Three Cuts: Johnson-led Braves trip Cubs in first-half finale
The Braves, led by force-of-nature slugger Chris Johnson (three weeekend homers), rolled over the Cubs 10-7 on Sunday and clinched a first-place divisional tie at the All-Star break.
Chris Johnson (three weekend dingers) was a force of nature on Sunday, racking up one homer, three hits, three runs and three RBI in the Braves' win over the Cubs.
David Banks / USA TODAY Sports
By Jay ClemonsFOX Sports South
Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 10-7 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, putting an exclamation point on Atlanta's strong first half of the season:
1. Chris Johnson and his red-hot bat might not enjoy the four-day break from baseball
The kids in Johnson's neighborhood shouldn't be too surprised if/when the Braves third baseman crashes a sandlot game this week. After crushing the Cubs for three homers, five runs and seven RBI on Saturday/Sunday, it's imperative for Johnson to stay active during his four days off.
By any means necessary.
On Sunday, Johnson was one of four Braves (along with Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Tommy La Stella) to register multiple hits against the overmatched Cubs (40-52, last place in NL Central).
Johnson was also one of four Atlanta hitters (Upton, Heyward, Andrelton Simmons) to notch multiple runs on the day.
(Baseball historians will love this: The Saturday/Sunday victories marked the first time in 41 years the Braves had collected double-digit runs at Wrigley Field on consecutive days -- Aug. 15-16, 1973.)
Johnson, however, was the only Atlanta player to launch a homer on Sunday. His moon shot to center field (third inning) upped the Braves' lead to 7-0 and helped clinch All-Star pitcher Julio Teheran's ninth win of the season.
Speaking of Teheran (six strikeouts over seven innings), the four runs allowed aren't a great concern, long term. He was pitching from a position of strength early on, allowing him to focus on consistently throwing strikes ... instead of obsessing about making perfect pitches on every attempt.
That aside, for a stretch that covered Innings 1-5, Teheran retired 12 straight Cubs hitters.
2. Atlanta's first-half numbers hold up well when matched up against recent history
The Braves should love their standing going into the break, carrying a 52-43 record and (virtually) sharing first-place honors with the Washington Nationals (51-42) in the National League East.
And if the National League playoffs started today ... the Braves and Nationals would have qualified for the postseason, either as division champs or the wild card.
Splits-wise, it's hard to find fault with any aspect of Atlanta's production, as well.
**The club has a 25-19 home mark and 27-24 record on the road. Doing the math, the Braves are looking at 37 home/30 road games for the remainder of the schedule.
By contrast, the Nationals have a finishing stretch of 34 home/35 road games.
**Atlanta is on pace to post 15 or more victories for April, June and July. The Braves (7-5 this month) kick off the season's second half with an 11-game homestand against the Phillies, Marlins and Padres -- three subpar clubs with a combined tally of 29 games below .500.
**The Braves (17-12 in one-run games) have enjoyed three different winning streaks of four games or more -- highlighted by the nine-game surge from June 27-July 5.
"We had a pretty good first half," said Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez in his postgame address. "Better than 'pretty good.'"
Incidentally, here's a 10-year survey of the Braves' divisional status at the All-Star break, dating back to the 2004 season.
For what it's worth, in that span, this season marks only the fourth time Atlanta has tallied 52 or more wins at the break:
2013: 54-41 (6-game lead in NL East) 2012: 49-39 (2nd place, 3 games back) 2011: 54-38 (2nd place, 3 1/2 games back) 2010: 52-36 (3-game lead in NL East) 2009: 43-45 (3rd place, 6 games back) 2008: 45-50 (4th place, 6 1/2 games back) 2007: 47-42 (2nd place, 2 games back) 2006: 40-49 (3rd place, 13 games back) 2005: 50-39 (2nd place, 2 1/2 games back) 2004: 45-42 (2nd place, 1 game back)
3. Dan Uggla's one-day suspension might force the Braves' trade hand later this month
Preliminary reports suggest Uggla's tardiness when arriving to the park on Saturday prompted his Sunday suspension. Whatever the case, the timing of the one-day absence won't make Uggla (batting .162 as a high-priced reserve) any more attractive to teams before the July 31 trade deadline.
Of course, some would argue that Uggla's 'viability' ship had sailed long ago, even before he was demoted to the bench, making room for rookie second baseman Tommy La Stella. And others might implore the Braves to cut bait on Uggla sometime soon, given his lack of versatility when holding the 25th spot on the active roster.
Unfortunately for Uggla, a lot of MLB teams aren't in the market for a high-pricled, low-producing asset who may never recapture the once-pleasing capacity for 20-plus homers and a .350-plus on-base percentage. And if Uggla's tardiness was an intentional act, perhaps trying to expedite a trade to another club (or outright release) ... he certainly didn't do GM Frank Wren any favors.
On the flip side, it's quite possible Uggla (two homers, 10 RBI) simply slept late at the hotel or his cab driver got lost on the way to the stadium. Ifso, perhaps we shouldn't make too much of a one-game suspension (and likely fine to the proverbial Kangaroo Court).
The timing of the suspension is quite horrible, though. No one can dispute that.
3a. We couldn't wrap today's Three Cuts without acknowledging the Braves' awesome retro uniforms
There's something to be said about teams that opt for classically clean uniforms; and the Braves nailed it on Sunday with their circa-1969 look of battleship-gray duds, dark-blue lettering (with red trim) and the old logo of Chief Noc-A-Homa on the left shoulder.
Kudos to the club for proudly displaying that Noc-A-Homa logo ... knowing that it may be flouting the convention of today's hyper-sensitive, politically correct world.