Division title within reach; Gattis returns

John Bazemore

The Braves continue on a direct path to October playoff baseball. The National League East division title is taken for granted at this time by any fan, reporter, player or coach that know the difference between home plate and first base. The strength of the team, the pitching staff, is seeing a reduced workload as reinforcements from the minor league system eat up innings.

 

EL OSO BLANCO …

While the offense was inconsistent late August and early September, the outlook is improving. Catcher, left fielder, sometimes first baseman and super-rookie Evan Gattis spent some time with the Gwinnett Braves to get needed at-bats. All-Star Brian McCann is having his best season as a power hitter and has been parked behind the plate five times a week on manager Fredi Gonzalez’s line-up card.

Since returning to the big-boy Braves last week, Gattis has been fantastic. In Gattis’ first 21 at bats since returning from Gwinnett, he slugged three home runs and two doubles. Over that span “El Oso Blanco” hit for a .333 average and a 1.221 OPS. Over the weekend in Philadelphia, he hit the longest home run in the history of Citizens Bank Park at 486 feet.

Gattis isn’t the only cure for the Braves’ offense. Injured right fielder Jason Heyward has been cleared for batting practice and will be ready for a postseason run. Heyward, who broke his jaw when was hit by Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese on Aug. 21, had his braces and rubber bands removed earlier this week and has resumed batting practice.

Before the injury Heyward was the Braves’ hottest hitter. As he assumed the leadoff role for Gonzalez, he raised his average 20 points and slugged four home runs in 18 August games. There’s no definitive timetable for his return, but Heyward is an essential part of the Braves’ postseason plans.

The Braves haven’t been overly inclined as some teams to populate their bench since major league rosters were allowed to expand to up 40 players in September. After calling up veteran pitcher Freddy Garcia and reliever Kameron Lee last week, they added highly-touted catcher Christian Bethancourt.

Reliever David Hale, a native of Marietta and Walker School graduate, was also snatched from Gwinnett’s roster and can spare some wear and tear on the bullpen arms, possibly even earning a spot start this month.

 

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