• Pittsburgh Pirates

    What Could’ve, Should’ve, Would’ve Been

    The Top 10 of the 2010s, Part 2

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – It’s time for part two of my top 10 most memorable moments of Braves baseball I watched in person in the 2010s, looking at baseball’s epic final day of the 2011 regular season that found Atlanta land outside the postseason party after a painful late-season swoon, then taking a stroll through two games in which Braves starters nearly pitched no-hitters (and a nod to the lone no-hitter, at any level of baseball, I’ve witnessed in person across 40 years that also contains an interesting perspective on a tragic night in my hometown’s history).

    As a reminder, you can check out the introductory piece of the series below:

    Part 1: A Big Bang … Then A Choke

    The Long, Painful Death of a Season: Sept. 28, 2011

    Epic Late-Season Stumble Costs Braves Playoff Berth

    As late August 2011 arrived, it felt like only an act of God could keep the Braves from a second-straight NL playoff appearance. The Phillies were running away with the NL East but the Braves had found their footing, winning 16 times in 21 games to enter the final weekend of the month with the second-best record in the Senior Circuit and a 9 ½ game lead over the Giants for the NL’s lone wild-card spot.

    The Cardinals? Pfft, 10 ½ games behind the 79-53 Braves at 68-63.

    Atlanta flew to New York after taking three of four in Chicago, but Hurricane Irene was heading toward the nation’s largest city, too. The opening game of the Mets series was played in front of less than 23,000 at Citi Field and journeyman Chris Capuano destroyed the Braves, striking out 13 during a two-hit complete-game shutout. The final two games of the series would be cancelled and, with a Monday off day, the Braves suddenly had a three-day break as they were playing their best baseball of the season.

    They never recovered.

    The weirdness of that weekend in the Big Apple began the unraveling. It concluded at Turner Field on Sept. 28, the final day of the regular season. It would go down as one of the wildest, craziest days in baseball history (the Red Sox simultaneously were giving away the AL wild card), and the Braves entered that Wednesday night matchup with the division-champion Phillies having lost four in a row to fall to 10-19 since flying into New York.

    The Braves and Cardinals were tied at 89-72 as I walked into Turner Field alone for what I hoped would not be the final time that season. My sons were home with the next day being a school day, but downstairs in my filing cabinet were tickets to the first two home NL Division Series games. The sheer thought of those tickets being refunded was ridiculous just four weeks earlier, but as the losses piled up in September my sense of dread grew, and I don’t know if I’ve ever walked into a ballpark with so much doom-and-gloom as I headed to my seat in the lower level, midway between first base and the right-field corner.

    For six innings, everything was fine, and I started growing more confident. The Braves took a 3-1 lead on a Dan Uggla homer in the third and Tim Hudson cruised into the seventh inning. But with one out came two hits and an error by Jack Wilson at shortstop to score a run, and I started thinking again about how my heart was going to be shattered. After all, I sat in this stadium nearly a year before and watched the Braves fall apart in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the NL Division Series. I remember looking around and seeing people who must’ve been thinking the same thing, the wheels spinning in our heads with that, “here we go again” refrain.

    Was the seventh the start of the train careening off the tracks?

    Perhaps not. Craig Kimbrel made his first All-Star team, led the National League with 46 saves and won NL rookie of the year in 2011. Save No. 47 would at worst send the Braves into a one-game playoff with St. Louis. But Kimbrel proceeded to give up a single, get a strikeout, then walk two hitters before Chase Utley’s game-tying sacrifice fly. And as extra innings began to march on, I couldn’t help but think of all the opportunities the Braves had squandered over the past month to avoid being in this situation.

    I saw the Braves win the World Series in person in 1995. Three years earlier, I saw the Braves score three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the 1992 NL pennant in person. I’m generally an optimistic person. But that night I found myself fighting that feeling of “not again” over and over. It only grew after Chipper Jones flew out to deep left-center with a runner on to end the 10th, and it grew even more when Jason Heyward reached third on a wild pitch before Martin Prado struck out to close the 12th.

    Of course, the Phillies scored in the top of the 13th on Hunter Pence’s single that barely cleared the infield dirt. Of course, the Braves would get a runner on with one out in the bottom half, only to see Freddie Freeman – the runner-up to Kimbrel for rookie of the year – ground into a 3-6-3 double play. We knew the Cardinals already had won some 30 minutes earlier, that 8-0 result glaring on the out-of-town scoreboard in the ballpark, and when Freeman slammed his batting helmet into the ground behind first base as the season died, the deflation nearly was overwhelming.

    Other than Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, I don’t think I’ve ever sat in a ballpark after a loss as long as I did that night. But the worst part didn’t come on Sept. 28. It came the morning after, when I had to wake up two little boys for school and tell them their favorite baseball team’s season was over.

    Oh, So Close, But No No-No: June 5, 2013 and July 29, 2018

    Julio, Newk Flirt with Every Pitcher’s Dream

    In all the baseball games these nearly 47-year-old eyes have watched through the years – from playing to coaching my kids to my sports writing days and countless games as a fan – I’ve witnessed exactly one no-hitter. It came the night after the bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics, in an American Legion playoff game on July 27, 1996, in Gainesville, Ga. Andy Hussion, who would help pitch Gainesville High to a state title the following spring, twirled the gem with his dad, former Furman play-by-play man Chuck Hussion, working the PA at Ivey-Watson Field along the shores of Lake Lanier.

    The bombing was the topic of conversation everywhere, including at the ballpark. I was interning as The Times in Gainesville that Olympic summer. We were owned by The Gannett Corp. (which owned USA Today) at the time, and there were veteran newspaper people with decades of experience onsite. When the bomb went off, the presses actually stopped (just like in the movies, but never in real life). Page 1A was redone and our morning edition had the news, while other newspapers that served our area did not. I lost track of how many people in our circulation area awoke on that fourth Saturday of July 1996 with no idea what had happened downtown until they grabbed our paper from their driveways.

