The 2011 Atlanta Braves continue to play solid ball(29-24 as of May 28th) led by their elite pitching staff and supported by just enough offense. The team has won 3 extra inning games in the last calendar week(May 21st thru 28th): 5-4 at the Los Angeles Angels in 12(May 21st), 4-2 at Pittsburgh May 25th in 11 and finally, May 28th vs the Cincinnati Reds, a 7-6 victory in 12. These wins showcase the Atlanta pitching depth, most notably the bullpen and the teams ability to come up with late inning heroics with the bat. Everyone from superstars 3B Chipper Jones and C Brian McCann to role players Brooks Conrad and Joe Mather has stepped up. Lets look at some individual news items.
HEYWARD, MOYLAN UPDATES: RF Jason Heyward(Right Labrum in shoulder) is attempting to strengthen the joint in his rehab as well as refining his swing, after developing some bad habits as he battled to play with the pain. The 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, who went on the DL May 22nd, remains on schedule to return when the 15 days is up. RH Peter Moylan(Back surgery, bulging disk) has been told he could return in 12 weeks, which translates to August. He is shutdown from all physical activity for at least three weeks then must strengthen his core muscles to start rehab. Moylan hopes to return earlier but will be careful after the third procedure to repair the disk.
CLUTCH CHIPPER: Future hall of famer and Braves icon Chipper Jones singled home the winning run May 28th in the 12th inning, The 3B now has 12 career walk off game winners over his amazing career.
BIG BRIAN: Braves all star C Brian McCann became the 1st player in 61 years to homer as a pinch hitter then win the game in extra innings with another home run May 17th vs the Houston Astros.
The 2011 Atlanta Braves (26-23 as of May 22nd) have seen injuries to several stars as well as offensive inconsistency but some how they continue to compete for 1st year Manager Fredi Gonzalez. The pitching staff has been incredible from day 1 ranking in the top 5 in all 4 major categories(ERA(3rd), Quality starts(5th) and first in both WHIP and BAA) for the 30 teams in all of baseball. The team ranks 13th in runs but their numbers say they should be lower than that(20th in batting average, 23rd in on base and 17th in slugging percentage). The main reason for this is simple, Atlanta ranks 5th in team home runs(3rd in the National League) . However, injuries to some key parts could derail the Atlanta train if they are serious.Lets update the health status of 3 Braves.
HUDSON: Veteran RH Tim Hudson(4-4,3.95) will miss his next start after his back acted up in his last start Friday(May 20th). Hit hard(8 runs in 3 and 2 third innings), Gonzalez is being cautious with his righty. “We want to make sure he calms down-the stiffness and stuff like that.” Hudson did not suffer bask spasms and the Atlanta medical people do not believe a DL stint will be required. The Braves plan to call up LH Mike Minor to pitch in Hudson’s slot Wednesday while the club hopes he can make his next scheduled start May 30th.
HEYWARD: Braves RF Jason Heyward continues to battle a right shoulder issue, missing 6 starts last week. He took batting practice Friday night(May 20nd) and the team rested him after he played RF in the previous 3 games. However, he remained sore and unable to play Saturday(May 21st). Heyward was examined by Los Angeles Angels team physician Lewis Yocum pre game Saturday and he agreed with the Braves diagnosis. He cannot hit but entered the 5-4 12th inning victory as a defensive replacement. The joint has responded well to a May 12th cortisone shot but he is still not 100%. UPDATE: The Braves have placed Heyward on the 15 day DL according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
MCLOUTH: The Braves starting CF Nate McLouth, who has been streaky in 2011, left Sunday’s game after 4 pitches. Atlanta’s leadoff man appeared to strain a left oblique muscle with check swing. McLouth was in great pain and was taken to the visitors clubhouse for treatment. The Braves have a scheduled day off Monday and should have a better idea how injured their centerfielder is by Tuesday. Strange year for McLouth, who was in a 1 for 19 funk in his past 5 games. Prior to that, he was on fire as recently as early May , when he had hits in 10 of 11 games, hitting .368 with 2 home runs, 9 walks and 11 runs from April 23rd to May 4th.
The 2011 Atlanta Braves have ridden an incredible opening 6 weeks by the entire pitching staff to early success(22-19 as of May 14th). However, we are starting to see some positives with the offense, specifically with several veterans making significant strides. CF Nate McLouth(.289, home run, 3 rbi), LF Martin Prado(.377,3,12) and SS Alex Gonzalez(.341,2,8) have led the charge in the month of May. These three are keys to a successful offense. We know what a McCann and Chipper can do, Uggla will hit 30 home runs. Heyward and Freeman are kids, they are going to take their lumps. If the established major leaguers have their baseball card numbers, this team will score enough runs to be in the postseason. Simple as that.
The pitching has been dominant from pitch one this season and the stats back it up. Look at how the Atlanta pitching staff ranks among the 30 ML teams: 1st in WHIP and Batting average against, 2nd in ERA and 7th in quality starts. These numbers are amazing when you consider the youth at the end of the bullpen( Closer RH Craig Kimbrel and top set up man LH Jonny Venters are in their first full seasons with the big club) and health issues with Jair Jurrjens, who opened the season on the 15 day DL. The righty has been incredible in his 6 starts: 5-0,1.66 ERA,26 Ks, 7 walks in 43 and a third innings. With the good weather on the way, look for the Braves bats to continue to improve and allow the pitching staff more wiggle room.
