The Braves looked like a well oiled machine in their 9-4 victory over the New York Mets Sunday afternoon, but that machine is still missing some key components.
The Braves, who hold a two game lead in the National League East, have four key players expected to make their return this season and two of them are big time sluggers. Six time all-star catcher Brian McCann has missed 30 games after an off-season surgery to a repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder and golden glove winner Jason Heyward is on the 15-day disabled list after an emergency appendectomy last Monday.
“McCann is expected to fly with us to Cincinnati if he feels up to it,” Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Heyward could travel to Cincinnati as well but there is no time table on him, he will be day-to-day.”
Without some key players in the lineup, the Braves are still putting up impressive offensive numbers and are in first place in the N.L. with 41 homers.
In the third inning of Sunday’s game, the team manufactured five runs without the aid of a home run. Justin Upton drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single after Andrelton Simmons reached base with a leadoff double and a Chris Johnson walk. Both Johnson, who replaced Heyward in the lineup after his injury, and Upton scored when Freedie Freeman launched a 3-1 pitch to deep left field. Freeman later scored on a wild pitch from Mets’ starting pitcher Jonathon Niese.
“We haven’t played a game yet with our full lineup and we’re in first place so everyone is excited to get these guys back and healthy,” said Johnson.
The Mets would make it interesting in k in the fourth inning when Braves’ fans most loathed player David Wright belted a two-run homer to center field to cut the lead 5-2. But that Braves quickly answered back. In the fifth inning a Reed Johnson single scored Evan Gattis and Dan Uggla to extend the lead 7-2. Freeman added another run with his second home run of the season in the sixth.
Freeman finished the game 3-for-5 with three RBI and a home run. The slumping Uggla and B.J. Upton combined to go 2-for-6 with three walks.
Hudson (4-1) pitched 7 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts giving up just three earned runs.
The Braves bullpen struggled to get an out in the eigth inning after Hudson’s exit, giving up two runs. Lucas Duda had an RBI single and Justin Turner walked with the bases loaded.
The Braves, who have the third best ERA (3.23) in the majors, are still missing two pitchers. Brandon Beachy is expected back in June after Tommy John surgery, and Johhny Venters, who has a career 2.23 ERA with 258 strikeouts in 230 innings will also be rejoining the lineup later in the year.
On Sunday the Braves bats once again picked up up the bullpen. Upton reached on a lead off walk and later scored thanks to a sacrifice fly by Gattis.
McCann is expected to play against Cincinnati and Tyler Pastornicky will be optioned to the minors to make room for his return to the lineup. Having two prominent catchers in the lineup could prove to be tricky but Gonzalez could move Gattis to the outfield to play left and shift Justin Upton to right field.
“We are excited to have him back and have him healthy anytime you can plug an all-star in your lineup its a good thing,” said Hudson.
The Braves will begin their 10-game road trip tonight at Cincinnati.