Odds and ends: Heyward staying positive; Freeman and Kimbrel approaching records
The Braves widened their lead in the National League Wild Card standings to 9 1/2 games last night. If their advantage remains about the same, there is a chance they could be celebrating their second consecutive postseason berth while playing the Marlins in Florida.
Just wondering how some members of the Marlins’ brass would feel if the manager (Fredi Gonzalez) they fired a year ago finds himself taking a champagne bath in their stadium next month?
While winning the first two games of this week’s series at Wrigley Field, the Braves have lived dangerous. The Cubs have gone just 3-for-27 with runners in scoring position and stranded 24 runners.
As for Jason Heyward, he took full advantage of the opportunity that was presented after Cubs starter Casey Coleman allowed four straight Braves to reach base with two outs in Tuesday’s fourth inning. The 22-year-old outfielder stayed on Coleman’s 1-2 curveball and drove it the other way over the left-centerfield fence for his first career grand slam.
While Heyward’s playing time has been significantly reduced this month because of Jose Constanza, he has recorded a number of promising at-bats over the past week or so and maintained a positive approach. But he did admit after last night’s game that these past couple weeks have not been easy.
“There’s no way of getting around it, it’s not easy when you’re not playing every day,” Heyward said. “I understand the situation we have at hand. I want to win games. I want to go to the playoffs and experience that again. We want to go as far as possible. I definitely understand I’m not going to be in there every day.”
Kimbrel and Freeman posting impressive numbers: There is still plenty of time to debate which Brave should be named the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award? But over the past couple weeks it has remained clear that the award will go to either Freddie Freeman or Craig Kimbrel, who matched a Major League rookie record with his 40th save last night.
Kimbrel endured some minor growing pains during the season’s first couple months and has since proven to be simply dominant. In his past 32 appearances, the 23-year-old right-hander has worked 31 2/3 scoreless innings, limited opponents to a .114 batting average, recorded 55 strikeouts and issued just 10 walks. In the process he has converted each of his 22 save opportunities. <p>
Some other interesting Kimbrel notes:
He is averaging 14.56 strikeouts per nine innings this season. Among pitchers that have logged at least 50 innings, only five — Carlos Marmol (15.99), Eric Gagne (14.98), Billy Wagner (14.95), Brad Lidge (14.93) and Armando Benitez (14.77)– in the history of the game have finished a season with a strikeout per nine average of at least 14.56.
Kimbrel has had 18 one-run save opportunities this year. He blew three of the first seven and has successfully converted each of his past 11. Three of his past four opportunities have been of the one-run variety.
With the 32 games remaining, Kimbrel has a shot to reach 50 saves. But it might be a stretch for him to match the franchise and National League record of 55 saves that Smoltz set in 2002. Eric Gagne matched the NL record in 2003.
Kimbrel has obviously racked up some credentials that will certainly influence many of the ROY voters. But Freeman is also in the midst of producing some numbers that will rank among the best recorded by an Braves rookie in the Atlanta era (since 1966).
Freeman will likely set a new Atlanta rookie record for hits and doubles. He entered Wednesday ranking fifth with 135 hits. Sitting in front of him are Ron Gant (146), Heyward (144) Dusty Baker (143), Chipper Jones (139).
Freeman’s 28 doubles leave him one shy of the Atlanta rookie record Heyward posted last year.
Earl Williams owns the Atlanta rookie record with 33 homers. While that record seems safe for at least another year, Freeman could certainly pass Chipper Jones and Bob Horner, who both hit 23 homers in their rookie season. David Justice ranks second with 28.
Freeman’s .293 batting average ranks as the third-best mark posted by an Atlanta rookie. Baker owns the record with a .321 mark and Rafael Furcal ranks second with a .295 average.
Heyward set the franchise rookie record with 128 strikeouts last year. Freeman currently has 116 strikeouts and should take ownership of that record as well over the course of the next couple weeks.
Jurrjens’ oddity: Jair Jurrjens joined some rare company as he kept the Cubs scoreless while allowing eight hits and issuing five walks in 6 1/3 innings Monday night. According to STATS, he became just the 31st Major League pitcher and third Braves’ pitcher since 1946 to throw at least six scoreless innings while allowing at least eight hits and issuing at least five walks.
Expos’ pitcher Woodie Fryman was the only member of this group who qualified while throwing just six innings during a July 28, 1976 game against the Cardinals. Mike Hampton (1998) and Shane Rawley (1987) were the only other members of this group who qualified while throwing fewer than nine innings.
The other Braves pitcher who qualified for this list were Vern Bickford (9 IP, 8 hits, 6 BB on Oct. 1, 1949) and Ed Wright (9 IP, 9 hits, 5 BBs on Sept. 16, 1946).