The second month of baseball has come to a close.
From here, the games get hotter – both in importance and temperature. The standings begin to stretch out or tighten up, depending on the division and each team will either step up to new challenges or suffer from them.
Enough cryptic talk. Matt Kemp is headed to the DL again with the same injury. Roy Halladay is headed to the same place. Chipper Jones had a setback on an injury that was first thought to be just a bad bruise. The summer doldrums are almost here and, unfortunately, we probably will see more of this. Note that I don’t wish harm on any player in Major League Baseball. We as fans suffer a loss any time someone is unable to make it the park for a game.
But this is baseball, and with such a long, grueling season, injuries are part of the game. A team cannot live or die by their big name players alone and the best way to find out is when they hit the DL. The Braves learned that the hard way over the last two weeks, losing Jones in their first interleague game against Tampa Bay. Before that, Jones had missed some games here and there, but they had not had to battle through such a long stretch without him. Their record is far better with him than without him, regardless of how well he does when he plays (which is still pretty good).
They left Tampa Bay for Cincinnati, and that began a crushing losing streak, dropping seven straight to both the Reds and the Washington Nationals, who sit atop the National League East. Their second series at home began with a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals and it started to look like the Braves couldn’t figure out how to win. But a decisive second game and an offensive push in their third gave them a chance to learn that they still had it in them and weren’t that much worse for the wear.
Today they sit in fourth place, a whopping two games out of first. Both the AL and NL East divisions are experiencing the same situation; both divisions are completely up for grabs at this point. The last-place Phillies are two and half games out. It’s still anyone’s ball game.
During that losing streak, the Braves had a series of bizarre injuries; Freddie Freeman had eye problems that dated back to Colorado. Brian McCann caught the flu and spent some games lying on the floor of the locker room. David Ross, the backup catcher, strained his groin and the Braves had to bring up a third catcher from triple-A to get over the hump. All with Jones on the DL, Dan Uggla in something of a slump (although nothing compares to last year) and Michael Bourn‘s magic bat cooling off.
Fear not, Braves Country! The boys are on the mend and ready to turn over the leaf on the next piece of the season that will take them through summer and up to the All-Star Break. This is the time when we’ll see leaders begin to emerge and maybe those division rivals to start pulling away from each other.
But it was during this stretch that general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez decided that some moves needed to be made. Whether it was to shake up the lineup or see if new pieces made a better fit or both, we’ll see. So far, it has started to work. Righty Kris Medlen went to triple-A Gwinnett to get a couple starts so he could come back as a part of the rotation. In Medlen’s place, Braves fans saw the return of Jose Constanza, the fleet footed outfielder who turned some heads last August. Already, he’s proved his value on the basepaths and in the outfield, which makes his place on the roster harder to let go of, once Chipper returns to the lineup.
Tyler Pastornicky has lost his spot at shortstop to Andrelton Simmons, who will make his Major League debut Saturday in Washington. From the sound of it, the Braves brass have planning this move for some time, but with the Braves missing a couple steps and Simmons’ success with both his bat and his glove, now seemed to be the time. I wonder about Pastornicky’s future – he’s not a bad player and we should all keep in mind that he’s still very young, but if Simmons experiences the kind of success the Braves think he will, I would be willing to guess Pastornicky will be moved elsewhere.
Well, that catches us up. The Braves that played Wednesday night in Atlanta are looking more like the Braves from three weeks ago, scoring runs more than not, pitching out of jams and generally looking like a team that wants to be a contender. With two days of rest after Friday’s rainout, hopefully, we see more of that starting today in Washington.