Taking three cuts as the Braves made it 13 straight wins, their longest streak in 13 years, as they wrapped up a sweep of the Nationals with a 6-3 victory in Washington, D.C.
1. Up, Up and a Hey love them some August
At the season’s midpoint, the Brothers Upton had been in the same lineup 66 times and in just 18 of them had they both hit safely. While they had their ups (Justin) and downs (largely B.J.) over that stretch, the offseason additions had yet to fully live up to the lofty expectations heaped on them.
It seems as though they’re making up for lost time in August.
Justin Upton crushed his 21st home run of the season in the seventh inning, a line-drive shot off Fernando Abad. It was part of a 3-for-4 night in which he also added a double and three RBI in all and in August, he’s now hitting .460 (14-for-30) with five HRs, two doubles and 12 RBI. Not to be outdone, his older brother B.J., who was 4-for-5 with a two-bagger Wednesday, is hitting .476 (10-for-21) this month with two doubles overall.
Add in the fact that outfield mate Jason Heyward, who went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI, is 7-for-22 (.318) and has two doubles a homer and five RBI this month and in all the trio is a collective .424 (31-of-73) and has six HRs, six doubles and 17 RBI after the calendar turned to August.
Since B.J. Upton returned to the lineup on Aug. 3, all three outfielders have registered hits in three of those five games. That’s something that they did all of five games in the season’s first half.
But the big question is, what’s at the root of the outfielders’ rise? The answer could lie with zodiac, depending on how much stock you put into such things.
Both Uptons and Heyward are all products of August, with Heyward’s birthday the 9th, B.J.’s the 21st and Justin’s the 25th.
Be it a product of the alignment of the stars or just a confluence of luck and circumstance, After months of waiting, that defensive backfield full of players with 20/20 pedigrees is finally all clicking at the same time.
That’s a dangerous thought as this team continues to build momentum for the postseason.
2. Beaneaters, these Braves are hot on your heels
It’s now four straight sweeps and 13 consecutive wins, the team’s longest streak since it won an Atlanta-best 15 in a row in 2000 and five away from the franchise record of 18 set back in 1891 when they were the Boston Beaneaters.
With a return to Turner Field, where the Braves are an MLB-best 38-15 on the season and matchups against the Marlins (4-6 in their last 10) and the Phillies (losers of 14 of 17), both of whom Atlanta is 6-3 against, it’s not out of the question to think that this team can make a run at the Beaneaters.
Considering the Braves’ nearly insurmountable lead in the National League East, which Wednesday’s victory stretched to 15 1/2 games, this is a team that could have its battles with complacency, and an obtainable goal can help to keep the focus.
But reading into this quote from Freddie Freeman, who said after Monday’s win, “You want to step on their necks, especially when we’ve got this big of a lead,” focus wouldn’t appear to be a problem.
Nevertheless, history, at least Atlanta history, is well within reach, with the franchise’s all-time mark just around the corner form that.
First and foremost is Friday and up next for the Braves is Miami’s Jacob Turner, who beat Atlanta on July 10, allowing four hits and two earned runs with five strikeouts in seven innings. He’s also on a roll, surrendering fewer than three earned runs in four of his past five outings.
3. Medlen is showing glimpses of the player that dominated 2012
It was a bar set so unbelievably high, the only realistic outcome was for Kris Medlen to fall short.
His 2012 numbers have been well documented: a 9-0 mark in 12 starts with a 0.97 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 10 walks over 82 2/3 innings and a record 23 consecutive Braves wins in games he started.
Before the season, Medlen was expectedly confident that he could live up to that startling run, but the results of ’13 have told a different story.
It took 12 starts before he reached two wins and he posted ERAs of 3.26 in April and 3.67 in May. While he seemed to find his rhythm in June (2.14), July saw him at 6.41 and drew talk of a possible return to the bullpen.
The problem, Medlen would often indicate, lied with his mechanics, but no matter the cause it resulted in a loss of the pinpoint command he utilized in ’12 that has been best defined on his runs saved by pitch. Medlen’s fastball saved 11.9 runs a year ago, but this season that number is at minus-13.2.
But he has shown signs of another late-season surge and after back-to-back wins over the Cardinals and Phillies in which he struck out 12 and walked two, he delivered another start outing against the Nationals.
He would retire 11 straight before a walk of Bryce Harper and then giving up a two-run homer to Jayson Werth and rebounded by sitting the next eight batters, but allowed consecutive singles to Werth and Adam LaRoche, which set the stage for Ian Desmond’s RBI groundout.
In all, Medlen (9-10) allowed three hits and three runs over seven innings, striking out six and walking one, continuing a strong run in which he has a 1.05 WHIP over his last three outings, all victories.
It’s not a sequel to Medlen’s unprecedented success of last season, but he seems to have worked through whatever was ailing him for months.