April 19, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Home plate umpire Sam Holbrook (left) reacts as Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton argues a called third strike against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Entering the weekend series with the Pirates, the Braves were a sweltering 12-2 and playing the best baseball in the major leagues. Let’s take a look at what transpired when they got to Pittsburgh.
Thursday, April 18th – Win (6-4)
The Evan Gattis show continues. Gattis smashed a pinch-hit, 2-run blast in the 8th inning off of Jared Hughes that proved to be game-clinching play. Atlanta was able to overcome a less-than-stellar performance from Julio Teheran (5 innings, 7 hits, 4 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) with four shut-out innings from the bullpen, and all six Braves runs came via the home run as BJ Upton, Chris Johnson, and Justin Upton added to their home run totals. It certainly wasn’t a particularly pretty performance (and Teheran was tough to watch), but a series-opening win is always a good thing.
Friday, April 19th – Loss (6-0)
Wandy Rodriguez was lights-out on Friday night, and the Braves had no answer. The former Astros hurler tossed 7 shutout innings and allowed only 1 hit (a Jason Heyward single in the 4th) that was immediately erased by a double play. Atlanta only struck out 7 times in the game (a perfectly reasonable total), but good contact was hard to come by throughout the day, and this game wasn’t particularly competitive. On the run prevention side, Tim Hudson struggled mightily, allowing 6 earned runs over 4 innings highlighted by a 2-run blast by Pedro Alvarez. It was the first stumbling block for Hudson this year, but he didn’t have his normal, snapping movement and it cost him.
Saturday, April 20th – Loss (3-1)
Another great pitching performance doomed the Braves on Saturday. James McDonald brought his best stuff to PNC Park, striking out 9 batters over 6 innings and allowing only 2 hits and 1 earned run for his trouble. Paul Maholm was equally good for Atlanta until the 6th inning, as he ran his scoreless streak to over 25 innings. Then in the 6th, Andrew McCutchen smacked an RBI double for the first earned run of the year, and Gaby Sanchez followed with the game-deciding 2-run blast off of Maholm. Atlanta missed several opportunities to tie or win the game, as the Braves went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded 8 on the base paths in the game. As for Maholm, any worry would be unwarranted, as he actually pitched pretty well, but he was certainly due for a 1-inning blowup.
Sunday, April 21st – Loss (4-2)
When Clint Barmes’ bat is the difference, you know you aren’t supposed to win. The Pittsburgh shortstop entered the game with a batting average under .100 and a difficult-to-look-at OBP of under .150, but he had two different RBI singles in the game, and those 2 runs were clearly essential to the result. Kris Medlen pitched effectively (6 innings, 6 K, 3 ER) but was done in by a couple of unfortunate events (namely the infield single by Barmes) and the bats didn’t awaken in time to support him to victory. Gerald Laird and Andrelton Simmons contributed two hits a piece, including the two RBI singles to account for both Atlanta runs, but the top of the order stalled (once again) against Pittsburgh’s arms.
This is a difficult one to swallow, as losing 3 of 4 to Pittsburgh is a less-than-desirable result. The bats simply didn’t come through, as the Braves tallied only 7 runs over 4 games, and even with the dominant pitching that Atlanta has been receiving, they’ll need more runs going forward to compete. With all of that said, Pittsburgh is playing good baseball and it wasn’t a disastrous series, so as things look forward to the coming week (and series’ with Colorado and Detroit), there is no need for panic. Stay tuned.