    Why do I share this, something that occurred so long ago? I watched two Braves take no-hit bids beyond the seventh inning in the past 40 years. Both occurred this decade. Both hold significant meaning to me, so I cheated a bit to combine both as one entry.

    June 5, 2013: The Braves had won four in a row entering a Wednesday get-away date with the Pirates at Turner Field. Both my kids were with me, ages 10 and 9 and soaking in the initial days of summer vacation. We sat in the upper deck and watched Julio Teheran dazzle the Pittsburgh lineup. Teheran at the time still sat mid-90s with his fastball, and he had everything working. We got to the top of the eighth, everybody was standing, and I was telling my kids repeatedly not to say what all of us were thinking – fortunately, they both were old enough to understand what was happening.

    Two outs in the inning, four outs away. Brandon Inge came on as a pinch-hitter, worked a 1-1 count, then lined a single to left. Teheran retired Starling Marte to end the eighth, David Carpenter worked a perfect ninth to finish the one-hitter, and my sons and I were stunned as how close we had come to seeing a MLB no-hitter in person.

    Not too long after, something happened that made my life just about completely collapse. In some of those darkest days that followed over the next two to three years, in a season of my life where hope was almost nonexistent, that Wednesday afternoon in the sunshine at Turner Field with my boys was a bright memory and a sign of better days to come.

    It just didn’t result in a no-hitter. And that wasn’t the only close call, either.

    July 29, 2018: By the grace of God, I was in such a better place as that final Sunday of July unfolded. It was the day of Chipper Jones’ induction into the Hall of Fame. My oldest son and I gathered with friends in a hotel suite near SunTrust Park to break bread and catch up, then it was on to the ballpark for the series finale with the defending NL champion Dodgers. The Braves were working to avoid a sweep after being outscored 9-2 in the first two games, as many of our thoughts were some 965 miles northeast in interior New York.

    Sean Newcomb took the mound for his 40th major-league start. He got two runs of support in the first inning and two more in the third, and the Massachusetts lefty took it from there, walking Yasiel Puig in the sixth but allowing nothing else entering the ninth. The ballpark, already an emotional mess as many of us had strained to stream Chipper’s acceptance speech during the third inning, was teeming as Newcomb took the mound to start the ninth.

    I had no doubt Newk was going to do this. Zero. Everybody was standing. I couldn’t breathe. My oldest son was pacing like I’d never seen, and he would admit later he thought it was done, too. After two flyouts. Newcomb was one hitter away. Chris Taylor worked the count to 2-2, including a somewhat questionable pitch he took for a ball, then lined a single to left field as third baseman Johan Camargo dove to his left in vain. The Braves would win 4-1, Newcomb would throw 129 pitches on the day, and the two teams would meet 2 ½ months later in the NL Division Series.

    Oh man, talk about the ultimate “what if.” I chatted with my kid while writing this and he said to this day, he was 100 percent certain Newcomb had it. His stuff was that good. I know there’s been ups and downs with Newcomb at times, but that day in July 2018 shows his potential to dominate a great lineup.

    It also shows that no-hitters are so hard to complete, and seeing one is such a rare treat. And, every day you walk into the ballpark, there’s a chance it happens. Perhaps one sweet day, Andy Hussion will have some company on my list.

    —30—

    On Deck: Saying Goodbye to The Skipper, and The Ted

    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.

    Not the ‘K’ Pitcher Many Wanted, But Keuchel May Be Just What Braves Need

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – With every moment that followed the Craig Kimbrel signing with the Cubs on Wednesday evening, coupled with every pitch Kevin Gausman delivered that was drilled into the Pittsburgh night, the Atlanta Braves fanbase reached critical mass, imploring general manager Alex Anthopoulos to do something.

    Some 24 hours later, after an offseason devoid of a major move to upgrade the pitching staff and the corresponding months of – mostly well deserved – criticism, Braves Country can unclench its teeth.

    You have your brand new arm.

    The Braves reportedly agreed to terms Thursday night with free-agent starter Dallas Keuchel on a one-year, $13 million deal, hours after Atlanta dropped their series final at Pittsburgh to fall two games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. Braves beat writer David O’Brien of The Athleticconfirmed the news on Twitter this evening, hours after MLB.com national writer Mark Feinsand categorized the Braves as favorites for the former Houston Astros ace and Cy Young winner.

    This space typically shies away from instant reaction to breaking news, preferring more of the deeper, contextual analysis, storytelling and prose. We’re not where to come for the latest headlines. However, given the depth of the Braves fanbase’s angst over the state of the pitching staff and the obsessive pursuit in many fans’ minds for either Keuchel or Kimbrel – two pitchers united by the first letter of their last name, and the fact they remained unsigned until after this week’s MLB Draft – let’s look at what the Braves hope they are getting and what it means for the defending NL East champs.

    Keuchel, who turned 31 on New Year’s Day, is a two-time All-Star honoree who won the 2015 AL Cy Young, a four-time AL Gold Glove winner and, most importantly to Anthopoulos and Co., has averaged 216 innings pitched per 162 games during his seven-year career. He helped lift Houston to the 2017 World Series championship, going 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA and 1.119 WHIP in 23 starts that season, and in his career is 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 postseason appearances.

    The Astros elected to not resign the left-hander, who they selected in the seventh round of the 2009 draft out of Arkansas. Truth be told, Keuchel wasn’t as dominant in 2018 – giving up a major-league high 211 hits – but he made 34 starts, won 12 games, and posted a solid FIP (3.69), WHIP (1.314) and strikeouts-to-walks ratio (2.64).

