Posted: 3:01 pm Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

J-Up’s hot again, and this time getting plenty of help 

By David O'Brien

PITTSBURGH – He’s on one of those rolls again, and this time Justin Upton is getting plenty of help from others in the Braves lineup.

In his two seasons with the Braves, J-Up has been the streakiest of the elite hitters I’ve covered in 20 years as a major league beat writer. But when the man is surging, it’s something to behold. And right now, he’s surging. Not as scorching as we’ve seen him – remember, he hit five homers in his first five games as a Brave last season and 12 in April – but plenty hot.

Upton hit his 24th homer and drove in five runs during the Braves’ 11-3 rout of the Pirates on Tuesday, and he’s 13-for-34 (.382) with four homers, 14 RBIs and a .488 OBP during a 10-game hitting streak (team record in that span: 7-3).

“He really got it going there with that three-run homer, and got the guys fired up in the dugout,” Braves pitcher Aaron Harang said of the Upton homer that gave the Braves a 4-0 lead in the third inning. “It was good to see.”

Justin Upton rounds the bases after his three-run homer Tuesday. He drove in five runs and hit the fourth homer of his 10-game hitting streak. (AP photo)

Justin Upton rounds the bases after his three-run homer Tuesday. He drove in five runs and hit the fourth homer of his 10-game hitting streak. (AP photo)

In 31 games since the All-Star break, Upton has hit .315 with 17 extra-base hits (seven homers), 25 RBIs and a .403 OBP and .602 slugging percentage.

“He’s been locked in,” right fielder Jason Heyward said. “It’s nice to have that in your lineup, obviously, and he goes out there every day and plays hard for us, plays good defense in the outfield, and that’s all you can ask. He wants to be in the big spots, he’s not backing down and he has some good guys around him who can help him go up there and relax.”

Ah, yes. That’s the difference in this Upton surge from some previous ones. He’s getting help. Particularly from Heyward, who had three RBIs Tuesday, and Freddie Freeman. Both have sizzled along with Upton lately, giving the Braves a big three that’s fueled a stunning offensive turnaround since the team totaled 18 runs in its 0-8 road trip that ended Aug. 6.

The Braves went 9-18 with a 3.95 ERA and .246 batting average from July 6 to Aug. 6, and totaled just 12 homers and 100 runs in those 27 games (3.7 runs per game).

In 12 games since, they’ve gone 8-4 with a 3.27 ERA while batting .268 with 16 homers and 55 runs (4.6 per game).

They’ve  hit .299 with a 2.60 ERA in their five-game winning streak against the A’s and Pirates, totaling 52 hits, 10 homers and 33 runs including seven or more runs three times.

“From top to bottom we’ve been able to put the ball in play and get hits,” Upton said.

They’ve gotten plenty of hits and RBIs from others on any given night, but Upton, Freeman and Heyward has been the trio that’s carried the bulk of the load lately.

“Yeah, he gets hot and he can carry us,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Upton after Tuesday’s game. “He’s done that a few months. It’s nice to have that big bat right behind Freeman, who’s starting to roll the pole a little bit also.”

Roll the pole? Alrighty then.

Freeman’s, er, pole-rolling includes a .417 average (25-for-60) in his past 16 games with seven doubles, two homers, nine RBIs, a .507 OBP and a .633 slugging percentage. He had an uncharacteristic slump at midseason, but regained his form and has his average back to .296 and his OPS to .877, eighth in the NL, one spot behind Upton (.884).

Oh, and Freeman has 17 homers and 56 extra-base hits, just two shy of his career-best 58 extra-base hits in 2012.

Heyward has again been a marvel in the field – if he doesn’t win his second Gold Glove, the judging/voting is severely flawed — and a steady hitter since his slow start, batting .288 with a .364 OBP and 19 extra-base hits (five homers) since the beginning of June, with 37 runs and 34 RBIs in 66 games.

