Chip Carey made a joke last night that the Great American Ballpark was like Coors Light, a small shot at Coors Field and the ease of scoring big runs in big innings. In Cincy, that's a fairly apt comparison. At any given moment, the game can turn on a dime because a walk and a right field homer can create instant offense. The Braves struggled with that all throughout their series in 2012, but they righted the ship with a big win yesterday 7-4. It was big because it set the tone for a long road trip, it showed that we do have the ability to hit in Cincy, and we can do it with the benefit of home runs and small ball.
As you know, I don't give out game MVPs very often, but yesterday warrants one. Andrelton Simmons had a career day both in the field and at the plate. Not only did Simmons go 3/4 on the day, he did it with 2 home runs, 4 RBIs, and an amazing play at the second base bag to tag out a runner falling over between his legs. The play in the field was just absurd, and nobody is quite sure how he was able to come flying across the bag, rolling over the top of the runner, and tag him by putting the glove down between his legs. There wasn't even a great replay of it, because it was so bizarre. However, the kind of defensive prowess that Simmons shows can make the absurd look frighteningly mundane. It's only in slow motion replays that you really see how ridiculously talented he is, such as the behind the back glove flip to his throwing hand. With a career 2 homer day and his highlight reel tag, Simmons deserves the nod for a game MVP. He joins Huddy at the only other Brave with that honor so far.
For the most part, the rest of the lineup hit well. Justin went 2/4, Freeman went 2/5 with a double, Gattis went 1/4 with a double, Uggla went 2/4 with a triple, and Schafer came into the game with a pinch hit moonshot. There were two obvious exceptions. BJ Upton grabbed the size 4 collar in the leadoff spot, and CJ couldn't seem to make contact in the 2 hole. BJ's problems are well documented, but I see signs of him starting to pull it together. Last night is a setback, but this isn't a series where I expected him to get right. What I want from him right now is to focus on working counts, which he was doing much better than in prior games. CJ is coming back to earth after leading the league in hitting. If you thought that would last, you were crazy. CJ is going through his first slump of the season as pitchers get film on him, and he has yet to make the adjustment back. He will, though. As for Dan Uggla, he may be heating up folks. He's hitting .261 over the last week with a homer, 2 triples, and 3 walks. He's dangerously close to cresting .200 for the season. I'm depressed that I had to write that as a positive, but here we are.
The pitching is giving me fits lately. Maholm was good, going 5.2 innings with 4 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs. The problem with Maholm's effort was getting behind batters in the 4th and 5th innings, which ran up his pitch count into the 100s early. That means it was the bullpen's job to close out 3.1 innings, and the bullpen has been stressful this week. Last night was no different. Gearrin and Avilan came into the game with no issues. In the 8th, we had Walden, and he was a mess. He gave up 3 hits, 2 runs on 11 pitches, and didn't record an out. EOF had to come in there and luckily put out the fire, because the game went from 7-2 to 7-4 with the tying run at the plate. We shouldn't have to live this way with a bullpen that's been so solid. Here's the thing, though. It's just Walden that's the issue. Walden is now holding a WHIP of 1.46 with an ERA over 4.30 on the season. He's the only guy other than Martinez with an ERA over 4, and Martinez is on the DL with undisclosed issues. HINT: His DL issue is he's been terrible. Walden needs to reel it in with some of his pitches, or he's going to be on the DL when Venters and Ayala come back.
The CPA was correct again (15-10) with it's prediction of a high scoring Braves win. How does it see Game 2?
CPA Prediction Game 2: Reds 5 - Braves 2
Homer Bailey worked over the Braves last time he faced them, and he's holding a 0.90 ERA at home. Medlen has an ERA near 4 on the road, and he's been searching for answers early in games. The CPA thinks that Medlen is going to get shelled early. It predicts the Reds jump on him in the first couple of innings, and don't let up. The only way the Braves can stop this losing cycle from repeating is to score first, give Medlen a lead, and make the most of any runners they get. The Braves can't afford to squander chances against Bailey, because he's unlikely to give up many. However, Bailey will walk some batters if you're patient, and the Braves need a lead to have that mentality at the plate.