With two regular season games remaining the only number that truly matters for the Braves is two – their magic number for clinching home-field advantage during the National League playoffs. Any combination of Atlanta wins or St. Louis losses that equal two will do the trick.
Now that I have used the word two far too many times in one graph to explain what the Braves can gain during the final two games against the Phillies, here are some other interesting numbers.
.696 – Atlanta’s Major League-best home winning percentage. With wins in their final two games, the Braves will set a new franchise record with a .703 home winning percentage. One win will match the record (.691) which is currently shared by the 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2010 clubs.
50 – Last night, Craig Kimbrel joined John Smoltz as the only Braves pitchers to record at least 50 saves in a season. This mark has been reached just 12 previous times, by 10 different closers.
1.23 – Kimbrel’s ERA, which ranks as the second-lowest mark ever recorded by closer during a 50-save season. Eric Gagne posted a 1.20 ERA when he notched 55 saves for the Dodgers in 2003.
.165 – Kimbrel’s opponent’s batting average, currently matches Trevor Hoffman for the lowest best mark recorded during a 50-save season. Gagne surrendered a .133 batting average in 2003.
.397 – Chris Johnson’s Batting Average Balls in Play. With a couple of productive days, Johnson could become the fifth player in Major Leaguer since 1955 to record a BABIP of .400 or better. It is almost certain that he will better Kenny Lofton’s franchise-best .390 BABIP.
42 – Andrelton Simmons’s Defensive Runs Saved, a relatively new defensive metric that dates back to 2003. The previous best total assigned to a shortstop was 34 (Adam Everett in 2006)
2.44 – The Braves bullpen ERA stands as the best mark recorded since the 1990 A’s posted a 2.35 in 1990. Despite some late-season struggles, Atlanta’s relief corps is still positioned to top the franchise record 2.60 ERA compiled by the 2003 pen.
1,371 – For the third consecutive season, the Braves offense has set a franchise record for strikeouts. Their totals the previous two years were 1,289 and 1,260.
520 and 1,370 – The Braves became just the fifth team in Major League history to draw at least 520 walks and strike out more than 1,370 times in a season. Providing further proof that the game has changed, each of these five teams have done this since 2008 and three of the instances (Braves and Twins this year and the A’s last year) have occurred during the past two seasons.
By now, you have likely heard, seen or read about all that transpired after Carlos Gomez temporarily lost touch with sanity last night. If you haven’t, here is a story that provides Gomez’s postgame apologetic response and a feel for what both the Braves and Brewers thought of the unnecessary incident that overshadowed the fact that Atlanta is now a half-game back of the Cardinals in the battle for the National League’s best record and home-field advantage.
This story provides the differing accounts that crew chief Dana Demuth and Freddie Freeman had regarding Freeman’s involvement in last night’s benches-clearing incident. Video seems to support Freeman’s claim that he was simply pushing his way through the pile when he inadvertently struck at least one Brewer with an elbow.
Freeman took a sarcastic tone when he first greeted reporters after last night’s game.
“They said I came in there throwing punches, haymakers all over the place,” Freeman said. “It seemed like it, huh? I had to ice my hands afterwards because it hurt so bad. I didn’t throw one punch.”
Even after having a chance to look at video after the game, said he and his crew, which included Angel Hernandez, Doug Eddings and Paul Nauert, saw things different. It would be remiss to point out that Hernandez, Eddings and Nauert were the veteran members of the crew (DeMuth was not present) that blatantly botched the review of the seemingly obvious ninth-inning, game-tying home run the A’s hit on May 8 in Cleveland.
“When the group got together, you can see on the video very well, Freeman was overaggressive,” DeMuth said. “Right when he came in, he went boom with an elbow which we saw and it caught the third baseman Ramirez. That right there is just like throwing a punch. That is overaggressive. That number one calls for an ejection. What we saw out there was the same as we saw (on video). There was nobody else that was overly aggressive other than Gomez of course.”