In his past 23 games, Heyward has hit .337 (29-for-86) with a .392 OBP. The Braves have won six of seven games since Heyward moved back to the leadoff spot.

Still, it’s J-Up that seems to send the Braves offense into overdrive when he’s in one of his torrid stretches of hitting. And after those hot streaks were confined to Turner Field in the first months of the season, lately he’s been almost as productive on the road as at home, a most-welcome development for a Braves team that knew it couldn’t afford to have another lousy road trip. (Upton, like everyone else in the lineup, went cold for most of the winless West Coast trip, his only recent significant slump on the road.)

Upton has hit .320 with 16 homers and a .621 slugging percentage in 63 home games, compared to .255 with eight homers  and a .423 slugging percentage in 57 road games. But here’s what I mean when I say those splits haven’t held up lately:

After hitting just .205 (25-for-122) in his first 32 games away from Turner Field with eight extra-base hits, 11 RBIs, a .274 OBP and a .344 slugging percentage, he’s hit .314 (32-for-102) in his past 25 road games with 12 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs, a .351 OBP and .510 slugging percentage.

“I joked with him earlier this year when we were on the road, ‘Hey, we’re still at home right now, OK?’” Heyward said Tuesday. “I kind of played around with him with that today. But he’s been doing it for us, he’s been big.”

In his past 12 road games, Upton has hit .327 with seven extra-base hits and 13 RBIs.

“I’m still doing the same things I’ve been doing all season,” Upton said late Tuesday, when asked in general about being in another of his hitting binges. “I’m just preparing myself, going out there and trying to help us any way we can.”

  • Bear massacres ball: El Oso Blanco, aka Evan Gattis, hit a home run last night at Pittsburgh that was far, far greater than the sum of its measurements. A ninth-inning solo homer that had to be seen to be fully appreciated. A blast that left the bat like a bullet and climbed … and climbed … and climbed before turning back toward earth and colliding with the curved walkway ramp that sits beyond the left-field corner.

Some surprised fans must have been alarmed if they looked toward the field and saw the ball crash into the third-level façade as they were leaving the ballpark in the last inning of an 11-3 Braves rout. That’s a place where they can normally feel safe without having to worry about flying projectiles that leave the playing field.

Then again, this ball probably looked more like it was coming from space than the playing field.

El Oso Blanco hit it a long, long way, folks. His 19th home run of the season and his 40th in just 664 career at-bats was one of his most impressive, regardless of the measurement. PNC Park doesn’t give estimates, and ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, which I normally find to be accurate, said Gattis’ homer was a mere 423 feet, long for most folks but about 60 feet shy of the bomb he hit at Philly last season and well short of many others that he’s hit.

“That was a joke,” Justin Upton said, speaking not of the measurement but of how hard and far Gattis hit the ball. “He hammered it.”

A veteran Pittsburgh writer said Albert Pujols, nearly a decade ago, hit the only ball he’d seen go higher on that four-level ramp in left field since PNC Park opened, and that it was only a little higher up than the one Gattis crushed.

Home Run Tracker did give it an apex height of 131 feet, about as high as a 12-story building and higher than all but two homers hit in the majors in the past week. (Half of the other 22 homers Tuesday had an apex of less than 100 feet according to Home Run Tracker, and six were below 80 feet.)

“That was fun to see,” Jason Heyward said of Gattis’ epic homer. “We know what kind of pop he has. That was one of those, you didn’t know when it was going to come down or where. You know he’s got the pop, but it always amazes you when he catches ahold of one.”

Andrelton Simmons was watching on the clubhouse television, having left the game with a sore hip in the sixth inning.

“That was impressive,” Simmons said of Gattis’ blast. “That was fun. I was screaming as soon as he hit it. That’s fun when he catches one like that. Not a lot of people can do that. Not a lot of people can do what he does when he hits a ball.”

