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.
After spotting the Nationals a four-run lead through the first two innings of this year’s season series, the Braves rallied back to claim a 6-4 victory and in the process provided an early indication of things to come. The final four innings Julio Teheran completed during his six-inning effort during that April 12 evening directed him toward the success he has had in the four months that have followed.
The four scoreless innings the Braves bullpen produced that night…well that just marked the start of the utter dominance it has produced against Washington’s disappointing offense.
The Braves bullpen has not allowed a single run in the 30 innings worked against the Nationals this year. In the process, this relief corps has surrendered nine hits, issued four walks and limited Washington to a .093 (9-for-97) batting average.
Let this one soak in for just a second: The Braves bullpen has faced 102 Washington batters this year and just 13 have reached base via a hit or a walk. Just one the nine hits surrendered was an extra-base hit – Adam LaRoche’s double against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning of Atlanta’s 2-1, 10-inning win at Turner Field.
LaRoche’s double put runners at second and third with no outs. Kimbrel escaped the jam with a strikeout, flyout and the one-out Roger Bernadina fielded before throwing to the plate to retire Ryan Zimmerman.
The Nationals have stranded a runner in scoring position during the latter portion of the two one-run losses suffered against the Braves this week. But this is not anything new. Washington has hit .183 (13-for-71) with runners in scoring position against Atlanta this season. On the flip side, Atlanta has hit .275 with runners in scoring position against the Nationals.
Timely hitting and the bullpen’s dominance have been the two key factors that have enabled the Braves to record four one-run victories on the way to winning nine of the first 12 games played against Washington.
Harper vs. Teheran: If you want to believe Julio Teheran’s take that he was simply trying to come inside with a fastball when he hit Bryce Harper last night, I would like to know if you do indeed still leave cookies out for Santa every year. Regardless, if Teheran felt the need to send a message after Harper pimped the home run he hit earlier in the night, it was encouraging to see him in the proper manner – by hitting Harper in the right thigh — and then stand tall after carrying out the deed. Click here for a recap and video of the benches-clearing incident.
As Harper understandably came out of the box expressing his displeasure, Teheran did not back down in any shape or manner as he walked toward the Nationals outfielder. Then after completing his verbal spat with Harper, Teheran kept his composure and stranded a pair of runners by retiring Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth.
Last night marked the 10th time this year Teheran allowed one run or less in a start this year. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the highest total by a Braves pitcher 22 years-old or younger since Steve Avery did so in 11 such starts during the 1992 season.
Since allowing four runs in both of his first two starts of the season, Teheran has posted a 2.57 ERA in the 20 starts that have followed. He has allowed less than two runs in each of his past four outings.
QUICK THOUGHTS: Despite allowing four runs in two of his past three outings, Kris Medlen has been encouraged by the way he has felt during the three starts he has made since the All-Star break. Thoughts have him moving to the bullpen have at least slightly diminished since Tim Hudson suffered his season-ending injury. But the fact remains that Medlen has struggled throughout much of this season. Since providing some encouragement while throwing a career-high 116 pitches in 6 2/3 innings against the Dodgers on June 8, he has posted a 5.30 ERA and allowed opponents to produce a .354 on-base percentage in the nine starts that have followed.
Along with attempting to help the Atlanta complete a series sweep and run their winning streak to 13 games tonight, Medlen will be attempting to show the Braves he can be a dependable asset down the stretch. As things stand, Mike Minor and Teheran are the only obvious guarantees to be part of Atlanta’s postseason rotation. If Medlen finishes strong, he could be added to this group. But for now, he has left the door open for Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood or Maholm to make a playoff start.
With Tuesday night’s win, the Braves moved 14 1/2 games in front of the second-place Nationals, providing them their largest division lead since Aug. 28, 2003. The last time Atlanta had a lead this great through 114 game was in 2002, when they were 18 games up in the National League East standings.
