Braves exit the last daunting portion of their schedule with momentum
Now that the Braves have completed a 10-game stretch that pitted them against the Dodgers, Nationals and Giants (all postseason candidates), they will play 28 of their final 34 games against teams with a losing record. Their games against teams with a winning record include a three-game set against the Nationals (Sept. 14-16) and another against the slumping Pirates (Oct. 1-3).
Meanwhile, the Nationals will play 13 of their final 35 games against teams with a winning record – the Cardinals (Aug. 30-Sept. 2 and Sept. 28-30), the Dodgers (Sept. 18-20) and the Braves’ series. And they have six more games against the Phillies squad that swept them this past weekend. In fact, Philadelphia has won five of the past six games played in this season series.
This is not to say the Braves have a great chance to overcome the 4 1/2-game lead the Nationals have in the National League East standings. But remember last Tuesday when some of you declared the division race to be over? Well it might have been a little premature to make assumptions.
At the same time, the winning record/losing record only means so much. Heading into tonight’s opener of a three-game series in San Diego, do you regard the Padres as a team that is 11 games under .500 (59-70) or do you view them as dangerous because they have won have won seven straight games –currently the game’s longest winning streak.
The Braves will send Paul Maholm to the mound to oppose Casey Kelly in tonight’s series opener. Kris Medlen will oppose Andrew Werner in Tuesday night’s game.
Though the Padres were just in Atlanta two weeks ago, many of you are likely unfamiliar with these two pitchers. Werner made his Major League debut last week and Kelly, the club’s top prospect, will making his in tonight’s matchup.
These two games will lead some to once again say, “The Braves never do well against pitchers they have not seen before.” I’ve heard this since I began covering the team in 2001. I’ve certainly never seen any stats that support this theory. Nor do I plan to do the research at this point. Instead, I’ll simply opine that this theory is a product of the frustration on those occasions when they do indeed struggle against an unfamiliar pitcher.
Kelly is a highly-regarded prospect. But he is not regarded quite as high as Arizona’s Trevor Bauer, who allowed two runs and five hits while walking three in just four innings during his big league debut against the Braves on June 28. OK, I lied. But that will be the extent of my research on the “first time seeing a pitcher” matter.
Uggla going forward: It will be interesting to see how Dan Uggla is used over the next couple of weeks. There is certainly not any reason to use a strict platoon. During Sunday night’s game against Tim Lincecum, the Braves opted to put Martin Prado at second base and use Reed Johnson in left field. They might do this on some other occasions if they do not like matching Uggla up against a particular right-handed pitcher.
But Johnson is best utilized against left-handed pitchers. At the same time, the Braves want to be careful about how much they play the valuable backup outfielder, who has experienced some back problems during his career.
If Uggla continues to struggle, the Braves also have the option of spelling him at second base with Tyler Pastornicky or Paul Janish, once Andrelton Simmons returns in mid-September. But it’s not like either of these two guys are going to provide the offensive upgrade the Braves were seeking.
Really, the best development in this matter would be for Uggla to suddenly get hot and gain some confidence over the next couple of weeks. The Braves could certainly gain immediate benefits from this. But at the same time, this would allow them to enter the offseason feeling at least a little better about the three years remaining on the veteran second baseman’s five-year, $62 million contract.