    Keuchel’s calling card is his ability to generate ground balls, and while his 2018 rate of 53.7 percent was a drop-off from his ridiculous 66.8 percent ground-ball rate in 2017, that’s the type of pitcher who should thrive pitching in front of a solid infield defense – and Atlanta’s is stellar.

    Still, draft-pick compensation (Houston extended a qualifying offer to Keuchel after last season, which he declined), plus his demands of a large multi-year deal scared off all suitors throughout the offseason and through the first three months of the regular season.

    In a familiar refrain for several Braves pitchers past and present, Keuchel’s first inning often is his shakiest. He posted a 6.88 ERA in the opening frame last season, a number that drops below 2.66 in innings two through four. The fact he made 34 starts a season ago and, according to his agent – the always outspoken Scott Boras – reportedly could be ready to make a major-league start in a week, makes one think the ramp-up time needed to get to the majors will be quick. Reportedly, Keuchel will start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday, one day after a schedule physical in Atlanta.

    Keuchel’s arrival spells the end of Gausman’s tenure in the rotation. Acquired at the trade deadline last summer from Baltimore, the right-hander missed time in spring training with right shoulder soreness and struggled to find a consistent rhythm. He gave up five earned runs in each of his final two starts in April, and his last two outings have been just awful: a combined 15 runs on 20 hits in six innings in losses to the Nationals and Pirates. It became clear after Wednesday’s latest mess that Atlanta no longer could retain a steady state in its rotation.

    Enter Keuchel.

    The deal could prove very beneficial for both sides. Keuchel gets a chance to show what he’s worth on a short-term deal, for a team that’s in contention for a playoff spot. He is reunited with Braves catcher Brian McCann, who has caught 30 of Keuchel’s 183 career starts (3.49 ERA, .240 opponents batting average). The Braves now have a veteran innings eater with playoff experience to guide a young staff, one that has been led by two outstanding yet inexperienced hurlers in Mike Soroka and Max Fried.

    Off the field, it shows the Braves indeed have the ability to add, a horse beaten into oblivion a million times over by fans and the national media. The $13 million price tag isn’t exorbitant by any stretch of the imagination, and Atlanta now has a key addition to its rotation. The focus moving toward the trade deadline can be solely on the bullpen if Atlanta chooses such, with the potential to also pursue an additional starting arm should the right deal with a reliever present itself.

    Seeing Kimbrel sign with the Cubs while Gausman circled the drain once again almost was too much for Braves fans to bear. One fan I chatted with at Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate’s game Thursday told me she ignored her phone once the Kimbrel news broke, and joked she would take her Braves Kimbrel shirtsey, buy a Cubs Kimbrel one, and stitch them together.

    There is no need to stich together anything for the rotation now. Atlanta landed its starter. It’s up to Keuchel to validate the over-the-top patience he and his camp showed the past eight months, and that the Braves exhibited in waiting to bolster their staff.

    If it pays off, it will be the absolute perfect move. Atlanta has placed its bet on the pitcher whose last name starts with K, and it’s the one who will start games, not finish them.

    —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 Bring Pennant Fever Back Home to Atlanta

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – It would’ve been folly back in spring to pinpoint the final Sunday of August in Miami and consider it a seminal moment, but in this 2018 Atlanta Braves season that toggles between fanciful and frightening, it makes perfect sense.

    Game No. 130 on the 162-game schedule found the Braves wrapping up a seven-game road trip against the National League East cellar-dwellers, having won 12-of-21 during a hellish 22-game-in-20-day stretch that some feared would exhaust the pixie dust that seemingly has been sprinkled on this team.

    And yet, there was plenty of dread entering the series finale after Atlanta scored exactly one run in its previous 22 innings, losing 1-0 and 3-1 contests to Miami as Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis – the veteran linchpins in the middle of the lineup – both fighting significant slumps at the same time. Not an optimal situation at this time of the year, especially considering the dynamic Ozzie Albies has been awful against right-handed pitching this month.

    But as the case has been with this team, it’s never nearly as bleak as it seems despite the constant roar on social media, a volume that surely will build as September dawns and the sprint to the finish begins.

    The Braves scored four times in the final four innings Sunday, earning a 4-0 victory that sends Atlanta into its first off day since Aug. 6 with a three-game lead over Philadelphia in the NL East. When the gauntlet of games every day (including two doubleheaders) commenced Aug. 7, the Braves sat 1 ½ games in arrears of the Phillies.

    Sunday concluded with the Braves owning a three-game advantage for the fifth consecutive day. No ground gained – Saturday marked an ample opportunity after the Phillies choked a five-run lead, but Atlanta only could scratch a Dansby Swanson solo homer – but overall it’s still a win for the Braves, considering five days have elapsed from the calendar and the Phillies remain at arm’s length.

    It’s a short arm, though, and seven of the final 10 games of the season loom against the lone challenger to the Braves (yes, you can administer last rites to the ghost of the Washington Nationals, who trail Atlanta by 8 ½ games and who dealt Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams in waiver-wire deals this week that signified everybody’s favorite paper champion raising the white flag). It’s not the time for the offense to turn south, and the Braves averaged 2.5 runs per game on the road trip while hitting .226 as a team with nearly as many strikeouts (44) as hits (45) entering Sunday.

    But recall the old saying that pitching and defense wins championships. It applies here, as the Braves have been outstanding on the mound in recent days. Atlanta allowed six runs total in seven games on the swing, pitching to a 0.89 ERA as a staff with only nine extra-base hits allowed. Kevin Gausman, the Plan B after Pittsburgh overpaid grossly for Chris Archer at the trade deadline, owns a 1.69 ERA in five Atlanta starts after throwing five scoreless, one-hit innings Sunday to win his fourth consecutive decision.

