It was important to make sure that the Braves kept the momentum from their big weekend against Oakland going as they traveled to Pittsburgh to meet the Pirates, and they really wasted no time in keeping things rolling. Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons hit back-to-back home runs, and the pain continued for Pittsburgh as the Braves ended up scoring 6 in the 1st inning. You know things are going well as a pitcher when you get to hit before you even pitch, and that was the case for Ervin Santana. The Braves added another run later in the game, but those 6 early runs ended up being enough to beat the Pirates 7-3.
After making it through that rough Nationals/Dodgers/Athletics homestand with a winning record, now they have a chance to really start putting some hay in the barn as far as their playoff chances are concerned. The Braves are already in Pittsburgh facing a team with playoff aspirations in the Pirates, and then they have two trips against teams who are pretty far back in their respective races: The Cincinnati Reds and the New York Mets. If the Braves can take care of business on this road trip, then business (as far as Atlanta's own playoff race is concerned) will really start to pick up.
One crucial cog in the machine that is the Braves is Justin Upton. Everyone knows that when he's going, the whole team is going because he's got the potential on offense to be an absolute game changer. If the Braves are going to capitalize on this big chance they have on this road trip, they'll need J-Up to really get it going on the road, since we're all well aware of what he can do at home. Judging by his pretty good performance at the plate last night, though, we may not have to worry about that.
While many are hoping for one Upton brother to help carry the team to greatness, others are hoping that the other Upton brother doesn't drag the team into the muck and mire. It's been another rough season for B.J. Upton, as he is among the league leaders in stats that you absolutely do not want to be among the league leaders in. From Dave O'Brien's article:
Braves center fielder B.J. Upton entered Monday as the major league strikeout leader with 153, the major league leader in errors by a center fielder with seven, and with a .207 batting average that was 13 points lower than any other National Leaguer with enough at-bats to qualify.
However, one person who is still sticking by B.J. in this situation is the manager himself, Fredi Gonzalez. Fredi says that B.J. still comes in every day with a "positive" attitude despite the fact that he's been pretty much terrible for the team at times. Still, he's the manager; He's really got no choice but to stick with him until he's gone.
A whole lot of people on twitter were absolutely befuddled when, during Sunday night's game against the A's, Fredi decided to use lefty reliever James Russell against righty batting dynamo Josh Donaldson. This was especially baffling given that Anthony Varvaro (a righty) was the one who Russell replaced. Even Donaldson himself was utterly confused, as you can infer by this simple sentence:
"I think that's the first time anyone has brought a lefty in to face me."
However, it turns out that Russell is one of those rare left-handers who does pretty well against right-handers, and the decision that night worked well for the Braves so you can't really complain. With that being said, I am absolutely going to complain on Twitter the next time this happens.
On the rehab front, Shae Simmons made his first rehab start on Saturday and it went pretty well, as he went 10 pitches and pitched a scoreless inning. On Monday? Not so much. Simmons threw 22 pitches on Monday, and none of them resulted in an out being recorded. Fredi says that Shae would be reevaluated after Monday's game, but I'm pretty sure that the evaluation probably resulted in Shae needing to make another rehab start. Then again, Luis Avilan is somehow on the Major League roster again so who knows what's going to happen?
On Sunday night, .110 ISO hitter Chris Johnson hit a home run off of 5.7 HR/FB% pitcher Jon Lester. If it seems like I won't stop talking about this, it's because I can't. I really can't stop talking about this because it was absolutely ridiculous to me. But, I also wrote about more than just that particular moment when it came to Chris Johnson and the strange year he's been having so far in 2014.
Technically, the Angels have been in first place for a couple of days now, as they were actually ahead of the Oakland Athletics on percentage points. On Monday, they made it official with a 4-2 victory at Fenway. The win moved the Halos to the top of the AL West for the first time since 2011. As much as I enjoy watching the A's, I'm hoping that this continues for the Angels so that Mike Trout can finally get his due (i.e. the MVP Award and spotlight in the postseason) since the team is actually on track to make the playoffs.
The Nationals have won 3 consecutive games on walk-off hits. To paraphrase Derrick Coleman here, woopty doo. What's sad is that the Diamondbacks actually had a chance to take the lead in extras, as they loaded the bases with no outs. Apparently, the Braves aren't the only team with a phobia of that situation, because Arizona blew that chance as well, scoring no runs. The rest was history. Gotta tip your cap to the Nationals for executing late in games, but as far as the Diamondbacks are concerned, I am currently gritting my teeth and shaking my head as I write this.