There will no surprises for Brian McCann or Tim Hudson once every Major League Baseball club makes its qualifying offers to their respective qualified free agents by 5 p.m. ET today. McCann will receive one and Hudson will not.
In order to receive draft-pick compensation for potential free-agent departures, clubs must make a qualifying offer to any of its qualifying free agents. The player has until 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday to accept the offer, which this year is a one-year contract valued at $14.1 million. <p>
Hudson and McCann are Atlanta’s only free agents who qualified for this potential offer.
McCann will decline this offer, which is obviously less significant than the generous offers he is expected to receive as he stands as one of the most attractive free agents on this year’s market. The Rangers are the early favorites to sign the seven-time All-Star catcher, who will turn 30 in February. But McCann is also expected to receive attention from a handful of other clubs, most notably the Yankees and Red Sox.
Hudson will not receive a qualifying offer because his salary for the 2014 season will likely not be in the vicinity of the $14.1 million figure. But the 38-year-old veteran pitcher has been encouraged by the fact that approximately 10 teams have already contacted him. The Royals and Indians are the clubs that have shown the most interest so far.
Indians manager Terry Francona had a lengthy telephone discussion with Hudson a few days ago. Royals manager Ned Yost is expected to meet with Hudson later this week.
The Braves have already made a one-year offer to Hudson. But Hudson and his agent have not yet chosen to make a counter offer.
Hudson is nearing the end of his recovery from the fractured right ankle that sidelined him for the final two months of this season. A screw will be removed from his ankle within the next week. If everything appears to be structurally sound at that point, Hudson could be cleared to begin throwing two weeks later.
Now that the Red Sox have concluded yet another World Series in triumphant fashion, it is time to begin looking at what the Braves might do during what has the potential to be an interesting Hot Stove season.
Over the next few weeks and possibly months, the Braves will evaluate the trade market in search of an ace and a possible suitor for Dan Uggla. But the first intriguing storyline will focus on pitching coach Roger McDowell’s future in Atlanta.
McDowell has been invited to return to Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez’s coaching staff next year. But before signing his contract, McDowell will likely talk to the Phillies about their vacant pitching coach position.
Over the past week, it has become even more evident that McDowell is high on Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro’s wish list. But the Phillies are not permitted to have any formal discussions with McDowell until his current contract with the Braves expires at midnight tonight (Oct. 31).
McDowell met with Braves general manager Frank Wren this week to discuss the possibility of remaining in Atlanta. But the meeting did not lead to an immediate resolution.
The Braves suffered a loss earlier this week when Dave Wallace ended his days as their Minor League pitching coordinator to become Baltimore’s pitching coach. Making the jump from the Minor League level to the Majors was an easy decision for the 66-year-old Wallace, a highly-respected pitching guru who has significantly shaped and impacted McDowell’s coaching career.
The Braves would suffer a much greater loss if McDowell chose to take his expertise and knowledge of Atlanta’s system to the division rival Phillies.
McDowell stands as one of the most respected and valuable leaders on Atlanta’s coaching staff. Along with leading a pitching staff that has produced the game’s best ERA since the start of the 2009 season, he has displayed a meticulous approach while devising scouting reports that well-traveled veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird has described as some of the best he has ever seen.
McDowell has a strong bond with Gonzalez and the many homegrown pitchers he has molded in Atlanta. But the almighty dollar could lure him to Philadelphia.
Multiple Major League sources have said McDowell is one of the game’s lowest-paid pitching coaches. With this in mind, the Phillies could make him an offer he can’t refuse. But at the same time, there is always the Braves could provide a raise that would increase the odds of him remaining in Atlanta.
Regardless of what transpires, the next few days will provide a better understanding of McDowell’s immediate future.
We’ll likely have to wait a little longer to learn what the future has in store for Atlanta’s top two free agents — Brian McCann and Tim Hudson.
While some National League teams will show interest in McCann, it still seem much more likely that he will get his best offers from American League clubs that would be able to utilize him both as a catcher and designated hitter. If you’re looking for an early favorite in the bidding for McCann, go with the Rangers.
Hudson’s future seems to be a little less clear as he nears the end of his recovery from the fractured right ankle that sidelined him for this season’s final two months. Wren said he will talk to Hudson about the possibility of returning to Atlanta. But the Royals and a number of other clubs are also expected to show some interest in signing the 38-year-old right-hander.
Since joining the Braves before the start of the 2005 season, Hudson has enjoyed the comforts of playing close to home. He built his family’s dream house in Auburn, Ala., which is located approximately 90 minutes south of Turner Field. There is also the allure of sticking close to his children who are beginning to participate in a variety of different activities.
But this will be yet another decision influenced by the financial aspect. Given his age, Hudson has to look at the possibility that he could be preparing to sign the last contract of his career. There is a chance the certainty provided by a two-year guaranteed deal could outweigh the opportunity to remain in Atlanta with a one-year,incentive-laden contract that might include an option for 2015.
In order to receive draft-pick compensation, clubs must make a qualifying offer to any of its qualifying free agents by Monday at 5 p.m. ET. The player has until Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET to accept the offer, which this year is a one-year contract valued at $14.1 million.
