Braves suddenly creating optimism
Like I said within Friday’s blog post, there’s a lot to like about this team right now. Well, I might have actually said something completely different, or essentially the same thing many of you were likely feeling before the Braves abruptly turned things around with a three-game sweep of the defending world champion Giants.
Coming off Thursday’s tough 12-inning loss to the Dodgers, things simply didn’t look good for the Braves. Their offense was lifeless and injuries were depleting their bullpen. Peter Moylan was in Atlanta with a sore back and Jonny Venters was heading to San Francisco simply hoping that there was no reason to be concerned about the discomfort in his upper left arm.
There certainly didn’t seem to be any concern as Venters needed just 13 pitches to record a scoreless 10th inning Sunday afternoon and secure a three-game sweep that completely altered the mood surrounding this club. David Ross was singing a little louder in the clubhouse and Jason Heyward’s infectious laugh was reverberating off the clubhouse walls.
Having lost six of their previous nine games, the Braves obviously needed the kind of pick-me-up they gained while beating Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and a solid Giants bullpen (All-Star closer Brian Wilson got the loss Sunday) this weekend.
Friday’s win was a product of Tommy Hanson’s solid start and the ability to take advantage of a pair of Bumgarner walks in a four-run, third inning. Saturday’s victory was a product of Tim Hudson’s strong start, the patience shown while Lincecum issued a career-high six walks and the ability to deliver key hits after those walks.
Sunday’s thrilling victory was a product of so many different things. Brandon Beachy produced a very encouraging start and Jason Heyward did something more than you’d know if you simply looked at the box score and saw that his three-hit performance included a clutch go-ahead three-run, seventh-inning homer.
Heyward started to bail while looking at a 1-1 curveball that left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt threw him in the seventh inning. Three pitches later, the 21-year-old right fielder never flinched before drilling Affeldt’s 1-2 curveball over the right-centerfield wall.
Within Friday’s post, I mentioned that scouts were saying it’s time for Heyward to make adjustments. While recording seven hits, including a double and homer, in 12 at-bats this past weekend, he certainly looked much better than he had while hitting .164 (9-for-55) in the 17 games leading up to this series.
After Jairo Asencio provided his best Luis Valdez impersonation and allowed the Giants to erase a three-run deficit with a four-run seventh, Dan Uggla began the eighth with a game-tying home run. Uggla will soon start to show more consistency at the plate. But I don’t know if I’ve ever seen somebody deliver so many key hits while batting just .182.
Capping the top offensive contributors from Sunday’s game, Nate McLouth obviously delivered the decisive blow when he sent Wilson’s 3-2 fastball to centerfield for a two-out, two-run single in the ninth. Last year, McLouth wouldn’t have had a chance in that situation. This year with the renewed confidence he has shown since returning to Atlanta in late January, he was able to show great patience after getting ahead of Wilson with a 3-0 count.
“With two outs there I wanted to take two strikes and make him throw two consecutive strikes,” McLouth said. “Luckily, the last one, I put a pretty good swing on it.”
Recognizing that Wilson had absolutely no room for error, McLouth allowed himself to look at a 3-1 fastball and know that the All-Star closer’s 3-2 delivery would also likely be a heater.
While McLouth was being heralded for the game-winning and Chipper Jones was drawing attention after delivering a pair of big hits on his 39th birthday, Eric O’Flaherty’s performance was being overshadowed.
But out of all the key contributions made Sunday, O’Flaherty’s might have been the most significant. Proving yet again that he is much more than just a left-handed specialist, the veteran southpaw tossed two scoreless innings and handed the ball to Venters to work the 10th.
At a time when Peter Moylan’s great value is being recognized by his injury-related absence, O’Flaherty shined while allowing just one hit over those two scoreless innings.
Without O’Flaherty’s effort, Jones wouldn’t have been able to sum up the 10-inning win with another of his top-caliber quotes.
“That’s what you live to play for,” Jones said. “You don’t live to play for the 5-0 shutout. That game right there, that’s what you live for. That’s two teams getting after it. Body shot for body shot and then the knockout blow.”
Now the Braves will attempt to extend the offensive frustrations of the Padres, who have hit .205 and averaged 2.2 runs over their past 14 games.
As he opposes tough-luck Dustin Moseley tonight, Derek Lowe will have a chance to bounce back from last week’s miserable four-inning effort in Los Angeles. Moseley is 0-3 with a 1.40 ERA. The Padres have been shutout in three of the four games he’s started and the one run they scored in his last game was plated three innings after he exited.
ODDS and ENDS: The Braves enter this series against the Padres at 11-12. They were 9-14 through their first 23 games last year…Fans in the Charlotte area should head to the ballpark tonight to watch Triple-A Gwinnett’s Julio Teheran make his fourth start of the season. The 20-year-old phenom has gone 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in his first three starts…Mike Minor was named the International League’s Player of the Week Monday. In the two starts he made for Gwinnett last week, he posted a 1.42 ERA and recorded 13 strikeouts (12 2/3 innings).