Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Ten thoughts about the awesome Braves
By David Schoenfield
This is how you win 13 games in a row. You're tied 3-3 in the eighth inning. With two outs, Andrelton Simmons doubles. A guy named Joey Terdoslavich walks. Jason Heyward singles in one run, Justin Upton doubles in two and then the league's best bullpen does its job the final two innings. Heyward and Upton get the glory stats with the RBIs, but the key at-bat of the inning in the Braves' 6-3 win over the Nationals was Terdoslavich walking on a 3-2 pitch.
1. Thirteen in a row is pretty awesome. How often does it happen? Since 1990, here are the streaks of of 13 games or longer:
And now the 2013 Braves. That's 11 streaks in 24 seasons, so it happens on average about once every two seasons or so. Pretty impressive.
2. Kris Medlen looked pretty good on Wednesday. He's only 9-10, however. What's going on there?
Medlen, of course, had that unhittable stretch as a starter last season, going 9-0 with an 0.97 ERA in 12 starts. He's been much more hittable this season, without the same fastball command and precise location on his change. Opponents are slugging .450 off his fastball as opposed to .355 last year. But it was the changeup that was absolutely devastating a season ago: Batters hit .087 (10-for-115) with one home run; it was arguably the best pitch in the game. In 2013, they're hitting .210, although with just two home runs, so he's still keeping it down in the zone. Maybe he's not the ace some projected at the start of the season, but he's pretty solid.
3. But they don't need him to be an ace, do they?
Not with the way Mike Minor and Julio Teheran are pitching. Minor is finally starting to get some publicity, but it's the rookie Teheran who has been the big surprise. Since giving up 13 runs and five home runs in his first three starts, he's posted a 2.38 ERA and has allowed zero runs or one run 10 times in 19 starts. He's legit.
4. How about Jason Heyward hitting leadoff?
I love it. Simmons is not a leadoff guy with his sub-.300 OBP. Heyward may have the body of a cleanup hitter but he's the best leadoff option for the Braves right now, so it was a smart move by Fredi Gonzalez to move him there in late July. The Braves are 12-0 since that move, which is mostly coincidence, but partly getting a lineup into a more efficient order.
Is Justin Upton the Braves' key ingredient?
5. Justin Upton appears to the straw that stirs the drink, no?
He does. I can't explain what happened during that two-month funk when he hit .224 with two home runs in 54 games. After going 3-for-4 against the Nationals, Upton now has a 12-game hitting streak during which he's batting .440 with five home runs -- those Upton home runs that have that special sound. Remember when Upton started the season red-hot and carried the Braves to a 12-1 start? So two hot Upton stretches, two hot Braves stretches.
He kind of is, in that he seems like the heart and soul of this team, so to speak. He's famous for hugs and he's getting famous for his bat. He's hitting .311 with 79 RBIs and some people feel he's been the team MVP. He's also starting to enter the periphery of the NL MVP discussion as well.
7. OK, the bullpen. How awesome is it? There's that word again.
Pretty hard to say it isn't the best. It has the lowest ERA in the majors (2.40), the lowest batting average allowed (.212), the lowest OPS (.589), the best winning percentage (22-8) and the fewest home runs allowed (16). Craig Kimbrel had a little blip earlier when he blew three saves but he's now converted 26 in a row and has allowed one run his past 32 innings. Considering the Braves lost Jonny Venters in spring training and Eric O'Flaherty early in the year, kudos to Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell for their work in handling Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden and the rest.
8. Chris Johnson! Dude! How could you wait to No. 8 here to mention him?
No kidding. Two more hits on Wednesday, raising his average to .339, best in the NL. It's insane. His batting average on balls in play is .419. That's not off the charts, that's impossible. Only four players since 1950 have hit .400 on balls in play according to Baseball-Reference, with Rod Carew's .408 in 1977 the "record."
10. OK, the schedule has something to do with this, right? The NL East is kind of a joke.
True, but the streak did start with three wins over the Cardinals. But you know? The Braves have only seven games the rest of the season against teams currently with winning records (four against St. Louis, three against Cleveland). With a 70-45 record and 47 games remaining, the Braves could be on their way to 100 wins.
11. You forgot to mention Andrelton Simmons' defense!