Apr 14, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton (2) and first baseman Chris Johnson (23) celebrate after the final out against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Entering the weekend series with Washington, the Braves were scorching hot in the standings (8-1 and coming off of two sweeps), but the competition was significantly worse than the uber-talented Nationals. Let’s take a look at what happened with the top two teams in the NL East collided.
Friday, April 12th – Win (6-4 in 10 innings)
Through six innings, this one looked pretty bleak. Julio Teheran had been battered around in the first two innings, giving up four earned runs (including a Bryce Harper bomb), and the offense managed only 5 base-runners in the first six frames. Then, Chris Johnson woke the offense up with a solo home run in the 7th inning, BJ Upton took a bases-loaded walk in the 8th, and the Braves took advantage of a less-than-stellar defensive effort from Ryan Zimmerman in tying the game on a Justin Upton infield single in the ninth (that scored two runs). That set up the big blow, as little-used utility infielder Ramiro Pena did his best impression of a big bopper with a 2-run, game-winning home run off of Craig Stammen in the top of the 10th inning. Pena’s career slugging percentage? .302, but that didn’t stop him from winning this one in heroic fashion. The pitching was also tremendous for Atlanta, allowing zero runs in the final eight innings, including a 4-inning, 2-hit effort from the bullpen after Teheran righted the ship for his final four frames. The Braves never flinched here, and that’s a great sign.
Saturday, April 13th – Win (3-1)
Evan Gattis and Tim Hudson took over Washington on Saturday. Gattis hit the deciding home-run off of Stephen Strasburg in the 3rd inning with a massive 2-run shot that scored Justin Upton. It was a great swing, catching up to a Strasburg fastball at his eyes, and Gattis continues to impress. Those two runs were plenty for Tim Hudson, who had it going all day to the tune of 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 ER, and no walks before handing it off to two perfect innings from O’Flaherty and Kimbrel. Any time you can get to an ace like Strasburg early (as Gattis did), it helps, but more impressive was the work from Hudson, and if he can maintain this level (aka a young man’s Hudson), this rotation can be scary good.
Sunday, April 14th – Win (9-0)
Dominance. After two hard fought wins (including the come-from-behind effort on Friday), a blow-out victory is always nice, and that was the case on Sunday. Atlanta put up three first-inning runs on the back of an Evan Gattis double and a timely two-run single from Chris Johnson, and never looked back. The third inning really broke things open, as Justin Upton hit a solo home run that was followed by a 3-run version from Andrelton Simmons that gave Atlanta an insurmountable lead. Did I mention that Paul Maholm was insanely good once again? The left-hander went 7.2 innings, allowing four hits, striking out 7, and allowed 0 earned runs. Maholm now has thrown 20.1 innings on the year with an ERA of 0.00. Now, read that sentence again. At any rate, it was a total team effort, and Maholm’s ability to go late into a game with effectiveness helped to save the bullpen to only an appearance from Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin. What a win.
I don’t think any reasonable Braves fan would’ve expected a sweep here in Washington, but Atlanta kept things rolling in a big way in putting the Nats away. At 11-1, the Braves are probably due for a bit of a letdown, but there is also an argument that the bats haven’t really broken out yet (until Sunday, at least), and while the pitching will normalize a bit, the requisite bump at the plate should do wonders to avoid long slumps. It was a beautiful weekend for baseball, and an even more beautiful weekend for anyone who loves the Atlanta Braves.