Thoughts about Jaime’s potential staying power and Freeman’s turnaround
It was hard to understand the correlation Fredi Gonzalez attempted to make between last weekend’s series against the Angels and last July’s three-game set against the Cardinals at Turner Field. As the Braves swept St. Louis in that series, you could see that they were ready to break free from the mediocrity they had produced over the previous couple weeks. This proved true as those three games marked the start of a 14-game winning streak.
Last weekend’s series against the Angels did not provide anywhere near as much optimism. And if it did, that optimism died somewhere in the midst of next three miserable games played against the Phillies.
But if the Braves spend these next two days doing what they did during their first two days in D.C., then there is a chance this four-game set against the Nationals will deservedly draw comparisons to that Cardinals series, which began two days after Tim Hudson suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
Here are a few thoughts on what has transpired as the Braves have won the first two games of this weekend’s four-game set. They have now won seven of eight during this year’s season series and 20 of the 27 games played against the Nationals dating back to last year.
1) Strong bullpens are stumbled upon, not created: The spectacular bullpen the Braves had in 2002 featured two veterans — Darren Holmes and Chris Hammond — who had come to Spring Training as non-roster invitees. When last year’s pen produced a franchise-best ERA, the top two projected setup men — Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters — had their arms in slings. Now this year’s oft-maddening relief corps might finally be taking shape.
Jordan Walden has allowed just one hit while holding opponents scoreless in his past four appearances. Shae Simmons has continued to show he can be a reliable seventh or eighth inning piece. And now Juan Jaime has arrived with the potential to reduce the workload incurred by Simmons and Walden. Jaime showed off his high-octane fastball and a knee-buckling low-70s curveball as he worked a scoreless 11th inning in his Major League debut last night.
The knock against the 26-year-old Jaime is that he can’t consistently throw strikes. Well, in order to stay with Atlanta, he’ll obviously have to prove he is capable. But he at least provided some indication as he walked just five of the 47 batters he faced for Triple-A Gwinnnett from May 13-Tuesday.
Of course to really have a strong bullpen, the Braves will need to see the recent trend change for Craig Kimbrel, who has blown two of his past seven save opportunities and allowed at least one run in three of his past eight appearances. But given the dominant outings he has sprinkled in between, I don’t think the veteran closer currently ranks too high on the club’s concern list.
2) Freeman is back: There was certainly reason to be concerned with Freddie Freeman as he entered last Saturday’s game against the Angels having hit. 188 with a .665 OPS in his previous 23 games. But the 24-year-old first baseman enters tonight’s game having collected eight extra-base hits in his past 31 at-bats. Somehow against the Marlins, he’s managed to go 2-for-36 this season. But against the Nationals, he has bated .515 (17-for-33) with three homers and a 1.503 OPS.
3) Gattis remains hot: Before delivering the decisive single in Friday night’s 13-inning win, Evan Gattis extended MLB’s longest current hitting streak to 19 games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the hitting streak is the longest by a player who was the starting catcher for every game of the streak since Jason Kendall put together a 20-game stretch for the 2004 Pirates.