Why Hector Olivera Trade is a Win for the Atlanta Braves

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Ever since John Hart was named President of Baseball Operations for the Atlanta Braves on October 23, 2014, every move he has made has been directed towards stock-piling young pitching, but he hadn’t yet used those young talents to acquire an impact bat. With acquiring Hector Olivera at the trade deadline, Hart did just that.

The trade was a 3-team blockbuster with the Dodgers and Marlins that left most baseball writers needing more ink for their pens.

The deal at first glance doesn’t seem that attractive for the Braves, losing a consistent, home-grown starting pitcher in Wood, along with Peraza, who was heralded as Atlanta’s top prospect for the past two seasons. But to throw this deal off as unsuccessful isn’t looking at the big picture. Here’s the list of young pitchers that John Hart is giving an opportunity to be in the rotation before the team moves into SunTrust Park in 2017 (age in parentheses).

RHP Julio Teheran (24)

LHP Alex Wood (24)

RHP Shelby Miller (24)

RHP Matt Wisler (22)

RHP Mike Foltynewicz (23)

RHP Williams Perez (24)

LHP Manny Banuelos (24)

RHP Tyrell Jenkins (23)

RHP Lucas Sims (21)

Teheran, Wood, Miller and Wisler would be locks to be in the rotation come 2017, so that leaves 5 pitchers, none over the age of 25, competing for 1 rotation spot. This doesn’t include under-20 pitchers Touki Toussaint and Kolby Allard, both consensus top-10 Braves prospects, coming up near the end of the decade. So Hart has diligently acquired enough young talent for him to start dealing some to try and add an impact bat for an offense that needs some pop.

Hart stated in an interview with the AJC that he felt Atlanta wouldn’t be able to go after the big-ticket free agent bats, which would require giving up highly-touted prospects or draft picks to acquire, leaving only proven starters to be able to receive the bats he would want. Julio Teheran was actively up for grabs heading towards the last minutes of the deadline, however it seemed his struggles on the road this season drove buyers away, and the Braves weren’t gonna part with Miller and Wisler. So that leaves Alex Wood.

Wood was Atlanta’s 2nd round selection in the 2012 draft out of the University of Georgia and made his MLB debut in less than a year-and-a-half for the Braves out of the bullpen, making his first start on June 18, 2013. In 86 career games for Atlanta, Wood went 21-20 with a 3.10 ERA, including a 3.09 ERA in 55 career starts, so he definitely fit the build of a consistent starter in the Majors. However, Hart knew he was the only starter piece that the Dodgers would take for a bat like Olivera.

21-year old Jose Peraza was a consensus top-3 Braves prospect ever since he hit .339 with a .364 OBP and 60 stolen bases in 110 games between high-A Lynchburg (now Carolina) and double-A Mississippi in 2014, with the Braves front office declaring him untouchable, despite many inquiries about a trade in March and April. Yet, as this season progressed, Peraza simply maintained in triple-A Gwinnett instead of improving, while 18-year old prospect Ozhaino Albies is tearing up at low-A Rome and Jace Peterson performing well at second base in the Braves uniform, it became more likely that Peraza would be dealt if they got the deal they wanted, and that deal came for Hector Olivera.

John Hart sees Olivera, who hit .323 in 10 season playing for Serie Nacional in Cuba and played for the 2009 Cuban National team that finished 6th at the World Baseball Classic, as the “first building block” towards the reconstruction of the Braves offense, which has ranked in the bottom 10 in baseball the past two seasons. Hart had been eyeing Olivera ever since he defected from Cuba in September 2014 and was declared a free agent in March 2015, still he knew Atlanta couldn’t match up with the money teams, like the Dodgers, who signed him to a 6-year, $62.5 million contract on March 24, including a $28 million signing bonus.

The money is the main component that makes this trade a win for the Braves. Hart was willing to offer no more than $40 million to Olivera as a free agent in March. Now, with the Dodgers paying the signing bonus, Atlanta is getting Olivera for the next five seasons at $32.5 million. There is also a clause in his contract for a team-option $1 million deal should Olivera have to have Tommy John surgery performed on his elbow, after an MRI in March showed a minor UCL tear. He is also recovering from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him since mid-June. Hart stated on the Braves broadcast last night that he expects Olivera to join the team in late August.

Hart compared Olivera to a couple former big-leaguers who posted .270 career averages that played will into their 30’s.