    Gausman’s short outing Sunday can be attributed to being pinch-hit for in the sixth inning, when the Braves were trying to break through offensively nursing a 1-0 lead. It came one night after Brian Snitker left Anibal Sanchez hit for himself with runners on and two outs in a scoreless game, a decision that bit the manager when Sanchez – who is hitless on the season – struck out, then allowed the eventual game-winning run before leaving with a hamstring injury.

    The Braves have been outstanding offensively for large stretches of the season, but in the past month the pitching staff – bolstered by the acquisition of Gausman and relievers Brad Brach and Jonny Venters, the steadying of Sean Newcomb and the sudden consistently good Julio Teheran – has given Atlanta a needed shot in the arm. That says nothing of the contribution by Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson, who excelled in winning their major-league debuts during the 22-in-20 stretch. Coupled with stellar defense – Ronald Acuna made another web-gem worthy catch Sunday, one night after Swanson made an acrobatic field-and-throw from short left field – the Braves are in a great position entering the final 32 games.

    Now, it gets serious. A getaway day in Miami resulted in the perfect outcome for a team that desperately needs a day off, that only has two more the rest of the way. A surging Tampa Bay team, fresh off a sweep of Boston, arrives at SunTrust Park for two games starting Tuesday. The Cubs pop in for a makeup game, followed by three at home with the Pirates and then those aforementioned Red Sox for three games.

    That precedes a seven-game road trip to Arizona and San Francisco, two locales where the Braves historically do not play well. That carries us into the next off day Sept. 13. Sixteen games in 16 days, pretty close to the grind Atlanta just concluded.

    It would be nuts to suggest the Braves will gain 4 ½ games in the standings in that span, as they did during the stretch just ended. It is a brutal schedule, as the heat of the pennant race ratchets up to a temperature Braves Country has not experienced in half a decade. And once through that stretch, the final maddening sprint features series with the hottest team on the planet (St. Louis), the wounded but still dangerous corpse of the Nationals, and those seven head-to-head meetings with Philly (four in Atlanta; the final three games of the regular season on the road).

    Suffice to say, if the Braves pop champagne and don celebratory T-shirts, they will have earned it. On the final Sunday of August, they found a way to grind out a much-needed victory.

    They will need more of that in the final five weeks.

    —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: Anthopoulos boosts October odds, Protects Future

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – This is the day made for Alex Anthopoulos, and certainly it has been circled on his calendar since he took over as Atlanta Braves general manager in November. The aggressive gunslinger who never has shied away from a major deal spent the next eight months evaluating his new organization, all with an eye toward Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

    But when the asking price for Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer – owner of the power strikeout arm and friendly, controllable contract – bubbled beyond the point of comfort, Anthopoulos made the smart move.

    He pushed away from the table.

    Contrary to what he told the assembled media early Tuesday evening at SunTrust Park, the Braves were in on Archer throughout the day. But Pittsburgh offered the duo of Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, a price that would have been akin to Atlanta offering two top-six prospects. That was too much for Anthopoulos, who resisted the emotion of the Braves stunningly sitting ½ game out of first place in the National League East and the pleas of a starving fanbase to overpay for one piece.

    And while there was an initial tinge of disappointment Archer headed toward western Pennsylvania and not north Georgia, at the same time the Braves new head man accomplished what he set out to do. In the five days leading up to the deadline, Anthopoulos improved the bullpen by adding two groundball machines (Jonny Venters and Brad Brach), a right-handed power bat (Adam Duvall), an intriguing starting pitcher (Kevin Gausman) and a veteran reliever who will be available next spring (Darren O’Day).

    The most important part of the past 120 hours or so is the Braves improved the major-league team without so much as tearing the plastic wrap from a minor-league system that is the envy of baseball. Atlanta did not touch 28 of its top 30 prospects. Venters and Brach were acquired for international signing pool money, funds of otherwise little value to Atlanta given MLB’s sanctions against the team. Duvall came at the price of fourth outfielder Preston Tucker and a pair of pitchers (Matt Wisler and Lucas Sims) whose production waned with every failed attempt at big-league success. Tuesday’s deadline deal – announced shortly after the clock expired – sent No. 14 Jean Carlos Encarnacion and No. 30 Brett Cumberland and two unranked prospects (Bruce Zimmermann and Evan Phillips) to the Orioles.

    Trade deadlines are hard to judge. I like to take a timeframe approach when grading the deadline:

    The Immediate (B+): Had Anthopoulos added Archer, Braves fans would have built a statue to their GM outside SunTrust Park tomorrow. It would have been a seismic move, but it would have come at quite the cost. At least two top-10 prospects, plus a prospect ranked somewhere in the 15-to-25 range. It wasn’t from a lack of trying, but Anthopoulos didn’t let the emotion of the day cause a detour from the appointed plan.

    That plan is contingent on ensuring the Braves use their minor-league depth at the right time. There will be a time, perhaps this offseason, where long-loved prospects are shipped away in return for valuable major-league assets. At the deadline, Anthopoulos filled several needs of his team without ripping up four years of careful cultivation of young talent.

    The Short Term (A): The Braves, as currently constituted, have a better chance to reach the playoffs than a week ago. Even without acquiring a top-end starter or a closer, Anthopoulos immediately fixed two glaring needs. First, he shored up a bullpen that’s threatened to sabotage this fantastic season. Venters and Brach are ground-ball machines, good fits with a very good infield defense playing behind them. Swapping Venters and Brach for a pair of recent (wink, wink) additions to the disabled list – Sam Freeman and Peter Moylan – automatically makes the Braves much better in the late innings.

