Man in the Stands

Archive for the tag “Andrelton Simmons”

Braves have a leading question

In last Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward caught a Jonathon Niese fastball to the face, fracturing his jaw in two places.

Heyward underwent surgery to stabilize his jaw on Thursday in Atlanta. Doctors inserted two metal plates into each jaw during the procedure, but didn’t have to wire his mouth shut. That’s the good news. The bad news for the team and its fans: the Braves leadoff man is out for at least four weeks, and possibly six, leaving questions about how Manager Fredi Gonzalez was going to handle the top line-up spot.

Since moving into the leadoff role, Heyward has had a complete turn-around. He’s hitting for a .341 average, which is 103 points higher than his average at the third spot. The lefty has scored 24 runs, hit five of his 13 home runs, and driven in 15 of his 37 RBIs in the number one slot.

Jordan Schafer replaced Heyward in the outfield and in the leadoff spot on Wednesday, as well as taking the first pitch of the game on Thursday in St. Louis.

Schafer is a viable candidate for taking the reins of the top of the line-up card. In the position already this season, he’s hitting for a solid .280 average with two home runs and five doubles. Also, Schafer has tallied five stolen bases when batting leadoff, tying shortstop Andrelton Simmons who batted in the spot for most of the season.

Schafer has been a role player for the team this season, mostly as a pinch runner or playing the outfield to give players a rest. He picked up most of his playing time this season when outfielders Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, and Heyward all ended up getting hurt, but soon the injury bug, too, caught up to him.

Simmons is also a good option to move back to the spot. When he was there previously, he was batting 61-for-275 with six home runs. Fans will have reservations about this move, however, because Simmons is hitting 60 points higher in his average out of the leadoff spot.

B.J. Upton has hit his best this season out of the number one spot, but has only had 55-at-bats there. Two of his eight home runs came when he was hitting at the top of the line-up. He has 11 stolen bases on the year with three as the leadoff batter.

My personal pick to be the next test at number one is Chris Johnson.

Johnson is the National League leading hitter with a .330 average. It would be the first time this season that Johnson would be hitting from the leadoff spot and he does lack the speed of a typical leadoff hitter. To me, the positives out-weigh the negatives of this move.

Typically, the leadoff batter is going to see fastballs and few breaking balls. With Johnson’s average, it makes him a perfect candidate. You want your leadoff man on base for your second and third hitters. In the Braves case, they have Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman hitting in those spots with power and great contact as well.

As a contact hitter with the power to hit home runs, Johnson would also do well in making teams pay for making mistakes to the pitcher’s spot.

I understand the speed aspect of the leadoff hitter, but I’d love to see CJ get a chance at it.

If you were Fredi Gonzalez, whose name would you pencil in at the top of the line-up card?

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Braves overcome Natitude to extend streak

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The Braves (69-45) and the Nationals (54-59) had a pitchers’ duel on Tuesday night in a 2-1 Atlanta victory that saw benches clear and both teams warned by umpire Joe West in the fifth inning.

National’s outfielder Bryce Harper was struck by a pitch in the backside from Braves starter Julio Teheran (9-5) in the fifth inning after hitting a solo home run in his previous at-bat two innings earlier.

Harper took a step toward the mound with words for Teheran before making his way to first base. Braves catcher Brian McCann quickly came from behind the plate to get between the heated Harper and his pitcher.

West, the home plate umpire, took quick action in getting McCann steered away from Harper. Both benches and bullpens cleared, including Braves right-fielder Jason Heyward who came out of the game after his first at-bat with a strained neck.

After order was restored and both benches warned, play resumed to see an otherwise disappointing game.

Evan Gattis, who entered the game for Heyward, had a two-out single in the top of the fifth that scored, both, B.J. Upton and Andrelton Simmons. These, along with Harper’s homer, proved to be the only runs in the game.

Teheran only allowed four hits to Washington to match his four strikeouts in six innings of work. Craig Kimbrel came in for the save opportunity and gave Braves fans a bit of poetic justice by striking out Harper on a 99 MPH fastball to end the game.

Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez (7-5) took the loss Tuesday despite a solid outing. Seven innings with five strikeouts and only six hits given up is a good day on the mound for any pitcher. He just lacked the run support from his offense and the two earned runs by Gattis were his only black eye.

The win pushed the Braves to 12-straight victories. The streak is the longest by a Braves team since a 15-game win streak that ended on May 2, 2000.

The Braves also added another come-from-behind win to total up to 37 on the season, which is a Major League leading stat.

