Coming out of the All-Star break, expectations were high as the Braves visited Chicago to take on the White Sox. After all, Chicago has really struggled this season, so it looked like an opportunity for Atlanta to lengthen their division lead. Let’s take a look at what transpired.
Friday, July 19th – Win (6-4)
The series started off with a bang on the heels of two massive swings of the bat from the Braves lineup. Andrelton Simmons led off the scoring with a 2-run home run in the 3rd inning, and Brian McCann pulsed the team to a win with a massively important, 3-run bomb in the 6th inning that gave the Braves a 5-2 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. In addition to the two blasts, Chris Johnson had a very productive night at the plate, going 3-for-4, and Justin Upton continued his return to prominence with a 2-for-4 night with 2 runs scored. Tim Hudson did just enough on the mound to secure the win, but it was a roller coaster ride. He allowed 4 runs over 7 innings (not great), but he had a “trademark” 16-to-2 ground ball to fly ball ratio on the night, and for the most part, he was effective. After Huddy exited, the Avilan/Walden/Kimbrel trio closed the game out in shutdown fashion, and the Braves escaped with a series-opening win.
Saturday, July 20th – Loss (10-6)
Paul Maholm day didn’t exactly go the way that Braves fans would have hoped. The left-hander allowed 7 runs over 3 innings, “highlighted” by an Alex Rios grand slam in the 3rd that gave the White Sox a 5-4 lead. In addition to getting beaten up pretty severely, Maholm exited with a reported wrist injury, and the whispers began (if they hadn’t already) in earnest about him losing a rotation spot. Besides the inevitable storyline of the White Sox scoring an incredible 10 unanswered runs, the Braves offense actually did show up on Saturday. Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman each blasted home runs for Atlanta, and every member of the 9-man starting lineup produced a hit in the game. Normally, 6 runs and 10 hits would be more than enough to key a victory, but this was the rare occasion when the starting pitching really let the team down in a major way.
Sunday, July 21st – Loss (3-1)
In the finale, it was a tale of bad luck. Mike Minor pitched incredibly well, throwing the first complete game of his career, but the defense and bad breaks let him down. He allowed 3 runs (2 earned) over the 8-inning complete game, but he struck out 8 batters, and much of the contact made against him was feeble in nature. The biggest play of the game was Casper Wells’ run-saving catch of a potential Chris Johnson home run in the 8th inning, and once that play stopped the Braves from tying the score, they were out of ammunition. Evan Gattis produced the lone run of the game for Atlanta with a 5th-inning RBI single, but for the most part, the bats were silent, especially once Chicago starter Jose Quintana left the game. In fact, the White Sox bullpen combined for 3.1 innings of no-hit ball to end the game, and only an 8th inning walk from Dan Uggla provided hope of a scoring opportunity. There isn’t a whole lot to take away from Sunday’s action, and any overreaction would be premature.
Overall, it certainly wasn’t the start to the second half that many Braves fans would have liked. However, there were encouraging signs from Mike Minor and the offense (at times), and with the bevy of available arms (Wood and Beachy), the disastrous Maholm start could be his last. The Braves head to New York for a long, 4-game set with the Mets this week, and a series preview will be posted before Monday night’s action. Stay tuned.