Braves hold off Rockies in Mile High marathon
JUN 11, 2014 1:37a ET
Welcome to Coors Field. The Atlanta Braves built up an enormous first-inning lead behind seven hits, including an Andrelton Simmons grand slam, but it was only the beginning to the offense slugfest in Denver, as the visitors held off the Colorado Rockies 13-10. Here are three observations from the barnburner:
1. Mike Minor has been needing some run support, but it finally came in a Mile High marathon
In any other ballpark, this game would have been set to cruise control. Mike Minor and this Braves pitching staff simply do not allow a seven-run leads to dwindle with regularity, especially when that margin is built up in the first frame. But not at Coors Field, not in that altitude. The initial seven runs only served as an appetizer.
The cruel coincidence here is that Braves starter Mike Minor has been needing exactly this type of offensive output. The team had scored just two runs with him on the mound in his past three starts -- all losses despite quality numbers from the 26-year-old lefty.
But when the runs finally came in bunches, Minor fell victim to the Coors curse, allowing a season-high eight earned runs through four innings pitched. It was an ERA killer, bumping Minor up from 3.07 to 4.31, the worst rate of his career.
Fortunately for his individual record, Simmons, Evan Gattis and the rest of the Atlanta lineup put up monster numbers. They posted a season-high in runs and hits (16). They hit three home runs. They chased Rockies starter Juan Nicasio from the game in the fourth inning and filtered through seven different pitchers overall. The back end of the batting order proved especially lethal, too, as Gattis, Simmons, Chris Johnson and Tommy La Stella combined to go 9 for 18 with two home runs, eight RBI and two walks.
For once, the pitching staff needed all the help it could get.
"We've all experienced these games. You're never out of it, you know? We needed a shutdown (inning) and I don't think Mikey had a shutdown (inning) his whole outing. It's a tough outing. Whatever you want to do, it's just a tough outing," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But we had a lot of good stuff happen. We swung the bats well."
Added a matter-of-fact Gattis after the game went final with three straight Craig Kimbrel strikeouts: "Those seven runs in the first proved important."
A night after the two teams combined for just four runs, it's probably best for Gonzalez and his staff to accentuate the positives here. After all, it's pitching that has been the mainstay for this organization, so a high-altitude hiccup from the only lefty in the rotation -- a very good southpaw at that -- is not worth getting too worked up over after the win (though it may be worth trying to avoid using Minor in Coors again, as he's allowed 19 runs in 15 career innings in Denver).
The offense needed one of these games more than the pitching staff needed to avoid it -- although it should be pointed out that the Atlanta bullpen (Kimbrel, David Hale, Luis Avilan, Shae Simmons) did an admirable job of limiting the damage through the second half of the game. Gonzalez sure wasn't complaining, not after his team preserved the tie at the top of the NL East standings with the Washington Nationals.
"I've been in this office many times, in that same situation, with a loss hanging over your head," said Gonzalez, referencing the visiting manager's office at Coors. "Our guys battled."
2. Stereotypical Coors first inning worth revisiting
Looking for the last time the Braves lineup was this effective in a single frame takes some rummaging through the archives. It's not just this particular scoring-averse offense that had not put up that type of huge inning -- or, as Gonzalez so often calls it, the bona fide "crooked number -- but the franchise as a whole has not seen one in quite some time.
How long? Well, the last time the Braves put up seven runs in an inning was Aug. 1, 2007 against the Astros -- and first baseman Mark Teixeira homered in his Braves debut. Andruw Jones was patrolling center field, while 23-year-old Jeff Francouer took care of right. Buddy Carlyle was the Braves pitcher and beneficiary on the mound that day. Yeah, it's been a while.
From the very start, Tuesday night's game looked like it was going to get out of hand. Jason Heyward continued his hot streak by lacing a double into the gap in the game's first at-bat. Center fielder B.J. Upton sent him home with a triple off the right-field wall (somewhat misplayed by Rockies outfielder Brandon Barnes) for the game's first run. A Freddie Freeman sacrifice grounder sent Upton home. Just like that, 2-0.
Then came the singles: Justin Upton, Evan Gattis and then Chris Johnson. Bases loaded for rookie Tommy La Stella, who battled into a 3-2 count before hitting a bloop single into left. 3-0 Braves, no end in sight for Rosario. Then Simmons brought the hammer.
Simmons' four-run shot was his first career grand slam and fifth home run of the campaign, helping the Braves jump out to the seven-run lead that helped keep the Rockies at arm's length throughout the contest. When Colorado followed up with a three-run first inning of its own, it became the highest-scoring single inning the Braves have been involved in since 2001.
In fact, there were more runs scored in that opening frame than there have been in 49 of the Braves' games this season.
3. Andrelton Simmons' offense could use a few more impactful games like these
Back to Simmons for a minute. The 24-year-old's grand slam broke the game open and his 1-for-4 night with a walk propelled his offensive numbers close to where he was a season ago, which is not Silver Slugger-type production but after a slow start it's something.
For the better part of this season, it looked like Simmons' bat had taken a step back. Strange, considering the fact that he's maturing at the plate and presumably growing into his power. Coupled with a step back in his advanced defensive metrics -- perhaps due in part to a lingering ankle injury -- and Simmons hasn't been quite the ultra-valuable player he was last season. Sure, there are moments of brilliance with the glove, but the Braves could use some more moving forward, especially offensively (although you wouldn't know it on Tuesday).
After his latest efforts, his past two seasons at the plate are nearly identical:
2013: .248/.296/.396, 6.1 walk rate, 8.4 strikeout rate, 91 wRC+
2014: .258/.294/.396, 5.2 walk rate, 10.0 strikeout rate, 87 wRC+
In the Braves' everyday lineup, it looks like Simmons has settled into the 8-hole, behind La Stella, who continues to put up impressive numbers. Very few NL teams expect the world out of their back-of-the-lineup bat, but Simmons has shown plenty of offensive promise in his short time in the majors and Atlanta signed him to a long-term deal under the assumption that his bat would continue to progress. More nights like Tuesday would help.