With six hits in the first 16 at-bats he has recorded since returning from the disabled list, B.J. Upton has improved his batting average from .177 to .188. At the same time he has struck out seven times. Still there have been encouraging signs as he has driven the ball to the opposite field and showed the ability to turn on a pitch like he did with his two singles last night. It is far too early to evaluate his post-DL results. But if you do, remember to account for the fact that he has faced Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez in the past three days.
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.
Just like nobody in their right mind could have ever expected, the Braves will enter this week’s three-game series against the Nationals with their largest lead in a division race since Sept. 2, 2003, a day during which Al Leiter beat Mike Hampton at Shea Stadium.
In case you forgot, the Nationals entered this season as the overwhelming favorites to win the National League East race and the Braves were targeted to make their second consecutive appearance in the do-or-die, roll-of-the dice one-game Wild Card playoff game.
Sure, there was reason to believe the Braves could prove the preseason prognosticators wrong by winning the division. But nobody could have envisioned them owning a 12 1/2-game lead over the second-place Nationals entering tonight’s series opener at Nationals Park.
Let’s take a look at how this race has evolved:
April 1-18: While the Braves won 13 of their first 15 games (including each of the three played against the Nationals), the Nationals went 9-6 and fell four games back.
April 19-28: As the Braves were losing seven of the final nine games on their first 10-game road trip, the Nationals went 4-6 and gained just 1 1/2 games.
April 29-May 2: The two teams split a four-game series at Turner Field, leaving Atlanta with a 2 1/2-game lead
May 3-May 15: As the Braves won five times during a 12-game stretch that concluded with five losses in a span of six games, the Nationals went 6-5 and pulled within one-game of Atlanta.
May 17-22: While the Braves were proving perfect during a six-game homestand against the Dodgers and Twins, the Nationals lost four of six and fell to 4 1/2 games back in the division standings.
May 24-30: The Braves went 4-3 during a seven-game stretch against the Mets and Blue Jays. Meanwhile, the Nationals went 3-4 and lost another game in the race.
May 31-June 9: The Braves took two of three against the Nationals in Atlanta and then swept a three-game series against the Pirates. They then split four games against the Dodgers to leave them 7-3 during this stretch. Meanwhile, the Nationals went 4-4 during this span and fell 7 1/2 games back.
June 10-26: As the Braves lost10 of 16, the Nationals won eight of 15 and pulled back within five games of the division lead
June 28-July 14: While the Braves won nine of their final 16 games before the All-Star break, the Nationals produced a 9-8 stretch that still left them six games back.
July 19-25: As the Braves lost three of their first seven coming out of the break, they gained two more games against the Nationals, who went 1-6 during this same stretch
July 26-Aug.4: While the Braves have been constructing their current 10-game winning streak, the Nationals have gone 5-4 and lost four games in the division standings.
Given that they are just two years removed from their epic September collapse in the NL Wild Card race, the Braves are certainly not going to take anything for granted with 50 games left this season. But if they can take two of three during this week’s series, they will further deflate the hopes of a Nationals club that simply has not taken advantage of the opportunities they have had to catch Atlanta this year.
While the Braves went 43-42 during an 85-game stretch that spanned from April 19-July25, they actually increased their lead in the NL East race by four games.
Brandon Beachy displayed a sense of satisfaction as he stood in front of his locker following Saturday’s 12-inning win over the Phillies. While pitching into the seventh inning of the long contest, the Braves right-hander had proven that he can be successful despite the fact that he does not currently have the luxury to rely on his slider.
Beachy’s slider was the prime secondary pitch that he displayed before undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. According to FanGraphs, 18.3 percent of the pitches he threw before injuring his elbow last year were sliders. This essentially matched the combined percentages of his two other secondary pitches – curveball (9.3 percent) and changeup (9.5 percent).
Through the two starts he has made over the past week, it has been evident that he does not yet have enough confidence in his surgically-repaired elbow to consistently command his slider. According to BrooksBaseball, Beachy threw 19 sliders as he labored through 3 2/3 innings against the Rockies on Monday and then just two sliders during Saturday’s outing in Philadelphia.
