Teheran has continued to impress as this season has progressed

When Julio Teheran allowed four earned runs through the first two innings of his April 12 start against the Nationals, a fan tweeted a question asking whether Teheran was in the early stages of the same journey navigated last year by Mike Minor, who struggled mightily in the first half and then proved to be one of Atlanta’s most dependable starters in the second half.

At the time, Teheran had allowed nine earned runs through his first seven innings of this season.  His offspeed stuff seemed inconsistent and he was in the midst of just his sixth big league start.  Given that Minor had completed 38 starts before beginning his impressive turnaround, I responded by saying that I didn’t think Teheran was at that stage where we could assume that he was going to make that immediate transformation to front-line starter this year.

Boy was I wrong.  In fact, Teheran was about a week away from suddenly transforming into one of the game’s top starting pitchers.

Since allowing at least four earned runs in each of his first three starts, Teheran has posted a 2.38 ERA in the 19 starts that have followed.   The only three National League pitchers to produce a better ERA during this span (going back to April 23) are Clayton Kershaw (1.87), Jeff Locke (2.08) and Matt Harvey (2.34).

We have seen Teheran develop a much quicker and impressive pace than most of us could have imagined.  The 22-year-old hurler took another step up the maturation ladder last week based on the calm, cool and confident manner he reacted during the verbal exchange he shared with Bryce Harper after Harper objected to getting hit with a first-pitch fastball in the plate appearance that followed his slower-than-usual home run trot.  Once order was restored, Teheran stranded a pair of runners and preserved a one-run lead by retiring Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman.

Tonight, Teheran will make his first start against the Phillies since making his Major League debut with a 4 2/3-inning effort in Philadelphia on May 7, 2011.  Safe to say a lot has changed regarding both Teheran and the Phillies in the two years that have followed.

The Phillies will enter this week’s three-game series at Turner Field having lost 17 of their past 20 games, including each of their past 11 on the road.  When Philadelphia began this morbid stretch on July 20, they were one-game above .500 (49-48) and just 6 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East . They are now 19 1/2 games behind the front-running Braves and just 7 1/2 games in front of the last-place Marlins.

Before opposing Ethan Martin and John Lannan in the final two games of this series against Philadelphia, the Braves will be challenged tonight by Cole Hamels, who has posted a 2.16 ERA in his past seven starts.  Hamels’ only previous matchup against Atlanta this year occurred on Opening Day, when he surrendered three home runs and allowed five earned runs in five innings.

Separation from the pack:  While winning 14 of their past 15 games, the Braves have erased the intrigue surrounding the NL East standings and set the stage to battle and gained MLB’s best record.  They sit 14 1/2 games in front of the second-place Nationals in the division standings and 1 1/2 games in front of the Pirates in the race to gain home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

When the Braves began this impressive 15-game stretch, they were eight games in front of both the Phillies and Nationals in the NL East.   They were 6 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the chase for the NL’s best record.  A little more than two weeks later they are 4 1/2 games in front of both the Cardinals and hard-charging Dodgers, who seem to be the most likely threat to Atlanta’s bid to secure as many home games as possible during the postseason.

Coincidentally, the Braves (.714) and Pirates (.672) own the top two home winning percentages among all big league clubs this season.  Despite how rough life outside of Atlanta has seemed this year for the Braves, they also own the NL’s fourth-best road winning percentage (.516).

Of the 42 games remaining for the Braves, 23 will be played amid the comfort of Turner Field and 19 will be played on the road.

NOTES:  Four Braves players have compiled an on-base percentage greater than .400 over the club’s past 15 games.  They are Freddie Freeman (.446), Jason Heyward (.441), Justin Upton (.441) and Chris Johnson (.421).  Heyward’s production is the most notable given the fact that this run began the day he replaced Andrelton Simmons in the leadoff spot.  Simmons has compiled a .259 on-base percentage in the 62 games he has manned the lineup’s top spot.

The two Atlanta starting pitchers with the lowest ERAs during this 15-game stretch  —  Teheran (1.00 in 18 innings) and Alex Wood (1.89 in 19 innings) —  have combined for 31 starts at the big league level.  With Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm both sidelined, the average age of Atlanta’s starting rotation is 24.4 years.  Still this group has posted a 2.85 ERA in the 16 games that have been played since Hudson suffered his season-ending right leg injury.


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