Atlanta Braves finally firing on all cylinders


Jason Heyward rounds the bases after hitting a home run.
The much-maligned Atlanta Braves offense is on a roll again. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

I hate to say I told you so.

Psych! I love to say I told you so. If you’re an avid reader of mine, and you really should be, you’ll recall that I’ve been saying for a while the Atlanta Braves’ offense hasn’t started banging on all cylinders yet. And maybe you wondered to yourself “Self, what does banging on all cylinders even look like?” Here’s your answer: Like this.

It seems like it was only last week that the Braves were being criticized for not putting their foot on the neck of the NL East. Oh wait, that’s because it was! Tim Hudson had been carried off the field on a stretcher, and it seemed like the offense had fallen completely flat. Well, flat except for Freddie Freeman. Now it’s been a week and the Braves have swept the “best” team in the NL and are on their way to sweeping their entire homestand. And that flat offense? I don’t even know who you’re talking about.

When the analysts look back at this season, they’ll rate every team based on the first vs. the second half of the season. Not the Braves. The Braves will be Pre-Ankle and Post-Ankle. Hudson’s ankle, that is. Everyone wanted to know if Huddy’s injury was going to deflate the Braves or light a fire under them. I dare say we have an answer now.

In the first three games against the Colorado Rockies, the Braves have scored 29 runs on 41 hits. Whaaaaaat? I hear what you’re saying, though. “Yeah, yeah. It’s the Rockies. Big deal.” Wrong.

The pitching staff for the Rockies is was giving them their best shot at the postseason. Jorge De La Rosa had given up three runs over 17 innings before his start against the Braves. Juan Nicasio had tallied just one run through 19 innings before Atlanta. Tyler Chatwood had also given up three runs spanning 21 innings. And six of those nine games were at home at Coors Field! Read: These guys aren’t pushovers. But the Braves made all three look they were pulled up from double-A to make a spot start.

While we’re on the subject of starting pitching, I’d be foolish not to mention Alex Wood and Mike Minor. Wood, making his third start of his career, was a little shaky during the first two innings before settling in and shutting out the Rockies for the next five. Minor was spectacular, throwing seven innings of two-hit ball with no walks and six punchouts. That, friends, is ace sh … stuff.

Back to the offense, which was a huge relief for Braves fans everywhere. Once again, Fredi Gonzalez shook up the lineup, which has become a little tiresome, but apparently the 54th time is the charm! Seriously, this was like putting on a blindfold and throwing ingredients from your pantry into a bucket and making a wedding cake. Don’t try that at home, it won’t work. This is lightning a bottle, with Jason Heyward moving up to the leadoff spot, followed by Justin Upton. Andrelton Simmons moves back to the eight-hole, and Chris Johnson moves up to the six spot. I think part of what makes this lineup work is that it’s not what’s expected. It’s generally agreed upon that Heyward is not a leadoff guy. And yet, he’s made it on base more than not, including reaching after two strikeouts. He scored six runs and batted in three.

I could talk about Freeman, but what’s the point? He had two home runs Tuesday and was 4-for-4 Wednesday with two more RBI. He’s raking. But if you don’t know that by now, you haven’t been keeping up! Meanwhile, Johnson has quietly crept up and overtaken Yadier Molina‘s spot for the batting title, hitting .342 going into Thursday night’s game. He’s also in the midst of five straight multi-hit games.

UPDATE: Heyward just went yard (did I mention I’m watching the game?) for two runs, and the Braves have added five more runs and six more hits to their total on the week. Julio Teheran has thrown more pitches than he probably expected through the fifth inning, but he just got his 11th K of the game and is still throwing 95 mph.

Alright, that’s enough gushing. Anymore and I’m going to ruin this team.

Besides, not everything is going right. Brandon Beachy made his much-anticipated debut after spending a year to recover from Tommy John surgery, and it didn’t go quite as planned. He gave up seven runs over 3.2 innings. He got rocked. But it was probably only Beachy who expected to shut the Rockies out, pitch seven innings and strike out eight. He wasn’t wild, his pitches just didn’t have a lot of life and stayed up too far in the strike zone. He makes his next start over the weekend in Philadelphia, and I expect to see a much better game.

All in all, this Braves team doesn’t look much like the one from a week ago, and I don’t think anyone’s complaining. Well, not here in Atlanta. Everywhere else, not so much. The Nationals and Phillies are watching their chances for a playoff spot disappear in the distance. The Cardinals went into a tailspin after the sweep and dropped four of five games to the Pirates, who have taken their place in first in the NL Central.

Even ESPN may have talk about the Braves a little, which we all know really grinds their gears.


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