El Oso Blanco struck again versus the Marlins. Now, the Braves have some decisions to make.
By ZACH DILLARD FS South
Here are three observations from the
Braves' 8-0 win against the Marlins Wednesday night to complete the series sweep:
1. Evan Gattis is going to force the Braves to make a decision
The batting practice power was one thing and the spring training statistics were another. But it's hard to imagine even the Braves organization expected such an immediate payoff by adding catcher (and folk hero) Gattis to the 25-man roster. In short, he's been sensational, one of the best stories in baseball.
The 26-year-old rookie went 2-for-4 with a home run, three RBI and a walk in the series finale in Miami. He now has three homers in 25 plate appearances, one of the highest rates in the league. That's an unbelievable leap from working at a pizza joint, as a lift operator, at a ski lodge, as a janitor and, especially, battling through rehab.
His journey has been extensive and well-documented, but the rewards for his return to baseball have proven the choice to be a wise one up to this point.
However, Atlanta (8-1) is faced with a decision.
Does the team carry three catchers once Brian McCann returns from his shoulder surgery?
Can Gattis keep up his hot-hitting start? Can the team afford to risk it by sending him back down to the minor leagues, placing their faith in McCann's bat and health in a contract year?
These are the questions facing general manager Frank Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and the front office when McCann does return sometime in the next month or so. But it's tough to sit or option a guy who is hitting .391 with three home runs in first six big-league starts.
"It's not going to be a quarterback controversy or anything like that," Gonzalez said after beating his former team. "I think (any player's) gotta do it. He fits into that 4-hole until (
Freddie) Freeman gets back and McCann gets back and who knows then? … It's just good for the club for him to hit in that 4-hole. I'm glad it's worked out."
Gonzalez even floated the idea of giving Gattis some time at first base next series in order to keep his bat in the lineup for days backup catcher Gerald Laird is scheduled to play behind the plate.
"I've done crazier stuff," Gonzalez said.
The plot thickens.
2. Mike Minor has picked up right where he left off
Before the season began, my colleague Jay Clemons took on a
feature about Minor, the Braves young left-hander who closed out the 2012 season on an absolute tear. The 25-year-old allowed three runs or fewer in 13 of his final 14 starts during his sophomore campaign. The underlying thought process behind the feature was that if Minor could keep treading a similar path throughout the 2013 season, he could become one of the best-kept secrets in the National League.
Well, the trend continued Wednesday against the Marlins.
After going 7 1/3 innings and allowing just one earned run in his season opener against the Cubs, Minor again kept an opponent below that three-run threshold. Though his pitch count ran up (101 pitches), he still earned his second win and shouldered the lion's share of innings in the team's second shutout in three games.
In fact, the Braves have now held the Marlins to two runs or fewer in 24 of their past 36 meetings.
"I threw a lot of changeups because the curveball wasn't there and slider really wasn't there, either. So me and Gattis just went back to the changeup," Minor said. "It's just one of those games where everything isn't working."
If that's Minor when things aren't working — granted, the Marlins are not exactly the measuring stick for elite players or clubs at the moment — then baseball is in for a world of trouble with a Braves rotation that boasts a league-best 1.89 ERA.
3. It's going to be a long, long, long season in Miami
In fairness to the young Marlins, their initiation into the 2013 season has been anything but simple. After opening with the Nationals (6-2) and Mets (5-4), hosting one of the hottest teams in baseball — perhaps
the hottest team — is no walk in the park.
But still, this was an ugly series to continue an ugly start to a potentially hideous season.
Miami (1-8) has been outscored 40-16 in their first nine games this season.
This comes as no surprise after the fire sale general manager Jeffrey Loria, president David Samson and the entire front office pulled this offseason, but still, other than (unfortunate) Giancarlo Stanton — a legitimate All-Star-type of player — the Marlins lineup Wednesday night looks the lineup of a video game franchise after 10 consecutive years of simulation. There are fresh faces and underwhelming veterans everywhere. And many of them looked overmatched this series against the N.L. East-leading Braves.
Add in the fact that Miami threw out Kevin Slowey, Wade LeBlanc and Wednesday's starter Alex Sanabia (five innings, six earned runs, eight hits) against the Braves' explosive lineup this series and the results were fairly predictable.
The road gets tougher for Atlanta after leaving the Sunshine State (road series at Washington), but it doesn't look like the road will ever gets easier for the Marlins in 2013.