While the Braves will almost definitely make a qualifying offer to McCann with the understanding he would likely not accept it, they have no reason to make the offer to Hudson, who would have plenty of reason to accept and as a result, nearly double his potential salary for next season.
AFL Update: Shortly after the All-Star break, a talent evaluator told me to keep an eye on Shae Simmons, a 23-year-old right-handed reliever who compiled a 1.69 ERA and limited opponents to a .263 on-base percentage in 50 combined appearances with Class A Rome and Double-A Mississippi this season. Simmons has extended his success while compiling a 1.50 ERA and limiting opponents to four hits through the first six innings he has completed in the Arizona Fall League.
Simmons will serve as Atlanta’s only representative in the Fall Stars Game, which will be played on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com.
Second baseman Tommy La Stella has continued to show his offensive potential while hitting .318 with five doubles and a homer in the 44 at-bats he has compiled since the AFL season began. La Stella opened some eyes this year when he hit .343 and drew more walks (37) than strikeouts (34) with Double-A Mississippi this summer.
Interest in La Stella has certainly increased because of the uncertainty surrounding Uggla, who is owed $26 million over the final two years of his contract. The Braves will certainly try to move Uggla and at least a portion of that contract.
If Uggla is traded this winter, the favorites to begin next year as Atlanta’s second baseman would likely be either La Stella Tyler Pastornicky, who is expected to recover from his torn anterior cruciate ligament by the time Spring Training begins. Ramiro Pena could also be a candidate. But his presence in the lineup could weaken the value of the versatility he provides as a utility man.
Regardless of what is deciphered from the paragraphs that follow, most of you are not going to understand why the Braves are sticking with the plan to send Freddy Garcia to the mound for tonight’s game against the Dodgers. The team that led the Majors in ERA this year will enter its first true do-or-die situation with the hope of getting a solid outing from a veteran pitcher, whose most encouraging credentials are a product of the nine postseason starts he made before Brian McCann celebrated his 22nd birthday.
And to further sweeten the debate pot, the Dodgers have announced Clayton Kershaw will return on short rest to oppose Garcia tonight and attempt to eliminate the Braves.
Before the Dodgers made this announcement early Monday afternoon, there was debate about why the Braves were going to stick with Garcia instead of handing the ball to Kris Medlen, who like Kershaw has never previously followed a start with another on short rest. Four of Medlen’s career starts have been made within four days after he had a relief appearance, none of which consisted of more than one inning or 24 pitches.
All indications are that the Braves will stick with Garcia, setting up one of those classic postseason battles that pits the top Cy Young Award candidate against a veteran who is just six weeks removed from making the last of the 14 starts he made at the Triple-A level this year.
This decision made by the Dodgers creates the possibility that they will send Zack Greinke to the mound with regular rest for Game 5 on Wednesday if necessary. Had they gone with Medlen on short rest, the Braves would have the opportunity to do the same with Mike Minor.
From an optimistic point of view, the Braves are going to have to hope getting a second look at Kershaw four days after he threw 124 pitches in Game 1 proves to be beneficial.
Kershaw’s only regular season start this year that consisted of more than 120 pitches came on May 14, when he tossed 8 2/3 scoreless innings against the Nationals. Making his next start with an extra day of rest on May 20, he allowed three hits and allowed one run while going the distance against the Brewers.
There is no doubt that Kershaw currently stands as the game’s best pitcher. But history has proven that it is hard to predict how a pitcher will fare when pitching on short rest.
Braves pitchers have gone 10-11 with a 3.75 ERA in the 31 starts that their pitchers have made on short rest during the postseason, dating back to 1991. But these numbers accounts for starts that have been made within four days after a relief appearance.
Accounting simply for the short-rest starts that have been made following a start, Atlanta’s pitchers have posted 5.61 ERA in the 17 starts that fit this criteria since 1991.
John Smoltz had little trouble as he posted a 2.45 ERA in five short-rest starts in October. Greg Maddux allowed four earned runs and combined for 10 innings in the two playoff starts he made for Atlanta with short rest.
Tom Glavine compiled a 6.09 ERA in six postseason starts made on short rest. But this is another misleading number created by a small sample size. Glavine allowed three earned runs or fewer and lasted at least five innings in five of those outings. He just happened to allow seven earned runs while lasting fewer than three innings in two others.
Glavine made three consecutive starts on short rest during the 1992 playoffs. In the first, he allowed the Pirates seven earned runs and lasted just one inning. Four days later, he opened the World Series by limiting the Blue Jays to one run while going the distance. In Game 4, he allowed two runs over eight innings.
Regardless of what transpires, we can assume either Mattingly or Gonzalez will be second-guessed by the end of the night. ‘Tis the postseason, a period during which every decision, mistake and accomplishment is critiqued to the Nth degree.