BRAVES NOTES: The team will place RH SP Brandon Beachy(1-1,3.45 in 8 starts) on the the 15 day DL Sunday after he strained his left oblique in his start May 13th. Look for Atlanta to call up either rookie Julio Teheran or Mike Minor(2-1,1.86 in 6 Triple A starts) when Beachy’s rotation spot is up Wednesday May 19th. Until then, look for the Braves to promote veteran RH Scott Proctor, who has dominated Triple A hitters(1.06 ERA, .164 Batting average in 14 appearances)… RF Jason Heyward(Sore right shoulder) entered the May 14th game vs the Phillies as a 9th inning defensive replacement. Heyward, who is not expected to fully return to the lineup until Monday, has not played since Tuesday(May 10th) after he left the game vs. the Nationals early with numbness in his hand… RH RP Peter Moylan(Bulging disk in back) will have surgery to repair his spine. After visiting Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles May 9th , he decided on having the procedure. The good news? The doctor thinks he could pitch again within 2 to 3 months.
The 2011 Atlanta Braves have ridden the unbelievable early run of pitching from both the starters and relievers as well as some power to a strong 20-16 start. The overall pitching ranks among the 30 major league teams say it all: 2nd in ERA, 3rd in quality starts and #1 in both WHIP and batting average against. The Braves do not have a single member of the rotation with an ERA over 3.50(RH Derek Lowe is at 3.22) while the top 5 pitchers out of bullpen have sub 2.50 ERAs as well. Offensively, not as pretty a picture but the team is 9th overall in runs despite poor numbers overall: 21st in batting average, 22 on base and 18th in slugging percentage. However, the team is tied for 5th overall with 34 home runs. Sunday’s win(May 8th) at the 1st place Philadelphia Phillies was a microcosm for the 2011 season: Starter pitches into the 7th(RH Jair Jurrjens 6 and a third) while the Braves hit 3 home runs to win 4-3. Scary good start for the 2011 Atlanta Braves.
BRAVES NEWS: Lowe left his last start May 6th in the fourth inning with a blister on his foot. The veteran righty had great stuff but left the game after giving up his first hit in the inning. He hopes to not miss his next turn in the rotation…. 2B Martin Prado has started to really pick it up recently, he saw the end to a 10 game hitting streak May 7th but is now hitting .274 with 19 rbi and 21 runs scored. … Atlanta’s top prospect RHP Julio Teheran made his major league debut May 7th at the Phillies. He tossed 4 and 2 third innings giving up 4 hits and 3 earned runs for the loss. The team plans to send him back down to Triple-A Gwinnett where he has dominated in 5 starts: 3-0, 1.80 ERA… SS Alex Gonzalez exited the 4-3 win over the Phillies May 8th with a slight groin strain in the 8th inning. The 34 year old hit a two run homer and helped turn inning ending double plays in the 6th and 7th innings. The injury is not considered serious and with Monday’s scheduled off day, he gets extra time to heal. … As great as the tag team of set up man LH Jonny Venters(2-0,save, 8 holds, 0.48 ERA) and closer RH Craig Kimbrel(0-1,8 saves, 1.72) has been, LH Eric O’Flaherty(1-1,6 holds,1.02) has been equally dominant… RH RP Peter Moylan(4.15 ERA in 7 games) is still seeking medical options before deciding how to treat a bulging disk in his back. He was placed on the DL 3 weeks ago after an MRI showed the injury. He will consult Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles on Monday before making a final decision. Moylan hopes to pitch again this season.
The Atlanta Braves closed April 13-15 with both positives and negatives showing up. The offense continues to struggle(17th in runs, 28th in batting average among the 30 major league teams) but some of the younger players ended the first month on hot streaks. The pitching staff has been outstanding(5th in ERA, Quality starts, Batting average against and 2nd in WHIP) , led by the rotation. RHs Derek Lowe(6 starts, 2-3,3.72 ERA), Tim Hudson(6,3-2,3.48), Brandon Beachy(6,1-1,3.47), Tommy Hanson(6,3-3,2.57) and Jair Jurrjens(3,2-0,1.23) have all been tremendous . I have talked about the bullpen all season and although they sprung some leaks last week(back to back losses April 29th and 30th vs the St Louis Cardinals), this unit has been dominant. Closer RH Craig Kimbrel(0-1,2.31, 6 saves, 15 Ks in 11 and 2 third innings) and LH Jonny Venters(1-0, save, 0.57, 15 Ks in 15 and 2 thirds) combine to give the Braves a deadly bullpen tandem.
1- NO “O” IN ATLANTA: No regular has a batting average above .300(All star C Brian McCann is just below at .299 with 97 at bats) but some signs are pointing upward with both 2nd year man and starting RF Jason Heyward(.252,7 home runs, 14 rbi, has raised his average almost 70 points(.188) since April 21st) and rookie 1B Freddie Freeman(.217,3,8 hit .349 in 15 games from April 7-24) heating up . CF Nate McLouth(.253,1,7,.345 On base) has continued to comeback from an awful 2010, giving the Braves another viable offensive player. Veteran 3B Chipper Jones(.270,3,21) looks solid but has been somewhat hampered by his surgically repaired left knee. Oddly, the future hall of famer only feels it when he bats right handed but not lefty. Manager Fredi Gonzalez continues to check on his team leader regularly, spelling his regularly(Started 25 of 28 Braves games, sat out 1 game entirely) Jones also passed Mickey Mantle April 27th for 2nd place all-time in RBIs(1512) by a switch hitter.
2- MCDOWELL MESS: Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell has been suspended by MLB two weeks for an incident April 23 in San Francisco. The suspension started Friday(April 29th) and he was also fined an undisclosed amount. McDowell was accused of making homophobic gestures,statements and threats to 4 fans at batting practice at AT&T Park, he is also being required to attend sensitivity training.
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