Braves win again — and there’s reason to like the view

Freddie Freeman's three-run homer was another positive sign for the Braves. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Freddie Freeman's three-run homer was another positive sign for Braves. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

It’s safe to open your eyes now. They survived.

The injuries, the offensive struggles, the questions about a leadoff hitter, the faceplant by Dan Uggla, the sudden tabloid fodder of Roger McDowell and Derek Lowe, whatever that was when Chipper Jones said something about Jason Heyward not playing with a sore shoulder . . . somehow the Braves have overcome it all.

They won again Thursday. They dumped the Colorado Rockies 6-3 and swept a four-game series by a composite score of 24-8. They went 6-1 on a homestand. They’ve won nine of their last 10 and 14 of their last 17 to close to within 2½ games of first-place Philadelphia Phillies.

The Braves and Phillies meet in a final weekend series before the All-Star break beginning Friday night. A few weeks ago, could you have imagined this many positive signs?

The Braves have a better record now (53-36) than they did at the All-Star break last season (52-36). To their credit, they’ve never looked like they were going to fall apart this year, despite the problems. They were just sort of looked like they were stuck in second gear.

As catcher Brian McCann said, “Sometimes when you have injuries, it’s hard to get into a flow. You know that over 162 games that you’re going to have ups and downs. It just so happened that the first few months of the season, we had our downs. We’re just lucky we have the pitching staff we do because it kind of masked [the problems]. Hopefully all of that is behind us now.”

It’s significant not just that the Braves are winning by how they’re winning. They’re still doing it without one of their best players, Martin Prado, who by the time he returns after the All-Star break will have missed at least 31 games (one-third of the season to this point). They’re doing it with Chipper Jones trying to get by on a knee that needed surgery weeks ago. They’re doing it with Uggla grinding. Despite showing signs of an awakening — 5-for-9 with four walks in the last three games — Uggla is hitting .183 and hasn’t seen .200 by his name since May 16.

This is all good news. Why? Because Prado is coming back . Jones will have surgery and presumably get healthy. And at some point, the odds figure to catch up with Uggla (a career .263 hitter before this season).

You want positive signs for the future? Here are a few. Freddie Freeman, the 21-year-old rookie first baseman, had three hits, including a three-run home run, in Thursday’s win. In the last five games, he is 8-for-16 with four homers, eight RBIs and five walks. Heyward, also 21, also went 3-for-4 with a homer and was robbed of an infield single and a four-hit day by first base umpire Wally Bell, who apparently had some place to go.

Craig Kimbrel, the 23-year-old closer, earned his 27th save. That’s a major league rookie record before the All-Star break. So much for one of this season’s major questions: Can Billy Wagner be replaced?

None of this means they’re going to sweep the Phillies and take over first place before the All-Star break. But it’s hard to imagine a team overcoming this many obstacles and it not paying off at some point.

“I’ve said from the beginning, when people were asking me who’s the favorite [to win the National League East], the teams that can survive the injury bug are the ones who will be there at the end,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We still have along way to go. But hopefully we have survived our injury bug.”

The pitching has rocked from day one. Now we see an offense rise from the dead. If 37 runs and 64 hits during a seven-game homestand doesn’t quite represent an explosion — just over five runs and nine hits per game — it’s a relative jolt compared to the flat-line offense we had seen on too many nights.

Said Jones, “We’re probably at an all-time high as far as our confidence goes. We’re poised to play well [against the Phillies]. We have to stand up to them at some point so there’s no better time than this weekend.”

There’s reason to like the view.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC


119 comments Add your comment

Vain Jangling

July 7th, 2011
6:32 pm

Joel

July 7th, 2011
6:34 pm

Jeff, 31 games is a little less than a fifth of the season, other than that good job!

JoshTown

July 7th, 2011
6:35 pm

GREAT column Jeff!

JoshTown

July 7th, 2011
6:36 pm

Joel, I assume he meant 1/3 of the season so far (roughly 90 games)

Tdove

July 7th, 2011
6:36 pm

I like that kind of talk from Chipper, he is the leader and imo that breathes even more confidence when he says things like that.

