Braves have righted themselves since stumbling out of the break
About a month ago, I referenced a recent conversation with John Smoltz and wrote about how you usually get a sense of where a team is going based on how they play coming out of the All-Star break. It was a simple theory I had possessed until watching this year’s Braves over the past month. (Hopefully this provides some clarity.)
During the first two weeks coming out of this year’s break, the Braves couldn’t get out of their own way. Their starting rotation fell apart and they had taking advantage of scoring opportunities while utilizing lineups that were depleted while Chipper Jones and Brian McCann dealt with injuries.
But while they were trending in the wrong direction through the earliest days of August, the Braves have won 18 of 31 since the break and widened their lead in the National League Wild Card race to six games — one game better than the advantage they had entering the break.
The Braves were fortunate Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman provided middle-of-the-lineup production in the absence of McCann and Jones. At the same time, they were wise to bolster their lineup with Michael Bourn without having to give up any of their top four pitching prospects.
And of course they have proven lucky with the production Jose Constanza has provided them. You really can’t call it anything but luck. If anybody in the Braves front office thought Constanza could provide just half of what he has produced during his first 2 1/2 weeks, then you obviously have to ask why he was aiding Dave Brundage and not Fredi Gonzalez for the season’s first four months.
The Braves have also seemingly positioned themselves to benefit from a calculated gamble they took when they opted not to get a reliever at the Trade Deadline, partly because they felt Arodys Vizcaino could serve as the extra right-handed reliever they have needed for a couple months.
At this time last week, I was writing something about they were taking a great risk with a 20-year-old prospect, who had 56 2/3 innings above the Class A-Advanced level and also made a grand total of nine relief appearances since moving to a relief role about a month ago.
Vizcaino was obviously battling nerves when he made his big league debut Aug. 10. While recording just two outs in the ninth inning with the Braves holding a four-run lead, he walked two and hit a batter. In his past three appearances, he has allowed just three of the 17 batters he has faced to reach safely.
Vizcaino’s two scoreless innings at the end of last night’s game earned him his first victory and preserved the impressive effort produced by Randall Delgado, who was bidding for a no-hitter until Cody Ross opened the seventh inning with a solo shot.
Even more composed than he was when he made his Major League debut against the Rangers in June, Delgado certainly took advantage of an injury-depleted lineup last night. But at the same time, he proved he is nearly ready to compete on a consistent basis at the big league level.
Delgado has great confidence in his changeup and has shown good command in his first two big league starts. It will be interesting to see how much better he could prove to be if he starts gaining more confidence in his breaking ball.
With Jair Jurrjens returning from the disabled list tonight, Delgado has returned to Triple-A Gwinnett to continue his development. There’s a chance he could return later this season. But even if he doesn’t, he has given the Braves even more reason to feel good about the future.