    The second need has become all the more apparent in the past two months. Center fielder Ender Inciarte banged out 201 hits a season ago in hitting .304, but has been awful against left-handed hitters (hitting .207). Duvall – who has struggled to a .205 average in 2018 but does have 15 homers – gives the Braves the opportunity to slide Ronald Acuna into center when a left-hander starts, and Duvall’s presence in the lineup provides a right-handed power source who belted 64 homers in 2016-17. And regardless of whether Duvall or Inciarte are in the starting lineup, the bench automatically is better than a week before.

    Gausman is the wild card. A budding star out of LSU and the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, he sports a 4.22 ERA in 150 career games and struggled at times to find his way in Baltimore (not necessarily a strange thing given how some Orioles hurlers have excelled after leaving town). The Braves view him as an innings-eating dependable arm, one who has worked into the seventh inning seven times in 21 starts – that will thrive away from the AL East and the murderous lineups residing in Boston and New York. Time will tell, but the Braves certainly have a desperate need for more length from their starting rotation, especially given only two off days between now and Sept. 13.

    The Long Term (B-): The hardest grade to give on deadline day. What is the end result of the season? What about the next year? How did the assets you gave up turn out? I’m going B-minus for now mainly because the prospects remain virtually intact, and Atlanta did get players with control. While Venters and Brach are pending free agents, Gausman is under contract through 2020 and Duvall is on a deal through 2021. O’Day is on the shelf with a hamstring injury and won’t contribute in 2018, but is under contract through next season and taking on his $9 million salary for 2019 helped minimize the prospect cost of today’s deal.

    The Braves, through their play through the season’s first 103 games, earned the right for their general manager to make the team better. Anthopoulos delivered, maybe not with star power or  big names, but enough quality to give the Braves a better shot at extending its season beyond game 162.

    —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 near sweep in Pittsburgh, Braves head to Cincy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    POWER-HITTING BRAVES ENTER THE BANDBOX…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Atlanta rebound from Dodgers’ visit, sweep A’s

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

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

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

    What we can say from the last 2 series:

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

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

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

    BRAVES FACE PIRATES IN IMPORTANT SERIES…

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

    Braves sweep Pirates with near no-no, head to L.A.

    As the Pirates arrived at Turner Field for a 3-game set, all the talk was about how good the Pirates are in 2013. Yes, they have a superb starting rotation. Yes, they have the best bullpen in baseball at the moment. Yes, they have great young superstars in the making with Starling Marte, Garrett Jones and all-star Andrew McCutchen. But what they don’t have is that grit and ability to overcome adversity that the Braves have displayed all season.

    There are plenty of good teams, even some great ones, in baseball this season. However, the Braves have been able to prove time and time again that they have incredible potential, have the ability to overcome great adversity via injury

    Game 1:

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

    W: Medlen (2-6) L: Burnett (3-6)

    Kris Medlen, the man with the hardest luck in baseball this season, had a phenomenal outing in game 1 going 7 innings, allowing only 7 hits, recording an unearned run and 6 K’s on 102 pitches. Medlen’s ability to locate his pitches was fooling hot Pittsburgh bats. Once Medlen left the game, the bullpen gave up a run, but was otherwise solid. Going into the series with Pittsburgh, the bullpen had a streak of 20 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. As was previously mentioned, that streak included 3 perfect innings of relief in Sunday’s game against the Nationals.

    Jason Heyward’s bat came alive in the first game of the series. He and Andrelton Simmons both recorded 2 hits and scored a run. And B.J. Upton may have recorded a strikeout and no hits, but he did make it on base 3 times. There is certainly hope of late with B.J.’s swing.

    Game 2:

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

    W: Varvaro (3-0) L: Melancon (1-1)

    When Mike Minor allowed a solo shot to the Pirates’ Sanchez, it was the first homer he’d allowed since surrendering 6 of them in 4 starts stretching from April 28th to May 13th. This is the tale of Minor’s season, really. He and Julio Teheran have truly been the rock solid portion of the rotation for the Braves in the first two months of the season. Minor continues to impress Fredi Gonzalez with his confidence on the mound and continues to impress the league with the number of strikeouts he is able to record in each outing.

    Though the offense wasn’t enough to get Minor the win, there were great signs in the walk-off win. Dan Uggla has his first multi-hit game since May 24th. Getting Uggla’s bat hot would go a long way in terms of supporting pitchers like Medlen and Maholm who haven’t received quite enough run support in their outings. Another highlight came via the bullpen. After the homer by Alvarez in the 4th inning, the pitching staff really buckled down. Jordan Walden pitched a perfect 8th inning and in 11 pitches, Anthony Varvaro pitched a perfect 10th inning when the Braves really needed it. Of course the biggest highlight for the Braves in the 10-inning battle with the Pirates was the walk-off single that scored Dan Uggla. It was Andrelton Simmons’ first walk-off hit in his young career.

    Game 3:

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

    W: Teheran (4-2) L: Rodriguez (6-4)

    Going into the third game of the series, the Braves had the second-best record in baseball at 36-22. They were able to expand their lead on the Washington Nationals in the NL East by 5 1/2 games, but while the Braves were pulling away from the Nats, the Phillies passed the Nats by a 1/2 game in the standings. They are now just 1 game behind the St. Louis Cardinals who hold the best record.

    The standings mattered very little when Julio Teheran took the mound in the finale. Before an afternoon crowd at Turner Field, it was clear early on that Teheran had something special going against the Pirates. His fastball had late life on it, his pitches were nailing the spots catcher Gerald Laird was calling for and his poise on the mound resembled that of a veteran ace. The 22-year-old showed why it was important for the Braves to hang with him as he struggled in the early going last season with the big league club.

