Three Cuts: La Stella’s bases loaded magic helps Braves rout Phillies

ATLANTA — A one-hour, 39-minute rain delay cut short arguably Alex Wood’s most dominant outing since returning to the starting rotation, but it didn’t damper a Braves offense that feasted on shaky Phillies pitching.

Atlanta scored two runs after the break , aided by four straight walks issued by Philadelphia. That added to a day that included more bases-loaded magic from Tommy La Stella and Chris Johnson’s two-run homer as the Braves rolled to an 8-2 win Sunday.

After compiling a 4.42 ERA in his last three outings, Wood allowed one run on three hits over six inning with eight strikeouts and zero walks.

The one run came via a John Mayberry home run in the second inning — the third Wood (7-7) had served up in his last four starts — but he would allow just one more hit over the next 15 batters, fanning seven of them.

"Those are kind of the toughest ones to throw in, when it’s misting like, just because it’s hard to really dry your hand off on your hat or pants and the ball seems like it’s always wet," Wood said. "But I managed to make it through."

Here are three thoughts as the Braves claimed their 18th win in the last 25 games:

Wood looked up at the scoreboard as Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella strode toward the plate and couldn’t help but be stunned by what he saw.

"I looked at his stats with the bases loaded and I was like ‘My God,’" Wood said.

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Facing a full count with two outs, La Stella continued to deliver at what’s been a near-historic pace to start a career, driving a 90 mph sinker to right-center for a three-run double off Kyle Kendrick in the third inning. He’s now hitting 6 for 7 (.857) in those situations with three two-baggers, a triple, 13 RBI and zero strikeouts.

"I don’t really know what that’s about, but I’ll take it," La Stella said.

To put those RBI into context, they tie him for the third-highest total since 1914 (per Baseball Reference, whose Play Index tool has date since that year) through a player’s first seven plate appearances with each base occupied — a group that includes Barry Bonds — and are two off the record shared by Pat Tabler and Edwin Encarnacion.

La Stella is also just one behind Chipper Jones, who is tied for second (14) with four other players.

Based on total number of hits with the bases loaded, the Braves second baseman is tied with Tabler’s record of seven and he also pulled even with nine others, including Joey Votto and former Braves All-Star Martin Prado, for the doubles mark with three.

"I think you kind of got to keep your adrenaline in check," La Stella said of his approach. "Bases loaded is a big situation. I think the more you can remain calm and keep your emotions in check, the better success you’ll have."

The book on Kendrick says it’s far more advantageous to get to him early.

Heading into Sunday, he had just four starts in which he had thrown a perfect first inning, and it has happened just once in the past four outings. In those games — the last was on July 3 vs. the Marlins — he had a 3.42 ERA, more than a full run less than his 4.62 ERA on the season and the 4.70 he’s posted in the 15 other starts

Dig a little deeper, and Kendrick owns a 11.37 ERA in the first inning, including his two previous outings in which he gave up a three-run home run to the Nationals’ Jayson Werth on July 13 and July 8 when he yielded five runs against the Brewers on homers by Scooter Gennett and Lyle Overbay.

Going quietly in the first inning — the Braves saw groundouts by B.J. Upton and Freddie Freeman with a Andrelton Simmons fly out in between — didn’t seem play into their favor, especially when you consider Atlanta’s 52 first-inning runs are seventh in the National League and 12th overall. By comparison, they are 23rd in the second (35) and 18th in the third (43).

But Atlanta followed with two runs in the second with via Johnson’s HR, then added four in the third as Kendrick (4-10) battled control problems as Jason Heyward drew a bases loaded walk and La Stella’s double.

Sunday continued a trend of offensive eruptions for the Braves, who despite still ranking 28th in runs scored, have racked up 35 in the last five games.

On the disabled list since July 1 with a bulging thoracic disc in his back, Evan Gattis is expected to rejoin the Braves lineup on Monday.

He went 2 for 6 with a pair of singles, two RBI and three strikeouts Sunday as he continued his rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett. In four games, Gattis is 3 for 16 with seven strikeouts. While he had struggled to catch up to fastballs in his first two games, going hitless in six tries, he had three hits in his last 10 plate appearances.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez reiterated after Sunday’s win the plan is for Gattis to return to catching at the major league level on Monday, meaning the Braves will likely move Christian Bethancourt back to Gwinnett in the process.

Serving as the primary catcher in Gattis’ absence — and in his first pre-September call-up — Bethancourt, 22, hit .240/.283/.260 with a double, three RBI and 14 strikeouts since June 28. Meanwhile, fellow catcher Gerald Laird has a .348 OBP since in that span and they’ve teamed for four doubles and six RBI.

Still, neither can match Gattis’ power, and he figures to be a boost for an offense, that as previously stated, has been on a roll of late. Despite being out for 19 games, Gattis is still tied for the MLB lead for home runs by a catcher with 16 — along with the Reds’ Devin Mesoraco — and his .900 OPS is tops among Braves.