Three Cuts: Braves bats help clinch series win over Angels
JUN 16, 2014 1:45a ET
ATLANTA â After a slow start at the plate (two hits and no runs through five innings), the Atlanta Braves scored four runs in the sixth inning to take a 4-3 lead over the Los Angeles Angels, and never looked back on Sunday. The Braves added runs in the seventh and eighth, and held on to win 7-3. Here are three observations from the series-clinching victory:
1. The Braves masterfully answered the Angels' big inning with a bigger, better version
Through the 67 games prior to Sunday's, opposing hitters have only been able to muster 57 hits while batting .244 in the third inning against Atlanta. Outside of the ninth inning this season (32 hits, .171 batting average allowed), Braves pitchers have enjoyed hurling in the third frame as much as any other.
That wasn't the case Sunday night.
The Angels opened the third with four straight hits: a solo blast from Mike Trout, and then Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick followed with singles. Kendrick's drove in Pujols for the third run of the game.
By the end of the third, Los Angeles led 3-0, and had accumulated eight hits. The Braves had just one, a Freddie Freeman double in the first. After five innings, the Angels had 11 hits while the Braves could muster only two. Everything was going Los Angeles' way.
Then the Braves had a huge inning of their own to one-up the Angels.
After Jason Heyward popped out to the shortstop to start the sixth, B.J. Upton walked. Then the floodgates opened. Freeman, Evan Gattis, Justin Upton and Chris Johnson each singled. Gattis drove in B.J. Upton, Justin Upton drove in Freeman, Chris Johnson singled, and then Tommy La Stella doubled to drive in Gattis and Justin Upton.
"I think that's some kind of record," manager Fredi Gonzalez joked about the five consecutive hits Atlanta assembled in the sixth inning. "We hadn't seen (Hector) Santiago at all. The third time through the lineup, I think we had a better read on him. We started seeing better at-bats."
The Atlanta hits didn't stop after Santiago was chased from the game, however. The Braves added two runs on three hits in the seventh, and one run on two hits in the eighth. What might be more impressive than the Braves' seven runs in their final three innings is how they scored them.
Only one run, Heyward's solo shot in the seventh, was plated with the long ball. In a season where everything seems to happen because of a home run, the Braves scored, and largely won, as the result of two bases on balls (one intentional), eight singles, a double, a stolen base, two wild pitches and a sacrifice fly.
That, Braves fans, is called small ball.
It's also called a series win, Atlanta's first since a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins from May 30-June 1, and just their third in their last 10. The win also pushed the Braves back into sole possession of first place in the NL East at 36-32, one game ahead of both the Marlins and Washington Nationals.
2. Good riddance to Trout & Co.
The Angels boast one of the most feared trio of hitters in baseball in Trout, Pujols and Hamilton. Between the three, they have a combined 768 career home runs (Pujols 508, Hamilton 185 and Trout 75) and four MVP Awards (Pujols in 2005, '08 and '09, and Hamilton in 2010). In Trout's first three seasons, he finished in second place in the MVP voting twice. Take away Pujols' three first-place finishes, and he has seven other top five MVP showings.
Oh, and both Pujols (2001) and Trout (2012) were Rookies of the Year.
Prior to the game, Gonzalez said the most dangerous Angels hitter might not be one of those notorious three.
"(Erick Aybar) may be more dangerous than the other guys," Gonzalez said. "Because he's going to put the ball in play, he's going to get on, he's going to steal you a bag."
Aybar got the scoring going for the Angels in the second inning with a solo shot, as if he had heard Atlanta's manager give praise hours earlier. But then Los Angeles' big three took over.
Trout went 3 for 5 with a home run, while Pujols and Hamilton were both 2 for 4. Combined the trio put up a 16-for-42 (.381) series with three home runs and 12 RBI.
"Do these guys hit every inning?" Gonzalez said he asked bench coach Carlos Tosca during Saturday's game. "What's going on over there? Are they hitting out of order? It seems like they hit every inning: Trout, Hamilton and Pujols."
Even though the Braves took two of three games from the Angles, Gonzalez, and likely the Braves pitching staff will be happy not to have to see these Angels again in 2014, unless a World Series ring is on the line.
3. Gattis, La Stella continue raking, streaking
At the beginning of June, you would have gotten some pretty steep odds in Vegas if you had said the two players leading the Braves in base hits after the first two weeks of the month would be Gattis (20) and La Stella (19).
That's exactly how it's played out, though, and the Braves skipper said his team has gotten exactly what it expected from La Stella.
"I think La Stella thinks there's another league (to advance to) other than this one, the way he carries himself," Gonzalez joked after Sunday's win. "It doesn't surprise me that he feels this comfortable right away. He's doing what we thought he was going to do, swinging the bat and putting the ball in play. Our minor-league, player-development guys gave us a great scouting report on him."
La Stella said it's nice to have started his career in the majors on a good foot, but didn't have any expectations of a statistical manner.
"It's not always going to be like this," La Stella said of his early success. "So I'll take it when I can get it."
La Stella is currently enjoying a six-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 12 of his last 13. Counting Sunday, he's provided the Braves with nine multi-hit efforts in 16 games with the team. Over his last 13 games, La Stella is batting .447 with two doubles and six RBI.
With Gattis' 2-for-4 night Sunday, he's now hit safely in 15 straight, the longest active streak in the National League. During the streak, Gattis is hitting .417 with three doubles, seven home runs and 18 RBI.
As Gattis and La Stella think about their hitting streaks, the Braves will try to focus on beginning a new streak of consecutive series' wins. Atlanta welcomes the Philadelphia Phillies to town Monday for three games. The Braves took two of three from the Phillies in April in their first meeting with the divisional foes.