If Olivera plays to that tune for his contract, he is a steal at $32.5 million, and the Braves have an infield of 1B Freddie Freeman, SS Andrelton Simmons, and now Olivera at 3B for the next five seasons. Atlanta also took a draft pick from a division foe that only time will tell, but at least it’s the Braves decision and not Miami’s. Paco Rodriguez is Luis Avilan 2.0, although he probably won’t pitch this season. Rodriguez has posted a 2.53 career ERA in 124 appearances over 4 seasons. Zack Bird became Atlanta’s 13th best prospect according to MLB Pipeline, posting a 4.75 ERA in 17 starts at high-A this season.

The biggest reason this trade is a winner for Atlanta is Hector Olivera. John Hart and the front office solidified an impact bat for years to come for the price of a good, yet expendable, young starting pitcher, a top prospect who was blocked by Andrelton Simmons at short and wasn’t getting better at triple-A this season, and two relievers who were going to be traded. The Braves new front office has had one goal in mind since being formed: rebooting the franchise so that they could be successful in 2015-16, with the ultimate goal of delivering a championship-contending roster for SunTrust Park in 2017, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

1991-2005 Atlanta Braves: The Greatest Team Performance in MLB History

From 1991 to 2005, the Atlanta Braves organization put together arguably the greatest run in the history of professional sports. And no one outside of Braves country remembers it.

When fans look back at that time period in Major League Baseball, they remember the Yankees winning 4 World Series in 5 years from 1996-2000, or the Blue Jays winning back-to-back titles in 1992-93, or the Marlins and Diamondbacks, both less than 10 years in existence, winning championships in 1997 and 2001, respectively. However, the Atlanta Braves consistently produced winning baseball and sustained enough success to be favored to win a championship every season.

The results are truly remarkable. The Braves appeared in 9 League Championship series, winning 5 National League pennants, resulting in a World Series championship in 1995 against the Indians. But there is one stat that defines the run this franchise accomplished, something no franchise had done before it and something the game of baseball won’t ever see again.

The Atlanta Braves won 14 consecutive division titles. Fourteen.

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Think about the great professional sports teams of that time period. The Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots both won 3 Super Bowls in 4 seasons. The Chicago Bulls won 6 NBA Finals in 8 seasons. None of them did what the Braves did. It’s the most unprecedented streak in the history of baseball. Every October, when baseball was played, the Atlanta Braves were still playing, and still winning.

The true excellence of their run was that it was consistent, uninterrupted. It’s baseball, folks. The 1962 New York Mets could win a 7-game series against Murderer’s Row. Any little difference can disrupt consistency in this game. That’s what upsets me the most about the way these teams are remembered and spoken of. Use the Florida (now Miami) Marlins as an example. From 1997-2003, both teams playing in the NL East, Atlanta won the division every season. The Marlins made the postseason courtesy of a Wild Card berth in 1997 and 2003, and both of those seasons won the World Series, while the Braves didn’t win a championship. Now, does that necessarily mean that the Marlins franchise produced better baseball than in Atlanta? A lot of intangibles have to come together for a team to win a World Series, and Atlanta only acquiring one through 14 division-winning seasons explains their lack of focus in the sports media with the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality of success in sports.

It definitely stings thinking about what could have been written in the history books for the Braves franchise during this run. They lost one of the greatest games in World Series history 1-0 to the Twins in 1991, they went up 2 games to none against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the 1996 World Series and went on to lose 4 straight, and they had a couple of 100-win regular seasons that resulted in early division series losses. However, to judge this streak of success with a mindset of “what could have been”, you miss out on the true value of what actually took place, and all the hard work and diligence that had to happen to be able to endure, let alone succeed, such a streak.

More respect will be given to this historic run on account of the influx of Cooperstown figures produced. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz became the best rotation baseball had ever seen. Chipper Jones became one of the greatest switch-hitters and third baseman of all time. The 2 most central figures, however, were manager Bobby Cox and general manager John Schuerholz.

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They’re arguably the greatest ever at their respected positions.  Bobby, along with long-time pitching coach Leo Mazzone, were great at understanding and evaluating young talent, pushing players’s limits, while letting them learn from their mistakes. Cox is beloved by every player who wore the uniform for him, and respected all over baseball for the way his character was portrayed in himself and his team. Schuerholz is the closest thing to Branch Rickey in this age of baseball, always having the keen eye to know which parts were needed to sustain the run this team went on. He did it all with spending limits as well. These weren’t the Yankees or Red Sox, spending what ever it took to get pieces to come to them. Atlanta has always operated on a budget and never went through dramatics of off-season hirings and firings. They would have different pieces that would come in and out of the organization, the Kenny Loftons and Gary Sheffields, what have you, but the core group was always expected to be there, and always delivered.