     

    Teheran took a no-no into the 8th inning. His first attempt at a no-hitter was blown after 7 2/3 innings when Brandon Inge laced a drive down the right field line. Teheran’s 7 2/3 innings of hitless baseball added to an impressive season. He has now gone 8+ innings in 2 of his 15 big league starts. And each time he goes out there, Teheran has the potential and the arsenal to go deep in a game. You can count on the fact that this won’t be the last time we see Teheran throw a gem like this.

    The Braves didn’t need much by way of offense, but they had contributions from some of the more unlikely guys in the lineup. Andrelton Simmons led off an inning for the Braves 10 times in the 33 innings of the Braves/Pirates series. This is precisely what Fredi Gonzalez is looking for in a lead-off man and what he never got from B.J. Upton. Simmons leading off bodes well for the Braves. In addition to this, the Braves saw some pop off the bat of Gerald Laird. He and Evan Gattis went back-to-back with homers against the Pirates. It was the sixth time Braves homered back-to-back this season. For Laird, it was his 1st homer since May 28, 2012 while with the Detroit Tigers.

    It’s important to note just how special the rapport is that Gerald Laird has built with young Julio Teheran. It is clear watching the two in a game that Teheran trusts Laird’s judgement and follows his lead. This battery has been brilliant all season and while there is certainly more offense to gain from putting Gattis or McCann behind the plate when Teheran is pitching, the role of Laird will turn out down the road to be very important in the development of Teheran.

    FRESH OFF SWEEP, BRAVES FLY TO LOS ANGELES…

    Following Teheran’s impressive 7 2/3 innings of no-hit pitching Wednesday, the possibility of Teheran being the odd man out when Brandon Beachy returns from the disabled list later this month. He and Mike Minor have been the most consistent pitchers in the rotation. Currently, both Mike Minor and Kris Medlen are in the top 20 in baseball in ERA (Minor 9th with a 2.52 ERA and Medlen 20th with a 3.14 ERA). Paul Maholm is too valuable as a starter to be sent to the ‘pen as a situational reliever or even a long man. The work that was put into moving Medlen into the rotation as well as his strength as a starter, despite his misleading win-loss record, doesn’t suggest he would be the obvious choice to send to the ‘pen when Beachy returns, either. Ace Tim Hudson certainly isn’t going anywhere, though his outings have not been as strong as Atlanta would like. There is certainly the possibility that Beachy could stay in the ‘pen as Medlen did when he returned from Tommy John surgery. This would better enable the Braves to keep an eye on his inning count, preserving him for the postseason. There is no question that his return presents the toughest obstacle for Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez, but an obstacle that can only have positive results.

    Going into Los Angeles, the Braves face a team that is dealing with the disappointment of not being as good as they were made out to and paid to be. The Dodgers are currently last in the NL West, 9 games back in a division led by the Arizona Diamondbacks. They are below .500 with a record of 25-33. Their pitching is currently 7th in the National League in ERA. Luckily, the Braves will once again not have to face ace Clayton Kershaw on their trip to L.A. The Dodgers are currently 13th in the NL in runs scored with only the Nationals and Marlins behind them. Despite their lack of runs scored and winning, the Dodgers are 6th in the league in team batting average (compared to the Braves who are 11th).

    The Braves will miss Kershaw because of the pitching schedule, but they’ll also miss a handful of Dodgers due to injury. Capuano, Beckett, Billingsley, Crawford, Ellis and Kemp are all hurt. The Kemp injury is particularly good news to Tim Hudson who has been hit hard by Kemp over the years.

    Thursday night’s game at Chavez Ravine will feature ace Hudson (4-4, 4.80) vs. Greinke (2-1, 4.80). The second game of the series features Maholm (7-4, 3.68) vs. Ryu (6-2, 2.89). Game 3 of the 4-game set features Medlen (2-6, 3.14) vs. Fife (1-0, 4.50). The final game of the series against the Dodgers will be Minor (7-2, 2.52) vs. Lilly (0-2, 5.09).

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

    Braves facing Pirates to start mild June schedule

    The Atlanta Braves spent the first two months of the season largely on the road. Their home numbers hardly reflected the early going because Turner Field began to feel like the visitor’s park due to them being there so rarely. For instance, Tim Hudson’s numbers during April and May at home hardly looked like they belonged with his overall ERA because he’d had far too many horrific starts on the road. Of course, in baseball all things balance out, every batting average comes down to earth and no ERA stays at zero forever.

    Numbers may fluctuate, but the Braves have to be looking forward to the success that could lay before them in the month of June. Of the 26 remaining games in June after finishing the series against Washington, just 9 of them will be played against teams that at the time of this post have a record of over .500. Those teams include the Pirates, the Giants and the Diamondbacks.

    With the amateur draft approaching this weekend and just over a month left of all star voting, it is relevant to ask where the Braves currently sit. The obvious questions are will the offense live up to its potential and will the bullpen be able to survive the losses it has sustained.

    In terms of offense, there remain questions about the Upton brothers. Whether Justin’s production will drop off as we’ve seen in recent weeks and whether B.J.’s swing is repairable are the major questions for the offseason acquisitions. The Braves are not getting the kind of offense from Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward that they are both capable of. Heyward has shown signs of life lately, homering against the Pirates in the first game of the series. Dan Uggla has always been a streaky hitter, but he has not lived up to the promise he held when the Braves traded Omar Infante to the Marlins for him. Andrelton Simmons can be an offensive force for the Braves. However, his aggressiveness on the base paths will always put him in the position of being prone to injury. Taking the extra base on an out-of-the-box single isn’t always necessary and especially not when it puts his body in danger of injury on the slide. Andrelton will grow into his skills and until then, what the Braves get from him on offense will be worth it because his defense is so spectacular.