By the way, Gattis hit .225 (16-for-71) with one homer, six RBIs and 22 strikeouts  in 20 games from July 21 through Thursday, and the Braves were 5-15 in those games. In four games since – all Braves wins — he’s 5-for-15 with two homers, three RBIs and two strikeouts.

• J-Hey vs. Steel City: Heyward is 5-for-10 with a homer and five RBIs in the series, making him 11-for-24 (.458) with two homers, seven RBIs and five multi-hit games in the Braves’ past five games against the Pirates, all Atlanta wins.

In 25 career games against Pittsburgh, Heyward has a .343 average (35-for-102) with four homers, 16 RBIs, a .404 OBP and .520 slugging percentage. And at beautiful PNC Park, he’s hit .388 (19-for-49) with two homers and nine RBIs in 13 games.

• Tonight’s matchup: Should be a good matchup in the series finale, surging Braves lefty Alex Wood (9-9, 3.07) facing Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole (7-4, 3.78).

  Wood is 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA and .228 opponents’ average in 10 starts since moving back into the rotation, including 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA in his past four starts. He has 26 strikeouts and 12 walks in 26 1/3 innings over those four starts, while allowing six or fewer hits in six or more innings in each. Wood gave up one earned run in three of those games and two earned runs in the other.

Wood has a 1.93 ERA and .198 opponents’ average in seven road games (four starts) since the beginning of June, with one home run allowed in 28 innings. He’s never faced Pittsburgh, and the only Pirate with more than one official at-bat against him is Jayson Nix (0-for-3, three strikeouts)

Cole comes off the DL tonight to pitch for the first time since July 4, when he strained a right latissimus dorsi muscle in his back. He was 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in four rehab starts for Triple-A Indianapolis.

Cole went 7-4 with a 3.78 ERA and .255 opponents’ average in 14 starts before he was DL’d, including 3-1 with a 3.56 ERA in seven starts at PNC Park.

Lefties have hit .258/.344/.390 against him this season, righties .253/.311/.410

He’s never faced Atlanta, and the only current Brave who’s seen him in the regular season is Emilio Bonifacio (0-for-2, one walk).

Let’s close with a great one written by Carole King and sung splendidly by Dusty Springfield, who was born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien. Look it up. You can hear it by clicking here.

 

“NO EASY WAY DOWN” by Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield

Your toy balloon has sailed
In the sky, love
But now it must fall
To the ground
Now your sad eyes reveal
Just how badly you feel
‘Cause there is no easy way down

The view from the cliffs
Must have been exciting
And up to the peaks
You were bound
Now you’re stranded alone
And the past is unknown
And there is no easy way down

No it isn’t very easy
When you’re left on your own
No it isn’t very easy
When each road you take
Is one more mistake
There’s no-one to break your fall
And lead you back home, yeah

We all like to climb to the heights of love
Where our fantasy world can be found
But you must know in the end
When it’s time to descend
That there is no easy way down

You know you’re gonna find
There is no easy way down

1022 comments
TideDawg
TideDawg

TELL ME IT'S TRUE! BJ HAS BEEN TRADED ALONG WITH HEYWARD1

Alalice
Alalice

Doughmit, Pena, BJ gone. Gosselin should replace Johnson against righties and bring up a fourth outfielder. If no of avail put Phil in right and move JHey to center. Instant pluses!

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

Qb, if they are deleted quickly enough the "comment deleted" msg won't appear. Or, your dear wife has dosed you with some wild mushrooms she picked in the forest. . . .  :-)

SultanOfSwing
SultanOfSwing

I'm ready to put up with Justin's negligence on defense since he's such a great hitter. Don't feel the same about BJ, tho

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

  • Justin Upton is enjoying another strong season with the Braves, which again begs the question of why the Diamondbacks traded of the star outfielder in January 2013.  A former D’Backs employee tells Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC subscription required) that the low-key Upton simply didn’t fit Arizona’s model for a superstar.  “Management there wants it done a certain way. They want their guys to beLuis Gonzalez, who was very active in the community,” the source said.  “They wanted Justin to be the face of the franchise — they had that ‘Uptown’ sign in the outfield — but that’s not Justin. He would say, ‘I just want to play the game.’ “

SultanOfSwing
SultanOfSwing

BJ at leadoff for his birthday. Team chemistry yadi yada 

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

Washington's current nine-game run has it one win shy of its club-record winning streak of 10 games, set in 2005

 Washington is 61-7 when scoring four or more runs and 11-46 when scoring three or fewer.

