Three Cuts: Doumit, Braves complete rally to beat Brewers
MAY 23, 2014 12:12a ET
ATLANTA -- After falling short in multiple comeback attempts earlier this season, the Atlanta Braves, spurned on by an unlikely source, have started to capture some of the come-from-behind magic they found so frequently in 2013. The Braves overcame a late-game deficit with a seventh-inning rally against the Brewers, winning 5-4 and taking three out of the four-game series. Here are three observations from the game:
1. Ryan Doumit's week is going quite well
After a 10-minute wait defined by confusion and crowd vitriol, Ryan Doumit stepped into the batter's box for his most painful plate appearance of the season. The game was, potentially, on the line and after being forced to maintain focus through an extensive replay review -- one trying to sort out the Brewers bullpen confusion -- very little was pleasant about the six-pitch at-bat.
"It was a weird at-bat," said Doumit, the Braves' pinch-hitter of choice this season. "I think I fouled balls off both my feet."
Eventually, Doumit found a comfort zone. When reliever Will Smith delivered his second fastball of the at-bat, Doumit connected in a pretty good spot: the Braves were trailing 4-3 with two runners on. Doumit's single to center field provided the highlight of the decisive three-run inning (catcher Gerald Laird plated the other run), making him the team's hero for the second time in the past five days. It was the not-so-speedy Doumit who sprinted to home plate for the game-winning run on a passed ball against the Cardinals on Sunday.
"For me, I was just trying to stay as focused as I can. I knew that they brought the lefty in. I was just trying to focus on my at-bat. But after awhile, when everybody's just kinda (waiting around) -- it just kinda gets a little old, a little monotonous. You're just like, 'Are we gonna do this or not?'" Doumit said of the replay review. " ... You just try to put together a good at-bat. You go up there and I've been put in the situation where I'm either gonna be the goat or the hero. And, you know, I've been the hero the couple days."
Doumit has been manager Fredi Gonzalez's most frequently-utilized bat off the bench this season, and he's delivered. He's now put together seven hits in 21 plate appearances, even out-pacing noted pinch-hit monster Evan Gattis.
"I'll tell you what, there was two big at-bats in that (seventh) inning: Laird and (Doumit)," Gonzalez said. "They stuck their nose in there with some tough counts and facing some tough situations and got big results. They put the ball in play. You put the ball in play in those tough situations and funny things can happen."
After suffering through an underwhelming and difficult, the Braves have now won four of the past five games against NL Central powers. If they hadn't put together these two comebacks this week, the prior road trip would have been even worse and the current home stand -- one of the toughest of the season with the Rockies and Red Sox coming up -- would simply off to mediocre start. Not so fast. Taking five of seven games from the NL Central-leading Brewers this season is no small matter, as Atlanta's grasp of the NL East has only gotten tighter.
2. The top of the Braves lineup put some runs on the board
One of the primary differences in the Brewers and Braves lineups, two units that are quite similar across the board when looking at things like on-base percentage or weighted runs created, is the production from the first two hitters in the order. Whereas the Braves have gotten more production from the middle of the lineup, the Brewers are among baseball's best at the top -- no surprise considering Gomez has occupied the lead-off spot for the majority of the year.
Atlanta's Nos. 1 and 2 hitters have been a different story entirely through the first two months of the season. While Jason Heyward has produced in spurts, including his hitting streak that he extended to 10 games on Thursday night, his numbers remain slightly below average and the No. 2 spot has been a guessing game when Justin Upton isn't there (and when he isn't playing at Turner).
Overall, the Nos. 1-2 spots in the Atlanta lineup ranked 24th in OPS+ entering the series finale against Milwaukee.
But Heyward and B.J. Upton -- Gonzalez's most commonly-used guys at the top this season -- found success against Brewers starter Matt Garza, and their efforts kept the Braves within striking distance in the later innings. Heyward was the first to come up with a big hit, pushing second baseman Dan Uggla home on an RBI single in the third inning. He finished the day 2 for 4, including a hit in the team's seventh-inning rally. He's now hitting .368 with an on-base percentage of .442 during this 10-game run; in other words, he's been a top-of-the-line leadoff hitter recently, providing a little more credence to Gonzalez calling him the "motor" of this team considering the team's uptick in offensive performance of late.
As for Upton, he had his best game in 10 days, which doesn't seem like very long until you consider he struck out 12 times, collecting a hit that just so happened to clear the fence. It was his fourth home run of the season and 12th extra-base hit -- already just 11 shy of his 2013 total. There's nothing spectacular about that number, but it's clearly a sign of improvement. He also walked in the seventh inning to load the bases with one out (Milwaukee escaped the inning).
Any uptick from this area of the lineup, particularly from Upton, who needed a extra-productive night at the plate more than most on this roster, is a welcome sign for an offense that is in a much better place than it was this time last week. Even better for Gonzalez's club: the offense as a whole avoided a prolonged stretch of scoring problems. Its now scored 26 runs in the past five games ... after failing to score that much in the previous nine games.
3. The Brewers' speed spoiled Aaron Harang's night, little by little
In the very first at-bat of Thursday's game, Jean Segura's first leadoff appearance in 2014, the Brewers shortstop dropped down a bunt single that Braves third baseman Chris Johnson never had a chance at. Leadoff runner aboard, the Brewers elected to steal. Segura beat Gerald Laird's throw from home plate with relative ease. Two batters later, he trotted home on a double to right field.
That was Aaron Harang's night in a nutshell.
The Milwaukee lineup dinked and dunked its way to four runs before chasing the veteran starter out of the game in the sixth inning.
Segura legged out two infield singles and finished with three hits and two runs. Logan Schafer stretched a single into a double. By the time the fourth inning rolled around, Schafer was dropping down a bunt on a squeeze play that didn't even lead to a play at the plate, with noted speedster Lyle Overbay scoring easily from third to push the Brewers lead, at the time, to 3-1.
It was just that kind of night.
"Today was one of those days where I felt awesome in the pen and went out there and the ball wasn't doing exactly what I wanted it to do, you know? I was falling behind and ended up having to come back over and over, trying to throw strikes behind in the count," said Harang, who owns a 3.17 ERA this season. " ... They were being aggressive. They know I'm gonna throw strikes. Their bench coach, Jerry Narron, he had me for a few years in Cincinnati, so he knows what I'm gonna go out there and do. And most of those guys do too from facing them so many times. They came out swinging."
Harang exited the game after just 5 1/3 innings pitched, his second-shortest outing of the season. He allowed nine hits in semi-taxing fashion -- leaving the mound repeatedly in attempts to field his position -- and ran up 89 pitches, ultimately allowing the four earned runs that handed the Brewers the lead until the seventh-inning rally.
He did help his cause by ringing up five batters and walking just one in his shortened outing, but it was an outing where the 36-year-old never found a rhythm.
"I don't think he had a rough start. I don't think it was one of his better ones, but he gave us an opportunity," Gonzalez said. "There were a couple times where he pitched out of some jams and made some big pitches."