Three Cuts: Braves down A’s with long ball after long ball

Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (left) congratulates shortstop Phil Gosselin (right) on a home run against the Oakland Athletics in the sixth inning at Turner Field. The Braves took Game 1 of the series on Friday, 7-2.

Brett Davis/Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA —The Atlanta Braves did two things on Friday that this team typically has trouble doing in the same game. The Braves scored seven runs, and got great performances on the mound.

Alex Wood gave up a single and two walks in the first inning, but calmed down to throw six strong. He allowed just four hits and two runs, as the Braves outscored the Oakland Athletics 7-2.

Relievers David Carpenter, Jordan Walden and James Russell each pitched an inning of relief, and neither gave up a hit or run. Atlanta’s four pitchers combined to sit down the final 17 Oakland batters in order, with no one reaching base.

The Braves took Game 1 of the series from the best team in baseball (73-49), and have two more game this weekend to close out the series. Before that, let’s talk about three observations from Friday’s win:

It seems like forever ago that Wood was relegated to the bullpen as the Braves tried to save his arm by limiting his innings. From May 9 to June 8, Wood was used in relief. But he made seven starts prior to his relief work, and after Friday’s action, has now made 10 starts since rejoining the rotation.

Wood pitched six innings and only gave up four hits and two runs on Friday. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he wanted to limit Wood’s time on the mound after throwing 124 pitches in his last start, which is why he was removed prior to the seventh inning, even though he seemed to be rolling.

Outside of the first inning where he walked two and allowed a hit, and the fourth inning where three hits–including a Nate Freiman two-run blast–led to two runs, Wood had the game under control. He three times sat the A’s down in order, and he worked the final eight batters he faced without letting one on base.

It wasn’t just Friday, Wood seems to have been in control for the last six weeks.

Over his last 10 starts since June 25, when Wood rejoined the rotation, he’s 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA. In 62 2/3 inning, Wood has only allowed 52 hits and struck out 57 batters. His record might not show the level of real dominance, but there’s more to Wood’s wins and losses than just his time on the mound.

Wood hasn’t given up more than four earned runs in any start since June 25, and is on an amazing run of seven games in his last 10 where he’s pitched at least six innings, and given up six hits or fewer and two runs or fewer, including his last four straight starts.

There’s also been another unfortunate circumstance of timing that Wood has had to endure. Two of Wood’s last four starts have come against All-Stars: Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. Wood, all season long, just seems to be drawing every ace from every opponent.

He won’t complain about it, but Wood’s record should be much better that 9-9. He’s pitched more like a 13-game winner well above .500.

With their win on Friday, the Braves are now 42-18 when they hit a home run. But what about when they hit four in a game?

Justin Upton and Evan Gattis each launched solo shots in the second inning to get the Braves started. Then Freddie Freeman put three runs on the board with a blast over the center-field wall in the third inning.

Phil Gosselin added insurance in the sixth with a two-run home run.

To answer the question about hitting at least four home runs in a game … well, the Braves do pretty well when that happens.

On April 14, Atlanta beat Philadelphia 9-6 when three Braves’ hitters hit five home runs: Gattis (2), Dan Uggla (2) and Andrelton Simmons. The Braves blanked the Rockies on May 25 when Gattis hit two bombs, and Justin Upton and Chris Johnson added shots.


Add in Friday’s game with four homers, and the Braves are 3-0 in 2014 when power is plentiful.

It’s probably just a freak anomaly, but notice that in all three games with at least four home runs this season, one hitter is the catalyst: Gattis.

Gosselin was the fourth Atlanta hitter to go yard on Friday, but he was the only one whose blast was a career first.

It took the 25-year-old rookie 28 major-league plate appearances (seven in 2013, 21 this season) to hit his first home run.

Gosselin, a fifth-round draft pick in 2010 out of the University of Virginia, spent five seasons in the minors with 19 home runs. That means he belted one for every 114.6 plate appearances he registered. He’s only got one homer thus far at the big-league level, but he went yard at a far quicker pace than he did in the minors.

Don’t expect Gosselin to keep up the pace of a home run for every 28 plate appearances, however.

While Gattis is the starting catcher for this Braves team, because the position puts such wear on his body, Gattis doesn’t get the same number of at-bats as other players in the field. Catchers need a day off regularly.

But what if Gattis could play every day?

This season he’s played in 84 games and logged 298 at-bats. Gattis is batting .275 with 15 doubles, 18 home runs and 46 RBI. To see what kind of hitter Gattis would be if he played in all 162 games in a season, we need to borrow from 2013.

By taking the final 78 games of Gattis’ season last year–254 at-bats, 13 doubles, 14 home runs and 46 RBI–we can see an impressive 162-game split. Over Gattis’ most recent 162 games, he’s batting .259 with 28 doubles, 32 home runs and 92 RBI.

I’m sure the Braves would take those numbers.

And while you may be reading this and asking why you’re being bombarded with a fantasy situation, consider this: Gattis can play other positions besides catcher. He spent four games at first base last season, and 48 in left field.

If the Braves decide in 2015 that catcher Christian Bethancourt is ready for the majors, and they want to keep Gattis on the roster as well, it makes sense to put Bethancourt behind the plate, because he’s the much better defensive player.

In that scenario, Gattis has to play in the outfield somewhere and spell Bethancourt behind the plate on occasion. But that’s a fine scenario, because the Braves get better defensively at catcher, and they might get something close to that 162-game Gattis with 32 bombs.