Upton extends his latest hot streak and Simmons adds another defensive gem

The Braves have led the National League East since the start of the season and they have had sole possession of first place every day dating back to April 7.  Their slimmest lead was the half-game advantage they owned on May 16 and 17   — the latter being the day during which Justin Upton erased a two-run sixth-inning deficit with a grand slam against Paco Rodriguez.

All still seemed right in Upton’s world at that point.  Earlier in the week, he had marked his return to Arizona with a mammoth shot to center that served as his first home run in a span of 46 at-bats. At the time, we playfully considered this to be a drought.  When he totaled 12 home runs in April, he never went through more than 18 at-bats without hitting one.

But after blasting that slam against the Dodgers, Upton hit just two home runs in the 234 at-bats that followed.  As this true drought progressed, the Braves patiently waited for the streaky outfielder to get hot again.   There were signs of encouragement as Upton hit .292 in July.  But he totaled 10 extra-base hits during this span and just one of those was a home run.

Oh how quickly perceptions can change with just one flick of the calendar.

Upton’s decisive home run in the eighth inning of Monday night’s win over the Nationals was his fourth blast in the past five games.  It was also the culmination of a three-hit performance that began with a pair of singles  —  one that traveled through the middle of the infield and another that was laced to right field against Stephen Strasburg.

“He’s locked in,” Freddie Freeman said. “He’s driving the ball to right-center. If they leave one out over the plate like (Tyler Clippard did Monday), he was able to hit a home run to left.  When he’s doing that, it’s exactly what he was doing in April.  So it’s going to be very tough to beat us if he’s doing that.”

As the Braves won 13 of their first 15 games this season, Upton hit .328 with nine home runs and a 1.256 OPS.  During the club’s current 11-game winning streak, Upton has batted .405 with four home runs and a 1.241 OPS.

After Upton provided his decisive blow on Monday, Andrelton Simmons continued to show why he was so special with the hustle he displayed on a play in which he was not even involved.

With the potential tying run at third base and one out in the ninth inning, Jordan Walden got Scott Hairston to pop out behind the plate.  As Brian McCann went back to the screen to make the catch, Simmons sprinted from his shortstop position to guard the plate.

Sure, Walden was also there.  But as we have come to realize, Simmons is very much like Forest Gump in that he seemingly makes sure he is always around whenever something important is taking place.

Simmons’ strong throw to the plate to deny Wilson Ramos’ bid to score from first base on Adam LaRoche’s first-inning RBI double simply added to the long list of defensive gems he has produced just this week.

To simply say Simmons leads all Major League shortstops with a total of 31 in the Defensive Runs Saved category would be providing just a fraction of the story.  Minnesota’s Pedro Florimon ranks second with 11 and  Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy ranks third with 7.

According to FanGraphs, the top two DRS totals ever recorded by a shortstop in a season were registered by Adam Everett (34 with the 2006 Astros) and Jack Wilson (32 with the 2005 Pirates.  Simmons should easily eclipse both marks by the end of this season.

If they have not already done so, the folks at Rawlings should just go ahead and engrave that Gold Glove now.  And it would be wise for them to keep that template handy for many years to come.

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