While tossing and turning in their sleep of simply daydreaming at work, many Braves fans have spent the past 12 hours thinking about all that went wrong during Thursday night’s 6-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Jason Heyward did not make an aggressive attempt to prevent the always-aggressive Yasiel Puig from going first-to-third in Los Angeles’ two-run second inning. Then to compound his mistake, he allowed his adrenaline get the best of him with his errant attempt to prevent Puig from scoring on Skip Schumaker’s sacrifice fly.
Yes, you have to come up throwing toward the plate despite the fact the odds of retiring the speedy Puig at the plate. Heyward provided sound reasoning when he said you have to attempt to prevent any run possible when going up against Clayton Kershaw. At the same time, he recognized the fact that he needed to make a throw that could have been cut. Had he done so, Juan Uribe would not have advanced to second base and found himself in position to score when Evan Gattis turned A.J. Ellis’ two-out liner to left into a run-producing double.
“I thought the throw home was a good‑‑ the right basic throw,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Friday afternoon. “Maybe a little bit high. I thought not throwing the ball to third base (to keep the double play in order) I thought that was the correct call on Jason’s part.”
Gattis’ inability to dive and catch Ellis’ liner was not necessarily surprising. It was just a reminder that he is a catcher who is playing left field because the Braves feel the need to have his bat in their lineup on a daily basis.
Instead of strengthening his outfield defensive by playing Jordan Schafer in left field in Game 2’s matchup against right-hander Zack Greinke, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez stuck with Gattis. Those who like small sample sizes will point out Schafer has five hits in 11 at-bats against Greinke. That accounts for a 4-for-7 showing in 2012 and a 1-for-4 showing this year.
But it’s apparent Gonzalez values power potential more than previous success in a few games.
If the Braves have a lead in the sixth inning or later, it’s pretty safe to assume Schafer enter the game to play left field. But for now Gonzalez is willing to sacrifice defensive ability for the offensive capability of Gattis, who hit .255 with six home runs and a .780 OPS in 100 September plate appearances.
Gattis’ inability to grab Ellis’ liner was not any more costly than Elliot Johnson’s inability to secure Carl Crawford’s hot shot that was hit right at him to begin Los Angeles’ two-run third inning. Without the miscue, which was ruled a hit, Adrian Gonzalez would not have had the opportunity to drill his crushing two-run homer off Kris Medlen.
As the Braves marched toward their 15th loss in their past 20 postseason home games, it seemed like the baseball gods were having some fun at their expense. Much of the buzz this week has centered around Atlanta’s decision to leave veteran second baseman Dan Uggla off the NLDS roster.
So, of course in his postseason debut as Uggla’s replacement, Elliot Johnson made the costly defensive miscue and went hitless in four at-bats with three strikeouts.
With some more assistance from his defense, Medlen could have certainly fared much better than his line — four-plus innings, nine hits and five earned runs — might have looked a little more respectable. But he certainly didn’t pitch like he had while posting a 0.84 ERA in his final six regular season starts.
“With Medlen, it’s about control; it’s about working inside‑outside, up and down,” Brian McCann said. “His changeup is his best pitch, and last night he hung it a little more than usual. I mean, I said last night, his location, that was the difference last night, I thought.”
McCann has spent the past few months attempting to avoid any questions about his future. But as he drove to Turner Field on Friday, it was impossible for him to overlook the fact that he would be preparing for what could be his last home game with the Braves. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and there are already a number of teams planning to make a strong push to sign him.
“When I think about it, it’s definitely there,” McCann said. “But at the same time, I mean, this is what we’re doing here today is way more important than what’s going to happen to me after the season. You know, I’m just focused on today’s game. We’ve got to get the series 1‑1 and go to LA and make this thing a series.”
It’s not like the Braves are in unfamiliar territory. They have lost Game 1 in eight of the past nine NLDS in which they have participated. Their only series win after losing the opener in one of these best-of-five series came in 1999, when they eliminated the Astros in four games.
The pessimist will say the Braves are destined for yet another brief postseason experience. The optimist will say they are due to benefit from one of those Walt Weiss postseason-changing moments.
When the Braves announce their National League Division Series roster on Wednesday, there is a distinct possibility Dan Uggla will not be included.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez met with some players regarding roster decisions after the team held a workout that was closed to media members on Tuesday at Turner Field. An industry source said Uggla was informed that he will not be part of the 25-man roster the Braves will use during their best-of-five NLDS matchup against the Dodgers.
Before making anything official on Wednesday, the Braves will first evaluate the health of some of the players, including right-handed reliever Jordan Walden, who has been ineffective in three of the four appearances he has made since missing three weeks with a strained groin.
If Uggla is indeed left off the roster, the Braves could go with a 12-man pitching staff, which could provide some insurance in the event that Walden’s struggles continue.
Uggla has batted .179 with 22 home runs and a .671 OPS in 136 games this season. The veteran second baseman has hit .133 with one home run and a .508 OPS in the 77 plate appearances he has compiled while playing 24 games since undergoing LASIK surgery to repair his vision in August.
As the regular season’s final weeks unfolded, it became apparent that Elliot Johnson would serve as Atlanta’s starting second baseman when the postseason began. But there was some thought there might still be a bench spot for Uggla, who drew the club’s highest salary ($13 million) this year.
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.