Despite a few nagging injuries to key players, slumping all-star caliber outfielders and uncertainty in the bullpen, the Atlanta Braves continue to find ways to win.
Atlanta is poised to run away with the National League East in the month of June after a 5-4 come from behind victory in extra innings over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
B.J Upton homered in the sixth inning to tie the game 4-4 and in the 10th Andrelton Simmons had the first walk-off hit of his career sending the Turner Field crowd and his Braves teammates into a frenzy.
Whether its Brian McCann, Upton, or more recently Simmons, the Braves have begun to put all the pieces together to create the formidable team everyone expected to see at the beginning of the season. This is what the National League East has feared since April, a healthy Atlanta Braves team clicking on all cylinders.
“I think this shows how dangerous our lineup can be when everyone is contributing,” said Simmons, who is hitting for an average of .256 in the leadoff spot.
Braves’ pariah B.J. Upton has transformed into a savor in recent games. Upton’s game-tying two-run home run Tuesday night was his second home run in three days. Sunday night the Braves’ outfielder also had a walk-off hit to win the game against the Washington Nationals.
“I still got to get better, I have to cut down on the strikeouts and I’m working on getting more quality [at bats],” said Upton.
Upton, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla are all hitting below .200 but yesterday’s game could be a sign of good things to come for the Braves. Heyward had his second consecutive multi-hit game and Uggla finished the night 2-for-3, drawing two base on balls including a walk in the 10th to set up Simmons’ late inning heroics.
“We have guys that step up when they are called upon and everyone has been able to pick up the slack,” Uggla said.
The Braves bullpen, who will miss Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters for the year, pitched four scoreless innings, allowing the Atlanta hitters to break through against the Pirates, considered the second best bullpen in the major leagues.
The Braves bullpen leads the majors with a 2.61 ERA and have a three-way tie for fifth in saves (18).
“Our pitching staff has stepped up, they have done a great job of keeping us in ballgames throughout the season” said Uggla.
Atlanta has posted a 4-0 record in June and extended its N.L. East lead to seven games. Atlanta will face only two teams (the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks) with a record over .500 in the month, which could put the Nationals even further behind the streaking Braves.
“We won’t know who the better team is until it’s all over, right now we are just trying to win games and play well as a team,” Uggla said.