The “Braves Way” is how it’s termed, and it has made Atlanta the most successful franchise since 1991. The culture of baseball changed dramatically in those 15 seasons, going through a player-strike and the Steroid Era, but the Braves were always the Braves, churning out championship caliber teams season in, season out.

Go ahead and hate on them if you want.

The Atlanta Braves apologize to no one for the stretch they accomplished, and they shouldn’t.

Top 10 Braves Performers At the All-Star Game

With Shelby Miller adding on to the Braves legacy at the MLB All-Star Game, I want to take a look at the top ten Braves players to appear in the Midsummer Classic.

#10 – Fred McGriff (3x All-Star

Fred McGriff appeared in five All-Star games in his career for three different teams. The first baseman made the team as a San Diego Padre in 1992 and with the Tampa Bay (then) Devil Rays in 2000, but he is most remembered in the Midsummer Classic as an Atlanta Brave for three consecutive seasons from 1994-96, starting at first base in 1995 and 1996.

CAREER STATS: .279 (3-11), 1 HR, 3 RBI

MEMORABLE MOMENT: McGriff was the MVP of the 1994 Midsummer Classic at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. In the bottom of the 9th inning with the NL trailing 7-5 and Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio on first, Crime Dog came in to pinch hit against Baltimore Orioles closer Lee Smith and drilled a moon shot to left-center, tying the game, which the NL would win in the 10th.

#9 – Andruw Jones (4x All-Star)

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Andruw Jones appeared in four All-Star games as a member of the Braves in 2000, 2002-03 and 2005. His career six RBI is tied for 11th all-time.

CAREER STATS: .500 (4-8), 2 HR, 6 RBI

MEMORABLE MOMENT: In the 2003 Classic at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Andruw came to pinch-hit in the 5th inning and against Seattle Mariners reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa smoked a ground-rule double over the left-field wall, scoring St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen and Braves teammate shortstop Rafael Furcal, giving the NL a 4-1 lead. In the 7th inning, he hit a solo home run off of Oakland starter Mark Mulder.

#8 – Tom Glavine (8x All-Star)

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Tom Glavine appeared in eight career All-Star games, all wearing an Atlanta Braves uniform. He was the starter for the National League in 1991-92. Glavine’s All-Star stats are skewed; in two innings pitched he gave up nine runs, in his other six, he gave up only two hits.

CAREER STATS: 0-1, 8 IP, 9 ER, 4 BB, 7 K

MEMORABLE MOMENT: Glavine started the 1991 Classic at the Skydome in Toronto, throwing two innings, allowing one hit and one walk with three strikeouts.

#7 – Greg Maddux (8x All-Star)

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Greg Maddux appeared in six All-Star games wearing a Braves uniform. He started for the National League in 1994, 1997-98.

CAREER STATS: 0-0, 8 1/3 IP, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

MEMORABLE MOMENT: Maddux started the 1994 Classic in Pittsburgh, pitching three innings, allowing one earned run on three hits, no walks and two strikeouts.

#6 – John Smoltz (8x All-Star)

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John Smoltz appeared in eight All-Star games, all wearing an Atlanta Braves uniform. He started for the National League in 1996. Smoltz has an All-Star victory, tying him for 7th all-time.

CAREER STATS: 1-2, 5 2/3 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

MEMORABLE MOMENT: Smoltz started the 1996 Classic at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, where he earned the win, pitching two innings of no-run, two-hit ball, allowing no walks with one strikeout.

#5 – Brian McCann (7x All-Star)

Brian McCann appeared in six consecutive All-Star games, all with Atlanta, from 2006-11. He also played in the 2013 game, his last season for the Braves.

CAREER STATS: .143 (1-7), 1 2B, 3 RBI

MEMORABLE MOMENT: McCann was the MVP of the 2010 Classic at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. In the top of the 7th inning, with Scott Rolen, Colorado outfielder Matt Holliday and Chicago Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd loading the bases, facing Chicago White Sox reliever Matt Thornton, McCann drilled a double to right field, clearing the bases.

#4 – Eddie Mathews (12x All-Star)

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From 1959 to 1962, MLB played two All-Star games per year, so Eddie Mathews played in ten Classics in seven years. Mathews wore the Braves uniform for all of his All-Star appearances. He only attained two hits in his All-Star at-bats, but both were home runs.

CAREER STATS: .080 (2-25), 2 HR, 3 RBI

MEMORABLE MOMENT: At the second Classic of 1960 at Yankee Stadium in New York, Mathews hit a two-run blast against Hall of Famer Whitey Ford in the 2nd inning, scoring Braves teammate Joe Adcock.

