Here are three things we learned from Atlanta’s 3-2 victory over Miami on Tuesday, none of which detail Andrelton Simmons’ three hits, Ramiro Pena’s defensive gem in the ninth or how Justin Upton came roughly 18 inches shy of his seventh homer:
1. Just wait until Kris Medlen recaptures the late-season mojo of last year
From a distance, Medlen’s cumulative numbers after two starts (1-1, 1.50 ERA) are superb. But he has yet to find a true groove with strikeout-to-walk ratio (4/5) or WHIP (1.42).
And let’s be honest, the Marlins’ lineup — even with Giancarlo Stanton — might be the least formidable in all of baseball. Very little power. Marginal speed. Full of slap-hitting assets.
That said, it’s not Medlen’s job to draft, sign or build up the Miami roster, via trade, and he didn’t fill out the Marlins’ Tuesday lineup, either. He could only control the pace of his pitches and tempo of his delivery; and from my vantage point, he appeared looser and more relaxed than Thursday’s losing duel with Phillies co-ace Cliff Lee.
Plus, the temperature at Marlins Park was about 40 degrees warmer than last week’s rain/cold/dreary outing at Turner Field.
As for the future, perhaps Medlen can launch another 20-start streak without taking a loss. From July 31 to Sept. 30 last year, spanning 12 starts and 83.2 innings, Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) absurdly amassed a 9-0 record, 0.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 84/10 K-BB ratio.
2. Evan Gattis seems at home behind the plate … and when occupying the cleanup spot
With Freddie Freeman on the disabled list (oblique strain) and Jason Heyward getting a night of rest (minus the defensive cameo in ninth inning), Gattis — a fringe-roster candidate in March turned April sensation (.368 batting) — announced his 4-hole authority early on, belting a homer off Marlins starter Wade LeBlanc in the first inning.
“(Gattis) has been great for us,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez during the post-game address. With Heyward and Freeman out for Tuesday, “it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to put him in the linuep, behind Justin (Upton).”
For the season, Atlanta is already 5-0 when going deep in the opening stanza.
Gattis’s blast may have fallen short of the exorbitantly priced edifice beyond the left-center wall at Marlins Park, but it was the perfect tape-measure shot to excite a Braves fan base that has embraced the legend of El Oso Blanco with open arms.
(For symmetry sake, Gattis also hit .368 during spring training, with six homers.)
Speaking of arms, Gattis’s Popeye-esque forearms and glove-less batting hands hearken one back to the black-and-white-film days of Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx (1925-45).
Technology jokes aside, Gattis’s crouching-tiger approach to hitting gives Gonzalez yet another stellar option at the 3-4-5-6 power slots, depending on the day and situation.
3. Craig Kimbrel offers very little hope to opposing hitters in the 9th
Of Kimbrel’s four appearances, spanning four innings, four strikeouts and four saves, only three batters have reached base, with none scoring. And like Tuesday’s winning pitcher (Medlen), Kimbrel doesn’t appear to be in peak form.
As in, high-strikeout form.
Strangely, that’s a wonderful sign of progress for a 7-1 Braves team (winners of five straight) that has higher aspirations than just cruising into the playoffs. Simply put, 93 or 94 wins probably won’t be enough to achieve top-dog status.
For Atlanta to capture the NL East title and secure home-field advantage for the playoffs — outdistancing Washington, Cincinnati, San Francisco, etc. — the club shall require daily and weekly improvement from its valued reserves and bankable stars.
And Kimbrel, despite the, uh, so-so start, will finish with 120-plus strikeouts by season’s end.