The Atlanta Braves dropped their second straight game in soggy conditions with a 4-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on Independence Day. Here are three observations from the game:
1. A rare Craig Kimbrel loss sealed the deal for the Braves
The Braves bullpen held on as long as it could, but the Marlins eventually found a way to push the game-winning run across -- a bloop single to right field that sent Ed Lucas home from second, barely beating a strong throw from Jason Heyward. There's always a certain degree of irony whenever a closer drops a game, but when Craig Kimbrel, one of the most reliable closers in recent memory, gives up a game-winning hit, it just feels off.
"You know what? They got an 0-2 pitch, the guy just put the ball in play, just got it over there to right field," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Of course, that's simplifying the matter. Kimbrel put himself in that predicament, notably through some control issues that have popped up in his past three outings. Aside from pinch-hitter Donovan Solano's RBI single, Kimbrel walked Lucas and Logan Morrison. He did tally three Ks, but it was too late -- the middle of the Braves' order could not muster a comeback in the bottom of the frame.
Here's a not-so-fun fact for the Atlanta organization: Kimbrel walked just seven batters in his first 29 appearances; he's walked five batters in his last three outings (versus the Royals, Diamondbacks and Marlins).
We've already watched the history-making closer rebound from a difficult stretch, so the panic meter is non-existent here, but it's interesting to note that though the strikeouts continue to pour in, Kimbrel's walk rate (3.45) has jumped back up to 2011 levels.
Losing the series to the Marlins may be tough to swallow -- another important sidebar: the Braves could have walked away with a win if Giancarlo Stanton could not rob Dan Uggla of an extra-base hit in the eighth inning with Freddie Freeman on base, a catch Gonzalez described as "hell of a play" -- but, out of nowhere, the 32-52 squad is 12-5 and playing great baseball. Top that off with rain, rain and more rain, and the lost series is not a deal-breaker.
2. Julio Teheran has posted excellent numbers during his rookie year, but a rain-soaked outing did not produce dominant results
With the exception of Mike Minor, one could make the argument that Julio Teheran has been the Braves' best starting pitcher in 2013. The rookie entered his first July outing with a 6-4 record and a 3.12 ERA (1.4 WAR). And while neither record nor ERA took a devastating hit Thursday night, his performance fell below the standards he set for himself in May and June.
Teheran could not hold onto 3-0 first-inning lead against Miami, giving up a run in three-consecutive innings (2-4) before leaving the game before the sixth inning for the first time since April 18 against the Pirates. His night ended with three earned runs on six hits and two walks, while striking out seven Marlins batters.
It was the fourth straight game the 22-year-old righty struck out at least five, but he missed out on a quality start for the first time since June 10 -- a five-run outing against the Padres.
"That first inning he strikes out the side, but it took him 23 pitches to get through that first inning. And then he strikes out the next guy in the second inning. I don't know if that took a lot of him, but he just didn't seem like he got it going the rest of the night," Gonzalez said. "He was in a jam almost from that moment on. He didn't have an easy inning from the second to the fifth."
From the looks of it, Teheran's latest outing was just a night where things did not go his way. Statistically, aside from the runs, very little changed from his average box score: plenty of strikeouts and hits allowed to go with a limited number of walks.
3. Andrelton Simmons has been underwhelming at the leadoff spot in 2013, but he's off to a great July start
Perhaps it's a byproduct of playing the Marlins. After all, Simmons is a career .360 hitter against the owners of the NL East's worst record since his call-up last season. Perhaps the teal-and-orange uniforms provide some aspect of comfort.
But the Braves' shortstop put up one of his best series in the leadoff spot this week against the Marlins, going 6-for-13 with two runs. It was the first time this season Simmons posted back-to-back-to-back multi-hit games. I'd argue that his best series of 2013 came back in May against the Reds -- eight hits, two home runs, four RBI -- but he split duties in the No. 1 spot with Jordan Schafer and B.J. Upton, and for some reason he's posted better numbers at the back of the lineup.
Of Braves hitters with at least 10 plate appearances at the leadoff spot, Simmons has posted the worst numbers: .228.261.325 in 219 plate appearances, which, not surprisingly, helps the Braves rank as the 23rd-worst (in terms of OPS) rate in baseball. That's not the player the team entrusted to take over for Michael Bourn this season -- the same one who once won a minor league batting title and electrified the World Baseball Classic.
So maybe the defensive wunderkind is "figuring it out."
Take a wait-and-see approach with that, though.