While the Brewers are entering the final days of a miserable season, the Braves are fighting for home-field advantage and attempting to right the ship before the postseason begins. Thus they certainly can’t afford to have Freeman’s bat out of their lineup because of a suspension.
Truthfully, I can’t see how anybody in their right mind could review what transpired and determine that Freeman deserves to be suspended. But even if he and Gomez or Reed Johnson, who was the only player who clearly struck Gomez, receive more than a fine from MLB, suspensions could be appealed, setting up the possibility they would not be served until next season, which coincidentally, begins with the Braves opening up in Milwaukee.
Unfortunately, there is a good chance Brian McCann won’t still be with the Braves next year. But the veteran catcher certainly further endeared himself to Atlanta fans and his teammates when he stood up for his team by refusing to allow Gomez to reach the plate at the conclusion of his animated venom-filled home trot, that served as a response to being hit in the left leg by Paul Maholm’s 88-mph fastball on June 23.
As Maholm was leaving the stadium last night, he said, “if he had a problem with me hitting him three months ago, he should have done something about it then.”
For many years, the Braves were criticized for being a white-collar club that was seldom involved in incidents like the bizarre one that transpired last night. But such can’t be said about this year’s club which has proven it does not have a tolerance for being disrespected.
After Bryce Harper pimped a home run on Aug. 6, Julio Teheran dotted Harper’s right hip with the next pitch he threw him, three innings later. Now McCann for the second time in two weeks, McCann has found himself issuing harsh words to an opposing player at the end of a home run trot.
Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez’s reaction to hitting his first career home run on Sept. 11 should have been viewed as just the youthful, immature actions of a rookie, whose vibrant attitude will prove to be good for baseball for many years to come. When McCann greeted him at the plate, he was simply sticking up for his pitcher Mike Minor and telling Fernandez that he is going to get somebody hurt if he continues to take his excitement to a level that would be deemed as taunting.
What Gomez did last night was simply inexcusable. I’m not going to say he didn’t have the right to be upset about the fact that June 23 marked the second time Maholm had hit him with a pitch. That is his prerogative. But there was no need for the insane approach he took when he strolled to the plate for last night’s first at-bat.
Gomez’s eyes indicated he had lost his mind when he swung and missed the first pitch he saw last night. Everything that transpired after this confirmed it.
Some catchers might have allowed Gomez to touch the plate before getting nose-to-nose with Gomez. But as my colleague Richard Justice writes in this column, there isn’t a veteran leader worth a grain of salt that would not have done what McCann did.
Over the past few weeks, you have repeatedly heard how important it would be to gain home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs. Now with that prize within their grasp, the Braves simply need to surge through the regular season’s final five games and carry some momentum into the postseason.
The Braves enter today with a half-game lead over the Cardinals in the race for the NL’s best record. And as you likely know, because of victories in the season series, Atlanta owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over both St. Louis and Los Angeles, the two other clubs that still have a legit shot to gain home-field advantage.
Atlanta’s magic number to clinch home-field advantage is four. This number would reduce by one with any Braves win or Cardinals loss. But while the focus has been on St. Louis, there is still certainly reason to keep an eye on the Dodgers, who stand two games out in the race to claim the NL’s best record.
Home-field advantage could truly be an even greater advantage than normal this year for the NL clubs. If the Braves hold on to the NL’s best record, they will create the possibility of playing a majority of their games in the NLDS and NL Championship Series at Turner Field, where they have produced an NL-best .592 home winning percentage this year. Ranking second and third in this category are the Cardinals (.589) and Dodgers (.580).
Maybe more importantly, grabbing the top seed would also allow the Braves to avoid playing either the NL West champion Dodgers or NL Central champ in the Division Series. They would instead play the winner of the one-game Wild Card playoff that will be contested between the teams that finish second and third in the NL Central.
