Three Cuts: Braves bottle up Rockies; Johnson apologizes after tantrum
MAY 23, 2014 11:57p ET
The question of whether Atlanta could keep pace was a non-issue in Friday's opener of the three-game series, as the Braves rode Gavin Floyd's steady outing and the timely hitting of Gerald Laird to a 3-2 victory.
Here are three observations from the Braves' win, their fourth in this five-game homestand, which wasn't without its drama following Chris Johnson's second-inning benching.
1. Laird equals high-powered Rockies on his own; Floyd strong again
Backup catcher Laird entered the night with two RBI in 55 plate appearance on the season. He doubled that in just four tries, delivering a tiebreaking one-run single with two outs in the eighth to go along with his second-inning, run-scoring double.
It was the fourth straight start for Laird -- Evan Gattis has been held out with viral symptoms he said are improving -- who has shown steady improvement with those consistent opportunities. Since Gattis' late scratch on Tuesday, Laird is 5 for 15 with two doubles and three RBI and has raised his average from .158 to .208.
"I'm obviously off to a slow start at the plate, but I felt like the last week I've taken better swings and my swing is coming along real well and I feel like I'm back where I was last year, hitting the ball hard and finding some holes," Laird said. "Tonight I got some pitches up and I was able to put some good swings on them."
Despite his improvement of late, Laird was arguably the most unlikely Brave to equal Colorado's potent offense on his own, considering he came in 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position and hadn't had multiple RBI in a game since July 8.
But with the Braves down 1-0 in the second, Laird followed Dan Uggla's two-out with a line drive double to center to tie the game. Then he came through again with two outs and the game tied in the eighth, scoring Pena to set the stage for Craig Kimbrel's 13th save and his 152nd overall, two off John Smoltz's franchise record.
"It's just a matter of me getting good pitches to hit," Laird said. "I've felt better at the plate and I'm seeing the ball a lot better."
While the other members of the Braves rotation's 30-somethings, Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana, struggled in their latest outings -- giving up a combined 10 runs and 18 hits against the Brewers -- Floyd continued to defy expectations by holding Colorado in check.
He allowed two runs over 6 2/3 innings, scattering seven hits and striking out seven with zero walks. It was Floyd's fourth start since returning from Tommy John surgery, and he's allowed less than three runs three times.
"I feel strong," Floyd said. "I feel real thankful that I've been able to recover and control pitches like I have been."
Aside form Noland Arenado's double to open the second, which would become the game's first run on a groundout two batters later, and Michael Cuddyer's sixth-inning home run, Floyd would not allow another Rockies batter past second as he cut his ERA To 2.49.
"He was terrific," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think only two hard-hit balls, the home run and the double ... Every time you run him out there he gives you a great opportunity to win a ball game."
2. Johnson's outburst leads to benching, apology
Following a second-inning strikeout, third baseman Chris Johnson walked down the dugout steps into the tunnel. He was followed by players and coaches and was subsequently benched.
"I let my emotions get the best of me tonight," Johnson said. "I came in the tunnel and blew up a little bit and that's dangerous to do."
While it opened the door for Ramiro Pena, who took over for him and delivered the key eighth-inning double, it also led to a realization for Johnson.
"This has to be it for me," he said. "It will get to a point if it happens again where people won't believe I'm truly sorry."
There has been no word whether Johnson will receive any further penalty, either monetary or in playing time, but he says "whatever the punishment may be, (I'll) take it like a man." He says he apologized to the team following the game.
This wasn't the first such incident for Johnson, whose temper became an issue amid two four-strikeout games in April and he was benched for two games. Last season, he got into a confrontation with first base coach Terry Pendleton after Johnson threw his helmet. It bounced and hit Pendleton, who grabbed the front of Johnson's jersey and shoved him away. Then, last August he was ejected for arguing called strikes and throwing his bat and helmet in the first inning of a game against the Marlins.
"That's one of my demons," Johnson said. "It's one of those things I need to work through and get better at."
3. Braves staying aggressive on base paths, but is it paying off?
B.J. Upton earned his eighth steal in the fifth, and an inning later, brother Justin swiped his fifth, pushing the Braves' total to 25, a figure that's 22nd in the majors. But considering where this team was last year on the base paths, Atlanta has been overtly aggressive.
A year ago, the Braves had 64 steals, which ranked 24th. They are now on pace for 82, and considering it took Upton until Aug. 3 to get to eight in '13 and that Jason Heyward already has six more (eight) than he had last season, it would seem a torrid pace.
But with just four players who have more than one steal -- Jordan Schafer has three -- the Braves could have trouble matching last season's MLB average of 90 or the 101 of the past five seasons.
Ultimately, while the Braves have put an emphasis on stolen bases, switching third base coaches this season in moving out Brian Snitker in favor of Doug Dascenzo, they have yet to see anything come from those steals.
Atlanta has a wSB (Weighted Stolen Base Runs), which estimates how many runs players contribute via steals, of 0.0. That puts it 16th in baseball and it's a figure that is basically a byproduct of all those RISP/strikeouts/relying on home run arguments that have surrounded the Braves for two seasons.
The Braves, despite an uptick in stolen bases, rank 27th with 164 wRC (103 less than Colorado heading into Friday night) and 25th in OPS (.675). Basically, it doesn't matter how many bases Atlanta steals if it doesn't capitalize.
They didn't capitalize either time Friday, but at least the Braves have shown signs of life of late, with both of Heyward's steals Monday resulting in runs. That was the first time this month they've won a game in which they converted a stolen base into a run.