#3 – Warren Spahn (17x All-Star)

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Warren Spahn pitched in seven All-Star games, starting in 1949, 1958 and 1961. Spahn is in the top ten all-time in All-Star wins, innings, games started and games played.

CAREER STATS: 1-0, 14 IP, 5 ER, 5 BB, 10 K

MEMORABLE MOMENT: In the first 1961 Classic at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Spahn started the game for the National League, throwing three perfect innings with three strikeouts.

#2 – Chipper Jones (8x All-Star)

Chipper Jones appeared in eight career All-Star games, all wearing an Atlanta Braves uniform. Chipper was the starting third baseman in 1996, 1998, 2000-01 and 2008. Chipper is one of the greatest performers in All-Star game history, ranking in the top ten for batting average and on-base percentage.

CAREER STATS: .429 (6-14), 1 HR, 1 RBI

MEMORABLE MOMENT: Chipper played hometown hero in the 2000 Classic, held at Turner Field in Atlanta. He went 3-3 for the game, including a solo shot to center field off of Chicago White Sox pitcher James Baldwin

#1 – Henry Aaron (25x All-Star)

No question here. Henry Aaron is top five in most career All-Star game categories, including runs scored, hits, total bases, RBI, singles, games played, at-bats and plate appearances. Aaron played EVERY All-Star game as a member of the Braves franchise.

CAREER STATS: .194 (13-67), 2 HR, 8 RBI

MEMORABLE MOMENT: In the 1971 Classic at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Henry hit his first All-Star home run in his 21st appearance. The homer, a two-run shot in the 2nd inning, came off of Athletics pitcher Vida Blue, who would go on to win the Cy Young later that season.

Takeaways from Atlanta’s 6-5 loss to Milwaukee

Carlos Gomez really hates the Braves

Carlos Gomez seems to play his best against the Atlanta Braves. This all started in 2013 when he apparently had problems with former Braves starter Paul Maholm, and when he hit a first inning home run off of Maholm on Spetember 25, Gomez spent his home run trot jarring with Maholm and first baseman Freddie Freeman, until he was met by Brain McCann at home plate that resulted in a brawl. Then on Opening Day 2014, Gomez hit a lead off home run against Julio Teheran, and he sprinted around the bases, the quickest home run I’ve ever seen. On Wednesday, Gomez hit two home runs, his second one a three-run shot in the eight inning off Luis Avilan to put Milwaukee up for good. He was obviously pumped upon rounding the bases, as he gave him team a chance to win, but I feel somehow feel it had something to do with being the Braves killer again.

Julio Teheran erases road struggles

In nine starts this season on the road, Julio Teheran had only one victory while sporting a 7.40 ERA. On Wednesday at Miller Park he seemed to regain some confidence as he allowed only two hits and three walks in seven innings of work. Those two hits, however, were both home runs, from Gomez and Khris Davis, rising Teheran’s home run total to 16, 7th most in the National League. Teheran also threw eight strikeouts, tied for his most in a start this season. It would be a great addition to the Braves staff if Julio can find a groove on the road and get past these struggles, however, if he does find his way to success again, he could prove valuable enough for a trade at the trade deadline if Atlanta falls out of contention. Teheran was signed to a six-year, $32.4 million contract through 2019 by former GM Frank Wren, and new GM John Hart has traded away or tried to trade away all big contract deals made by Wren. Apart from Freeman and Andrelton Simmons, Wren’s signings of Melvin Upton Jr. and Craig Kimbrel were sent away after their contracts were seen as too expensive, and Hart has been trying to trade Chris Johnson since he became man in charge.

Peach Clobbers return

Four of Atlanta’s five runs on Wednesday were results of home runs, something the Braves have been in short supply of this season. The Braves are last in the Major Leagues in home runs, with Freddie Freeman, who has been sidelined since June 18, the only player in double digits. Both of Atlanta’s home runs came in the third inning off Brewers starter Mike Fiers, a three-run shot from Cameron Maybin followed by a solo blast from Kelly Johnson two batters later. Maybin and Johnson have been two of the bigger surprises for the Braves lineup this season, as both were expected to fill minor roles. Maybin has arguably been the Braves MVP so far, hitting .295 with eight homers and a team-leading 43 RBI. Maybin drove in only 20 runs the past two seasons. Johnson signed a one-year deal to fill a platoon role in the outfield and bring a veteran presence to the young Braves. He also has hit eight homers (him and Maybin are tied for second on the team), hitting .266 with 29 RBI in 55 games

What’s coming next

Atlanta plays their last series before the All-Star break at Coors Field against the hard-hitting Rockies. The Braves will throw Alex Wood (6-5, 3.34 ERA) in game 1 of the series. Wood has been consistant all year, however in his last start he allowed four earned runs on ten hits in six innings against the Phillies. The Rockies will throw right-hander Kyle Kendrick (3-10, 6.00 ERA). Kendrick is one of a few pitchers with double digit losses and leads the Majors with 23 home runs allowed.

