If I sound like a broken record, I hope you’ll pardon me, but to put it southern style, the Atlanta Braves are hotter than a Georgia summer! They hammered another nail in the proverbial coffin of any hopes the Washington Nationals have of trying to turn things around in the NL East. With an eleven game win streak and now a 13.5 game lead over the Nationals, the Braves are playing hungry. With pretty nasty pitches by Stephen Strasburg, and an outing by Mike Minor where he didn’t have his usual command, the Braves did what they’ve been doing for awhile now, and found a way to win! They are getting runners on base, being more aggressive on the base paths, manufacturing runs, and pitching as well or better than any team in baseball.
Stephen Strasburg came out firing, hurling blazing fastballs, curves, and offspeed pitches that had the Braves baffled early in the game. He struck out 9 Atlanta batters in his 7.0 innings of work while walking only one batter, but the Braves remained patient and disciplined at the plate. When those seven innings were all said and done for the Nationals’ ace, the Atlanta Braves patience had driven Strasburg’s pitch count to 112, and put together a string of 2 runs on 5 hits against the hurler. The game was tied at 2-2 by the time Davey Johnson decided he’d seen enough from Strasburg, but the Braves were able to put together 1 run on 2 hits against reliever Tyler Clippard to get the 3-2 win.
Strasburg angered many fans on Twitter when early in the game, on several occasions, he hustled off the mound a few steps toward the dugout on pitches he thought were 3rd strikes, only to have plate umpire Rob Drake call them balls. It seemed quite egotistical to me, although there are those that will say that’s just Strasburg’s confidence. His ego was quickly quelled by Drake though, and whether you wish to call it ego or confidence, his bravado wasn’t enough to beat Atlanta.
While Mike Minor didn’t show the same command he’s been showing lately, he pitched a very good game. In six innings, while Minor gave up 8 hits to the Nationals, he was able to make small adjustments and good pitches that held the Nationals to just 2 runs on those 8 hits. Backed by great defensive work from his teammates, even though Minor walked 3 batters and struck out just 3, the team effort and resilience was a great thing to watch. You just had the feeling that despite a close game, the Braves had an edge all night.
The Braves’ bullpen has just been stellar lately. David Carpenter came in to relieve Minor, worked 1.2 innings, and held the Nats hitless. After Carpenter, Luis Avilan and Jordan Walden came in and also kept the Nationals from scoring, despite a hit given up by Walden and a late game threat.
The box score alone doesn’t show how well the Braves played in game 1. Defensively, the Braves were simply amazing. Outfield assists by Jason Heyward, a line drive throw to save a run at the plate by Andrelton Simmons, diving saves by Dan Uggla, and DPs turned at crucial times were the flavor of the evening. The offensive juggernaut the Braves have been showing with hitting lately was slightly off, but hits by B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward, and multiple hits by Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman were just enough to get the job done.
We’ve talked for days about the hot bats of Chris Johnson, Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, and Jason Heyward. Chris Johnson leads the league in BA, Andrelton has been hitting like a madman since being moved out of the leadoff spot, Heyward has started hitting really well since being move to leadoff, and the always reliable McCann and Freeman are hot as always. The brightest moments in the last few games for me have been seeing B.J. Upton show signs of turning his slump around. I still have my personal doubts about whether he can fully turn things around and make a huge contribution, but I’m more hopeful now. All the cylinders seem to be firing for the Braves right now, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.