After hanging a slider that Phillies outfielder John Mayberry hit into the left field seats for a two-run homer in the second inning, Beachy essentially ditched the pitch. The only other time he threw came via a 1-2 waste pitch to reliever Zach Miner, whose only previous big league plate appearances came in 2006 (6) and 2009 (1).
But while complimenting his fastball with the curveball and changeup, Beachy had little trouble during his four full innings of work. After allowing hits to three of the first four batters he faced in the second inning, he retired 14 of the next 16 batters he faced and did not allow a hit during this span.
<p> “I’m a better pitcher with (the slider),” Beachy said after the game. “I’m going to keep working on it in the bullpens and eventually I’ll get the feel for that back and have that as a weapon.” </P>
While there is a chance Beachy will begin commanding the slider again before the end of this season, none of us should be surprised if we do not see this pitch become a primary weapon again until he has a chance to strengthen his arm and gain more confidence in his elbow this winter. But for now it appears he can continue to at least be effective while placing a much greater emphasis on his changeup and curveball.
As the Braves attempt to complete a three-game series sweep of the Phillies tonight, they will intently watch Alex Wood with the hope that he extends the success he produced during his strong seven-inning effort against the Rockies on Tuesday. Two of the three runs Wood surrendered in this outing came courtesy of the misplaced 1-1 fastball that Nolan Arenado hit into the left field seats with two outs in the second inning, which is when Wood was bothered by a cracked cuticle on his right index finger.
When Wood has been occasionally bothered by this cuticle over the past couple months, he has been forced to ditch his curveball – a pitch that might have been effective against Arenado in that situation. Thanks to some quick assistance from the Braves’ medical staff between the second and third innings, Wood was able to complete the rest of the outing without any further problems or restrictions. He threw a total of 18 curves during the game and retired 14 of the last 17 batters he faced.
Wood will likely need to be similarly efficient in tonight’s matchup against Cliff Lee, who has posted a 1.38 ERA in his past seven starts against Atlanta. The only runs the Braves have tallied against Lee this year came during the four-run seventh they produced during a July 5 loss in Philadelphia.
Of course Lee also faces a great challenge as he attempts to cool a Braves offense that has averaged 6.9 runs during the team’s current nine-game winning streak.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I might be among those who have placed too great of an emphasis on runners in scoring position stats. At the time, I was pointing out that the Pirates and Braves ranked as the NL’s two worst teams in this category and still possessed two of the NL’s top records.
Well the Pirates still own the NL’s worst batting average with RISP and entered Sunday with the Senior Circuit’s best winning percentage. As for the Braves, they ranked last in this category when July began and now own the NL’s third-best mark.
While going 21-11 dating back to June 28, the Braves have hit .319 (88-for-276) with RISP. They had batted just .225 with RISP during the 77 games that preceded this stretch.
NOTES: If the Braves beat the Phillies tonight, they will have swept nine of the NL’s 16 teams in a series consisting of at least three games…Atlanta’s 11 1/2-game division lead is the largest they have had through 111 games since the 2002 team had a 17 1/2-game advantage…According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the five hits the Braves recorded on Saturday was the fewest they have had in a game that lasted 12 innings or longer since the famous game they won against Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix on May 26, 1959. Haddix proved perfect through 12 innings that day and ended up allowing just one hit – Joe Adcock’s game-winning double with two outs in the 13th inning. Lew Burdette scattered 12 hits over 13 scoreless innings to get the win for Milwaukee.
After totaling 40 runs and producing a .999 OPS in this week’s four-game series against the Rockies at Turner Field, the Braves will spend the next three days at Citizens Bank Park facing three Phillies starting pitchers, none of whom are named Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels. This is kind of like asking the third round Masters’ leader if he would like to finish the weekend by making the move from Augusta National to Augusta Municipal.
We have not gained a sample size large enough to know whether it is just a coincidence that the Braves have enjoyed their recent offensive surge right after manager Fredi Gonzalez finally moved Andrelton Simmons out of the leadoff spot and replaced him with Jason Heyward. But it’s pretty safe to assume we’re going to see Heyward at the top of the order for a while and quite possibly for the remainder of the season.