Takeaways from Atlanta’s 4-3 win against Milwaukee

A. J. Pierzynski’s scorched bat

After Saturday night’s game against Philadelphia, A. J. Pierzynski was hitting .259 for the season, proving to be a sustainable bat in Atlanta’s lineup. In the three games since then, Pierzynski is 10-13 with a home run, two doubles and two RBI, increasing his average to .289. A. J. came into this season as a veteran back-up to help along young Christian Bethancourt behind the plate. With Bethancourt now in Triple-A and Braves slugger Freddie Freeman sidelined since mid-May, Pierzynski has stepped up to become the veteran force for these young Braves and is slugging his way to an everyday slot in this lineup.

2-out RBI stack up for Atlanta

The Braves offense has proven to be clutch with two outs this season, and they proved that again on Tuesday, scoring all four of their runs with two outs. Pierzynski started the two out barrage with a solo home run in the second inning, his sixth of the season. In the fourth inning after two quick outs, Kelly Johnson walked and Juan Uribe singled, then Johnson scored after Pierzynski singled him home. After Eury Perez singled to lead off the fifth inning, Manny Banuelos and Jace Peterson sacrificed him to third, before Cameron Maybin’s triple scored him. Then in the seventh inning, Jonny Gomes lead off with a pinch-hit double and Peterson walked, giving Atlanta two on with no outs. However, Maybin would ground into a double play, leaving only Gomes at third. All was good, though, as Nick Markakis singled him in for the Braves winning run.

Manny Banuelos records first Major League win

Manny Banuelos had to battle in the first inning to hold damage to only one run, but after that he pitched well enough to pitch into the sixth inning and gain his first career Major League victory. Banuelos would give up a solo shot to Johnathan Lucroy, along with a walk and a single in the first inning on Tuesday, but was stellar the rest of the night, giving up just the one run before being pulled in the sixth inning, finishing the game allowing five hits with three walks and one strikeout in 5 1/3 innings pitched. The Braves will be cautious with Banuelos this season, putting him on an innings limit since returning from Tommy John surgery, but this youngster has proven again the young talent that John Hart and the rest of Atlanta’s front office brought in this offseason are ready to contribute to a Braves team that after Tuesday night’s victory are only four games behind the Gnats for first place in the National League East.

Interesting night for Braves bullpen

Lot of action tonight from Atlanta’s bullpen, including two season debuts and a reintroduction of a young Braves star. Arodys Vizcaino, fresh off his 80-game suspension for PED’s, came in to relieve starter Banuelos in the sixth with two on and one out, resulting in a 5-4-3 double play on his second and last pitch of the night. Mike Fotlynewicz, who was the first of Atlanta’s new top-tier prospects to gain a starting role, has now earned a bullpen role after being sent down to Triple-A in June and pitched a rough seventh inning, only gaining two outs while giving up one run on two hits and one walk. David Carpenter (the new), making his season debut, came in to relieve him with two on, striking out Ryan Braun to end the inning. David Aardsma gave up a solo home run to Adam Lind, but also struck out two in his inning of work, but the star of the Braves bullpen was Jason Grilli. Holding a one-run lead, Grilling struck out the side, achieving his 24th save of the season, tied for first in the National League.

What’s coming next

Atlanta will go for the sweep on Wednesday at Miller Park with Julio Teheran (6-4, 4.60 ERA). Teheran’s road splits are abysmal, with a 7.40 ERA in nine starts, however he has pitched well at Miller Park in his career and hopes to prove his road struggles are a fluke. Milwaukee will throw Mike Fiers (4-7, 3.83 ERA), who threw seven innings of three hit ball in his last start against Cincinnati on July 3. Fiers record shouldn’t precede him, as he has thrown 95 strikeouts in 94 innings pitched this season.

