Three Cuts: Braves restore order in NL East with sweep of Marlins
JUN 01, 2014 4:41p ET
Evan Gattis has a penchant for late-game heroics -- and for feasting on Marlins pitching in Miami.
He added to both of those narratives Sunday, blasting a two-run home run to propel the Braves to a 4-2 win that gave Atlanta a three-game sweep.
Gattis sent Steve Cishek's 90-mph sinker to deep center field for his 11th home of the season. It was the 12th of his career to come in the seventh inning or later and the fifth in Marlins Park in 12 games played there.
Shae Simmons, 48 hours after his promotion from Double-A, sealed the win with his first save, making the Braves the first team to win three straight over the Marlins at home this season.
Here are three observations from the game:
1. Braves restore order in NL East
When Atlanta last went to Miami for an April 29-May 1 set, it held a 3 1/2-game lead in the National League East, but after a three-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins, that edged dwindled to 1 1/2.
It was the start of an erratic stretch for the Braves, as they dropped 18 of 29 games, culminating in losing four in a row to the Red Sox.
They headed back to Miami for this series tied with the Marlins for the division lead, just the second time since April 15 Atlanta didn't sit atop the East outright. Add in Atlanta's struggles and that the Marlins started Friday with more home wins (20) than any team in the majors, the chances of leaving Florida with the East lead were daunting.
But the Braves bounced back and took a three-game division lead by outscoring the Marlins 16-9 and pounded out 29 hits -- with just one home run -- and provided that offense with Freddie Freeman getting two hits in 12 at-bats and Justin Upton delivering just one in eight chances.
Meanwhile, the starting staff bottled up an offense that ranks second in MLB in runs scored at home (165) and is No. 2 in the NL in home batting average (.285), allowing a combined seven earned runs in 20 innings.
2. Harang puts Marlins Park debacle way behind him
Aaron Harang's struggles against the Marlins have been of a personally historic nature, with his 6.54 ERA the highest vs. any team he's seen at least eight times. That includes a career-worst nine earned runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings in a 9-3 loss April 30 in Miami.
Things looked headed for a similarly rocky outing Sunday as he was tagged for three consecutive hits to start the second as Garrett Jones doubled, Marcell Ozuna followed with a home run and Adeiny Hechavarria added a single. But those would be the only runs Harang would allow as he scattered five hits over 6 2/3 innings with four walks and two strikeouts.
He did work his way into trouble in the fourth inning with Jones on third with two outs, but after intentionally walking Hechavarria, Harang got pitcher Nathan Eovaldi to line out to end the threat.
The one-time NL ERA leader hasn't been as dazzling since that last start at Marlins Park, when he entered with a 0.85 ERA. But he's posted a 3.50 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in his last six games and has yielded just one home run despite what remains an elevated flyball rate of 41.2 percent. In fact, he's given up three HRs in 71 1/3 innings this season, and they've all come via Miami, including two by Ozuna.
3. So far, so good for La Stella
Amid the struggles of the Braves second basemen at the plate, all eyes have been on Tommy La Stella since his Wednesday call up from Triple-A and debut in Boston.
Sunday, he continued to look every bit what the team has been lacking at the position, going 2 for 3 with a run scored for his third multi-hit game in the first five of his MLB career. In all, he's 6 for 15 (.400) with two walks and zero strikeouts since joining the club.
That plate discipline has arguably been La Stella's biggest asset -- and certainly played a large part in his promotion -- as he had just 14 in 198 plate appearances in Gwinnett. Atlanta had a collective 51 strikeouts from its second basemen before La Stella's arrival, the fifth-highest total in the majors, and simply putting the ball in play paid dividends Sunday.
La Stella led off the third with a single, reaching third after Andrelton Simmons' base hit and a sacrifice bunt by Harang. Driven in by Jason Heyward with one out to cut the Marlins' lead to 2-1, La Stella's hit set the stage for Simmons to score as B.J. Upton followed Heyward by grounding into a force out. Had the Braves gotten their typical 26.8 percent strikeout rate via its second basemen, chances are they don't pull even at 2-2 in that inning.
It's an extremely small sample size, but five games in, the Braves are getting exactly what they wanted out of La Stella.