Dating back to Spring Training, Heyward has been the most popular candidate in the “Anyone But Simmons Should Bat Leadoff Campaign.” Gonzalez waited until last Friday to move him into this role. When asked why, he told reporters “I succumbed.” I guess he was just sick of replying, “Because we don’t have Rickey Henderson” every time he was asked ‘why are you still batting Simmons in the leadoff spot?’
While handling the leadoff role throughout the perfect seven-game homestand completed on Thursday night, Heyward batted .321 with a .424 on-base percentage. The five walks he drew in the 33 plate appearances compiled during this span were nine fewer than the total Simmons has drawn while compiling a .290 on-base percentage in 288 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter this year.
With more than three months worth of data, we were able to confidently deduce that Simmons was one of the game’s worst leadoff hitters. Seven games has not provided us enough to confidently know how Heyward will fare in this role moving forward. But he’s seemingly been the best candidate for a long time and the early results have certainly not altered this belief.
Now that the old and tired leadoff debate has been put on the back burner, it is time to discuss the new hot topic, which is what will the Braves do when B.J. Upton ends his Minor League rehab assignment tonight and returns to Atlanta’s lineup on Saturday.
While some in the Twitter world have said they hope the Braves don’t mess with what they’ve got going by putting Upton back in the lineup immediately, this obviously isn’t going to happen. Nor should it. This is the first year of a five-year, $75.25 million agreement with an extremely talented player who has simply played well below expectations since the start of the season.
If the club was confident enough to make this kind of financial obligation to him, there is no reason for them to not be confident in his ability to perform much greater than he has while hitting .177 with eight home runs and a .565 OPS through his first 84 games in Atlanta. The pressure of the contract, the challenge of changing from the American League to the National League have been cited as explanations to explain these struggles that have weighed on B.J. enough to the point that he has reached out to veteran friends from around the league and told them that he is committed to making the changes necessary to turn things around.
The Braves are hoping the injury (strained right adductor muscle) Upton suffered just before the All-Star break proves to be a blessing in disguise. If nothing else, it has given the veteran outfielder a chance to have a brand new start and aim to end this season like he did last year, when he hit .252 with 19 home runs, 12 stolen bases and a .876 OPS in his final 57 games with Tampa.
While spending the past few days completing his rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett, Upton has been reunited with Braves’ hitting guru Lee Elia, a Tampa-area resident who has worked with Upton in the offseason during recent years.
Braves hitting coach Greg Walker was pleased with what he saw from Upton during batting practice earlier this week and the club was further encouraged on Thursday night when Upton went 3-for-4 for Gwinnett.
Upton’s return will end Evan Gattis’ recent stint as one of Atlanta’s regular outfielders. This will upgrade the club’s outfield defense and bench.
Gattis has hit just .246 with one home run and a .570 OPS in the 15 games he has played since returning from the disabled list on July 14. In the 26 games he has played dating back to May 31, he has hit .195 (17-for-87) with three homers and a .563 OPS.
Despite Gattis’ struggles over the past two months, opposing managers are not going to be comfortable going into the late innings with the reality that his powerful bat is on the Braves’ bench. They will be well aware of the fact that he has gone 6-for-8 with four home runs and two walks in 10 pinch-hit plate appearances. That success rate is utterly ridiculous.
Now, if Upton returns and resumes his struggles over the next couple of weeks, the Braves will not allow his contract prevent them from making the decision to give Jordan Schafer a chance to play center field on a frequent basis.
But for now, the Braves are simply looking toward the next couple weeks and months with the hope that this is a new beginning for Upton, one that will allow him to prove he is capable of strengthening a lineup that has finally started to live up to expectations.
NOTES: The Braves enter this weekend’s series with an 11 1/2-game lead in the National League East standings. This is their largest division lead since Sept. 21, 2003…Thursday night’s win allowed the Braves to complete their first perfect homestand of at least seven games since they swept a nine-game homestand against the Phillies, Pirates and Dodgers in April 2000.