Takeaways from Atlanta’s 5-3 win against Milwaukee

Early runs hold up for Atlanta

The Braves offense put up a barrage of contact against the Brewers Monday night, producing 15 hits and five runs, however most of the damage was done early in the ballgame. Atlanta took advantage of Milwaukee starter Kyle Lohse’s home splits (8.16 ERA in 46 1/3 IP), with eight hits and four runs by the second inning. Cameron Maybin singled to lead off the game, then after he moved to second on a ground out by Nick Markakis, Kelly Johnson drilled his seventh home run of the season, a 435-feet blast to the second deck in right center field. In the second inning, Atlanta used four hits to plate two runs, when singles from Eury Perez and Maybin resulted in a 2-RBI double from Markakis. Every starting position player in the lineup for the Braves had a base hit and five had multi-hit games; A. J. Pierzynski went 4-5 with a double, while Johnson went 2-4 with 3 RBI. Maybin, Markakis and Juan Uribe each had two hits.

Wisler keeps proving his worth

Matt Wisler didn’t have his best stuff for the second straight start of his young career, but also picked up his second consecutive victory and first on the road this season. Wisler gave up a lead-off home run to Gerardo Parra in the first inning and had a hard time throwing a consistant breaking pitch all night, but used complete control of his mid-90’s fastball to strikeout six Brewers while allowing one walk and three earned runs through 5 2/3 innings. It is a great sign for Braves Country to see him battle any situation and tendencies thrown his way, and his teammates are already commending him on his composure on and off the field and his drive to help the team win ballgames. With all the moves the Braves front office made in the offseason to acquire young controllable talent, Wisler is proving to be the best of them all, and fits the mold of an Atlanta Braves pitcher.

Bullpen dominates again

As well as Wisler pitched, the heroes of Monday’s game is without a doubt the Atlanta bullpen. David Aardsma came in the sixth with runners on first and second with two outs for Wisler and got Jean Segura to fly out to center field. Then Luis Avilan, Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli came in and did their jobs, allowing one hit and one walk through three innings of work. The Braves bullpen has been erratic at times and the majority of pieces that were here in June are now gone, but the work of Avilan, Johnson and Grilli has been consistant all year, and gives Atlanta the confidence going into the seventh inning or later with the lead.

Taking advantage of weak schedule

Atlanta’s last four games and next six games are against teams that are among the worst in the Major Leagues, and it’s important for any team to be able to take advantage of those weaker teams to gain ground in the standings. Through 83 games, the Braves are 41-42, now five games out of the National League East with the Gnats losing to Cincinnati 3-2. These next games are important for Atlanta to make ground before the All-Star break, with upcoming match ups against the Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals and Orioles, all playoff contenders, to end the month of July. Playoff teams take advantage in playing against weaker teams, and the Braves are doin just that.

What’s coming next

Atlanta will throw Manny Banuelos (0-0, 0.00 ERA) on Tuesday in Miller Park. Banuelos is making his second career start, after throwing seven strikeouts and allowing no runs on only two hits through 5 2/3 innings last Thursday against Washington. He was pulled for cramping and dehydration after plunking two consecutive batters in the sixth inning, but reports show he is ready for action. Milwaukee counters with right-hander Tyler Cravy (0-1, 2.00 ERA), who will also be making his second career start. In his first start June 2nd against the Cardinals, he threw seven innings, allowing one run on four hits with six strikeouts.

Takeaways from Atlanta’s 4-0 loss to Philadelphia

Shelby Miller dominant to no avail

Shelby Miller has been one of the best starting pitchers in the National League so far this season, landing in the top 10 for ERA, WHIP and opponents batting average, also throwing two complete games, one of which he was an out away from a no-hitter against the Marlins on May 17. That game, however, was the last time Miller was victorious for the Braves, going winless in his past nine starts, despite a 2.70 ERA in that span. The Atlanta offense has become the blunt of Miller’s problems, scoring zero runs for Shelby in his past four starts, and only one in his past five. Atlanta’s only All-Star probable held the Phillies scoreless through 6 2/3 innings on Sunday, recording five of his first six outs by strikeout, finishing with eight strikeouts overall, but the Braves only mustered seven hits in ten innings against Cole Hamels and the Phillies bullpen.

Braves bullpen has nightmare 10th inning

The Atlanta bullpen took over for Shelby Miller with one out in the seventh inning, and held the Phillies scoreless in the next 2 1/3 innings. It took Luis Avilan six pitches to finish what Miller left for him in the seventh, then Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli followed with easy innings, with Grilli striking out the side in the ninth. The bullpen then unraveled in the top of the tenth for the decisive blow of the game. Nick Masset started the inning and was pulled without recording an out, giving up back-to-back singles to Odubal Herrera and Cesar Hernandez before walking Maikel Franco on four straight pitches, loading the bases. Dana Eveland would follow, giving up the first run of the inning on the only pitch he threw, a sacrifice fly to right field from Ryan Howard. Jake Brigham came next, experiencing the first difficult inning of his Major League career. Facing Carlos Ruiz, he threw a wild pitch, putting Franco in scoring position, then Ruiz knocked two runs in with a double to left field. A single from Freddy Galvis two batters later would make the score 4-0, the final after the Braves went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning. Three of the runs and the loss were charged to Masset. He and Eveland were designated for assignment after the game to make room for Arodys Vizcaino, fresh off his 80-game suspension for PED’s and (the other) David Carpenter.

