Three Cuts: Minor misses the mark in Braves’ loss to Cards

Freddie Freeman (one RBI, two doubles) and the Braves accounted for only one run and seven hits on Wednesday. Mike Minor, in turn, allowed six runs over just 4.1 innings.

It’s a lot to ask of any starting pitcher entering his second MLB start of the season to rise up and match the Cardinals ace (Wainwright), pitch for pitch, punchout for punchout. And Minor was merely OK against St. Louis, retiring the leadoff hitter 40 percent of the time and surrendering at least one run in four of his five frames.

Put it all together, and Wednesday marked just the second time in two seasons that Minor couldn’t complete the 5th inning of an MLB start. For the night, he yielded six earned runs over 4 1/3 innings of work.

"We didn’t make very good pitches," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez after the game, speaking generally of his four hurlers (Minor, David Hale, Anthony Varvaro, Luis Avilan), while also reminding everyone this was only Minor’s second start of the year. "Mike’s secondary pitches weren’t sharp … kind of roly-poly over the plate."

Minor had a different assessment of the outing, saying he limited his breaking pitches to Cardinals hitters Jhonny Peralta (1 for 5, one run) and Matt Adams (1 for 5). "After that, it was a lot of fastballs."

One of the aforementioned fastballs was earmarked for Peter Bourjos in the second inning. Wasting no time, the Cards outfielder blasted Minor’s first delivery over the left-field wall, giving his team a 1-0 lead.

Wednesday struggles aside, Gonzalez implied Minor (0-2) would keep his regular spot in the Braves rotation — likely next Tuesday against the Giants (in San Francisco). Even with his delayed start to the season, Minor still has time to replicate last year’s tally of 13 wins (and a 3.21 ERA).

"You better have another pitch (after the fastball) against good-hitting teams," said Gonzalez. "If they know you can’t get a secondary pitch over (the plate), they eliminate that."

There is no condescension with the above line. In the postgame media scrum, the Braves lefty was forthright about his struggles in the middle innings.

And from a journalism perspective, he was cognizant of a pressing storyline that arises any time a Braves starter fails to dominate hitters on the mound.

"Not worried about it — I’ve had one good start and one bad start," said Minor, referring to his May 2 debut against the Giants, allowing two runs and zero walks over seven strong innings.

The "what happens next?" line was an allusion to Atlanta’s starting-pitching dominance in the opening weeks: For the Braves’ first 24 games, the starters absurdly posted an ERA below 1.90 — easily the lowest tally of any rotation at the time.

And even with the team’s 1-8 stretch since April 28, the Braves starters’ ERA — 2.68 — still ranks second in the majors.

Behind the Cardinals, of course … at 2.65.

It was a classic short-term vs. long-term swap.

In December 2003, Braves GM John Schuerholz dealt away Wainwright (a 21-year-old prospect), reliever Ray King (career ERA: 3.46) and starting pitcher Jason Marquis for reserve catcher Eli Marrero and outfielder J.D. Drew, who was one year from hitting free agency in his relative prime.

For that 2004 season, Drew was a dynamic force in the Atlanta outfield, racking up 31 homers (career high), 93 RBI, 118 runs, 12 steals, a .305 batting average and .436 on-base percentage. In today’s steroid-free MLB, Drew might have been a shoo-in for National League MVP.

But in 2004 … his prodigious campaign was merely good for sixth place among the Senior Circuit studs. (That’s not implying the five players ahead of Drew were on steroids …)

In December 2004, Drew signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, bolting Atlanta after just one season. As a result, the Braves were left holding the bag on a trade that moved Wainwright — one of the baseball’s 10 best starting pitchers over the last eight seasons — to St. Louis for the equivalent of a (very good) one-year rental.

(For good measure, Marquis would collect 80 victories over the immediate six MLB seasons after his trade from the Braves.)

Wainwright (105 career victories) was stellar, but hardly dominant against the Braves on Wednesday, allowing one run over eight innings, while striking out six and walking one. On the hitting end, the Cards ace notched two hits and scored two runs.

Wainwright’s only roadblocks in the Braves lineup: Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman (one RBI) both doubled twice.

All told, Wainwright boasts an 8-2 career record and 2.62 ERA against the Braves.

When the young and precocious Marlins (19-15) wake up on Thursday morning, they’ll be deadlocked in a tie with the Washington Nationals for first place in the National League East.

To put that into better context, the Marlins haven’t enjoyed a penthouse suite in the NL East this late in a season since May 9, 2009 — roughly two months before Jose Fernandez would celebrate his 17th birthday.

Miami’s ascension up the divisional ladder occurred remarkably fast. On April 27, just 10 days ago, the Marlins were trailing the Braves — who had just swept the Reds at home — by 6 1/2 games.

Of course, the Braves have scored a grand total of nine runs in their last six outings, meaning they’re ripe for a sweep (or series defeat) against anyone right now.

Especially with Jeff Samardzija (1.62 seasonal ERA, 38/15 K-BB rate) anchoring the Cubs’ staff on Sunday afternoon.