Here is a look at what Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles have remaining:
BRAVES (5 games): Wed. vs. Brewers; Thurs.-Sun. vs. Phillies
After watching potential NLDS Game 4 starter Paul Maholm oppose Kyle Lohse in tonight’s series finale against the Brewers, the Braves will send David Hale to the mound to oppose Tyler Cloyd in Thursday’s series opener against the Phillies. They will then feature their top three starters – Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran during the remainder of this series against Philadelphia.
Cliff Lee will oppose Medlen in the only attractive pitching matchup during this four-game set. The Phillies have not announced a starter for Saturday, but speculation is they’ll go with Ethan Martin. Then to conclude the regular season, the Braves will face Zach Miner, who many moons ago was a pitching prospect in Atlanta’s system.
In the baseball world, it has often been said that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher. But as it pertains to the Braves offense, momentum could could come in the form of the starting pitchers they will face in three of the regular season’s final four regular season games.
CARDINALS (4 games) – Wed. vs. Nationals; Fri.-Sun vs. Cubs.
After attempting to sweep the Nationals this afternoon, the Cardinals rest Thursday and then face Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija during this weekend’s three-game set against the Cubs. St. Louis will send Lance Lynn to the mound on Friday. Their starters for the final two regular season games will be determined by whether they have clinched the NL Central before Saturday. Joe Kelly will likely make one of those starts. Adam Wainwright could start on Saturday if there is not reason for him to be held back in the event he would have to available to start the Wild Card playoff game.
DODGERS (5 games) – Wed. and Thurs. vs. Giants; Fri.-Sun. vs. Rockies
The pitching matchups for the final two games of the Giants series are Barry Zito vs. Ricky Nolasco and Tim Lincecum vs. Edinson Volquez. Other than knowing the Rockies will send Juan Nicasio to the mound on Sunday, we don’t yet know who will serve as the other starting pitchers during this weekend’s series between the Dodgers and Rockies.
Having already secured a spot in a Division Series, the Dodgers will likely mirror the Braves by sending their top three starters Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to the mound during this weekend’s series.
WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO CLINCH: Obviously, the Braves would clinch home-field advantage by winning four of their final five games. If you are willing to assume the Cardinals will lose at least once more, the Braves would simply need to win three of their final five games to clinch.
But two years removed from a point where Atlanta, simply needed to win two of its final five games to keep the eventual world champion Cards out of the playoffs, it might not be wise to make any assumptions.
The Braves activated Jason Heyward from the disabled list and placed him in the starting lineup for Friday afternoon’s game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Heyward will return to the leadoff spot and play center field against the Cubs. This will be his first game since his jaw was fractured by Mets left-handed pitcher Jon Niese’s fastball on Aug. 21 at Citi Field.
Heyward impressed the Braves while facing live pitching for the first time in three weeks during a batting practice session thrown by Minor Leaguer Mark Lamm on Wednesday at Nationals Park.
The Braves offense surged while Heyward hit .345 with a .418 on-base percentage in the 23 games he played after being moved to the leadoff spot on July 27.
Heyward’s activation could prove to be timely. He has batted .333 with four homers and a 1.183 OPS in 10 career games at Wrigley Field.
Jason Heyward will make a significant step in his recovery process when he takes batting practice with his Braves teammates before tonight’s game series opener against the Padres. Heyward will swing the bat, run, shag fly balls and essentially re-introduce himself to most of the normal pregame activities he experienced before his jaw was fractured on Aug. 21.
Heyward is expected to repeat these activities over the next few days and will likely accompany the Braves when they travel to Washington D.C. on Sunday night to prepare for a three-game series against the Nationals. This creates the possibility that he will be with his teammates when they celebrate clinching the National League East. But more importantly, these next few days will give him and the club a better understanding about when he could return to Atlanta’s lineup.
