May 7, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons (19) congratulates left fielder Justin Upton (8) after scoring on a catcher Brian McCann (not pictured) single during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Series Recap: Back on Track with 2 of 3 in Cincinnati

After a rain-shortened split with the rival New York Mets, seeing Cincinnati (on the road, no less) on the schedule probably wasn’t the best sight for the Atlanta Braves. With that said, let’s take a glance at what went down in the Great American Ballpark this week.

Monday, May 6th – Win (7-4)

Monday’s night victory will be known as the Andrelton Simmons “break-out” game. The young shortstop belted two home runs, went 3-for-4, and drove in 4 huge runs to key the victory. Simmons is one of the best defensive shortstops in all of baseball (in my opinion, the best), but on this night, his bat played big. Paul Maholm tossed 5.2 quality innings, allowing just 2 earned runs on 4 hits, and grabbed his 4th win of the year. It is a bit of a concern to see Maholm climb above 100 pitches in less than 6 innings, but with the type of production that he’s generated this season (3.09 ERA despite the 8-run implosion against Detroit), it’s tough to criticize. Jordan Walden was dreadful in an 8th performance (0 outs recorded, 2 runs), but the rest of the bullpen slammed the door, and this was a great start for the series.

Tuesday, May 7th – Loss (5-4)

Craig Kimbrel is human. The previously invincible (at least in 2012) Braves closer allowed back-to-back 2-out home runs in the 9th to blow a save, and allow Cincinnati to steal a game that they had no business winning. After striking out the first two batters he faced, Kimbrel was lit up by Devin Mesoraco and Shin-Soo Choo, and his performance brought Twitter to its knees. It is very much too early to be “concerned” with Kimbrel (his ERA is only 3.38 even after this game), but his 2012 season isn’t a good baseline to compare anything to, and we should simply evaluate Kimbrel’s 2013 season on its own. Aside from the Kimbrel storyline, the Braves lineup was able to generate only 5 hits (1 extra-base hit) in the game, but with some quality timing, they were able to put up 4 runs against Homer Bailey. No one will remember the offensive performance (or 7 quality innings from Kris Medlen), however, because of the way the game ended. This one hurt.

Wednesday, May 8th – Win (7-2)

On getaway day, Atlanta blew the doors off of the Reds with a clutch, 5-run 8th inning. Juan Francisco belted a grand-slam off of JJ Hoover (who he was hilariously traded for last season), breaking the game open after Freddie Freeman‘s RBI single knocked in Andrelton Simmons to break a 2-2 tie. Before the 8th inning, Dan Uggla accounted for the whole of the offense with two solo home runs, and Uggla is suddenly in a mini-groove (that I’m trying not to jinx). With Francisco’s majestic blast, the Braves secured a series win, and they did so in grand fashion. Overlooked after the big hit was Mike Minor who was again tremendous, allowing only 1 run through 7 innings (4 hits, 7 Ks), lowering his ERA to an impressive 2.96. Minor has been one of the best pitchers alive over the last 10 months or so, and that continues to be a God-send for Atlanta. After Tuesday’s heartbreak, it was critical to get back on the horse on Wednesday, and Atlanta was able to do that in a big way.

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With the first 3 games of a long, 10-game road trip down, the Braves are in a good spot. At 20-13 and leading the NL East, they’ve built some breathing room as they enter the next 7 games with the Giants and D-Backs, and it’ll be riveting to see how they handle this tough, west-coast trip. Stay tuned.

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