Blue Jays-Braves: Johnson, McCann Power Atlanta to Sweep

James HulkaAnalyst IMay 24, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 11: Catcher Brian McCann #16 of the Atlanta Braves bats against the Washington Nationals on April 11, 2009 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson combined for six hits, three home runs, and seven RBI to lead the Braves past the Toronto Blue Jays 10-2 on Sunday afternoon.

The Braves looked to make the game a blowout early, as Kelly Johnson led off the game with an opposite field home run and McCann followed three batters later with a blast off of Toronto starter Scott Richmond.

However, Richmond settled down, going the next four innings without allowing a run. He wiggled out of a huge jam in the fourth as a single and double by Brian McCann and Martin Prado put runners on second and third with only one out. Jeff Francoeur chased a first pitch slider to ground out, and Diory Hernandez also grounded out, ending the inning with both runners still stranded.

Vernon Wells set up the Jays' first run after leading off the top of the fourth with a single. He promptly stole second and third on consecutive pitches, scoring on a groundout by Jose Bautista.

Wells also scored the Jays' second run when he led off the top of the sixth with a double to center. He scored three batters later on a Lyle Overbay RBI single.

Jair Jurrjens didn't have his best stuff and navigated through trouble all day. He did not retire the side in order in any of his six innings, but got a double play to end the second inning, and in two innings, the only baserunners reached after he'd retired the first two hitters.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Jurrjens kept the damage to a minimum with a line of 6.0 IP, 2 ER, 8 H, 2 BB and 3 K.  and striking out three. He left after throwing 66 of his 102 pitches for strikes and the game tied at two.

Peter Moylan came on to start the seventh and gave up an infield single to Marco Scutaro before striking out Aaron Hill. He couldn't put away Alex Rios, hitting him in the calf, and subsequently walked Vernon Wells after five straight foul balls to load the bases.

Eric O'Flaherty was summoned from the bullpen and got Adam Lind to strike out swinging on a slider. Bobby Cox brought in Jeff Bennett to face Jose Bautista, now with two outs and the bases still loaded, and induced a soft fly ball to end the inning.

Facing Toronto right-hander Shawn Camp in the seventh, Jeff Francoeur and Diory Hernandez laced one-out singles to left before Jordan Schafer patiently drew a walk to load the bases.

Jason Frasor was brought in to face Chipper Jones, after he was held out of the starting lineup the entire series with toe problems. He lined the first pitch he saw off the glove of first baseman Lyle Overbay into right field to drive in the go-ahead run from third for an RBI single, and signaling immediately to Bobby Cox he didn't need to come out for a pinch runner.

The running was made easier as Kelly Johnson came up and blasted a ground-rule double to center, scoring Hernandez and Schafer, and making the score 5-2.

After an intentional walk to Casey Kotchman to re-load the bases, Garret Anderson scored Jones from third on a sacrifice fly and a 6-2 lead. Brian McCann cleaned up by blasting a three-run homer into the Braves bullpen in right-center for a 9-2 lead.

After Rafael Soriano set the Jays down in order quietly in the top of the eighth, the Braves added one more in bottom half off of Brandon League. Diory Hernandez singled with one out, and went to third on a double to center by Jordan Schafer. Pinch-hitter Greg Norton drove in Hernandez with a groundout to second.

Manny Acosta finished off the sweep getting around a throwing error and a single by getting a nice double play turned by Martin Prado at third before striking out Vernon Wells to end the game.

The Braves in the series outscored Toronto 15-5, with the starters going 21.1 innings allowing a total of four runs. Bobby Cox's bullpen moves paid off all series long, as Rafael Soriano put out the fire in the ninth on Saturday, and both Eric O'Flaherty and Jeff Bennett did the same in the seventh today.

I liked the move earlier this week of sending down James Parr and calling Manny Acosta back up to fill that hole in the bullpen. Parr is really a starter being used in long relief, and the Braves already had two guys capable of that role in the bullpen in Buddy Carlyle and Jeff Bennett, and also realizing Jorge Campillo is on the DL. Having another live arm for the late-inning situations was a smart move.

The Braves also swept a first-place team without Chipper Jones in the starting lineup, and only coming up for one pinch-hit appearance. His one appearance gave the Braves the lead late, so it was important, but the Braves got enough done without him.

Kelly Johnson seems to be getting hot again, having gone 5-for-9 with 4 RBI, 4 R, and 2 HR in the last two games. Brian McCann has continued swinging a hot bat since his return from the DL, going 6-for-10 in the series with 2 HR and 4 RBI, raising his average above .300.

After hitting .195 in April, Brian McCann has hit at a .364 clip for the month of May.

With the starters being stellar in this series, the Braves hope that Kris Medlen can regain the form he had while at AAA Gwinnett prior to getting called up. After today, the Braves are now 17-7 in the 24 games where they get a quality start—and only one of those was provided by Jo-Jo Reyes.

Those numbers are even more impressive when you take in to account three factors:

1) Jair Jurrjens won his first two starts without getting through six innings. He went five-plus innings each time with a 2.46 ERA beating Philadelphia and Washington.

2) Javier Vazquez had the bullpen blow two leads in games he provided a quality start. His 4-3 record could be 6-3 if the Philadelphia meltdown didn't happen, and Mike Gonzalez had earned the save instead of the win last Friday against Arizona.

3) The Braves had starts cut short by rain delays twice—each time with one of their best pitchers on the mound. Derek Lowe only pitched 3.0 innings against the Nationals before the rains came. Jair Jurrjens only got through 2.0 innings against Houston.

Considering all of this, the Braves staff, spots one through four, has done quite well. Kawakami's last start was the best start by anyone this year, save for Lowe on Opening Day. Kenshin's ERA in May is a tidy 2.63 (2-2, 7 ER in 24.0 IP), as he starts looking like the pitcher the Braves hoped he would be.

The Braves now head off to the west coast to play three against the Giants and four against the Diamondbacks. Pitching probables for the seven-game road trip are as follows:

May 25: Javier Vazquez (4-3, 3.39) vs Jonathan Sanchez (1-4, 4.74) (SFO)

May 26: Kris Medlen (0-1, 15.00) vs Tim Lincecum (3-1, 3.45) (SFO)

May 27: Kenshin Kawakami (3-5, 4.73) vs Randy Johnson (3-4, 6.26) (SFO)

May 28: Derek Lowe (6-2, 3.45) vs Dan Haren (3-4, 2.57) (ARZ)

May 29: Jair Jurrjens (4-2, 2.07) vs Jon Garland (4-2, 4.70) (ARZ)

May 30: Javier Vazquez (4-3, 3.39) vs Doug Davis (2-6, 3.95) (ARZ)

May 31: Kris Medlen (0-1, 15.00) vs Max Scherzer (1-3, 3.50) (ARZ)

Monday, Saturday, and Sunday are day games. Tuesday through Friday are night games.