Friday, August 19, 2011
Young and Brave
By Alvin Aņol
Craig Kimbrel closed out Atlanta's 1-0 victory against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday for his 37th save of the season, setting the NL rookie single-season save record in the process.
The 23-year-old Kimbrel moved out of a tie with Todd Worrell, who saved 36 games as a rookie for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986. Kimbrel is now three saves shy of tying the MLB rookie record for saves in a season, a mark currently held by Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, who set the record last season.
The NL Rookie of the Year candidate has been one of many Braves, younger than the age of 25, to have significant impact this season.
Some impact has been recent, as was the case for Thursday's starting pitcher Mike Minor. The 23-year-old Minor, who's been up and down from the minors, struck out a season-high nine in six innings against and improved to 3-2 this season.
Despite the 3-2 mark, the Braves are actually 7-2 in Minor's starts this season, winning in his past six starts in a streak dating back to June 11.
Over the course of this season, fellow starter Brandon Beachy has had more of an impact on the Braves' rotation.
The 24-year-old Beachy is 5-2 with a 3.43 ERA in 18 starts this season. Beachy has been a regular in the rotation since June 22, going 4-1 in 10 starts in that span.
Beachy has averaged 9.9 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched, the best mark by a Braves starter this season. Combine that with a 3.65:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and Beachy has been a solid contributor in the Braves rotation.
At the plate, a pair of lefties have been mainstays in the Braves lineup. While one has pushed his teammate in the NL Rookie of the Year race, the other has been mired in a sophomore slump.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, 21, has batted .293 this season with 16 HR and 60 RBI and leads rookies with an .820 OPS. He also enjoyed a 20-game hit streak that ended August 7. The streak was the second-longest by a Braves rookie in team history, topped only by Alvin Dark's 23-game streak in 1948.
Freeman has batted .338 since the All-Star Break, compared to .274 before it.
As Freeman has thrived, 22-year-old right fielder Jason Heyward has struggled in his sophomore campaign. As of Thursday, Heyward has batted .220/.313/.392 this season is in stark contrast to the .277/.393/.456 he posted his rookie season.
But even with the disappointing season from Heyward, the Braves' future -- both in the short- and long-term -- still appears promising.