Braves offense full of missed opportunities

The Atlanata Braves didn’t produce any runs on Sunday through ten innings, but they had a couple of opportunities to win the game before extras. It all started in the first inning, when the bases were loaded with two outs, courtesy of singles from Cameron Maybin and A. J. Pierzynski and Chris Johnson’s hit-by-pitch. Pedro Ciriaco would end the inning on a fly out to center field. Then in the ninth, the Braves had a chance to walk-off for a sweep. After Kelly Johnson walked, Pierzynski hit a single to center field, putting runners on first and third with one out. The Phillies got out of the inning after Ciriaco flew out to center and pinch-hitter Juan Uribe struck out on three pitches. The Braves have scored 20 runs in their past seven games, with nine of those runs coming Saturday night.

What’s coming next

Atlanta starts a seven-game road trip before the All-Star break at Miller Park against the Brewers. The Braves will throw rookie Matt Wisler (2-1, 2.60 ERA), who has shined in three starts this season. His last start he threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings against Washington, recording six strikeouts. Milwaukee will counter with right-hander Kyle Lohse (5-6, 6.24 ERA). Lohse is tied for first in the National League with 68 earned runs allowed, with 16 allowed in his last 23 1/3 innings pitched.

Takeaways from Atlanta’s 9-5 win against Philadelphia

Cameron Maybin does it all

Cameron Maybin started the season for Atlanta as one of the throw-away trade acquisitions the Braves got for Craig Kimbrel just prior to Opening Day. Now it’s safe to say he might be Atlanta’s MVP of the first half of the season. Maybin was a triple away from the cycle on this 4th of July night, finishing 3-5 with 2 RBI and three runs scored, front-running the Braves charge for their fourth consecutive victory. Maybin has revived his career in Atlanta so far this season, with great assistance from new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, who he credits for all his success at the plate. Whether the Braves take up his option to stay with the team, or whether they deal him while his value is hot to a team contending for a World Series, Atlanta couldn’t have asked for a better addition to a ball club who needed consistent production from their lineup to stay competitive.

Big innings help Atlanta cruise

Since Freddie Freeman went on the disabled list on June 18, the Braves offense has been kind of stagnant, hardly producing any runs. While Atlanta has scored only eleven runs in their past five games, tonight the offense opened up for two 4-run innings en route to their 40th win of the season. The Braves opened the game with a 4-run first inning off Phillies starter Kevin Correia, scoring three runs before recording an out, with RBI from Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe. A.J. Pierzynski provided the fourth run of the inning on a force out. Then in the fourth inning, Alex Wood kick-started the onslaught with the first extra-base hit of his career, advancing to third on a fielding error by Phillies center fielder Odubal Carrera, followed by a single from Maybin, double from Nick Markakis, and another single from Kelly Johnson to make the score 9-1. Atlanta also got runs from Maybin’s solo shot in the bottom of the second inning, his 7th of the season, second most on the ball club.

Whats coming next

Braves will be throwing their ace Shelby Miller (5-4, 2.20 ERA) as they try to get back to .500 ball for the first time since June 21. Miller is tied for fourth in the National League in ERA and tied for 10th with a 1.07 WHIP. The Phiten Phils will counter with their bright spot in the rotation, Cole Hamels (5-6, 3.22 ERA), who allowed two earned runs through seven innings with seven strikeouts in his last outing, a 4-3 loss to Milwaukee.

Takeaways from Atlanta’s 2-1 win against Philadelphia

Peach Clobbers return

Braves fans knew going into this season that this wasn’t a power hitting team. Atlanta’s front office made that clear this offseason when all acquisitions made were based on deriving a more contact approach offensively, which would explain why they are last in the Major Leagues in home runs. However tonight the Braves slugged their way to a victory behind solo shots from Jonny Gomes and Juan Uribe. Gomes produced Atlanta’s first run of the night in the second inning off the first pitch he saw, drilling a line drive no-doubter over the left field wall, proving himself to have a powerful bat against left-handed pitching. Uribe’s blast was the first pitch of the seventh inning and provided the run that was needed to secure a victory. Uribe has become an absolute steal for the Braves since they traded for him from the Dodgers on May 28. He’s hitting .305 and is now tied for second on the team with six home runs in just 32 games. With Freddie Freeman out until at least the All-Star break, these surges of power from Atlanta’s bats have given them the push they need to win these close games and compete for playoff contention.