MFin04
MFin04

It's BJ's 30th birthday today! Happy birthday! Maybe we can give him the day off for his b-day!?!

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

Lew - The Braves have not given Wood diddly for run support this year - when a situation like this occurs - a small lead after having pitched seven scoreless and you have good end of their rotation guys like we do, you do NOT make him subject to losing yet another low scoring game and take him out after seven while he can walk away with a great outing.

I dunno Lew. In hindsight, yeah, sure. At the time his pitch count was relatively low and when he left the game he had retired 16 out the last 17 batters he faced. 

I can't blame Fredi for wanting to go with . . . "The Hot Hand!" . . .    :-)

noleee
noleee

damn it that disturbance is far enough south that it will likely make it up in this area if it becomes a storm or hurricane

ComaToes
ComaToes

LH just said, "funny how one loss turns all the happy talk right back to the bitter, name-calling, finger-pointing drivel".   Let me see if I can add some semblance of sanity and reasonability to the wayward and depressing discussion.  I don't post a lot anymore due to having a life and being involved with things that occupy my spirited, astute mind.  When I do you can bet it's worth reading and paying attention to, unlike HRJr(formerly BB and QYB) who posts immature, silly drivel somewhat like his idols in FL and CA(hmmm, wonder who that could be?)  Now back to LH and his forthright but accurate comment.  It is strange how a very pleasant dream at night consisting of running through the forest chasing a beautiful damsel can be turned into a nightmare just by the mere happenstance of one thorn in the foot.  Wonder where I'm going with this huh?  Well, me too. Mainly just showing what can happen to those who are mostly "dreamers" and don't face reality.  Way too many of the regulars on here fit into that category. If it makes you feel better, it's nothing new, same old thing year after year.  "Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent".  (and misguided plus naive, I might add)

Now, the only way(face it) the Braves will end up with a playoff spot,  is for the Nationals to hit a 7-10 game losing streak while the Braves do just the opposite.  Just the opposite is happening right now.  The Nats are in the midst of a winning streak but the Braves are doing their typical inconsistent thing. Two steps back and one forward just will not do it.  The only other way is for ATL to sweep all the remaining head to head games with the Nats.  That would be more than a miracle. As for the wildcard, that's not even in the equation, as SF and St Louis will lock that up if they don't win their divisions. ATL has not had but one winning month since April, and that was just barely (June 15-13) and even though some would have you think otherwise by their jubilant optimism are in the midst of another losing month, 8-10, so far with 10 to go.  The must go 6-4 the rest of the month to even break even at 14-14.  To put it bluntly, this is NOT  a playoff-caliber team. 

The question was asked "who to root for"?  Just don't "root" for anyone.  It doesn't matter anyway.  The pieces will fall where they may no matter who anyone "roots" for.  We have no control over it whatsoever(even though some think they do).  Now, go occupy your minds with pleasant, worthwhile thoughts and do something constructive.  You will be a better person for it.  All this stress and high blood pressure will shorten your life!

(My posts are usually short, so just overlook this one this time. I picked a slow time of day anyway, and it's not a habit)   :>}


MFin04
MFin04

"I can't do it either.  Besides them just being the Nationals, I am a believer in shooting for the stars until the math eliminates you."

Yes, but if you shoot for the stars...and end up shooting yourself in the foot in the process (and missing the wild card as well)...that's not a good idea.

