(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
The last day of the first month of the season is here. Is it me or is the baseball season actually flying by already? And how much faster has it gone since the Braves recovered from the 0-4 start? Since the three losses in New York and one in Houston, your Braves have won 14 of 18 to move into a first-place tie in the NL East with the Washington Nationals.
The Dodgers swept the Nats this weekend, so it’s Washington dealing with a four-game losing streak now, even with the arrival of one Bryce Harper.
A win tonight for the Braves against the Pirates to close out the four-game series and the Braves could find themselves alone atop the NL East (The Nats are off tonight). The last time the Braves led the division, tied or otherwise, was April 1 of last season, after they beat the Nationals in the season-opener in DC and then had an off day to follow.
The Dodgers and Rangers are up in the stratosphere at 16-6, and then it’s the Braves, Nats, Cardinals, Orioles and Rays all at 14-8.
The Phillies are coming in town tomorrow for the first of a three-game series, and who would have thought it wouldn’t be as big a deal as if it were the Nats?
Hey, the Braves are the one team that knows full well how good the Nationals can be. Everybody else is just catching up now. OK, fine, it’s pretty clear the Nationals are taking it to new heights this year. For all those years of us saying the Nats were “Braves light,” taking so many former players, and trying to build in the same model as the Braves with Stan Kasten as president.
Even without Kasten anymore, but former Braves executive Roy Clark is still there running the scouting department, I’d say they’re doing a good impression of the middle 90s Braves right about now.
As a staff, the Nationals lead the NL in ERA (2.33), quality starts (17), WHIP (1.07), and batting average against (.203). They have three starters in the top 10 in ERA in the National League with Stephen Strasburg (1.13), Jordan Zimmermann (1.33), and Ross Detwiler (1.64). And newcomer Gio Gonzalez, No. 13 in the NL with a 1.82 ERA, gives them four starters with ERAs under 2.00. Yow.
So the Nats have played 22 games and 17 of them have been quality starts. By comparison, the Braves have played 17 games and gotten eight quality starts. Of course the Braves are scoring a lot more runs (113 to 74).
But that’s enough about the Nats. Dan Uggla said something on Friday night, after the Braves’ 6-1 win to start the Pirates series, that I thought was interesting:
“Everybody knows how important these games are (come) September. To take away as many games as we can from other teams and win the ones we’re supposed to – it’s going to pay its dividends in September.”
So that tells me the Braves are using last September’s collapse now in a constructive way, reminding themselves, as Bobby Cox used to say, the games in April count as much as the games in September, or something along those lines. No doubt, the Braves would feel a lot better about going 3-1 in an April series against the Pirates than settling for a 2-2 split, and they turn to Mike Minor vs. James McDonald to do something about that tonight.
The Braves have won Minor’s past three starts, while he has gone 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA, allowing only four earned runs in 21 1/3 innings. McDonald has been pitching well for the Pirates but only been given the benefit of two runs in 22 2/3 innings he’s pitched over four starts. In his last start on Wednesday, McDonald took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning against the Rockies, before giving up an infield hit to Troy Tulowitzi and a manufactured run in an eventual 2-1 loss.
Medlen, long relief paying off
For those still upset over seeing Kris Medlen in the bullpen, I crunched a few numbers this morning to see the impact not only Medlen but the other good long relief the Braves have gotten from Livan Hernandez, Cristhian Martinez and yes Chad Durbin too (six straight scoreless appearances), have had on Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel.
I went back and compared games through last April 29 with games through this April 29 and here’s what I’ve found: This year, O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel have pitched in 26 games combined and totaled 25 innings. This time last year they had already pitched in 37 games combined (yes you’re including one game for each, even if they appeared in the same game), and 37 2/3 innings. So they have been spared 12 2/3 innings of mileage so far this year.
Also, I counted up and found that this year O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel have pitched 23 times in games in which they came in either tied or with a lead. Only twice have they come in this year while trailing. Last year? O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel came in 26 times while leading or tied, but also 11 times when trailing.
So a combination of the Braves’ scoring more runs and having more reliable options in middle relief is saving those arms.
Venters had pitched in 13 games and 13 2/3 innings this time last season. He’s pitched nine games and only 8 2/3 innings at the same point this year. In fact, he told me he’s actually worked a few times on the side to stay sharp – just 10-15 pitches – something he rarely if ever did last season.
“It definitely takes a lot of stress off me and Craig and O,” Venters said. “It’s really awesome to have guys like that, to be able to trust everybody in any situation….
“The guys we have down there have been awesome. They’ve done everything that everybody thought they would do. Kris is ridiculous. He’s going to go out there and compete and go right at hitters and throw a lot of strikes and get hits apparently.”
Oh, Medlen will love that.
Probables for the Phillies series: Brandon Beachy (2-1, 1.05 ERA) vs. LH Cole Hamels (3-2, 2.73) on Tuesday; Tommy Hanson (3-2, 3.00) vs. Roy Halladay (3-2, 1.95) on Wednesday; Randall Delgado (2-2, 6.30) vs. Joe Blanton (2-3, 3.81) on Thursday.
Michael Bourn has moved up into the top five in the NL batting average leaders. He’s at .344 after three straight multi-hit games against the Pirates, 7-for-13 (.538) with a walk.
Derek Lowe just pitched 7 2/3 innings of three-hit shutout ball for the Indians yesterday against the Angels to move to 4-1 for the year, with a 2.27 ERA. He’s tied for the AL lead in wins with James Shields and David Price of Tampa Bay and Robbie Ross of Texas.
More from the ballpark this afternoon.