The timeline for return will be based on how Heyward feels after completing these activities. But barring any setbacks, there is certainly reason to believe he could begin playing in Instructional League games at the Braves’ Spring Training complex before the end of next week.
Going to the Instructional League for a few days will allow Heyward to re-acquaint himself with the speed of the game and compile as many at-bats as he desires. Along with helping him regain a feel for his swing and approach, the chance to see live pitching will also serve as the only way Heyward will begin to distance himself from any lingering fear that has developed since his jaw was shattered by Jon Niese’s fastball a little more than three weeks ago.
If he continues to make progress, there is certainly a chance Heyward will be back in Atlanta’s lineup at some point during the regular season’s final week.
As things currently stand, Heyward could find himself as the club’s starting center fielder when he returns. If this proves to be true, Justin Upton would be in right field and Evan Gattis would handle the left field duties.
While hitting .314 with a .771 slugging percentage in the nine games he has played since returning from his short stint with Triple-A Gwinnett, Gattis has forced the Braves to find an everyday spot in their lineup. There will be some days when he spells McCann at the catcher’s position. But as long as he does not slump down the stretch, Gattis will likely continue to play left field on a regular basis.
Gattis’ recent surge has further clouded what the next few weeks have in store for B.J. Upton, who was not in the lineup for three of the four games played against the Marlins earlier this week. Jordan Schafer will likely continue to get the start in center field whenever the Braves are facing a right-handed starter and B.J. could get some starts in games the opponent starts a left-hander.
Unlike Dan Uggla, B.J. has at least shown some signs of encouragement over the past few weeks. There is a chance he could produce the latest of his hot streaks again over the next few weeks. But as was mentioned earlier this week, his opportunities will likely be limited. And they will be reduced even more if Heyward does indeed return to the starting lineup in the near future.
Now that the Braves have snapped their four-game losing streak, some of you should exhale and recognize the fact that they are still in a pretty good position with less than three weeks remaining in the regular season.
With their magic number at eight, the earliest the Braves could clinch the National League East would be on Friday when they open a three-game homestand against the Padres. Yeah, it would be nice to celebrate in front of the home fans. But I’m thinking some of you would enjoy seeing them soil the visitor’s clubhouse at Nationals Park with beer and champagne next week.
While there still remains little intrigue surrounding their division race, the Braves will spend the next few weeks fighting to earn what could be a very important home-field advantage throughout the NL-portion of the playoffs. The top five home winning percentages in the NL are owned by the five clubs — Braves (51-20, .718), Reds (47-25, .653) , Pirates (45-25, .643), Cardinals (44-25, .638) and Dodgers (44-28, .611) – most likely to represent the Senior Circuit in the postseason.
In the race for the NL’s best record, the Braves entered Tuesday leading the Dodgers by two games, the Cardinals by three games, the Pirates by four games and the Reds by five games. But because Atlanta won the season series against each of these clubs, you can essentially add one to each of the aforementioned advantages to account for the head-to-head tiebreaker.
To maintain this lead, the Braves are going to need more from an offense that has scored at least one run in just 10 of the past 53 innings in which they have batted. They have hit .168 and compiled a .222 on-base percentage while winning just two of the six games played during this span.
Yeah, it was encouraging to see the Braves record five hits during last night’s decisive five-run fourth inning against Miami’s Henderson Alvarez. But given the fact that they went hitless and scoreless in the other eight innings, it is hard to say they have completely separated themselves from their most recent offensive struggles.
Over the past few weeks, I have felt the Braves needed to play B.J. Upton for an extended stretch to see if he could produce another of his impressive late-season hot streaks. But we’ve reached a point where there is simply not a spot for him to be in a lineup that currently has to include both Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis on a daily basis.
With Jason Heyward sidelined, Schafer’s presence at the top of the lineup is essential. There is also the fact that he has proven to be more reliable defensively than Upton. As for Gattis, he has once again become a threat that all opposing pitchers should fear. He has gone 7-for-21 with two doubles and three home runs since returning from his three-day stint with Triple-A Gwinnett.