Jason79

July 7th, 2011
6:37 pm

Man its fun to watch. Can’t wait to see how Beachy handles the pressure tomorrow night. Brave 3-2

Stinger2

July 7th, 2011
6:39 pm

Jeff: A good assessment of what has happened and how the Braves have handled it. However, they must keep mentally focused to prevent a letdown after the All-Star break. Such has happened in the past to many teams.

Brandon

July 7th, 2011
6:39 pm

31 games = a third of 162?

Vain Jangling

July 7th, 2011
6:40 pm

Yeah, if our stellar pitching holds steady, and these guys hit anywhere near their career averages from here on out, I’ll take back everything I said about trading Prado and Freeman for Chico Esquela. What was I thinking? And BTW, glad you’re back, Jeff!

Matt

July 7th, 2011
6:41 pm

I am confident in this team moving forward. However, Jeff, the matchups for us aren’t positive this weekend. Two lefties and Halladay. I just hope we don’t get swept. In the end, as long as we keep up with the Phillies, we’ll dust the rest of the NL for the wild card and likely draw the Giants or Cards/Brewers. I like our chances against any of those teams as things stand now. hopefully, injuries won’t change anything.

Jeff Schultz

July 7th, 2011
6:47 pm

Joel — 31 games is one-third of what’s been played to that point, not of the full season.

Jeff Schultz

July 7th, 2011
6:50 pm

Stinger2 — Thanks. I’m not concerned about a potential mental letdown. I think the health is the bigger question, particularly when it comes to Chipper, the bullpen arms staying strong and maybe even Prado.

Jeff Schultz

July 7th, 2011
6:51 pm

OK, since a few of you have been thrown by the “one-third” reference I’m adding the words “to this point” of season for clarity.

Frank C.

July 7th, 2011
6:58 pm

Martin Prado, who by the time he returns after the All-Star break will have missed at least 31 games (one-third of the season to this point). How much clearer could he have written it?

Hit A Single

July 7th, 2011
7:02 pm

Man what two rookies to have in Freeman and Kimbrel. The Braves strength may be in assessing pitching. Their scouts do a great job in this area as far as evaluating talent.

P-Man

July 7th, 2011
7:02 pm

What I like is this:

The Phillies set up their rotation so that their best pitchers always face the Braves.

The Braves just send the next guy out there and say, “We can beat you no matter who is pitching!” I LOVE the confidence, just like the 90s!

Chief pitchanono

July 7th, 2011
7:05 pm

Yep, has been a great first half, and allot of fun for the last week or so. I love great pitching, but hitting is just fun to watch. Hopefully we play well in this series with the phills, but they have stacked their rotation on purpose i’m sure. They will down play the importance but its obvious they do not want to lose this series. Its great expierience for Beachy and Hanson and hopefully they do well. Go Braves!!

Grammar Queens..

July 7th, 2011
7:14 pm

Jeff thank you for clarifying that. Apparently these guys are so critical that without that clarification they would have been lost. Obviously since they could not infer your point any comments they may make regarding the Braves need scoffed at since they know that little about the game. Guess it tickled there little innerds to point that out to you. Tech fans, has to be….

Delbert D.

July 7th, 2011
7:16 pm

Jeff, thanks for pointing out that Prado’s return might allow Jones to have surgery on the knee. I hadn’t thought of that.

DaveinNEPA

July 7th, 2011
7:33 pm

I’ve looked back over line scores of the previous games with the Phils. We’ve beaten Halladay, Hamels and Lee……..but…….they’ve beaten Beachy and Lowe so anything can happen in these three games.

Neither team is so much better that they can run away and hide from the other. Both teams have struggled offensively, both teams live and die with their pitching. Their rotation may be a bit better overall but our pen is much better than theirs. The difference maker in their rotation is their big three starters usually go deeper into games negating/masking the bad pen.

Since June 7 (not counting today’s game) the Braves are 20-8…the Phils 19-9… the one game differential happening last night. They are just as hot as we are.

This is going to be a dogfight all season long, not just this weekend.

T-Bone

July 7th, 2011
7:36 pm

Jeff, Are you saying that Chipper might have surgery before the season’s out? Hadn’t heard that. Would that allow him time to recover and be back for the post-season?

