Now that’s what I’m talking about Bravos! It’s one thing to sweep a struggling Brewers team at home, but it’s another accomplishment entirely to go into the belly of the beast in Philadelphia and take 2 of 3 from the NL East division leaders in front of 3 raucous sellout crowds. Not to sound like a broken record, but the Braves starting pitchers were once again phenomenal. The much maligned Derek Lowe silenced his critics (including yours truly) and toed the rubber on Friday night, proceeding to no-hit the Phillies offense through 6 innings. If it wasn’t for a blister developing on his right foot late in the game, he might have just gone the distance. But the Braves bullpen finished the job, highlighted by lefty Eric O’Flaherty inheriting runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the 7th and striking out the Philles 4th, 5th, and 6th place hitters to end the threat. A round of Guinness for a job well done, Eric! Despite a career best 16 strikeouts from Phillies starter Cliff Lee, the middle of the Braves order got to him in the 3rd when Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Dan Uggla posted back-to-back-to-back RBI hits for a 3-0 lead. That’s all the offense the Braves would need as they cruised to the 5-0 victory, extending the season long winning streak to 6 games.
Young Triple-A starter Julio Teheran, who was ranked as a Top 10 prospect by virtually all pre-season ranking lists, was called up for a spot start on Saturday for the Braves. So far he’s 3-0 with an 1.80 ERA for the Gwinnett Braves. How’s that for pressure in your major league debut?? Hey Julio, we’re gonna fly you up from Gwinnett to Philadelphia to face the 4 time defending NL East champions with a 6 game win streak on the line…good luck sir! My buddy (who is a sports savant) saw this kid pitch in the minors circuit in North Carolina last year and said he’s the real deal. Compared him to a young Pedro Martinez. I like the sound of that. Julio held his own on Saturday night, going 4 2/3 giving up 4 hits and 3 ER, walking 2 and striking out 1 in 86 pitches. Despite the nerves, he did enough to keep the Braves in the game, but Kyle Kendrick of all people was able to bring the scorching Braves offense to a screeching halt as the Braves were shut out 3-0. I like what I saw out of JT. He’s got good stuff, a solid mound presence, and loads of potential. He’s already back in Gwinnett to get some more seasoning, but he’ll be back to The Show sooner rather than later. The future of the Braves starting rotation looks very, very bright.
For the rubber game on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, two more juggernauts took the mound as it was Jair Jurrjens vs. Cole Hamels. Runs were once again at a premium, but Alex Gonzalez hooked a 2-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole staking Jair to the early 2-0 lead. Pinch-hitter Eric Hinske would provide the same late in the game, and 21 year old Freddie Freeman honored his late mother (who died of melanoma when he was 10) on Mother’s Day with a 3-4 day at the plate including a solo homer, as the Braves took the final game of the series 5-2. Let me tell you something about Jair Jurrjens, this kid loves to compete, and you can tell battling those injuries last year was frustrating for him. I love this quote from him after the game, “This is the team we want to beat. It’s always exciting to go against the best and one of their aces.” He reportedly lost 15 pounds in the off-season and he looks better than ever. The key to pitching in the hitter friendly Citzens Bank Park is to keep the ball down, and that’s exactly what JJ did, manuevering through 6 1/3 innings, scattering 8 hits, only giving up 1 run with 1 walk and 2 Ks. Remember, this guy is only 1 year removed from a 14-10 season, with a 2.60 ERA in 215 innings (both amongst the tops in the league).
The Braves (20-16) get a well deserved day off on Monday before opening up an 8 game homestand against the Washington Nationals (16-18) on Tuesday. The Gnats have been a thorn in the Braves side the last few seasons, so it would be nice to see the Braves keep the momentum going against these guys and win that series. Keep the always dangerous Jayson Werth off the bases and whatever the starting pitchers are eating, order some more of it. Braves took 2 of 3 in Washington to open the 2011 season.
The Good: Eric O’Flaherty has settled nicely into the 7th inning relief role, showing he can get both lefties and righties out. Braves starters have to be getting a boost of confidence right now knowing if they get through 6, opponents have the combo of O’Flaherty, Venters, and Kimbrel to deal with…Quote from Freddie Freeman in reference to his mom after the game on Sunday night, “I think about her every day, but a little more today. I hope she’s proud. I wore all the pink I could, necklace, wristband and spikes.” I’m sure she’s proud of you Freddie, and so are we as Braves fans.
The Bad: Alex Gonzalez, who has been outstanding in the field all season and has provided some clutch offense as of late, had to leave the game early on Sunday with a strained groin. He hopes to be back for the Nats series…Jason Heyward has gone ice cold at the plate again, his average has dipped back down to .226.
The Ugly: I love Chipper Jones, but he may be the oldest player in MLB history to sport a “faux hawk”. Joining the likes of Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman, Chipper’s the latest Brave to rock the hairstyle made popular by David Beckham. Ummm, let’s just say ol’ Chipper’s no Becks these days. But I can appreciate the team unity Chip!
About the Author
Written by Marcus Young
"A lotta room in right-center, if he hits one there we can dance in the streets. The 2-1. Swung, line drive left field! One run is in! Here comes Bream! Here's the throw to the plate! He is...SAFE! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!...Braves win!" The late great Skip Caray with my favorite sports call of all time as a lumbering Sid Bream was able to beat Barry Bonds' three-hopper to the plate by an eyelash in the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium to secure the Atlanta Braves' miraculous back-to-back World Series trips in 1991 and 1992. I grew up in Atlanta, I am still a die hard Braves, Falcons, and Hawks fan and am hungry for another championship to put alongside that lonely 1995 World Series trophy! I graduated from Wake Forest University in 2002 and am back living in Hot-lanta now. Go Deacs and Go Dawgs! My favorite athletes are John Smoltz, Magic Johnson, and Brett Favre. Braves are on a mission in 2011 in the 20th anniversary of that magical 1991 season!