For the Fredi Gonzalez-era Atlanta Braves, it has been a tale of two Septembers. In some respects, to be sure, not much has changed: the 2011 Braves scored 87 runs in 27 September games, while the 2012 Braves have now scored 90 runs in 26 games; and whereas the 2011 Braves posted a measly .291 wOBA during that span, the 2012 Braves have mustered a shocking .279 wOBA. They couldn’t hit last year, and they sure as hell aren’t hitting to finish up this year. And yet what a difference a year makes. In 2011, the Braves famously collapsed after posting a 9-18 record down the stretch. This year? 18-8.
The difference has been pitching. Unlike last season, the 2012 Braves have saved their best pitching for last, as the pitchers have surrendered only 73 runs during the entire month–best in the majors. Both the starters and relievers are placing within the top-5 in the league in both ERA and FIP, and that, in turn, has allowed the hitters to continue their month-long hibernation mode without a peep of “collapse.” We have witnessed more than one evening when all the Braves have needed were a couple well-timed hits–or errors, as the case may be–while the pitchers took care of the rest.
Tonight was another of those nights. The Braves scored a single run in the bottom of the 1st after Prado doubled, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a Heyward groundout. And that, despite a welcome RBI-double by Prado in the 5th, would be enough. Mike Minor pitched 6.1 scoreless innings, striking out four and walking none. In relief, a combination of Durbin, Avilan, Venters, and Kimbrel retired the final 8 outs without too much difficulty. The only real danger came in the 9th, of all times. Uggla misplayed a Ruben Tejada-grounder, and then Kimbrel, perhaps jacked up on Chipper-inspired adrenaline, threw both a wild pitch and a ball that managed simultaneously to injure both David Wright and the home plate umpire. But then Kimbrel remembered that he was Craig Kimbrel, and that IWOTM, and proceeded to strike out Ike Davis and Lucas Duda to end the game. Another win, another shutout.
The Nationals defeated the Cardinals in extras tonight, which pushed their magic number down to one. Still, there’s more baseball to be played, and the Braves will call upon Kris Medlen tomorrow to win the series, keep the team afloat in the hunt for the division, and run the Braves’ winning streak with him on the mound up to 23 games: that, it turns out, would be the highest tally for any pitcher on any team in history. And so we plough into game No. 159.