The Braves picked up their eighth straight victory Saturday night, beating the Mets 6-0 in weather better suited for football or reading by a fire. Lambeau Field in December had nothing on Citi Field this Memorial Day weekend Saturday. Fans broke out the mittens and ski caps and winds gusted upwards of 30 mph throughout the night. The temperature hit a high of 56, but the cold north wind made it feel more like 39. Here are Three Cuts from the Braves’ blustery win:
1. Some nights you can do no wrong
It was shaping up to be a great pitcher’s duel between Mike Minor, who came into this game with a 1-1 record and 4.76 ERA against the Mets, and Dillon Gee, who was 3-2 with a 3.13 ERA against the Braves but who had lost his last three starts. Both pitchers gave up only three hits and no runs through four innings, and both seemed to be in command of their breaking balls.
Then with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, Chris Johnson caught a break when a fly ball to left field that normally would have been fielded to end the inning danced like a kite in the wind and fell just out of left fielder Lucas Duda’s reach for a hit.
That brought Minor to the plate for the second time of the night. His first at-bat resulted in a single to center field, but with Dee mixing a good fastball in with a battery of changeups, no one expected much from Minor. Some of the Braves already had their gloves in hand, ready to take the field.
But Minor surprised everyone, including himself, by hitting his first career home run through the wind and into the left-field seats. Every player in the Braves’ dugout slapped Minor on the back after he crossed the plate and the smile didn’t leave his face for the rest of the night.
Perhaps inspired by the batting prowess of their pitcher, Andrelton Simmons hit a double immediately after Minor’s homer. Then Jason Heyward hit a hard single to right to drive Simmons home.
Justin Upton, who was 1-for-12 this season with two outs and runners in scoring position, ripped a double down the left-field line to score Heyward.
Freddy Freeman then singled to drive Upton home. Before Evan Gattis fouled one back to the catcher, the Braves put up five runs on six consecutive hits, none bigger than the home run by Minor, which was like a shot of adrenalin through the Braves dugout.
2. Minor continues to pitch like the ace of the starting rotation
Minor improved to 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings. And to prove those numbers are not an anomaly, his ERA in his last 19 starts of 2012 was 2.78.
The most interesting aspect of Minor’s dominance is the fact that his fastball isn’t that fast. If his hardest pitch hits 91 mph, there is a hard tailwind.
Minor has become a master at nibbling the corners and strategically picking the right pitch at the right time. His curveball, slider, changeup and fastball cover all points on the plate and he seems fearless when it comes to throwing the pitch that is least expected.
He reached this point by breaking the plate into thirds and making sure he could hit his third with each pitch in his arsenal. Then he made the target smaller. His control improved, and his ERA plummeted as ground-ball outs increased.
Minor now has the lowest pitches-per-game count of any Braves starter, averaging only 88.9 throws in almost seven full innings of work per outing.
It’s impossible to predict how his season will end, but the last 12 months prove that Minor is more than just today’s hot hand.
3. The Braves continue to spread the hits and runs around
When you look at the overall batting averages, they shouldn’t be as good as they are. Dan Uggla, the hero of the rain-delayed game that finished earlier on Saturday, is batting .189, while Andrelton Simmons is hitting .229, well below his career average.
Up and down the lineup there are hitters whose numbers don’t match the perception of what this team has done in the first two months of the season. That is because each night there seem to be different hitters who comes through.
Saturday night at Citi Field it was Chris Johnson and Mike Minor who put the first runs on the board, hits that rattled Gee and allowed the flurry of runs that followed. Earlier in the day it was Uggla in extra innings to lock up the rain-delayed victory, and Friday night it was Evan Gattis who put the Braves in position to keep their winning streak alive.
As long as one or two batters come through at critical times, the overall averages don’t really matter. It’s only the wins that count.