To be this good takes 13 years. The last time the Atlanta Braves had a ten game winning streak came in May 2000, when the team won 15 straight. However the 2013 Braves are now two-thirds of the way there with their 10th successive win, a 6-3 romp over the Kansas City Royals. They also improved to a Major League best 12-1 on the season and blasted another five home runs in the process.
Coming off a three game sweep of the highly favoured Washington Nationals, confidence in the Braves clubhouse was high as they aimed to reach the milestone. 2012 ace, Kris Medlen took to the mound, ironically the only Braves pitcher to have taken a loss so far in this young season. In his two starts to date, the young right-hander had struggled to find the dominant form that saw him go 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in the previous campaign and again struggled to pitch at his best against the Royals. That said though, he was not helped defensively as the team committed three fielding errors, one of which would result in a Royals go-ahead run in the fourth inning.
Despite struggling, Medlen kept the game close for seven innings, the only earned run he was charged with was a third inning leadoff home run from Royals second baseman, Chris Getz. Getz’s solo shot came in reply to Juan Francisco’s second home run of the year in the bottom half of the previous inning. Pulling hard, the third baseman heaved a 1-0 pitch down the right field line, clearing the fence just the right side of the foul pole to give the Braves the early lead.
Francisco turned from hero to villain in the fourth inning though. His throwing error allowed Salvador Perez to reach safely and the Royals catcher would come home to score on an RBI single from none other than former Braves fan favourite, Jeff Francoeur.
Opposing Medlen was veteran pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie was having no such problems silencing the potent Atlanta lineup. Francisco’s home run was one of just two hits he had given up through the first six innings. However, Francisco would prove Guthrie’s undoing once more in the seventh, launching his second home run of the game. If his first home run just crept over the wall in the shallowest part of Turner Field, there was no doubt about his encore performance. Center fielder, Lorenzo Cain could only stand and watch as the ball sailed over his head to tie the game.
The momentum had swung in the favour of the Braves now and sensing Guthrie was vulnerable, they attacked. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons singled and pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt doubled. The Braves were only denied the lead by a pinpoint throw from Francoeur, which beat Simmons to home plate. Obviously nobody had told the sophomore shortstop about the cannon of an arm Francoeur possesses.
Medlen would leave the game with a no-decision, having given up six hits and just the one earned run, striking out five in his seven innings of work. Guthrie too was done after seven, paving the way for some eighth inning magic. Mired in a deep slump, Jason Heyward broke out in style, taking the first pitch he saw from reliever, Kelvin Herrera deep to left field. Heyward had barely finished with the hi-fives when Justin Upton followed up with an even deeper shot for his eighth home run. Dan Uggla’s third of the year was not far behind as the left field seats continued to take a pounding. Herrerra looked shell-shocked, having not given up a run in 2013 before this outing. The Braves would notch a fourth run before the inning was done to gain a 6-2 lead. "It's fun when you can do that," Upton said. "But our goal is to go out and play good baseball every night, pitch well, play good defense, put together good at-bats and we've been able to do that so far."
It wasn’t all great news though. Whilst trying to close out the game in the ninth inning, reliever Luis Avilan collapsed mid-pitch clutching his hamstring. To add insult to injury, he was called for a balk. Craig Kimbrel came in to finish off the game, but things do not look good for Avilan. "Obviously the way he fell down there, it doesn't look good. We think it's a hamstring," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Nonetheless, the Braves are celebrating their longest winning streak since 2000 and hoping to continue their good run Wednesday as they conclude their two game series with Kansas City. Long may it continue! "These runs don't come too often, and you've got to ride the wave as long as you can ride it," noted Uggla. "There is a great vibe in the clubhouse. We're going to keep going. We're going to keep riding it."
April 16th 2013