Braves-Nats Part III
When the Nationals made their first visit to Atlanta a little more than a month ago, Brian McCann was sick, Freddie Freeman could not see and Chipper Jones was about to begin a stint on the disabled list. The Braves got swept that weekend and found themselves four games out in the National League East race when their losing streak reached eight games the following day.
Since the conclusion of the eight-game losing streak, the Braves have gone 14-11 and gained a half-game on the first-place Nationals in this tightly-contested division race. Jason Heyward has proven to be one of the game’s most exciting and dynamic players during this 25-game stretch.
But with questions surrounding the rotation, McCann continuing to endure one of the most frustrating seasons of his career and Freeman only recently producing promise again, it seems safe to say the Braves have been only slightly than mediocre since concluding the eight-game skid.
In other words, if the Braves do start finding the consistency that they displayed during the season’s first seven weeks, the Nationals might be the club that looks back on this past month with some regret.
With that being said the Nationals have weathered the storm while closer Drew Storen, catcher Wilson Ramos and outfielders Jayson Werth and Mike Morse have all missed significant stretches. The primary reason has been the stability provided by their pitching staff, which leads the NL with a 3.11 ERA. Their starting pitchers also lead the Senior Circuit with a 3.16 mark.
Meanwhile the Braves’ now-Beachyless rotation ranks 12th in the NL with a 4.14 ERA.
The Braves have reason to feel good every time they send Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson to the mound. But they are essentially rolling the dice three out of every other five days. Based on what he has done in his first two starts since returning from the Minors, maybe Jair Jurrjens should not be lumped in the same “uncertain” category as Randall Delgado and Mike Minor, who will start the first two games of this weekend’s series.
But while proving he is certainly more dependable than he was when he was sent to the Minors in May, Jurrjens has not given the Braves any less reason to aggressively pursue top target Zack Greinke and other starting pitchers on their wish list before the Trade Deadline.
The Braves have continued to show some interest in Ben Sheets, who has been attempting to show clubs he has the potential to add reliable depth to their rotation. But with the necessary finances in place, they will likely attempt to make a much more significant splash by acquiring Greinke, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Edinson Volquez or another available starting pitcher via trade.
Heyward to the three hole: As expected, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to leave the struggling Dan Uggla out of his starting lineup for the first time this season. At the same time, Martin Prado is not in tonight’s lineup for an unknown reason. Check back later for an update.
With Prado out of the lineup, Gonzalez has opted to bat Andrelton Simmons second and Jason Heyward third in tonight’s series opener against the Nationals. Heyward has certainly earned the chance to stay in the three hole for more than just a game or two. The 22-year-old outfielder is in the midst of the most impressive stretch of his young career. With his arm, legs and bat, he has spent the past month providing reason to believe he truly is capable of living up to the tremendous expectations that greeted him when he reached the Majors. <p>
Heyward has batted .370 with six home runs and a 1.111 OPS in the first 22 games he has played this month. In addition, since hitting a decisive opposite-field single against Nationals’ left-hander Gio Gonzalez on June 3, he has proven he is indeed capable of hitting southpaws.
Heyward entered this month batting .194 (12-for-62) against left-handed pitchers. He has nearly equaled that hit total while batting .324 (11-for-34) against southpaws this month.
Meanwhile Uggla has had a month he would like to soon forget. Since recording four hits against the Marlins on June 5, he has batted .108 (7-for-65) with a .310 on-base percentage and .169 slugging percentage.