Hurricane Irene caused the final two games of a series in New York vs the division rival Mets Saturday and Sunday August 27th and 28th , cooling off the red hot Atlanta Braves, winners of 7 of 9. The club stands at 79-54 thru Monday August 29th and after 3 days off The Braves return to action in Atlanta Tuesday August 30th vs the Washington Nationals. This unscheduled late season break allows Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez to rest his three top relievers- Closer Craig Kimrel(more on him below), LH 8th inning stud Jonny Venters and lefty specialist Eric O’Flaherty. The club is an amazing 18-1 when all three pitch in the same game since June 1st.
HANSON UPDATE: The Braves are optimistic that RHSP Tommy Hanson(11-7,3.60, 22 starts) will pitch again this season after an MRI Friday August 26th. He has a small tear in his right rotator cuff that is commonly found in pitchers shoulders while The labrum and rest of his shoulder appears structurally sound. Hanson will still visit arm injury expert Dr. James Andrews in Florida Monday August 29th. The righty has not pitched since August 6th and has been shut down twice this season with arm issues, receiving two separate cortisone injections.
RECORD FOR RELIEVER: Braves rookie closer Kimbrel tied the 1st year save record with #40 August 23rd. The talented righty has converted 40 of his 45 opportunities and has 31 and two third innings scoreless streak. Incredible job by the rookie and when you consider the fact that he pitches for a team bound for the postseason Kimbrel’s freshman season has to be one of the greatest of all time.
The 2011 Atlanta Braves continue to play incredible ball, led by their deep and talented pitching staff. With a strong 6-1 showing over the past 7 days, Atlanta(76-52) has opened a season high 8 game lead in the National League wild card standings after their 3 game sweep over the 2nd place Arizona Diamondbacks. This week offered a great illustration on why this team is so good as they won 2 1-0 games! As someone who grew up watching the silly (mis) management of the Boston Red Sox continuing to focus on hitting and offense while completely disregarding pitching and defense I truly appreciate this type of club. That slow pitch softball approach does not work(ask any Cleveland Indians fan from the 1990s) and the San Francisco Giants of 2010 reinforced that. Braves fans hope their 2011 group does the same.
JURRJENS, JONES BACK: The one starting pitcher who has struggled as of late is RH Jair Jurrjens(12-5,2.84) and he was hit hard in his return from the 15 day DL August 17th. In his first start after being sidelined by a strained right knee, he allowed 8 hits and 2 walks for 5 runs vs the light hitting Giants lineup. The righty is now 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA in 5 post all star outings. Good thing the Braves are deep in the rotation because Jurrjens does not appear to be healthy. On the positive side, franchise icon 3B Chipper Jones appears to be almost full recovered from two separate leg issues(knee, quad) and had some key hits in the big week for Atlanta. He claims to feel the best he has all year. Jones also ended speculation about his future by announcing he would return in 2012 to reporters in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution August 19th. As of August 20th, the former NL MVP is hitting.276 with 12 home runs and 57 rbi.
BRAVES NOTES: RHSP Tim Hudson has been a beast over the 2nd half, tossing at least 7 innings in each of his 8 starts. He sports a 1.88 EA and 0.90 WHIP as well! … Meanwhile, RHSP Tommy Hanson(Right shoulder tendinitis) will throw a bullpen session Monday August 22nd as he continues to attempt to return from the 15 day DL. He appears close to being able to make a rehab assignment, look for him to return sometime in early September. .. Rookie LHSP Mike Minor has been incredible in his last 4 starts, going 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA and 28 strikeouts.
Sad day all around for the Braves Sunday August 14 as the club not only lost 2 of 3 games to the hapless Chicago Cubs at home but 2B Dan Uggla saw his hitting streak end at 33 straight games . The former all star was acquired by Atlanta during the offseason and has struggled greatly(.173 as of July 5th) in his first season with the Braves . However, the streak raised his average to .231 while he hit an incredible 15 home runs and 32 rbi in those games. The hot spell was also vital to a team with post season hopes(lead the National League wild card standings by 4 games over San Francisco) that has had its better offensive players battling injuries all season.(3B Chipper Jones, C Brian McCann, RF Jason Heyward). Batting average aside, Uggla leads the team in home runs(27), rbi(62) and runs(66). He is an elite bat at a position that lacks them both recently and historically. The two time NL all star is the only 2nd Baseman in major league history to hit 30 home runs in 4 seasons. (and they are consecutive!) When he hits 3 more, that will be 5. My one regret about Dan Uggla? That my stupid fantasy team General manager released him! That fool? Me!
