Three Cuts: Braves drop game, series to Bucs

BY foxsports • April 21, 2013

Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 4-2 loss to the Pirates on Sunday, aside from Pittsburgh closer Jason Grilli being a mediocre dancer after key strikeouts:

1. This might have been the Braves' toughest loss of the season

It likely won't be a fun flight to Denver for the Braves (13-5), as they try to reconcile the odd events from Sunday's defeat, clinching a 1-3 weekend in Pittsburgh.

Quirky happenings like:

**Baserunner Ramiro Pena getting flagged down not once, but twice on strikeout/throw-out double plays — with Justin Upton taking the K both times.

**Falling when the Pirates' 3-4 hitters, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, account for 10 runners left on base ... and only one hit.

**Losing on a day when Pittsburgh pulled the plug on starter Jonathan Sanchez after three innings and only two runs allowed.

**Six Atlanta starters, including the 1-4 batters (B.J. Upton, Pena, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis), posting two or more strikeouts on the day.

**The eventual game-winning run scoring on a Luis Avilan wild pitch in the sixth inning.

Bottom line: In a 162-game season, weird things are bound to happen sooner or later — even for championship-contending teams. Heck, in 1984, the Detroit Tigers roared to a 35-5 record in the first 40 games ... only to get swept by the lowly Mariners during one troubling weekend in the Pacific Northwest.

But it's worth noting: The 10-8 Pirates shouldn't be viewed as viable playoff contenders until high-end pitchers like Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Kyle McPherson earn permanent promotions and fortify a rotation that turns shaky after A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez.

2. It's hard to find fault with Kris Medlen's hard-luck effort against the Bucs

By most accounts, the Braves righty has yet to recapture his late-season greatness of last year; and yet, he's still toting a 2.16 ERA and 1.16 WHIP for April. Plus, he's thrown 90-plus pitches in every outing.

The above numbers are solid indicators of future excellence, once Medlen (three runs allowed, six strikeouts over seven innings on Sunday) finds his rhythm and logs starts in consistent weather.

Of his four outings to date, Medlen has thrown twice in 45 degrees or colder ... and two games of 76 degrees or warmer.

In other words, Would it kill Mother Nature to give him a simple day of 65 and sunny — the kind of weekend weather we're enjoying in Atlanta?

For those with short memories: From July 31 to Sept. 30 last year, spanning 12 starts, 83.2 innings and consistent game-time temperatures, Medlen absurdly amassed a 9-0 record, 0.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 84/10 K-BB ratio. And of the dozen starts, Atlanta had a flawless 12-0 record.

3. Andrelton Simmons has a .530 on-base percentage in the 7-hole

I don't know if the above stat suggests Simmons (.211 overall batting) should remain in the back end of the Braves' lineup, or if he should reclaim the Opening Day spot at No. 1.

At the very least, it should prompt Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez — an admirer of raw-data analysis (but not necessarily a numbers geek) — to avoid slot tinkering with Simmons hitting sixth, eighth or even ninth (special situations).

Citing a small sample size for 2013, it's either first, second or seventh for Simmons, who bears a lot of on-field responsibilities for a 23-year-old kid in the majors.

(As an aside, did you see that flip-ball exchange during Clint Barmes's infield single from Sunday? Whoa!)

For what it's worth, Simmons has a .154 average and .179 OBP when manning the top spot in the Atlanta lineup. And let's be honest: The Braves, from a fan or media perspective, look more formidable when B.J. Upton bats leadoff.

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