    The Braves bullpen has had its share of tribulation this season given the major losses it has suffered. Taking into account that at one point the Braves were without O’Flaherty, Venters, Walden, Martinez and Ayala (Walden has since returned), it is remarkable that the remaining members of the ‘pen have been able to keep the ship afloat. As Atlanta put away the Nationals Sunday, taking 2-of-3 for the rival Nats to bring their lead in the NL East to 6.5 games, the bullpen had an active streak of 20 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. As a group, they pitched 3 perfect innings in Sunday’s finale. It isn’t all bad news, though. With Brandon Beachy returning from Tommy John rehab in June, one arm–an arm that hasn’t been determined–will join the ‘pen.

    Evan Gattis won the National League Rookie of the Month award for the 2nd consecutive month in May.

    Evan Gattis won the National League Rookie of the Month award for the 2nd consecutive month in May.

    Atlanta has had its share of surprises this season, not all of them bad. Ramiro Pena has been one of the best pick ups for the bench in recent years. With the trade of Martin Prado, the Braves were desperate for a do-it-all utility man and they were more than rewarded for picking him up. Evan Gattis continues to impress everyone in baseball. Gattis won Rookie of the Month in the National League for the second straight month. He is the first Braves rookie to win in back-to-back months since Jason Heyward did so in 2010. Heyward came in 2nd in 2010 behind Buster Posey who was awarded NL Rookie of the Year. The Braves starting rotation has been pleasantly surprised to be carried by the young guns at the tail end, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. And in the ‘pen, Luis Avilan has been impressive. Had the ‘pen not been decimated by injuries in the first 2 months, Avilan would have been a perfect candidate to join the rotation for spot starts.

    The Braves face Pittsburgh not only after beating Nationals, but knocking down the injured Nats one more peg. The day the Nats finally got away from Turner Field, their on-base percentage actually dropped lower than that of the barely out of the minors Miami Marlins. While they certainly have dealt with injuries, the Nationals have not seen the Gio Gonzalez of last season, their bullpen is shaky at times and they aren’t getting the offensive production that was such a surprise to baseball last season.

    Pittsburgh is, in many ways, what the Nationals were last season at this point–the surprise story of baseball. They have starting pitching that has dominated. They have perhaps the best bullpen in baseball right now. The offense is firing on all cylinders with all star Andrew McCutchen leading Garrett Jones, Starling Marte and Jose Tabata. They are in a market that is small enough to not get the kind of attention the bigger clubs in the game get. And the managerial competence of Clint Hurdle cannot be overlooked. If a team like the Nationals could be the Cinderella story of 2013, the Pirates have that potential this season.

    Once the Braves wrap with the Pirates, they head to Los Angeles to face the highly disappointed and disappointing Dodgers. Barring a rain out or change in the pitching schedule, Atlanta will luck out once again and miss the most dominant pitcher in the National League, Clayton Kershaw. The southern California swing will go from Chavez Ravine to Petco Park and then the Braves will return home to face the Giants. Putting additional distance between themselves and the rest of the NL East will be a top priority for the Braves as they make their way through a mild June.

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

     

    Braves fall to Bucs, head to snow-covered Colorado

    The Braves finally fell to Earth in Pittsburgh, dropping 3 of 4 games in the series to the Bucs. With their 10-game win streak over, the Braves looked to get things rolling again against the Pirates, but the Pirates had other plans. Phenomenal Pittsburgh pitching, both from their starters and a solid bullpen, stifled the powerful Atlanta bats. The Braves were more than ready to get out of Pittsburgh after losing the 4-game series.

    Game 1:

    The Braves began the series in Pittsburgh with a somewhat uncertain bullpen. Avila remained day-to-day with a hamstring strain. Walden hadn’t made an appearance in what seemed like weeks. And there was some question of who might be called up if Avila did need to make a trip to the disabled list. In game 1, none of that appeared important as Varvaro and Kimbrel truly carried the team to the win.

    Game 1 saw something that has never happened in Braves history: Justin Upton became the first player with 9 home runs in his team’s first 15 games of the season. Older brother B.J. Upton lined an 0-2 pitch into left field to give Atlanta a 1-run lead in the 1st inning. It was B.J.’s 2nd homer of the season.

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

    W: Varvaro (1-0) L: Hughes (1-1) SV: Kimbrel (7)

    Game 2:

    Tim Hudson would really like that elusive 200th career win. The win wasn’t in the cards in game 2. Huddy only pitched 4 innings and gave up 9 hits, 6 ERs, and 2 BBs with 2 Ks. He will try again for that 200th win in the series finale in chilly Denver. However, Huddy hasn’t had the best luck or any luck in Denver. Coors Field and U.S. Cellular Field are the only two parks in MLB that Hudson is winless in (with minimum of 4 starts). Hudson doesn’t boast great numbers at Coors, either. He has an 0-2 record with a terrible 8.04 ERA in five starts there. It’s safe to say that Huddy’s sinker simply doesn’t sink at Coors.

    Going into game 2, the Braves’ Justin Upton led all of Major League Baseball in homers and OPS. Chris Johnson led MLB in average (which he still does). Paul Maholm led MLB in wins (tied) and ERA. And closer Kimbrel led MLB in saves. The Braves were in great shape until the first of their 3 game slide. Evan Gattis came through for the Braves again, launching his 5th home run of the season.

