On the American Holiday, Freddie Freeman returned like a true American hero almost a full month before expected. It could not have come at a better time either, as the Braves now have eyes on the Nationals, sitting 7.5 games back. Atlanta also enters their toughest month of baseball that began with the MLB’s best team so far, the Houston Astros.
With the Braves returning home from a three-game sweep of Oakland, a red-hot Sean Newcomb on the mound and the announcement of Freddie Freeman into the starting lineup-at third base nonetheless-SunTrust Park was oozing with excitement for July 4th’s matchup.
But what happened was the Astros showed why they are the best team in the league. From top to bottom this lineup is a spectacle. It’s so ridiculous, guys like Evan Gattis and Carlos Beltran are platooning DH hitters rather than middle of the order guys. And for the first time in his short major league career, Newcomb’s stuff did not seem so dominant.
The Astros knocked him out of the game after 3 1/3 innings, as he let up 7 earned runs while only striking out a batter. A gaudy line, that probably did not represent how Newcomb really pitched. The southpaw was able to consistently get ahead of hitters, but credit the Astros, they battled and battled until Newcomb made the slightest mistake and they took advantage. It was a tough night for the rookie, who really threw the ball well. Houston just has the type of lineup where on some night that just does not matter.
None of the other Braves pitchers had much luck either. The Astros knocked in multiple earned runs against four of the five pitchers they faced, including a grand slam by Josh Reddick with two outs in the top of the 9th.
Meanwhile the Braves offensive lull of late continued. For the ninth consecutive game, Atlanta failed to score at least five runs. Despite that, the Braves have gone 5-3 in their previous eight games. But against this power lineup of Houston, that is going to have to change if they want to win Wednesday.
Tuesday’s game was just one of the major stories in this one. The side story: Freddie Freeman’s performance, went much better. He stepped up to the plate to the tune of a standing ovation, that ended in typical Freddie Freeman fashion with a single to center. He finished the game 1 for 4 with a strikeout, but reported no problems with the wrist, which is the biggest concern at this point.
Freeman also passed as a third baseman, for a game at least. It looked a little different, but he had no problem fielding the ball and really does have a cannon of an arm. He may not be a gold glover, but he should be just fine as a third baseman for the rest of the season and maybe even further.
The addition of Freeman back into the lineup should give the slumping Braves one of the most powerful lineups in all of baseball going down the stretch. It may not have seemed like it last night, but this is beginning to look more and more like a playoff teams as the year progresses. Do not be surprised if the Braves are actually buying rather than selling at the trade deadline. Particularly, if they see success through this gauntlet of a stretch in July where they face the Astros, Nationals, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Dodgers and Diamondbacks again. That’s one hell of a stretch, but this Braves team might just surprise some people this month.