Following yet another rain delay, the Braves jumped all over the Phillies and coasted to a 6-3 win Wednesday night. Here are three observations from the game:
1. The Braves did not give John Lannan a chance to get comfortable
When it comes to scoring in the first two innings of ballgames, the Braves have not exactly been world-beaters this season, saving the majority of their fireworks for the eighth, fifth and third innings. Of the 30 MLB teams, Atlanta ranked 13th in first-inning runs scored and second-to-last in second-inning runs scored enter Wednesday night's game.
But that was not the case against Philadelphia starter John Lannan, who piled on to his hideous month of August (17 runs allowed in 10 23 innings) by giving up five runs in the first two innings.
Lannan left the game in the second inning with the bases loaded due to a knee injury, but Phillies reliever Zach Miner could not get him out of the jam: giving up a sac fly to Freddie Freeman and a two-RBI single to Chris Johnson.
The Braves ran up 15 plate appearances in those two frames and, despite a relatively shaky stretch for the bullpen in the ninth inning, never really looked back.
Given the game's start -- the actual start, not including the all-too-familiar rain delay -- the only surprising stat from the remainder of the game was that the Braves tacked on just one more run against one of baseball's worst bullpens (4.32 ERA).
The Braves (74-47) finished the game 9-for-26 with five walks and six strikeouts.
Even with the Nationals rattling off a five-game winning streak, the NL East lead remains at 14 games. If these are the greener pastures the Braves were chasing last season -- outfielder Jason Heyward referenced in the clubhouse that the Braves know exactly what the Nats must feel like at the moment -- then all the injuries and adversity the team has had to overcome are worth it.
"I feel like (there's been adversity) from the beginning ... us all trying to get on the same page, trying to overcome situational hitting, trying to put the ball in play. We've overcome it, we've had a lot of fun, we've taken on all the challenges this year and it's all a part of the game," said Heyward, who posted another multi-hit game on Wednesday. "I'm really proud of the fact that we've come to the field every day and put the last day behind us."
2. Brandon Beachy is not too far removed from 2012 Brandon Beachy
Take away Beachy's (understandably) rough outing against the Rockies in his first MLB start since Tommy John surgery, and his 2013 numbers are rather comparable to his 2012 numbers. If he's not back, he's getting closer.
In his past three starts, he's posted a 2.21 ERA in 20 13 innings pitched, including a 4.7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That's not far off. In fact, his walk rate is much lower thus far while his strikeout rate has held constant. With his fastball hovering around 89 to 90 miles per hour, that production is coming in large part to pitch location and a better feel for his breaking pitches.
"Reintroduced the slider a little bit, made it something they had to at least respect. I'm a better pitcher when I have it," the 26-year-old right said. "I'm a better pitcher when I can throw my curveball for strikes and when my changeup is good. If I can have all of those effective and they have to think about 'em, all that does is make my fastball better. So I can get away with more."
On his big mistake of the night -- giving up a two-run home run to powerful Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown, his 27th of the season -- Beachy threw three-consecutive fastballs that never topped 90. Brown put the third one into the outfield seats. But other than that at-bat, Beachy (2-0) did well mixing up his four pitches, scattering four other hits and not walking a single batter.
"I don't pay attention to velocity. I gave up a homer there on a fastball, but that's a 2-0 pitch I threw right down the middle. I don't know what the velocity was," Beachy said. "They weren't hitting my fastball like it was too slow or anything like that, so I'm fine with it."
He was pulled in the sixth inning at 81 pitches, a decision manager Fredi Gonzalez said was affected by the rain delay and Beachy's eight-inning performance in his previous start.
When discussing Beachy's quick return to form in a recent podcast, I set my personal Beachy Bar at six starts -- i.e. let's evaluate Beachy's progression after six starts. Well, if the next two are more of the same, the Braves have a good problem on their hands: how should we set our postseason rotation if all of our guys are pitching similarly well?
Right now, I'd throw Minor-Teheran-Medlen-Beachy with Alex Wood as an emergency starter. That could alter a bit if Beachy's going to go around posting a sub-2.50 ERA with a top-tier KBB ratio.
3. Braves middle infielders are in short supply
Second baseman Tyler Pastornicky was diagnosed with a left knee sprain after colliding with right fielder Jason Heyward on a pop fly in the third inning.
"From my perspective on the field, as soon as that ball left the bat Jason was calling for it. And calling it loudly. We were on the field level and you could hear it clearly that Jason was calling for that ball," Gonzalez said. "I don't know if Tyler didn't hear him or if he was so locked in on that fly ball that he didn't feel Jason coming in."
Pastornicky said the knee locked up on him as he walked off the field between innings and that the team did not want to take a chance with it.
He is set to be re-evaluated during the team's off day on Thursday, but the injury brings about some potential issues for the Braves' brass, at least in the short term.
From a team perspective, Pastornicky's knee injury could not have come at a more inconvenient time. Starting second baseman Dan Uggla just went on the disabled list to undergo LASIK eye surgery and is expected to be out for the better part of August. That left Pastornicky, Andrelton Simmons and Paul Janish as the only middle infielders on the active roster Thursday night (Simmons was supposed to have the night off).
In fact, due to additional injuries to Ramiro Pena and Blake DeWitt, the Braves now have just five healthy infielders on the 40-man roster: Simmons, Janish, Freeman, Johnson and minor league first baseman Ernesto Mejia. Do not expect to see the latter three to play any shortstop or second base were anything to happen to Simmons or Janish.
Gonzalez said he believes the team's personnel will suffice for the next few games until there is a more accurate timetable on Pastornicky's injury.
(Strangely enough, if their hand is forced in such a direction, Gonzalez all but confirmed that B.J. Upton would be the emergency middle infielder on the roster. The team's center fielder played 63 career games at second base and shortstop when he was with Tampa Bay. So there's that.)
The flip side of the equation comes from the player's perspective, as this approximate two-week span without Uggla was supposed to be Pastornicky's shot at getting into the everyday lineup. He'd played rather well, too, logging a hit in both August starts. He was 1-for-2 Wednesday before leaving the game after the third inning. If the knee sprain is of any greater substance, it's likely the last time he'll receive the opportunity to make Gonzalez's daily lineup card.
"I've been asking my self that (bad-luck) question here for a couple minutes, but I think it's just part of the game," Pastornicky said. "Hopefully everything is alright and continue to stay rolling and use the off day as a rest day."