Gattis is obviously gifted with tremendous power. What is often overlooked his baseball IQ and advanced feel for the game. The 480-foot home run he hit off Cole Hamels on Sunday was a thing of beauty. But more impressive was the fact that five innings later, he went to the plate ready to react to the first-pitch curveball he crushed into the left-field seats as Hamels reacted in disbelief.
There might be reason to put Upton in the lineup when Schafer needs a breather or when Gattis is playing catcher. But for now, it just doesn’t make sense for him to play on a everyday basis.
My objection to the lack of playing time Upton was receiving began when he hit .357 with a .829 OPS in the first seven games he played after coming off the disabled list and then was out of the starting lineup in five of the next 10 games.
Upton certainly didn’t help his cause by going hitless in the 24 at-bats he compiled during this span. Still I maintained the belief that he might have been more productive had he been playing on a daily basis.
While this might have been unrealistic optimism regarding a player whose batting average has rested as high as .200 after just one game this season, Upton at least supported my argument by hitting .407 with 1.077 OPS while starting eight of the nine games played on this most recent homestand. Then he went 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts this past weekend in Philadelphia and found himself out of the lineup again for Monday night’s series opener against the Marlins.
If trying to make a case for Upton, one might point out a lot of players struggle during a three-game series in which they face Cliff Lee and Hamels. But the veteran center fielder went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the game started by Kyle Kendrick.
Without the need to play Schafer and Gattis on a daily basis, the Braves might be in a position where they could continue to give Upton a chance to continue building on the success he had before going to Philadelphia.
But such is not the case as they spend the next couple weeks battling for the home-field advantage that might significantly influence which club represents the NL during this year’s World Series.
This year’s schedule has been kind via the fact that the Braves have consistently missed an opposing team’s ace. They did not oppose Clayton Kershaw in the seven games against the Dodgers and they squared off against the injured Matt Harvey in just one of the 19 games they will play against the Mets.
The Braves have also somehow missed Jose Fernandez in each of the first 12 games played against the Marlins this year. But this run of good fortune will expire tonight when Fernandez opposes Julio Teheran in a much-anticipated rookie matchup that should create genuine excitement.
Well, at least amongst the fans.
“I’m kind of upset the Marlins haven’t shut him down yet,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Fernandez, who’s approaching an innings limit and will likely make one more start after Friday. “I’m going to have to call [Marlins owner] Jeffrey Loria and tell him it’s a good time to shut down Fernandez.”
While the Braves understandably would like to avoid being subjected to Fernandez’s electric fastball and nasty slider, fans should savor every opportunity to watch this energetic 21-year-old phenom, who has arguably been the NL’s top pitcher not named Kershaw or Harvey.
Taking full advantage of the exposure he does not receive while pitching in Miami, Fernandez was simply dominant when he made his first All-Star Game appearance in July. During the 13-pitch perfect inning he completed that night, he retired two former American League MVPs – Miguel Cabrera and Dustin Pedroia – and Chris Davis, who is a top candidate for the award this year.
Fernandez ranks among the top four National League pitchers in ERA (2.30), opponent’s batting average (.188) and Fielding-Independent Pitching (2.64), strikeouts per nine innings (9.73) and strikeouts per batter faced (.272).
In the 15 starts he has made dating back to June 1, Fernandez has posted a 1.52 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .167 with a .238 on-base percentage. His ERA and opponent’s batting average rank as the best marks produced by any Major League starter during this span. His on-base percentage allowed ranks second only to Kershaw (.236).
Not bad for a guy who had not pitched above the Class A-Advanced level before this season.
To get a better understanding of Fernandez and how he escaped Cuba, check out this story written in July by my MLB.com colleague Anthony Castrovince.
