We’ve seen this movie before..and it’s one of my favorites. The Braves completed a pounding of the San Diego Padres yesterday with an impressive 8-0 shutout. Heading into the 9th inning of Wednesday’s game, Atlanta looked ready to earn other series victory, but a rare Billy Wagner blown save and a 12th inning loss later, the Braves were in danger of an even rarer series loss heading into yesterday afternoon’s contest. But Tim Hudson’s seven scoreless innings made sure that would not happen. Braves pitchers held Adrian Gonzalez, the key to the Padres’ offense, to a 1-12 with 6 K series performance. Not an easy task. The Braves success was complimented by the Mets somehow being swept by the NL West basement Diamondbacks and the Phillies dropping three of four to the Cardinals. Atlanta now owns the NL’s best record and their division lead continues to grow.
Entering yesterday afternoon’s game, I was all-set to write about how I was hoping for more offense from Alex Gonzalez, especially with RISP. A 2-5 performance on Wednesday boosted up his average in 6 games with the Braves to .273, but he had no home runs and no RBI. Gonzalez has played some sensational defense in his short time with Atlanta and now yesterday’s 4 hit & 2 RBI barrage included his first runs driven in since the trade from Toronto. Hopefully Alex was just taking a few games to get adjusted to a new team and we’ll see a second half output similar to his performance prior to the All-Star break.
Jason Heyward put on a show against the Padres going 7-15 with 3 RBI and is hitting .357 since his July 15th return from the DL. His violent swing looks like it’s back, thanks to a healed thumb. When Heyward’s looking bad, he’s taking a first pitch strike, missing or fouling off the next, then chasing a bad ball or being frozen by the pitch on the outside corner. He’s been making contact more often now, especially during the series against San Diego.
In two-day old news, Nate McLouth was activated from the DL on Wednesday, sending Gregor Blanco to Gwinnett to make room. Blanco had been doing surprisingly well as a fill-in for the Braves with a .310 average (.394 OBP) in 58 at-bats. I really hope we see something from Nate McLouth in his return. His defense is tremendous, so if he can put up something near career average numbers (say .250, 8 HR, 30 RBI) for the rest of the season, I think he will be an important improvement over Melky Cabrera. That said, if he doesn’t show something in the next week, Frank Wren might make a trade that could take away McLouth’s centerfield job.
Just a final thought, but in the second inning of Wednesday’s extra inning loss against the Padres, it seemed as if Tommy Hanson’s struggles on the mound would continue for another start. But after giving up two earned through two innings, Hanson settled down to keep San Diego scoreless into the 7th. Big Red has seemed to be wild so far this year (with 13 HBP in 113.2 IP), but his K/BB and BB/9IP rates are actually better this year than last. It’s his BAA that shows the problem (.272 vs. .225). In the handful of starts I’ve watched of his this year, he hasn’t been able to locate his fastball well-enough to take advantage of his slider and curveball. His heater also looks to be a bit flat in some instances. Without enough control, he’s having to make too many ‘hitters pitches’ that turn into hits. Hopefully he’s just experiencing something of a sophomore slump (ala David Price last year) and will come back with a vengeance in the 2011 season.
The Braves begin a three-game series tonight in Miami against the Florida Marlins with Lowe, Medlen and Jurrjens matching up against Sanabia, Sanchez and Nolasco, respectively.