As Brandon Beachy labored through last night’s outing against the Rockies on Monday night, it became more apparent why before losing Tim Hudson last week, the Braves were at least contemplating the option of allowing Beachy to make one more Minor League rehab start.
Beachy’s bid to become one of the few pitchers who have ever encountered a smooth return from Tommy John surgery quickly evaporated as he allowed seven earned runs and eight hits in just 3 2/3 innings. All was not lost as he displayed his normal velocity – his fastball rested between 91-92 mph – and exited this 84-pitch outing healthy.
But when Beachy makes his next start on Saturday against the Phillies, the Braves can only hope that he displays more consistency with his slider and simply looks more comfortable than he did while making his first big league start in over a year last night.
Beachy’s less-than impressive effort did not seemingly alter the Braves plan to stay away from the less-than-impressive starting pitching market that exists leading up to tomorrow afternoon’s Trade Deadline. The potential cost of landing Jake Peavy remains far too steep and as has been mentioned multiple times over the past few days the Braves never had contact with the Royals regarding Ervin Santana, who is expected to stay in Kansas City.
After losing Hudson, the Braves did their due diligence and at least discussed the possibility of attempting to land a frontline starting pitcher. Peavy and Santana were the only pitchers that even piqued their interest.
As the Braves evaluate the potential makeup of their starting rotation for the remainder of this season, they will certainly have great interest in how Alex Wood performs against the Rockies tonight. Wood has totaled 7 1/3 innings in his only two previous Major League starts. But it’s not necessarily fair to judge him on those outings — both against the Mets.
Wood’s June 18 start came three weeks after he had left Double-A Mississippi’s rotation to join Atlanta’s bullpen. His four-inning performance at Citi Field last week was just the third start (Major League and Minor League combined) that he had made since late May. Had Paul Maholm not injured his wrist five days earlier, Wood might have had a chance to make at least two starts with Triple-A Gwinnett before making his return to the Majors.
If Wood proves effective tonight, and again on Sunday in Philadelphia, the Braves might at least gain some confidence that he would be capable of filling a rotation spot if necessary during the regular season’s final two months. But with the expectation that Maholm will be ready to rejoin the rotation on Monday, Wood might spend the next couple of weeks either in Atlanta’s bullpen or Gwinnett’s rotation.
Yeah, I know that I am the one who has indicated the possibility that Wood could replace Kris Medlen in the starting rotation. That was simply a product of the reporting process. Those were not my thoughts alone and it was a mindset that was developed before the Braves lost Hudson’s veteran presence from their rotation.
Medlen provided some signs of encouragement as he displayed improved fastball command while limiting the Cardinals to two earned runs in six innings on Sunday night. This year has been a battle from the start for the ever-competitive Medlen, who has simply not found the form that enabled him to post a 0.97 ERA in the 12 starts he made after joining the rotation at this time last year.
Still it is hard to ignore the fact that Medlen has posted the fourth-best ERA (2.63) among all qualified Major League starting pitchers dating back to July 31, 2012. The only pitchers who rank in front of him are Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey and Bartolo Colon.
There is certainly reason to wonder if Beachy will gain his previous dominant form before the start of next season. But regardless of how he fares, the Braves already possess the pieces to form a rotation that can preserve the club’s comfortable lead atop the National League East standings and also prove competitive once the postseason arrives.
Those who have pushed for the Braves to upgrade their starting rotation have asked if the team would feel comfortable pitting either Julio Teheran or Mike Minor against Kershaw in the first game of a postseason series. To this I ask, how many pitchers would actually fit this bill? Regardless of who you chose to put in this select list, he is not available on this year’s thin trade market.
To play off Rick Pitino’s famous line during his days with the Boston Celtics, “John Smoltz is not walking through that door fans. Tom Glavine is not walking through that door and Greg Maddux is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be grey and old.”
The Braves got the left-handed reliever they have been seeking when they acquired Scott Downs from the Angels in exchange for right-handed Minor League pitcher Cory Rasmus early Monday afternoon.