Since allowing one run or less in each of his first four starts after the All-Star break, Teheran has allowed four runs in two of his past three starts. Sandwiched between these two outings was the six-scoreless inning effort he produced against the Nationals on April 18.
The 155 innings Teheran has completed this professional-high season total he worked while combining for 151 innings with Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett in 2011. But with a month remaining in the season, the Braves may try to stick to their plan of skipping him at least once in September.
The plan to provide extra rest to all of their starters would have been much easier to exercise if Brandon Beachy had not sidelined with right elbow inflammation. But the Braves may still be able to do this by potentially using potential September roster additions — Freddy Garcia or David Hale – to make a couple starts.
Odds and ends: Accounting for each of the game’s played during this week’s three-game sweep of the Indians, the Braves improved to 20-42 when scoring three runs or less. They were 11-36 in these games through July 23.
Atlanta’s pitching staff leads the Majors with a 3.17 ERA. The staff ranks ninth with 3.76 road ERA. But it’s league-leading 2.58 ERA is a half a run better than every other staff, minus the Pirates (2.88).
The Braves will likely be without Justin Upton tonight while he rests the bruised left hand he suffered courtesy of Ubaldo Jimenez’s 92-mph fastball last night. But Upton is expected to return to the lineup during this weekend’s series.
Craig Kimbrel positioned himself to join an exclusive club when he exited Wednesday night’s win over the Indians with a 0.99 ERA. The only pitchers to ever post a sub 1.00 ERA while recording at least 40 saves in a season were Dennis Eckersley (0.61 in 1990) and Fernando Rodney (0.60 in 2012).
Kimbrel nearly made himself a part of this select company when he notched 42 saves with a 1.01 ERA during last year’s incredibly dominant season. Having already matched that saves total this year, he has a chance to become the first pitcher to post a sub 1.00 ERA during a 50-save season.
When Kimbrel allowed a pair of two-out ninth-inning solo shots during a May 7 loss in Cincinnati, the knee-jerk reaction was, “what is wrong with him.” Four days earlier, he had surrendered a game-tying solo shot to New York’s David Wright. So within a span of three appearances he allowed as many home runs (3) as he had all of last year.
Through this year’s first 14 appearances, he matched last year’s blown saves total (3) ,compiled a 3.38 ERA and struck out 40 percent (21 of 52) of the batters he faced. His stats, which were marred by Justin Upton’s inability to catch a two-out fly ball at Coors Field on April 24, were still pretty respectable. But they simply did not live up to the ridiculous expectations produced last year, when he became the first pitcher to ever strike out more than half the batters he faced (116 of 231).
Kimbrel’s lack of consistent sharpness through this season’s first five weeks was a product of the altered offseason preparations he made to participate in the World Baseball Classic and still have enough in the tank to be effective during the final stages of this season. As things currently stand, it appears his plan was sound.
Kimbrel has converted 32 consecutive save opportunities and allowed just one earned run in the 41 1/3 innings (41 appearances) he has completed since allowing those back-to-back two-out home runs in Cincinnati. He has limited opponents to a .142 batting average and .234 on-base percentage during this span.
In the 23 appearances Kimbrel has made since allowing that one earned run during a non-save situation in a July 4 loss to the Marlins, he has worked 23 1/3 scoreless innings and limited opponents to a .114 batting average and .176 on-base percentage. During this stretch, he has most closely resembled the pitcher he was last year when he allowed a .126 batting average and .186 on-base percentage – both the lowest marks ever surrendered by a National League pitcher with at least 40 appearances.
Kimbrel has struck out 38.1percent (80 of the 210) batters he has faced this year. While this percentage represents a decline from last year’s ridiculous pace, it still ranks third among Major League relievers, trailing only Aroldis Chapman (41.1) and Kenley Jansen (38.3). Kimbrel’s 13.17 strikeouts per nine innings ranks second only to Chapman (15.19).
