ATLANTA -- It's against sub-.500 teams -- whom make up 47.5 percent of the remainder of the schedule -- where the Braves need to dominate if they're going to repeat at National League East champs.
They did exactly that Wednesday, jumping on Nathan Eovaldi early and getting a gem from Ervin Santana, in cruising to a 6-1 victory over the Marlins.
The win moved Atlanta to 35-29 against teams with losing records and 21-17 against the division's collection of Miami, the Mets and Phillies.
Here are three thoughts from Turner Field:
1. Braves finally break through against Eovaldi
So much for Nathan Eovaldi's dominance of this Braves lineup.
With a 6.38 ERA in his four previous starts, and coming off his worst outing of the season as he gave up eight runs last Friday against the Giants, the Marlins hard-throwing right-hander seemed in line to turn it around in Atlanta.
In three games this season, he had a 1.29 ERA vs. the Braves, and had allowed two runs or less in eight of his nine starts. Overall, the Braves were hitting just .202 against him.
But with five runs through the first two innings, punctuated by a three-run home run from Freddie Freeman -- one of the players Eovaldi had victimized most often -- Atlanta wrote a very different ending against him.
"We were just able to hit his mistakes," Freeman said. "He hung a couple of curveballs and he made a couple of fastballs out over (the plate)."
They wasted no time in getting to him, either.
B.J. Upton, who was 1 for 11 (.091) against Eovaldi coming in, led off with a double, then three batters later, he was driven in with a sacrifice fly by his brother Justin, who had zero previous RBI vs. Eovaldi in 16 plate appearances.
An inning later, Andrelton Simmons' one-out single and a two-out base hit from B.J. Upton were followed by an RBI hit from Tommy La Stella and Freeman's opposite field home run as he drove a 75-mph curve ball into the first row of seats in right field.
"I've been working hard the last couple of weeks to get the swing back," Freeman said. "Today in (batting practice) I was able to hit the ball to left-center again and I was able to carry it over to the game."
Freeman was just 3 for 23 (.130) against Eovaldi with one base hit -- a double -- and two RBI. It was even worse this season, as the Braves first basemen was 0 for 8 in their matchups with a walk, and in all, he was 2 for 44 against the Marlins in 2014.
"I can't explain it, you can't explain it, nobody can explain it," Freeman said. "It was usually going back to the series before and it carried over to the Marlins. I was able to get a hit finally tonight."
The All-Star's home run was his first since May 19 at Turner Field, snapping a drought of 124 plate appearances.
But Eovaldi rebounded from those mistake-laden first two innings, retiring nine straight after the Freeman home run until he issued a fifth-inning walk to Justin Upton, and allowed just one more base runner as he hit Gerald Laird in the sixth. But the damage was done as Atlanta totaled five earned runs on six hits against Eovaldi, who dropped to 5-6.
"He's had our number sometimes and we were able to get him today" Freeman said."
2. Santana provides strong outing in more than a month
Ervin Santana's first month as a Brave was spectacular. He had a 1.95 ERA through April, and through mid-May, that figure was still below 2.00.
Since then, his starts have been a combination of hits and misses as he was tagged for 6.44 runs from May 16-June 12 and since then, he had allowed less than three runs twice in six starts.
Against the Marlins, who he had a career 5.61 ERA, Santana looked like the player of April, as he fanned pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin to open the eighth for his 10th strikeout. It marked his 13th career double-digit Ks game of his career and the second of the season
"It was good," Santana said. "It feels good anytime when you come out and throw strikes and get people out."
Over 7 1/3 innings, Santana (9-6, 3.87 ERA) yielded one run -- his fewest since yielding zero vs. the Diamondbacks on June 7 -- on six hits with three walks. He also posted a Game Score (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_score) of 68, his best since he had a 73 vs. the Cubs on May 10 and his fourth highest of the season.
Santana didn't allow a hit until a troublesome third inning against Miami, as the first four batters reached. He issued a walk to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, followed by an Adeiny Hechavarria single, then walked Eovaldi before Christian Yelich scored Saltalamacchia with a base hit to right.
The Marlins put a runner past second just once over Santana's next 3 1/3 as he faced the minimum twice, including a sixth inning in which he struck out Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones swinging.
3. B.J. Upton finding comfort zone atop the lineup
First off, there's the Peter Gammons tweet. It was impossible to ignore coming on the heels of the Braves parting ways with Dan Uggla, as the legendary baseball writer posted the following over the weekend:
Gm post-Uggla:"Braves desperate to get someone to take BJ Upton at almost any cost."
Whether it means anything or is simply words that got twisted, it would be simply stunning if Upton weren't in a Braves uniform after the deadline, and frankly, through the bulk of his five-year deal. The deadline is ripe for wild rumors, and this may be just that.
Plus, at the top of the order, Upton is providing consistency.
Wednesday's 2 for 5 night, which included his second double in as many games, pushed the center fielder to a .247 average since moving to the leadoff role June 24, a span of 100 plate appearances.
"He's done a nice job in the leadoff spot," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
When stacked against leadoff hitters with at least as many PAs, Upton's numbers aren't spectacular, but they're solid. His batting average ranks 33rd, just behind the Braves' former No. 1 Jason Heyward at .254, and his on-base percentage (.291) is 41st, while Heyward posted a .334 (23rd).
What we're seeing has to be seen as a positive. He hit .207 in 252 PAs at second this season and .171 in sixth; a year ago, his best came at seventh (.225). Regardless of any hearsay, Upton's time in Atlanta isn't likely to come to and end any time soon, and it just so happens that this rumor surfaced with Upton at his most effective as a Brave.