting Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. That 11 of 12 of Justin Upton’s homers have been solo shots speaks to the struggles of the 1 and 2-hole hitters.

    The series against the Nats gets underway with Strasburg (1-4, 3.16) vs. Teheran (1-0, 5.48). Game 2 will feature Gonzalez (2-1, 4.50) vs. Hudson (2-1, 4.50). Game 3 features Zimmermann (4-1, 2.00) vs. Maholm (3-2, 3.30). And the final game of the 4-game series will be Haren (2-3, 6.29) vs. Medlen (1-3, 3.26). Game 1 of the series will be featured on ESPN’s Monday Night Baseball and game 3 will be the featured game on Wednesday Night Baseball.

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

    Braves sweep the Nats, begin interleague play

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

    Game 1:

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

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

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

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

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

    Game 2:

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

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

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

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

    Game 3:

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

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

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

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

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

    BRAVES RETURN TO THE TED FOLLOWING PERFECT ROAD TRIP…

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

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

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

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