Odds and ends: I sent David Ross a text this morning to inform him that his franchise record for bunt hits by a catcher was eclipsed last night when Brian McCann notched the ninth of his career. This is obviously a weapon that was only recently added to the arsenal of Braves catchers. Johnny Oates, who played in Atlanta from 1973-75, ranks third on the list with three.
The response from the always witty Ross: “Tell Mac he learned from the best.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he expects just small group of players will join his club when rosters expand next week. Todd Cunningham, Jose Constanza and Freddy Garcia will all likely get the call to Atlanta. Another likely candidate is right-handed pitcher David Hale, who is already on the 40-man roster.
Top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt is also already on the 40-man and stands as a top candidate to replace Brian McCann as Atlanta’s starting catcher next year. Bethancourt could benefit from the opportunity to be around the big league scene for a month. But Gonzalez did not provide indication Double-A Mississippi’s young catcher would definitely be among the players added next week.
Before Tuesday night’s 2-0 win over the Indians, the Braves had lost each of the previous seven games in which they had recorded three hits or fewer. One of those hits was Elliot Johnson’s game-winning, second-inning triple – the first triple Atlanta has received from the eighth spot of its lineup this year.
The minimal offensive production was enough for Alex Wood, who tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings to become the first Atlanta rookie pitcher to allow one or fewer runs in five consecutive starts. The Elias Sports Bureau says this span ties the franchise rookie record set by Boston’s Jim Turner (1937) and matched by Milwaukee’s Bob Sadowski (1963).
Dating back to Tom Glavine’s masterpiece in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, the Indians have been shutout in three of the past five games played in Atlanta.
Click here to see Johnson’s comical postgame interview with Tom Hart last night. But given all that transpired as the Braves played an American League opponent for the first time in August during either the live or dead ball eras, it might have been fitting for Johnson to recap the last Tuesday of the eighth month of the 13th year of this century with his impersonation of ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian.
With Dan Uggla expected to return to his role as Atlanta’s starting second baseman tonight, Johnson will have a little more time to perfect his impersonations while providing depth on Atlanta’s bench. To make room for Uggla, the Braves will likely send Todd Cunningham to Triple-A Gwinnett. Despite the fact Gwinnett’s season ends on Monday, Cunningham will still have to remain off Atlanta’s roster for 10 days unless he is called back up to replace a player placed on the disabled list. This would put him in line to be added to the expanded roster on Sept. 7.
The highlight of the current nine-game homestand comes Friday night when Julio Teheran will oppose Miami’s Jose Fernandez in a battle between two of the most impressive members of this year’s strong crop of National League rookies. Along with being a top Rookie of the Year candidate, Fernandez is arguably the NL’s best pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw.
Fernandez’s 0.82 ERA in August stands as the only mark better than the one produced by Wood (0.90) who allowed just three earned runs in the 30 innings he completed this month. Just eight starts into his career, Atlanta’s 22-year-old rookie has quickly gained comfort at the big league level. He held opponents hitless in 24 at-bats with runners in scoring position this month. No other qualified Major Leaguer has not allowed a hit in these situations this month.
It was certainly good to see Jason Heyward back in the clubhouse yesterday. As an added bonus, Heyward had the opportunity to catch up with Cleveland’s Michael Bourn, who provided Heyward valuable guidance during his stint in Atlanta.
If you haven’t seen the video that accompanied yesterday’s story, click here to hear Heyward talk about what he has been feeling since his jaw was fractured by Jon Niese’s 90-mph fastball last week.
When the Braves gained a double-digit division lead in late July, there was reason to wonder if this would be the year when they benefited from what was learned during their September collapse in 2011. These next few weeks will provide a better indication.
During their first two games without Jason Heyward, the Braves have totaled three runs against a pair talented St. Louis pitchers – Joe Kelly and Adam Wainwright. Consequently, they are in the midst of their first multi-game losing streak since July 21.