Chief76

July 7th, 2011
7:49 pm

T-Bone – If Chipper has surgery it will be to clean up that small cartilage tear in his knee. They estimate three weeks down time to heal. Since minimum DL stint is 15 days he shouldn’t be out that much longer afterwards. Which begs the question, can they retro the DL to this Monday if he plays in the All Star Game and get surgery next day?

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 7th, 2011
7:49 pm

I think w/ Prado back surgery is not a given for Chipper, since he decided to go to the All-Star Game.

Hoss is a tough HOF’er, showing the kids how it’s done. A day off a week, injection every six weeks, ol’ Larry will see this season out.

All the way to November.

Josh Smith for 3

July 7th, 2011
7:51 pm

I think these numbers say it all about who the best teams in baseball are so far:

There are only 4 teams right now with 50+ wins: Phillies (55), Braves (53), Yankees (51), Red Sox (51)
Top 5 in run differential: Yankees (+123), Red Sox (+92), Phillies (+78), Braves (+64), Rangers (+41)

And last but not least
The Red Sox and Yankees are #1 and #2 in runs scored, respectively
The Braves and Phillies are #1 and #2 in team ERA, respectively

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 7th, 2011
7:54 pm

BTW, Freeman is the next McCann.

Or better.

Dawg Whisperer

July 7th, 2011
7:56 pm

Jeff, that’s 1/3 of the games played to date, not the entire season…. do the math. Even though you explained that already, I didn’t want to feel left out. Go Braves, home of the brave!

Matt

July 7th, 2011
7:56 pm

How many people were at this game, man? I can hear the ESPN jerks already about apathetic Atlanta fans. Unfortunately, we don’t really help things by putting 15,000 in the seats for the only game of the day when our team is white hot.

Skeezix

July 7th, 2011
8:05 pm

I’m loving it. Finally we have some offense to go with great pitching. Combine that with confidence, and we have a winning, as in post season, combination.

katherine

July 7th, 2011
8:06 pm

not many people can go to a day game matt…let alone when its 95 out

Chase Utley

July 7th, 2011
8:12 pm

@P-Man, the Phillies don’t set up their rotation so they play the Braves, thats just how the cards (aces) fall. We moved up Hamels because Oswalt was injured and we had an off-day. And i would like all the Braves fans to quit whining (not on this particular post but in general) that the Phillies are spending sooooo much money on their line-up. The Braves would do the same thing, if they could get 183 straight sellout, but the seem to struggle to get 1.

DaveinNEPA

July 7th, 2011
8:13 pm

@Matt

I don’t live in the ATL area but I’m not sure I would say Braves fans are necessarily apathetic, I’m inclined to believe it’s more a matter of economics.

They draw 53k for opening day and 35-45k for games against the Phillies etc. To me that’s not so much a sign of apathy but more people picking and choosing what games they want/can afford to attend. I mean let’s face it, right now the economy stinks, gas is ridiculously high and the Braves fans base is spread throughout the southeast, not just the ATL metro area.

Geno

July 7th, 2011
8:13 pm

Good assessment, DaveinNEPA. I’ve been a braves fan since they moved to Atlanta, and this season is shaping up to be a special one. With our outstanding pitching and the bats finally showing signs of life, we could easily give the Phils a run for it all….Nice take, Jeff….It is a fun time to be a Braves fan again!

DaveinNEPA

July 7th, 2011
8:25 pm

@Matt

I don’t live in the ATL area or even the southeast but I don’t think the fan base is apathetic. I think the attendance figures have more to do with economics.

There were 53k at opening day and games with the Phillies had 35-45k. A few other games have had 35-40k. That’s not apathy. I think it has more to do with the lousy economy so people pick and choose what games they can afford to attend.

Najeh Davenpoop

July 7th, 2011
8:43 pm

About the attendance, I never understood the logic behind the so-called “business person’s special” games. I can’t remember there ever being a time when this resulted in a spike in attendance. Maybe there is some other reason, perhaps travel-related, for doing it but if not it makes very little sense to me. As long as they continue to have weekday afternoon games they are going to see attendance drop for those games.

Furman Bitcher

July 7th, 2011
8:46 pm

No Dave it has to do with the fact that Philly is a dirty lame city and there is nothing else to do except eat cheesesteaks and watch baseball. Atlanta has a million things to do and just one of them is going to the ballpark.

