Three Cuts: Balanced Braves down D-backs for 8th straight win

Dale Zanine

It’s fun to tune into Atlanta sports radio and listen to fans gripe about certain aspects of the Braves’ season — whether it’s Fredi Gonzalez’s managerial acumen, the 2-hole in the lineup having a Bermuda Triangle-like feel or how the pitching rotation needs a true No. 1 starter to reach the World Series (apparently Julio Teheran isn’t old enough to be a workhorse).

At various times of the season, the above complaints might have validity.

On the flip side, how would you like to be an Arizona fan right now? Wayyyyyyyy back in March, some national pundits had the Diamondbacks tabbed as serious contenders for the National League West title, or a wild-card slot, at the very least.

The reasons for such optimism: Paul Goldschmidt (36 homers, 125 RBI, 103 runs, 15 steals, .302 batting, .401 OPS in 2013) might have felt jilted out of last year’s National League MVP trophy, stud pitcher Archie Bradley was a relative shoo-in to make the D-backs’ starting rotation and the front office was riding high from executing two deals in the offseason — trading for slugger Mark Trumbo and closer Addison Reed.

And yet, the 2014 campaign has been an unmitigated flop for Kirk Gibson’s Diamondbacks, with the club sitting in dead last in the NL West (36-52) and perhaps needing a substantial upgrade with their pitchers.

NEXT UP: DIAMONDBACKS-BRAVES

The Braves, now winners of eight consecutive games, make the move to Fox Sports 1 for their Saturday clash with the Diamondbacks. First pitch starts at 4:10 p.m. EST.

For example, Josh Collmenter has arguably been the team’s best pitcher this year, entering Friday with respectable tallies with wins (seven), ERA (3.74) and WHIP (1.24).

There was one moment of tension, however: In the eighth inning, Goldschmidt’s RBI double off Braves reliever Jordan Walden trimmed the deficit to 5-2 and thrusted Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero into the spot of representing the tying run at the plate.

But he struck out for the 62nd time this season, effectively ending Arizona’s only major rally of the evening.

It’s been a good six-week stretch for Santana, who allowed just two runs and six hits over 7 1/3 superb innings on Friday — his longest outing since April 9 (season debut vs. Mets).

Since May 31, the veteran pitcher has tallied three wins, a 3.79 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 38/12 K-BB ratio — a considerable upgrade from the three wretched outings in May that resulted in 17 earned runs allowed.

For the night, Santana never faced more than five Diamondbacks in a single frame; and from innings 3-7 (beginning with a Goldschmidt strikeout to end the 3rd), Santana enjoyed a prolific stretch of 14 hitters and 13 retired — with a walk to former Brave Martin Prado serving as the span’s only glitch.

In fact, Arizona didn’t even make contact at the plate to earn its first run in the 2nd. A Santana wild pitch enabled Prado to score from third base.

"It’s a shame (Santana) gave up two runs — one on a wild pitch and one on a (fielder’s choice)," said Gonzalez in his postgame address. "If not, he might have thrown a shutout today."

The affable and perpetually low-key Santana seemed reasonably content with Friday’s outing, lamenting how "everything’s coming back my way again." But it’s not like his postgame demeanor changes much, through thick and thin.

"I just keep working hard, keep trying to get the ball down in the zone," said Santana, who threw strikes on 67 of his 108 pitches.

Of course, it also helps when you’re operating with a three-run cushion early in a game.

"Every time we (score early) like that, it’s good for me and it’s good for the team," Santana said.

The above statement read a little awkward. After all, there’s no such thing as a bad hitting streak. But when compared to the other streaks from 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012 … the 2014 version lags behind the group.

Not that Fredi Gonzalez cares much about that.

"He’s hitting the ball well" and getting good bounces now, says Gonzalez. "Earlier in the year, (B.J. was) hitting the ball as hard as I’ve ever seen him hit it."

Here’s the breakdown of the Upton streaks (all career highs):