There is no doubt the Braves face a great challenge as they spend at least the few weeks without Heyward, who fractured his jaw on Wednesday. But now is not the time for them to fall victim to the panic that paralyzed them as they wilted down the stretch two years ago. They’re still 13 games in front of the Nationals in the National League East and the owners of the game’s best record.
With Heyward, the Braves are legitimate World Series contenders. Without him, they are still a club much more talented than the one that was undone by the injuries that depleted their starting rotation and led Brian McCann to experience the most frustrating six-week stretch of his career near the end of the 2011 season.
Along with needing to stay loose, the Braves need to avoid the kind of unnecessary distraction Kris Medlen created Friday night, when he complained about a managerial decision that seemed to be rather routine.
Unsolicited, Medlen told reporters that he did not agree with manager Fredi Gonzalez’s decision to remove him with runners at the corners, no outs and the Cardinals leading 2-1 in the seventh inning. Left-handed reliever Scott Downs limited the damage in the potentially-disastrous situation to one run. Having thrown fewer than 80 pitches, Medlen felt he should have been given a chance to clean his own mess against the bottom of St. Louis’ lineup
“I got taken out with 78 pitches,” Medlen said. “I was just starting to have to battle. I didn’t have to battle yet. But I wasn’t given the opportunity. I guess I’m voicing the fact that I didn’t appreciate that. I don’t know what kind of mentality we’re trying to create for our starters. But I feel like I should be able to work out of some jams.”
Medlen might have had a leg stand on had he been removed immediately after Yadier Molina opened the bottom of the seventh with a double. But his decision to criticize after Gonzalez gave him a chance to face Jon Jay, who followed with a seeing-eye single, was simply baffling.
Yeah, you want pitchers who have the confidence they can escape any situation. But you also want managers and pitching coaches who have a good feel for how their players have previously performed in similar situations.
Medlen had allowed 14 earned runs in the 31 1/3 innings that had encompassed his five previous starts. Nine of those runs scored after he had thrown his 70th pitch of the game.
Matt Holliday’s decisive solo home run with two outs in Friday’s sixth inning came on the Medlen’s 74th pitch of the night. Molina and and Jay then recorded their hits on two of the three pitches Medlen threw before exiting in the seventh inning.
This is not to say, Medlen is destined to crumble once his pitch count reaches 70. After reaching this mark during his 96-pitch effort against the Nationals on Aug. 7, he surrendered one run and allowed hits to two of the final seven batters he faced. During his 93-pitch, seven-inning outing against the Phillies on Aug. 13, he surrendered a run and allowed hits to three of the seven batters he faced after throwing his 70th pitch.
Had Gonzalez not pulled Medlen after giving him a little extra rope, he would have subjected himself to justified criticism. Instead, by making a move that 29 other managers likely would have made, he found himself subjected to an unwarranted objection that created a distraction the Braves simply don’t need to deal with at the end of what has already been a tough week.
Odds and ends: When Adam LaRoche hit his 15th inning homer off Medlen during last Saturday’s marathon contest at Turner Field, he provided the Nationals a win and at the same time denied himself a chance to make his first career pitching appearance. Dan Haren was not going to throw more than one more inning. When Haren exited, LaRoche was going to take the mound and realize the dream he has had dating back to when he occasionally threw a few pitches off the bullpen mound during his days in the Braves organization.
Jordan Schafer has recorded three hits and drawn three walks while compiling a .182 on-base percentage in the 34 plate appearances he has compiled since returning from the disabled list. If he continues to struggle, the Braves will gain an even greater sense of how influential Heyward was during the three weeks he spent at the top of the lineup. For now, Gonzalez plans to platoon the left-handed Schafer and right-handed Simmons in the leadoff role
Evan Gattis has hit .188 (22-for-117) with three home runs and a .581 OPS since June 1. His aggressive approach has led him to see an average of just 3.50 pitches per plate appearance. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, this would rank as the NL’s fourth-lowest average.