Three Cuts: Braves end offensive slumber, roll over Brewers
The Braves broke out of a slump in a big way Monday night, cruising to a 9-3 win over the Brewers. The club also benefited from Mike Minor's third strong outing of the year.
Freddie Freeman (left -- one homer), Jason Heyward (two runs, three hits) and pitcher Mike Minor (right -- one hit, one run) accounted for four runs and five hits in the Braves' 9-3 rout of the Brewers.
Daniel Shirey/Brett Davis / USA TODAY Sports
By Jay Clemons
ATLANTA -- Here are three things we gleaned from the Braves' 9-3 victory over the Brewers -- the National League's No. 2 team, record-wise (27-18), but one that looked quite ordinary on Monday:
1. So much for the Braves going an entire month without double-digit hits in a game
Behind Jason Heyward (two runs, three hits) and Freddie Freeman (one run, one RBI, two hits), Atlanta's offense racked up 15 hits against Milwaukee -- the club's highest output since April 25 (vs. the Reds).
By extension, it also marked the first time in May the Braves had tallied double-digit hits in a single outing ... which explains why the team ranked dead-last in that category heading into Monday (323 seasonal hits) -- a galling figure when comparing Atlanta's name-brand lineup to San Diego, Houston, the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.
But everything came up roses on Monday, with the Braves (24-19, 1st place in NL East) launching three homers (Freeman, Justin Upton and Ryan Doumit -- his 100th career blast), drawing six walks, posting their highest runs tally since April 19 and getting solid contributions throughout the hitting lineup.
"We had some pretty good at-bats," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez in the postgame media scrum. "We're a team that can do that," 1 through 8 in the lineup, "grind out runs."
The No. 9 hitter, pitcher Mike Minor, was also fruitful, collecting one hit and scoring one run.
For good measure, Atlanta also benefited from a pair of unearned runs in the early innings, before erupting for five in the eighth inning. That '5' spot, in turn, forced Milwaukee to insert first baseman Lyle Overbay -- as a pitcher -- to finish the frame.
"That's what add-on runs will do for you," said Gonzalez, when discussing how the big inning enabled closer Craig Kimbrel to rest up -- and not pitch on a third consecutive day.
Overbay retired Doumit -- who was batting for the second time in the 8th -- on a popout to end in the inning. When talking to the media, Doumit happily declared that Overbay, the pitcher, "has a bright future. I'm going to keep my eye on him."
1a. You have to love the gamesmanship that occurs between teams during the latter innings of a mini-blowout
With the Braves holding to a slim 4-3 lead in the bottom of the 8th, Doumit led things off with the aforementioned pinch-hit homer.
Up next, Heyward got hit by a pitch, eliciting hearty boos from the Turner Field faithful, believing Heyward had been intentionally plunked.
Wasting no time upon arriving to first base and perhaps still stinging from the hit-by-pitch ... Heyward stole second -- his second theft of the game.
2. Mike Minor picked a good night to break new ground on pitch counts
A full 12-month cycle had nearly elapsed since Minor (two runs, five hits allowed vs. Milwaukee) last tossed 110 or more pitches in an MLB start (May 25, 2013).
As such, Monday's effort against the Brewers (112 pitches, five strikeouts) represented tangible progress for a guy who didn't log a single MLB start in April, due to various offseason maladies.
In fact, after Carlos Gomez led off with a walk, Minor subsequently retired 11 straight Brewers hitters, before surrendering a harmless single to Jonathan Lucroy. His only subpar inning came in the 5th, when outfielder Khris Davis launched a two-run blast, cutting Milwaukee's deficit to one (3-2).
All in all, it was a clean, efficient performance for Minor, who tallied 68 strikes (44 balls) and routinely touched the low 90s on his fastball (according to the Turner Field radar gun).
"(Minor) did a nice job, got us all the way to the 7th inning, gave us a nice outing. And then we started swinging the bat ... swinging the bat really well," said Gonzalez.
Obviously, Minor (whose ERA dropped to 3.80) prefers pitching with a lead, opposed to working from behind or with the score tied; and that was his mindset, even after the Braves powered their way to a 3-0 lead.
"It's certainly easier" to pitch when ahead, said Minor, who has been relatively pleased with three of his four seasonal starts. "You know, it's a three-run game; and the worst (Khris Davis) can do is make it 3-2."
The Braves feel less tension when holding a divisional lead, as well.
"I don't think anybody's really panicking. We have a great team," said Minor, quick to remind the media of Atlanta's status atop the NL East. "We have too many good players to worry about (the team's sluggish May -- 7-10)."
3. The Braves offense had a chance -- at least early on -- to make this-century history
Atlanta tallied one run apiece in the first three innings and came excruciatingly close to collecting another in the 4th, when Freeman's two-out base hit prompted Heyward to attempt to score from second base.
But right fielder Ryan Braun's on-target throw arrived soon enough for Milwaukee catcher Martin Maldonado to corral the ball and execute a swipe-tag on Heyward, before touching home plate.
(In the old days, circa 2013, Maldonado would have blocked Heyward's entire path to the plate.)
With that tag, National League historians could breathe easy for another night, knowing no team would become the first of this century to score in every inning of a single game.
Which brings us to these nuggets ...
The last NL club to accomplish the feat: The 1999 Rockies scored either one or two runs nine different times in the team's 13-6 road rout of the Chicago Cubs (May 5).
The previous night, Colorado notched 12 runs ... but lost to the Cubbies at Wrigley Field (not hitter-friendly Coors Field).
According to Baseball Almanac, seven National League teams have scored at least one run in a nine-inning game -- the 1889 Cleveland Spiders, 1894 Washington Senators, 1894 Cleveland Spiders, 1897 Chicago Colts, 1923 New York Giants, 1964 St. Louis Cardinals and aforementioned 1999 Rockies.
On the flip side ... an American League team has never tallied at least one run for every inning of a nine-inning game.
Citing Baseball Almanac again, the six AL clubs to accomplish the feat -- 1903 Boston Americans, 1923 Cleveland Indians, 1939 New York Yankees, 1949 Chicago White Sox, 1998 Kansas City Royals and 2006 Yankees -- all scored at least once in the first eight frames, before clinching their victories without an at-bat in the 9th.
Incidentally, when the 2006 Yankees rolled for 17 runs (at least one per inning) against the Blue Jays (April 29), neither Alex Rodriguez (0 for 3, one RBI) nor Derek Jeter (0 for 4, one RBI) collected a base hit.