I'm perfectly fine with the Nationals clearing our way to the playoffs...they probably owe us something for us demolishing their butts into gear... 

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

National in trouble today - Desmond getting his 3rd day off of the season...and it's his Bobblehead Day!!!  I remember the angst some here felt last year when Oso sat out on his day...

noleee
noleee

its all just theater folks, the Jets vs the Sharks in virtual  baseball blog land

just another role playing game 95% of the time

Quicherbichin
Quicherbichin

difficult to choose.... which blog should I post on....  interesting....

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

@CobbBraveNightmare Marteeennn hit a double earlier and I just couldn't resist a brief shoutout as I sit here on my last loooonnnggg workday of the summer...did not intend to instigate discussion...

SultanOfSwing
SultanOfSwing

my best guess is that it's cause of CJ sucking and all

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@MFin04

Happy Birthday BJ!!! 

You're not getting older you're getting Better!!!   :-)

MFin04
MFin04

@VeniceJim Did we finally retrade for the guy...we desperately could use at multiple positions right now...?

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@ComaToes

 It is strange how a very pleasant dream at night consisting of running through the forest chasing a beautiful damsel can be turned into a nightmare just by the mere happenstance of one thorn in the foot.  

Two thoughts just on this part alone. . . .

Firstly, "I can not cover the whole world in leather to protect my feet from the thorns. I can, however, cover my feet with leather sandals."

Secondly, Have you ever thought about the fact that you are the dreamer of the dream and all the seeming different characters who may sometimes seem so real and different . . . are really all you; different aspects of you? They are all from the same source in your mind. They are only you and only you are the dreamer of the dream. . . .

MFin04
MFin04

@VeniceJim Sitting out your bobblehead day is absurd unless you are hurt...that's pretty darn stupid...

noleee
noleee

@Rabbit_Maranville1914

some folks mature after 30

noleee
noleee

@MFin04 @VeniceJim

why? Goss and Pena  and Boni all play multiple positions

we might could use a hitter, but we got multiple positions covered....

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@EMWTK @Rabbit_Maranville1914 @noleee

Happier than a pig in slop and twice as purty. . . . Not Natalie, of course.   :-)

noleee
noleee

@MFin04 @noleee @VeniceJim

whatever....

by the time we get rid of all that Prado will be worthless anyway


what can we argue about next?

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

@noleee I think our bench coach is doing a terrible job. As is the trainer and most of the scouts. Heads should roll after this season. As fans who truly care, we should demand no less.

But Fredi/FG are too cowardly, and Liberty Media is only looking for a tax break. Shameless loosers, every one.

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

@noleee But wait, you wanted an argument. Can't argue over facts, right? Hmmmm .... how 'bout LaStella's warm-up routine, pre-game? I think he could be doing better ...

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@noleee @LumanHarris

It's off with their heads
It's the least i can do
Off with their heads
Is the only phrase that always rings true
Never gets old
So i say to you
With conviction
Off with their heads
It's my one real milieu
Every one dreads what the queen may say
Though hats they may doff
It will be off with their heads
I try to be even and fair
But as you see
I'm almost never
All quite there

Noblesse oblige
My derrier

When i demand all must adhere
I wave my hand and all my courtiers appear
And when they don't or if they won't
Loud and clear it's off with their heads
I don't care what they've done
Off with their heads
Is my first and second
Rule number one
Once you've begun well it's so much fun
All together
Off with their heads is a mantra of mine
Off with their heads is my bottom line
And if you dare scoff, well then it's off with your head
Don't need a congress or a constitution
For its a forgone conclusion
That every problem has the same solution
Persuade crusade with a
Custom made renewable
Doable and unmisconstruable
Stainless steel blade

Off with their heads
It's the least i can do
Off with their heads
Is the only phrase that always rings true

Baby it's off off off off off off off off off off
With their heads
Off with their heads
Off with their heads