Julio great again at the Ted

Julio Teheran hasn’t been able to pitch consistently this season, resulting in him being tied for fourth in the National League with 52 earned runs and eighth-worst in the league with a 1.41 WHIP. However he has pitched astonishingly at Turner Field with a 2.04 ERA and continued that success tonight for his team-leading sixth win of the season. Teheran threw seven innings of one run (unearned) ball, allowing seven hits with three walks and four strikeouts, acquiring his fifth win at home. The once shaky bullpen continued their dominance as well, with Luis Avilan pitching a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Jim Johnson giving Jason Grilli the night off, shutting the game down in the ninth, getting his fifth save of the year.

What’s coming next

The 4th of July festivities at Turner Field will start off with left-hander Alex Wood. He has been one of the few consistent pitchers for Atlanta this season, and is coming off his best start of the season against Pittsburgh, where he threw 7 1/3 shutout innings, tossing eight strikeouts around five hits and no walks, which gave the Braves dignity to walk out of PNC Park with a victory. The Phiten Phils will throw right-hander Kevin Correia (0-2, 3.60 ERA), who has four starts with Philadelphia this season. He has 76 career victories in 220 starts, producing a 4.58 ERA.

Takeaways from Atlanta’s 2-1 WALK OFF win against Washington

Atlanta pitching outduels Scherzer

The Atlanta Braves knew they would have to bring their A-game on the mound tonight against arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Max Scherzer, and that’s exactly what they did. Manny Banuelos, pitching in his Major League debut, dominated Gnats hitting, throwing seven strikeouts with no walks allowing only two hits through the first five innings. Then, after easily getting two outs in the sixth, Banuelos hit Denard Span and Danny Espinosa in back-to-back at-bats before being pulled after experiencing cramping and dehydration. The Braves bullpen shut it down the rest of the game, as Nick Masset, David Aardsma, Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli allowed one run on three hits with no walks and three strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings, with Grilli getting the victory.

Doing what is necessary to win

Anyone can say whatever they want about this team, but the fact of the matter is this team fights. Whether it’s coming back down two in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants on May 31 or wins like tonight, when the chips are down against the toughest of opponents, these Braves will claw and grind their way to victories. The offense only produced five hits and struck out nine times, but the bottom line is they did what they needed to do when the opportunity presented itself. In the bottom of the ninth against Scherzer, who became the first Washington pitcher to throw at least eight innings in four straight starts, gave up a swinging bunt single to pinch-hitter Pedro Ciriaco. After Jace Peterson sacrificed Ciriaco to second, Cameron Maybin came through again in the clutch, where he is hitting .391 with runners in scoring position this season, on a bouncer over the head of Washington third baseman Yunel Escobar that third base umpire CB Buckner ruled fair as Ciriaco raced home. Even though this team isn’t the most talented or have the most depth, you can count on these Braves to battle till the 27th out.

The future’s so bright…

John Hart and John Coppolella had a tough task prior to this season of selling off their most productive players for young talent, while still producing a team on the field that would be, at the worst, watchable. The Braves have achieved so much already this season that wasn’t expected of them, and that credit should go to these men, who have grabbed top prospect after top prospect, while also setting up a team that can compete now for a playoff spot. What they have done this season in acquiring talent and saving money for pieces in the future is nothing short of remarkable and Braves fans, who were hesitant when these deals where being made, should be grateful for what the front office has achieved.

Setting up nice for the All-Star break

Atlanta will be without its heaviest hitter, Freddie Freeman, till at least the All-Star break as the healing process for his wrist is coming around longer than expected, but without him they achieved a series win against the division leading Nationals, closing the division gap to five games. Not only that, but Atlanta’s next ten games before the All-Star break are against the cellar of the National League. If the Braves can win these three series, they would put themselves in good playoff contention, both in the division and wild card standings.

What’s coming next

Atlanta starts another home series on Friday, this time opposing the Philadelphia Phillies, arguably the worst team in the majors this season. The Braves will throw Julio Teheran (5-4, 4.94 ERA), who has had the most difficult season of his career. However, Julio shines at home, going 4-0 with a 2.35 ERA, hurling 40 strikeouts in 46 innings at Turner Field. Philadelphia will use left-hander Adam Morgan (1-0, 1.59 ERA) on the mound. He made his Major League debut against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 21, throwing 5 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on six hits, with two walks and six strikeouts. Morgan was born in Marietta, Georgia and will be making his first start in his home state.