Furman Bitcher

July 7th, 2011
8:48 pm

It also has more low class animals that live in the region that dont have jobs that have the time to go to games and throw up on people,.

MS Braves Fan

July 7th, 2011
8:53 pm

The Phils may also be hot but I’d rather be the chaser at this point…and the underdog…hands down our pitching (from Top to Bottom) is better….with Prado back, a healthy Heyward, Freeman and Uggla starting to heat up, and a leadoff hitter finding his role…Gotta like our chances to win the division. I wouldn’t worry about attendance…Turner field looked great (and near full) on Wed night…as for the day game, this ain’t Wrigey, Fenway or Yankee Stadium….ATL is a working/ commuter town,,,Downtown is not full of tourists like those other cities mentioned + Turner holds more so we’re gonna have less sell-outs…check total attendance at the EOY and I BET the BRAVES are in the TOP 10. .

DaveinNEPA

July 7th, 2011
8:57 pm

@FB

Reading comprehension, Dude!!!! Just exactly where did my post have anything to say about the attendance IN Philly?
My post was about the attendance in the ATL.

jim

July 7th, 2011
8:57 pm

ummm….i went to one of the opening series games, but prefer to watch at home. idiots can call braves fans apathetic, but i have watched most of 2/3 of the games on tv. why drive to downtown atl on 95 degree day when i can save 3 hours of round-trip travel & watch at home?

cattle dawg

July 7th, 2011
8:59 pm

Jeff, I think one third of those who read this try to nit pick everthing you write. Glad to see your back. How bout them Braves!

Patrick Pattson

July 7th, 2011
9:06 pm

We have 25,000 – 30,000 ppl at games every night, def not the day games …wayyyy to hot. The reason it doesn’t look full is turner field can seat about 55,000.

OldTimer

July 7th, 2011
9:07 pm

This is a great looking team. I think they can win it all.

Hatmatbbat10

July 7th, 2011
9:12 pm

While I agree that the economy is tough, and Atlanta is not a huge sports town, it would be nice to see a few more fans come out to the games. I’m not talking about today though, because you’re never going to get many Atlanta fans to come out to a weekday afternoon game. I just wish they could get 20-25 thousand for most games, and then more for weekend/big series.I went to Tuesday’s game and it was pretty empty, I think the announced crowd was like 17 thousand. But like Jim, watching it on TV will do it for me!

Jeff Schultz

July 7th, 2011
9:19 pm

T-Bone — Chipper’s surgery would/will be just for torn cartilage, not a ligament. He’d be out only 2-3 weeks probably. But he’s been delaying things with cortisone injections.

Heb11:1

July 7th, 2011
9:20 pm

Faith is the evidence of things not seen. The Braves seem to believe.

Jeff Schultz

July 7th, 2011
9:21 pm

Cattle Dawg — Thanks Dawg.

DaveinNEPA

July 7th, 2011
9:25 pm

JS

Doesn’t it make more sense for Chipper to have the surgery sometime after the AS game rather than to try to make it through the season like this?

I would rather see him take the 3 weeks off sooner than later. I can foresee that knee giving out just about the time we’re ready to go into the stretch run or the postseason.

CajunStorm

July 7th, 2011
9:28 pm

@Chase Utley….I’d hate you if weren’t telling the dang truth.

My son and I catch about 10 games a year. I certainly can’t tell anyone what to do with their money…hell, I have a hard time telling my wife what not to do with Mine!

We’ll show up….when it’s….well when its time. Besides I do catch most of the games at home. High def is a beautiful thing.

BTW…@Chase Utley, I doubt you Philly boys have to DRIVE to the dang park every game during some of the worst traffic in America. I ain’t excuse wagging, just saying that whoever’s bright idea it was not to have the dang Marta train have a stop at 1st – the Olympic Stadium and then the Transformed Turner Field should be SHOT!!!

ZEQ,THE EXPERT

July 7th, 2011
9:32 pm

attendanance today was almost 25,000

i have been saying for 2 weeks chipper is waiting on prado to come back.Also can we trade the other writer dob when we make a trade?

dmitch

July 7th, 2011
9:34 pm

The fact that a few of you can not comprehend the term “one-third of the season to this point” is scary. Let me guess, you guys are APS graduates that “scored well” on the standardized tests.