    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
    Pirates 0 3 0 0 3 0 0 0 x 6 9 0

    W: Rodriguez (2-0) L: Hudson (2-1)

    Game 3:

    Paul Maholm began the the third game of the series with 25 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. According to Elias, Maholm’s 25 1/3 innings of scoreless ball were the most for a starting pitcher when opening the season since Luis Tiant pitched 27 scoreless in 1966. That’s some pretty impressive company. But like the Braves in the series, Maholm was bound to fall to Earth eventually. In game 3, Dan Uggla injured his left calf. He said the injury felt similar to one he experienced in 2011. He was surprised the day after that it didn’t hurt as bad as he expected. We’ll likely see Uggla back in the lineup in the first or second game in Colorado. The Braves saw a roster move in game 3. Right-hander David Carpenter was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to join the bullpen while utility man Blake DeWitt was placed on the 15-day DL with a lower back strain.

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

    W: McDonald (2-2) L: Maholm (3-1) SV: Grilli (6)

    Game 4:

    Kris Medlen will be the first to tell you that sometimes a quality outing just isn’t enough. That was the case in the season finale. Medlen’s curveball was superb, but the strike zone made using his control a tricky tightrope walk. Even a quality outing can be rendered meaningless with run support. That was the case again in game 4 when the Braves managed 8 hits, but only got 2 to cross the plate. While the bats weren’t productive in the series finale, the gloves were. Andrelton Simmons did something nobody in baseball seems to remember seeing before: In an attempt to throw out a runner at first base on a grounder hit hard up the middle, he transferred the ball behind his back from his glove to his barehand so he could throw across his body. Though he didn’t get the runner, the display of defensive prowess reminded the Braves why they so firmly believe he will win many gold gloves in his career. In addition to that spectacular flash of leather, Andrelton ran down the third base line and dove with his back to the ball for an out (with an incoming Justin Upton nearing Andrelton as he dove, I might add). Justin Upton’s defensive ability has been a pleasant surprise to the Braves who thought his former team, the Diamondbacks, had written off Upton’s potential on defense. Upton robbed a Pedro Alvarez of a home run in the 6th inning.

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

    W: Wilson (1-0) L:Medlen (1-2) SV: Grilli (7)

    BRAVES HEAD TO ROCKY WEATHER…

    The Braves will, like the Mets and Diamondbacks before them on the schedule, encounter winter weather as they begin a 3-game set in Colorado. According to the current forecast, there is a chance of snow both Monday and Tuesday in Denver. Both Tuesday and Thursday’s game last week in Denver were postponed due to snow.

    Freddie Freeman returns from the disabled list in the first game in Denver. Freeman was sidelined with an oblique injury, a DL trip he was less than thrilled with. He thrived at Gwinnett, going 5-for-5 with 2 doubles and 2 RBIs on Saturday, and appears to be more than ready to return to the big league lineup. The timing of his return is fantastic for Freeman who boasts a .406 average with 3 doubles, 4 homers, a triple and 11 RBIs in his 7 games played at Coors Field in his career. His return presents a predicament for manager Fredi Gonzalez. Chris Johnson, who has filled in for Freddie at first base, is the hottest hitter in baseball right now. Johnson has a .407 average with 24 hits, 4 doubles, 2 homers and 7 RBIs. He leads Major League Baseball in average (of players with 50+ plate appearances). Does Gonzalez give Chris Johnson all of the playing time at third base or does he continue with a platoon of Johnson and Juan Francisco? Whatever Gonzalez chooses to do, having Francisco or Johnson available off the bench with Freeman back in the lineup will be a boost to the Braves in the late innings.

    While the Braves’ bats were not up to par in Pittsburgh, it’s important to remember just how good the Braves have been despite some glaring weaknesses. In the National League, there are just over 20 players batting .185 or lower (qualifying with 25+ plate appearances) and four of them are Braves starters Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Andrelton Simmons and Dan Uggla. There are signs of life, however. In the final game against the Bucs, Simmons had his third multi-hit game of the year. Upton and Heyward are working hard in the batting cage. And perhaps the rest Uggla is getting for his injured calf will reset his timing. Reed Johnson, known his career for being a great bat off the bench, hasn’t given the Braves quite as much as they’d hoped thus far, either. The good news is that the Braves have received tons of offense from unlikely spots. When you think about how much Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson have given the team, it’s pretty incredible that they both started the season as backup players and eventually platoon players. Ramiro Pena has provided pop when needed off the bench. The Braves are getting it done with a different combination of key pieces in their wins. We have yet to see this team play with all the pieces in place.

    In the 4 games in Pittsburgh, the Braves were hitting a paltry .179 with 4 HRs. To be successful in Colorado, the bats are going to have to wake up. What better place to right the bats than the hitter friendly Coors Field?

    One last note as we head into the Colorado series: Braves’ fans have not all been patient with young Julio Teheran. It’s important that we think about the early struggles last season of Mike Minor. In Minor’s first 3 starts of the 2012 season, the rookie posted ERAs of 10.80, 4.38 and 3.10. In Teheran’s first 3 starts of the 2013 season, he has posted a 9.00, 7.36 and 7.31. Remember that in one of those starts, the wheels appeared to come off early on and then he settled in and ate up some innings and saved the bullpen. Teheran is still only 22-years-old and has a lot to learn about himself and the game. He has made only 7 big league starts. His story may turn out to be much like Minor’s. We can’t know yet if he’ll gain confidence and settle in the way Minor did in the second-half of the 2012 season. The only way for us to find out is to be patient with the young righty and hope that he is the recipient of some luck along the way.

    Monday’s pitching matchup will feature Minor (2-1, 0.95) vs. Francis (1-1, 8.25). Tuesday features Teheran (0-0, 7.31) vs. Garland (2-0, 3.32). Getaway day in Denver will be an afternoon game with Hudson (2-1, 4.50) vs. TBD.

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

    Braves win streak snapped by KC, next up: Pittsburgh

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

    Game 1:

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

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

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

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

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

    Game 2:

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

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

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

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

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

    BRAVES HIT THE ROAD FOR PNC PARK…

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

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

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

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

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