Downs has compiled a 1.84 ERA in 43 appearances for the Angels this season. The 37-year-old southpaw has limited left-handed hitters to a .196 batting average and .255 on-base percentage. Right-handed hitters have batted .286 with a .385 on-base percentage against him.
Braves general manager Frank Wren’s focus over the past few weeks has been to improve the depth of his bullpen. With the acquisition of Downs, he has gained a veteran reliever who is capable of reducing the workload top setup men Luis Avilan and Jordan Walden incur during the regular season’s final two months.
Downs is owed approximately $1.6 million over the remainder of this season. He is in the final year of a three-year contract.
Rasmus has compiled a 1.37 ERA in 37 relief appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett this season. The 25-year-old right-hander made his only three Major League appearances with the Braves earlier this year. He allowed six earned runs and eight hits, including four homers, in the 6 2/3 innings that encompassed those three appearances.
Since losing Tim Hudson to a season-ending ankle injury on Wednesday night, the Braves have widened their focus on the trade market. While enhancing the bullpen’s depth, preferably with a left-handed reliever, still appears to be the priority, the club is now looking at the possibility of acquiring a front-line starting pitcher to fill Hudson’s void.
Braves general manager Frank Wren and his scouts will spend the next few days evaluating the small group of available starting pitchers who could legitimately upgrade the rotation. Instead of pursuing a middle-of the-rotation piece like Bud Norris, the club’s interest in this department is focused on the likes of Jake Peavy and Ervin Santana.
The Braves had a scout present to watch Peavy throw 118 pitches and complete seven innings against the Tigers on Thursday. This outing seemed to diminish any fears about the lingering effects of the fractured right rib that sidelined the White Sox right-hander from June 5-July 20.
Peavy is owed $4.8 million for the remainder of this year. The 32-year-old Alabama native’s contract also includes a $14.5 million salary for 2014 and a $15 million vesting player option for 2015. All indications are that the Braves are financially in position to make this deal.
While trading Santana would diminish the odds of the Royals achieving their goal of recording a winning season, the club understands the future benefits that could be realized by trading the 30-year-old right-hander, who will be a free agent at the end of the season.
While the Braves do not seem to have any interest in Yovani Gallardo, they might ask the Brewers about Kyle Lohse, who has compiled a 2.49 ERA in the 11 starts he has made since the end of May.
Like many clubs, the Braves are still hoping to strengthen their bullpen before next week’s Trade Deadline. But while they are evaluating a number of relievers, it does not appear they currently have a specific target.
The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers seems to believe the Braves are the favorites to land Jesse Crain from the White Sox if the All-Star reliever comes off the disabled list within the next week and provides indication that his right shoulder is healthy. Rogers expressed this sentiment early Tuesday morning while on The Mully And Hanley Show on Chicago’s 670 The Score.
If he is healthy, Crain would arguably be the best reliever available and there is no doubt the Braves have definite interest in the 32-year-old reliever, who is in the final year of a three-year contract. He has posted a 0.74 ERA and limited opponents to a .287 on-base percentage in 38 appearances. But there is certainly reason to be cautious with any pitcher dealing with a shoulder ailment.
The Braves are still hoping left-hander Alex Wood proves effective enough to remain in the starting rotation throughout the remainder of this season. Brandon Beachy is also expected to rejoin Atlanta’s rotation next week. The expected additions of Wood and Beachy continue to fuel the belief that Kris Medlen could be moved to the bullpen within the next week.
With Medlen and Jordan Walden, the Braves would have two right-handed relievers who can neutralize left-handed hitters with their changeup. But there still seems to be a desire to add a left-handed reliever.
The Angels’ Scott Downs, the Cubs’ James Russell and the Brewers’ Mike Gonzalez are among the left-handed relievers who have all drawn some form of interest from Atlanta’s brass.
But it appears Downs, who is in the final year of his three-year contract, and Russell, who is in the midst of his first arbitration-eligible season, rank above Gonzalez on the Braves’ wish list.