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).

30 Comments

11-12 versus 9-14 last year? That looks like improvement to me, haha.

Mark,
You post that Beachy has finally endured struggles, and then he pitches two nice games. Then you posted that the Braves are struggling through their first 20, and then they sweep the WS Champs.
Now, you post that the Braves are creating optimism….I hope you don’t jinx it…..

Great, Mark Jinxed us. Thanks Mark! If we lose tonight at least we know who to blame. We can blame Mark instead of McClouth (except Billreef – I expect he will still blame McCLUTCH even if he goes 4-4 with 2 homers)

If McSlouch goes 4-4 with 2 homers I’ll be busy preparing for the 2nd coming because Armageddon is nigh. With that swing of his, 1-5 with a single is a feat. I’m just glad that more teams don’t have speed demons like Pat Burrell(career 7 SB in 12 seasons) to test the arm of the mighty Nate.

Can we talk about someone who has REALLY heated up. Heyward is batting .310 in the 2 spot with a .907 OPS before the homerun tonite. That compared to McDribbler’s recent 2 hit streak is a bit dramatic. But you guys can go on extolling the virtues of a guy who has a horrific swing, no defensive skills and no power, if you like. Personally I would rather applaud the real contributors on the ball club.

Yes, I want all of you Heyward haters out there to just stop it! You tell ‘em Billnate! We just don’t give Heyward any love at all around here.

It is kinda hard to tell with all the boy-on-man love you guys are giving to blondie. How about this, Freeman has probably saved as many runs this April as the Troy Glaus experiment drove in last May. How nice it is to have a player who can actually field at 1st.

Oh and the quote from Barryboy

“Time for Heyward to make an adjustment. They are consistently getting him out grounding weakly to second. They are on to something and are pounding it. Hopefully he will adjust soon.”

BTW, your timing is hysterical. That quote was from April 20th.

It’s about time you started recognizing my impeccable timing Bill. I call it right quite often. Thrilled to see the adjustments from Heyward. Now, let’s see if you can make some, bill.

Yeah, I think Heyward was watching the Blog and decided to make some adjustments after your timely advice. I am gonna throw up if I keep this up. There is only so much sarcasm, this one man can stomach. Actually the adjustment was made long before you thought one would be appropriate and you just failed to recognize that it had been made, as in most of your inane commentary. Try to pay attention, son.

He must have been waiting on that timely advice from you Barry

Huge Snort

Is Eric the new “everyday Johnny”?

Linebrink throws meat. Always has, why did we think he would do anything different here, Thanks Frank.

The Braves are considering renaming 0 for 4, 0 for Nate. They are checking to see if Pittsburgh has patented the term already.

A Nate McLouth cycle would be a strikeout, a ground out, a fly out and third pitch foul on a bunt attempt.

You know McDonald’s was thinking of naming a new sandwich after Nate. They would call it the McRbi. Why? It only comes around every once in a while, it leaves a really bad taste in your mouth and has as much chance of making it to the plate as a pimple faced 16 yr old from Stockbridge.

Got to give props to the McRbi joke, Bill. Very funny. Nonetheless – you can accuse us of “blind optimism” when it comes to Nate. And we can accuse you of rooting against the guy, hoping he fails, to prove how right you are. Nate is a solid guy and we’re better when he’s better… and so far – he has been better. It takes a lot of work and gusto to rebound from the year he had last year. He is actually tied with Heyward in hits with only one more AB. The one who should really be taking the heat right now is your new man crush – Danny Uggla. .187 BA / .232 OBP / 8 rbi’s (from the 5 and 6 slots, compared to Nate’s 6 rbi’s from the 2-8 slots and over +.100 more in OBP.)
p.s. – Jason Heyward, Matt Murton, and Kyle Davies all grew up within a 10 mile radius of Stockbridge.

So did you, Bravo. So did you.