STARTING PITCHING CIRCUS: The Braves placed RHSP Tommy Hanson(Right shoulder tendinitis) on the 15 day DL August 14th. He is suffering some soreness and Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez is looking to get him some rest. The team is recalling RH Randall Delgado, one of the team’s top pitching prospects, to take Hanson’s rotation turn Tuesday August 16th in San Francisco vs the Giants. In his first ML start vs the powerful Texas Rangers in July, he allowed 7 hits and 3 earned runs over 4 innings while K-ing 2. RHSP Jair Jurrjens(Right knee strain) threw bullpen sessions on August 12th and 14th and remains on schedule to come off the DL and make his start Wednesday August 17th.
MCCANN BACK: 6 time all star C Brian McCann returned to lineup Sunday August 14th after suffering an oblique strain July 26th. He batted third and was hitless in 4 at bats, stranding 4 runners. The Braves went 10-6 without McCann, who has hit .303 with 18 home runs and 55 rbi in 92 games.
BRAVES NOTES: Look for Gonzalez to be very careful with 3B Chipper Jones(thigh, knee) for the remainder of the 2011 campaign. This is a deeper team than recent Atlanta squads and a surplus of OFs allows them to move a versatile piece like OF-INF Martin Prado around. The plan is too rest Jones on day games after night games, something they did Sunday August 14th, putting Prado at 3rd…. LF Jason Heyward(.219,12,30), who has battled a serious shoulder injury all season, is starting to lose playing time to rookie Jose “George” Constanza. The 2010 National League rookie of the year sat for 3 days before returning and going 1 for 3 in August 14th. Constanza is hitting .382 with 2 home runs, 8 rbi and 5 steals in 15 games(55 at bats) and has sparked the club.
The Atlanta Braves continue(66-49 as of August 8th) to play well but their problem is they play in the same division as the Philadelphia Phillies! (74-40, lead the Braves by 8.5) The Phils incredible depth in both the rotation and bullpen(they are on closer #4) make it almost impossible for the team to sustain any extended losing streak, so I do not think winning the NL East is a realistic goal. Atlanta does hold the lead in the NL Wild Card standings by 3.5 games over the Arizona Diamondbacks and the St. Louis Cardinals by 4. Anything can happen over a 7 game series and this Braves team with solid rotation plus deep and talented relief corps is built for post season success. A key is getting the team full healthy as we approach September. This team needs Chipper Jones’ bat in the lineup every day and he makes a huge difference.(ask any New York Mets fan!) The next 6-7 weeks should be very interesting.
STREAKING BRAVES: Red hot 2B Dan Uggla extended his hitting streak to 29 games August 29th. The previous day, Braves rookie 1B Freddie Freeman saw a 20 game streak ended.
JAIR DL-ED: Atlanta RHSP Jair Jurrjens was placed on the 15 day disabled list with a right knee strain on August 6th. He entered the all star break with a National League best 1.81 ERA but has been hit hard post break with players hitting .281 and posting a 6.26 ERA in 4 starts. Jurrjens missed the final two weeks of the 2010 season after he tore a meniscus in the same knee. He then underwent arthroscopic surgery in October and has not reported any issues previously in 2011.
MCLOUTH MENDING: LF Nate McLouth underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia in Philadelphia August 4th. That type of procedure usually carries a 6 week rehabilitation period, which would put a return around September 28th. The Braves luckily have an abundance of outfielders with the recent acquisition of CF Michael Bourn and return of LF Martin Prado to health.
BRAVES NOTES: OF Jose Constanza was recalled from the minors July 29th and has blended right in with the team. He hit safely in 8 of his first 9 games thru August 7th(13 for 26, .500 average) and collected his first career home run and stolen base in a win at the Mets Sunday…. Braves recalled LHSP Mike Minor to fill Jurrjens spot in the rotation. In his first start since June 21st, he allowed 4 earned runs and 7 hits over 5 and 2 third innings, K-ing 5 and walking 2 August 7th
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