The Braves continued their strong road trip with a 6-3 win against the Giants at AT&T Park late Thursday night. Here are three observations from the game:
1. Craig Kimbrel hits the 100-save milestone — finally
Baseball’s preeminent closer certainly made his stretch run to his first saves century mark interesting over the past few days — uncharacteristically blowing three of his last five opportunities and raising public questions on whether or not he’s the same dominant closer he was last season. With that in mind, the Braves were kind enough to spot their two-time All-Star a three-run lead in the ninth.
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And he came through.
Save No. 100 is now in the books and much like with Kimbrel’s teammate, Tim Hudson, who also took a few tries to hit a milestone earlier this season (200th win), the questions about the hold-up will subside as his season returns to normalcy.
“I sat (at No. 99) for a while,” said Kimbrel, who leads all major league players in saves since the start of the 2011 season. “I blew a few, very disappointing. It’s only going to push me.”
Kimbrel becomes the second-youngest player to reach 100 saves, trailing Francisco Rodriguez (Angels) by just 100 days on the all-time list. And as the stats gurus posted during the post-game interviews, his career strikeouts per nine innings rate (15.7) remains the best of all-time among pitchers with at least 100 innings under their belt.
The 100th save was not without its bumps, though, as Kimbrel — much like he did against Cincinnati a couple nights ago — pinned the Giants down to their final strike before giving up a two-out hit. This time it was a double by shortstop Brandon Crawford. No runs would score, but he’s allowed at least one hit in his past four outings, which will be something he’ll be looking to address as this road trip progresses.
2. Julio Teheran is still undefeated
Let’s once again get this out of the way before discussing Teheran’s start: Life is not fair.
Entering his first start in nearly two weeks — the Braves skipped his last start due to the rain-out against the Mets — Teheran was the worst pitcher on a very, very good staff through the first 33 games of the season. That’s not to say he’s been a bad pitcher. He is, after all, a rookie trying to figure out how to pitch against the best hitters in the world, and his teammates, by and large, have been outstanding.
But his team-worst 5.09 ERA and 4.93 FIP (fielding-independent pitching) did not warrant the fact that he’s the last remaining Braves starter without a loss. With the 6-3 win over the Giants, Atlanta (21-13) is now 6-0 in Teheran’s starts.
By comparison, the Braves are just 2-5 in Kris Medlen’s starts.
Who called that in the preseason?
As previously stated, wins are fickle and not the end-all metric for determining a pitcher’s success. Medlen has been the better pitcher this season; Teheran has been good enough in his respective starts. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Teheran has received more than twice the run support.)
But it should be mentioned that Teheran submitted his second quality start of the season against the Giants, recovering from early troubles against the reigning MVP — catcher Buster Posey drove in all three San Francisco runs — to settle into a rhythm. His final line: seven innings pitched, seven hits, three earned runs and three strikeouts.
“Julio did a terrific job for a guy who hadn’t pitched in about nine or 10 days. He did a terrific job,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “After the second inning we asked him, or we made him, throw his changeup to the left-handers more often, and to me that’s what got him over the hump. To be able to keep the left-handers off his fastball and off his breaking stuff.”
Teheran (2-0) was throwing that changeup less than three percent of the time this season entering the game, according to Baseball Info Solutions. So if the 22-year-old can start mixing in that pitch with confidence — offsetting his plus fastball and breaking stuff — it could mean good things for him moving forward. Also, having veteran Brian McCann (who hit his first home run of the season in the second inning) back behind the plate, Teheran’s confidence should only increase as time ticks by and the wins keep coming.
“I hope he takes (his changeup) to the next start, because that pitch today was an equalizer,” Gonzalez said.
Final Teheran note: After rumblings of control issues in his first few starts, he’s proven to be more than capable of hitting his spots in his last three outings. He posted seven walks in his first three games; he’s walked just one batter since.
He did not walk a single Giants hitter on Thursday.
He certainly earned this win.
3. The Braves continued the triples parade
There is little to no correlation in the following two events: Brian McCann made his return in May and the Braves have hit all five of their triples this month.
But Atlanta’s three-bag parade of late is curious and entertaining on multiple levels. With five triples in five games, Atlanta has risen from dead lest in the majors in tallying baseball’s most rare of hits to tied for 17th overall. If this current trend continues (it won’t, or can’t) the Braves will find themselves among the league leaders before too long.
A couple more quick notes:
— From Opening Day 2010 to May 3, 2012, Dan Uggla hit just one triple for the Marlins and Braves. In a matter of two days (May 5-6), Uggla hit two. It became the first time since his 2007 season that he’s totaled multiple triples in a single season.
— Jordan Schafer hit his second triple in as many games on Thursday night. He’s now on pace to hit double-digits (10) this season, which will be tough to match if and when his opportunities decrease when Jason Heyward returns to the lineup. However, it is worth noting that if he were to hit 10 triples he would match Michael Bourn’s total from last season — the former leadoff hitter and key player Schafer was traded for less than two seasons ago.
The hits played a key role in Atlanta’s offensive production against the Giants, as both Schafer and Justin Upton were driven in to take the lead in the fifth inning. The Braves never looked back.
They eventually drove starter Ryan Vogelsong, who now owns the N.L.’s highest ERA, from the game in the fifth inning and took a commanding three-run lead in the four-run frame.
AT&T Park saw 42 triples hit in its confines last season (sixth-most). In the ballpark’s enormous power alleys, don’t be surprised if a few more players for either team are seen chugging around second base during this four-game set.