Giving Away Outs to the Braves
It wasn’t the newly arrived Upton brothers that crushed the spirits of 120,000 fans that flocked to Nationals Park this weekend. No, it was a team effort. The Atlanta Braves beat the Nationals in every aspect of the game. They outscored Washington 18-5 for the three game series. After Friday night it never really seemed close again, although the score on Saturday was only 3-1. But the Braves’ bullpen was superb and giving them a lead late was just money in the bank for Atlanta. It wasn’t just Craig Kimbrel that smoked Washington. The Nationals failed to score after the sixth inning in all three games.
The Braves played flawless baseball while Ryan Zimmerman made key errors in every game, and the one on Friday night was a heart breaker. Despite assurances to the contrary from Zimmerman, the concerns about the health of his throwing shoulder got put back on the front burner after three bad throws in three days. There will be no magic cortisone shots in 2013.
Contrast the continued string of Washington errors with the play by Atlanta sub Reed Johnson who made two fine catches on Sunday afternoon to keep the shutout in tact. It is easy to say that Atlanta is hot.
It is certainly true that everything is just going their way. They will not end the season with a winning percentage of .917. Cliff Johnson will not hit .408. Pitchers in the National League will find the hole in Evan Gattis’ swing and he will cool off as well.
Tim Hudson will come to earth and Paul Maholm will not finish the season without being scored upon. The Braves will have their comeuppance before Memorial Day, but it will not come at the hands of the Washington Nationals if they continue the sloppy play that has plagued them from day one and has not abated.
What became apparent watching the Braves this past weekend is not just how good the team they have put together is but how much more difficult they will be to reckon with over the course of the long summer. On Friday night the specter of a middle of the order with Jayson Hewyard and Justin Upton batting back-to-back was intimidating enough, but add the injured Freddie Freeman back into the mix and they will become even more dangerous as the season wears on.
Their pitching was better than ours for three games and Julio Teheran looked like he was learning on the job Friday night. Brandon Beachy likely will return this season, probably as good as he was last year. No, the chances are that the Braves are only going to become more formidable as the season progresses.
When B.J. Upton led off the Sunday game with a ringing double off Gio Gonzalez, the idea that both Uptons could get hot together flashed before my eyes.
There have been many famous brother teams in the majors: but when the Atlanta Braves united the Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin this past off-season, the comparison that came to mind was the Waners, Paul and Lloyd, from the halcyon days of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Known as Big Poison and Little Poison. Paul and Lloyd Waner played together for almost twenty years, anchoring a fine Pittsburgh Pirate team during a period that stretched from 1927 to the end of World War II.
Like B.J. Upton, Lloyd Waner was a center fielder and depended on his speed more than his brother, though he hit .316 for his career. Paul Waner, like Justin Upton, was a superb right fielder and a power hitter, whose .333 lifetime average eclipsed that of Lloyd. Atlanta is no doubt hoping to see a similarly long run from the two Uptons that brings the Braves even more success.
The real poison in the Atlanta lineup, however, is not the Uptons. It is how few easy outs they give you. Adrelton Simmons may be hitting only .211 and Dan Uggla doesn’t have the pop in his bat that he once did. But Simmons three-run home run was the dagger that was the final blow for the Nationals on Sunday. He hit .289 last year and that is probably more like what he will do this year, along with some of the best glove work in the NL.
Like Jayson Heyward and Freddie Freeman, Simmons is only 23. Justin Upton is still only 25. The real poison pill in the Atlanta depth chart is how young they are, how long many of these same players are going to be nettles beneath the saddle of the equally young Washington Nationals. So strap on your siege gear, the three-game series we watched this past weekend is just the beginning of many battles to come.
There are fifteen more games against the Braves this season alone. The Washington Nationals are going to have to circle the wagons the next time they meet up They need to make their bullets count, because so far Atlanta is giving away nothing and we, well, we have been giving away runs like a team that thinks they can trade beads and trinkets for the land atop the National League. These Braves look live savvy traders who are not going to be had with the cheap imitation stuff anytime soon.