The Atlanta Braves’ starting pitching has dazzled in unexpected fashion after entering the year with a list of substantial injuries.
The bullpen, which played a key role in their 2013 NL East title and is largely intact, hasn’t followed suit.
That hasn’t stopped the Braves from winning four straight, a streak they’ll try to extend Wednesday night in the second of a rain-shortened road series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
After Atlanta took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth Monday, Luis Avilan gave up five runs, with Domonic Brown’s three-run homer the big blow. The Braves (9-4), however, came back to win 9-6 on Dan Uggla’s grand slam in the ninth. Tuesday’s game was postponed due to inclement weather and has yet to be rescheduled.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez knows Citizens Bank Park isn’t the place for any pitcher to be missing his spots.
"If you make a mistake, it’s in the seats," Gonzalez said after a game that featured seven homers – two apiece by Uggla and catcher Evan Gattis.
Despite another victory, Gonzalez may have some issues in his bullpen, which has a 4.75 ERA. Atlanta relievers led the majors with a 2.46 ERA in 2013, but they’ve now yielded at least one earned run in seven straight games – something they hadn’t done since April 29-May 5, 2012.
The Phillies’ bullpen has been even worse, with a 5.53 ERA this season and seven home runs surrendered in the past 26 2-3 innings.
"The game starts with pitching and defense," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I think overall our pitchers have to establish the strike zone and work ahead in the counts. I think that is a big part in why we’re playing the slowest games and longest games in baseball. Every time I look at the clock and leave, it’s almost midnight. I can’t believe it, but it is what it is."
Philadelphia’s bullpen should get a little better Wednesday, as Mike Adams – who last pitched in the majors in June before undergoing shoulder surgery – will be activated from the 15-day disabled list.
After taking advantage of Philadelphia’s relief corps Monday, the Braves’ offense continues to enjoy a nice run. Atlanta has homered multiple times in five straight games – totaling 14 – and has scored 32 runs during the winning streak.
Gattis, Uggla and shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit back-to-back-to-back homers in the eighth.
"We have a lot of guys who can change the game with one swing," Uggla said. "Tonight we were able to put some at-bats together."
After Ervin Santana’s second strong start, Atlanta turns to Julio Teheran to keep the rotation clicking.
Teheran (1-1, 2.84 ERA) allowed two earned runs – five total – for the third straight start Friday while giving up a career high-tying 10 hits over six innings of a 7-6 win over Washington in 10.
He’s 1-2 with a 6.32 ERA in three starts against the Phillies (6-7), with Chase Utley going 4 for 6 and Jimmy Rollins 4 for 9 with a homer in their matchups.
Teheran will be opposed by Cliff Lee (2-1, 5.50), who has been quite hittable in his first three starts. Opponents are batting .358 against the left-hander after he gave up eight hits and three runs in six innings of Thursday’s 6-2 loss at Milwaukee.
He’s been considerably more effective when facing the Braves. Lee is 6-3 with a 1.60 ERA and .188 opponents’ batting average in his last 10 starts against them.
Jason Heyward is 3 for 22 against Lee while Simmons is 3 for 16.
Chris Johnson has homered twice off Lee in 23 at-bats, but he has been out of the starting lineup for the last two games. Johnson hit a team-best .321 last season but is at .239 this year and has nine strikeouts in his last four games, including one as a pinch hitter Monday.
Tony Gwynn Jr. has started four straight games for the Phillies, leading off and playing center field in each. He’s 6 for 14 in the last three after having only 11 plate appearances in the first 10 games.