Atlanta now leads the NL East by 14.5 games over the Nationals, the largest division lead in MLB.

Batting Title Update:

Since ending his multi-hit game streak at eight-straight on August 3, where he went 0-for-3 with two walks, Chris Johnson has been on a little bit of a slump.

The next night after the streak ended, Johnson seemed to be on his horse again with a 2-for-4, two-RBI game. He has been 0-for-4 with a strikeout in each of the two games this series with Washington, dropping his average back to .338 after being as high as .347.

Johnson still leads the National League with the injured Yadier Molina holding on to second from the disabled list.

Chris Johnson and the Braves will play for win #13 behind Kris Medlen (8-10) in the final game of the series with Washington and starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman (13-6) on Wednesday. First pitch from Nationals Park in Washington will be at 7:05 ET.

Braves beat Rockies in offensive explosion

The Atlanta Braves exploded for six runs in the fourth inning on their way to an 11-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

After being down 3-1 in the second inning, it looked to be a long night for Alex Wood (1-2), who picked up his first win as a big leaguer.

The Braves (62-45) got one back off an RBI double from Justin Upton in the third to make it a one-run game before blowing it open the next inning.

Dan Uggla opened the bottom of the frame with a double to left field. Two batters later saw Wood ground out to second base, moving Uggla to third. Jason Heyward hit a 2-out single to score Uggla before Upton bounced a ground rule double over the right-field fence.

Freddie Freeman was next up and was intentionally walked to bring Evan Gattis, or EL OSO BLANCO, to the plate. Gattis scored Heyward and Upton with a single and moved Freeman to third and himself to second on the throw.

With runners on second and third, catcher Brian McCann stepped into the box to deliver a three-run home run to right field. McCann finished with just the one hit and the three RBIs.

All six of the runs scored in the inning came with two outs on the board. Even more surprising is that the team was able to manufacture runs in the game. Granted, it was only four of the 11, but, still, that is something that fans, and media alike, have criticized the Braves for.

Atlanta has relied heavily on the long ball this season.  As a matter of fact, the Braves are 52-17 when they have hit at least one homer in the game. When they haven’t hit a bomb, only 10-28. They lead the National League in home runs with 126, followed by Colorado’s 120.

Another surprise for the Braves’ offense on Tuesday was it’s latest Gwinnett call-up, Todd Cunningham. Cunningham was summoned from the Braves Triple-A affiliate after Reed Johnson was placed on the 15-day DL with left Achilles tendinitis.

In his first Major League at-bat, Cunningham faced three pitches and sent the last to left field for a single.

Alex Wood, after a rocky start (no pun intended), threw a rookie-style gem for the home squad. He settled down after giving up three earned runs in 39 pitches over the first two innings of the ballgame. He threw only 60 pitches the next five innings to finish up at 7.0 innings, 6 hits, walk, and 7 strikeouts.

Anthony Varvaro came in for the final two innings, only giving up one hit and capping the game.

Freeman ended his night with four RBIs after hitting a solo shot in the first and a three-run blast in the seventh.

On the offensive front though, the story, for me, has to be Chris Johnson. Johnson was 7-10 against the Cardinals, scoring four runs in the series (three in one game!), and taking over Yadier Molina for the highest batting average in the National League.

Tuesday night, Johnson went 2-4 with a walk raising his average to .341, keeping his #1 spot in the NL and bringing him to 2nd in the Majors behind 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera (.359). His on-base percentage is up to .381 and he’s slugging .470. Tuesday was also his fifth straight multi-hit game and 34th of the season.

Another story that could be given a lot of attention from the baseball media is how well Jason Heyward has done from the leadoff spot and how well Andrelton Simmons has done since being moved out of it.

Heyward has gone 7-17, scored five runs, driven in four, and walked twice in the four games since making the move.

Simmons has been just as good. He has hit 8-17, scored a run, driven in five, and has not struck out. Simmons has only been struck out twice in the month of July (once VS Philadelphia and once VS Cincinnati) and neither have come after the All-Star break.

Since ending the Cardinals’ four-game winning streak, the Braves have started a five-game streak of their own.

(Special note: The Cardinals have since lost three games to the Pirates, who now lead the NL Central. St. Louis’ new streak is L6.)

Atlanta goes for its sixth-straight victory Wednesday in the third of a four-game series with the Rockies (51-57). Mike Minor (10-5) will battle right-hander Tyler Chatwood (7-3) starting with first pitch at 7:10 p.m. from Turner Field.

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