I know this is going to surprise you, Bravo – and you are right in that the numbers to date do not lie. But even with those numbers, I have been more impressed with Uggla than I thought I would be. His defense has been way better (thanks in some part to Freddie Freeman) than I thought it would be, and some of his hits have been HUGE. And he is not striking out nearly as much as I thought he would. Let’s hope his average comes up, and his defense remains true.

Boy, the Stockbridge shot was just a lucky guess. Just one more reason for Bravo to hate Bill.

“hate” is not in my vocab, Bill… I actually enjoy you on here believe it or not!

I knew Marks blog would jinx the braves :(

Wow! It appears as if BillyBobReefer is attempting to perfect his comedy routine here. I hope he hasn’t quit his day job yet.
But the silk purse in the sow’s ear in this Rodney Dangerfield wannabe’s routine is that it keeps him away from his homophobic references.

The bench is 13 for 75, the pitchers are 1 for 41. So, 14 for 116 comes out to a cool .121 AVG. Take Hinske and his 7 for 25 out of the equation, and it is starting to look like the Bat Phone in Gwinnett is about to ring. It is time to borrow a couple hot sticks for a little while.

And Bill, I know this is going to anger you some, it doesn’t make me feel all that good either, but Brooks’ time in the ATL is just about over.

Uggla has a pathetic BA right now. Now way to disagree with that. However, most of his hits have been of the clutch variety. Plus the guy will always hustle and has better than advertised in the field. Plus, if you are a reliever late in the game, who would you rather face??? McLouth or Uggla?? Just the fact that Uggla is in the lineup makes a big difference. His average will come up, there is no doubt about that.
I try not to be a big Nate-hater, but you have to admit he has a way below average arm. I’m just not sure what this guy has that is so valuable. Nate is like a girlfriend that you just don’t want to break up with. You try to make excuses….she’s not that ugly, she’s been nicer to me lately, she’s not that bad in the sack….eventually you have got to tuck and run. She may be a nice girl, and she may try hard but she’s got to go. There I am done with my Nate bashing for at least a month. I hope he turns it around.

Maybe the most horribly managed game I have ever witnessed. From Linebrink on… Fredi is pretty bad at this.

Viva – it’s not that it’s bad. But it is strikingly different. Remember, we are used to the way Bobby did things. This hit me like a ton of bricks on Sunday when we blew the three run lead in the 7th. Bobby would have never managed it that way. But it worked out. The team is REALLY missing Peter Moylan right now. Middle relief is an issue, no doubt.

Bravo, couldn’t reply beneath your last point, but I agree. Bill keeps it fun. I enjoy reading him.

No. It’s bad managing. He brings in O’Flaherty to face 2 righties and a switch hitter. He gets 2 outs and then brings in the bullpen’s second worst reliever who unsurprisingly gave up a double for a run. The only actual surprise there is that it wasn’t hit out of the park. The one out that Linebrink recorded was smashed right at Prado. Maybe since the 7th should be as important as the 8th or 9th, Fredi could just maybe try and use Venters for 2 innings since he averages about 3 pitches a batter.. and I don’t know.. maybe getting the tying run out and preserving the win in the 7th is more important than coming up bases empty in the 8th.
Oh! And then the genius call of letting Martinez bunt instead of letting Ross hit which fell apart–not in a worse case scenario–but in the scenario that Fredi had created.. one that was lose-lose. Martinez who has probably bunted 5 times in the past 5 years predictably botches the bunt. And now he’s on base.. hmmmm.. which is better?.. having Jurjjens pinch run and then Kimbrel pitching the bottom of the inning, because if he gets 3 outs we have the heart of our order coming up. NOPE! Fredi was dying to get another inning from our long reliever in a win/lose situation. Martinez, probably still flustered from the bunt/baserunning incident, gives up a walk off homer. So.. we lost the game and still had our best RH bench bat and our best RH reliever still on the bench. And don’t give me the closer crap, because if you’re playing for closes and not wins then you have already lost. Or the backup catcher issue, because McCann had caught for 12 innings and should have been replaced anyway.

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