Three Cuts: Minor tops Lester in Braves' sweep-clinching win
AUG 17, 2014 11:57p ET
ATLANTA -- Here are three things we gleaned from the Braves' 4-3 win over the Athletics on Sunday, a sweep-clinching victory that quickly downgraded Oakland from "Major League Baseball's best team" to "wild card leader" in the playoff chase.
But enough about the American League ...
1. It's been a crazy season for Mike Minor, so much that giving up multiple homers in games can be viewed as a good thing
Without a doubt, Minor (two runs allowed, seven strikeouts over seven innings) outdueled Jon Lester on this night, topping his fellow left-hander with innings pitched, strikeouts, hits surrendered and earned runs allowed.
But neither pitcher could contain the opposition from going yard twice, with Justin Upton (more on him later) and Chris Johnson blasting homers for the Braves ... and the typically power-deficient Nate Freiman belting a pair of moon shots off Minor -- one in dead-center field and one about 15 rows into the left-field stands.
Of course, Minor should derive the positives from that experience. Sunday marked the seventh time this season that he's allowed multiple homers in the same game; and yet, the Braves are 4-3 in those particular tilts.
Despite the propensity for giving up the long ball, Minor was rock-solid throughout the night, retiring the leadoff hitter in four of his five final innings and never facing more than five Oakland batters in a single frame.
"We've had some really good starting pitching this series," said Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez, while also beaming about his overall staff limiting the A's to just nine runs for the weekend. "Mikey was outstanding."
He then added: "Some of (Minor's) best breaking balls, secondary pitches were really good," said Gonzalez. "We're going to need him rolling to get where we want to go" for August and September.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman agreed with his manager's assessment of Minor's breaking pitches. He then took the Sunday praise to another level.
"That's the Mike Minor of old," said Freeman.
2. Justin Upton's modest hitting streak comes at a time when the Braves' Big Three batters are cruising
Since Aug. 10, Upton (one homer, two hits, two RBI on Sunday) has notched at least one hit for all eight games, while sporting good tallies of three homers, nine RBI, six runs and a .318 batting average.
Upton's success runs complementary to outfielder Jason Heyward (.359 batting, .422 on-base percentage, five steals, 18 runs and an .888 OPS from July 8-Aug. 15) and Freeman (three homers, 12 RBI, 11 runs, .358 batting, .429 OBP and 1.009 OPS from July 25-Aug. 16) raking the ball everywhere over the last two months.
2a. It's been a while since we've penned an unabashed appreciation of Craig Kimbrel's closing acumen
Of his last 27 outings (dating back to June 9), spanning 27.1 innings, Kimbrel has executed on 20 of 21 save opportunities, while holding the opposition to absurdly low tallies with batting average (.122), on-base percentage (.224) and slugging (.166).
It's no wonder that Kimbrel's seasonal marks with ERA (1.80), WHIP (0.92) and K-BB rate (82/22) are elite-level, as well.
3. The Braves' unblemished weekend against the A's, which had zero impact on the division-title race, now sets up a crucial showdown involving the NL wild card
Even with the sweep of Oakland (73-51 ... in a virtual tie with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but trailing by percentage points in the AL West), Atlanta didn't make a dent into Washington's seemingly commanding advantage in the NL East -- six games.
"We can't worry about the standings," said Freeman, alluding to his team's status in the divisional race. "We've got to worry about ourselves" and keep playing well.
The reason for that? The Nationals (69-53) have been on a tear since leaving Atlanta last week, reeling off six straight victories (four one-run wins); and they've got seven outings against the sad-sack Diamondbacks and Phillies over the next 10 days.
Which brings us back to a popular topic: The Nationals are on pace for 91 victories, meaning the Braves (64-60 -- on pace for an 84-78 mark) would have to go 27-11 from this point forward ... just for the right to tie Washington for the National League East crown.
In other words, for Atlanta fans, thank goodness for multiple wild card slots, huh?
Heading into Monday, the Braves and Pirates (identical records) are on the outside looking in, compared to the Cardinals (66-57) and Giants (65-58); but a sweep for either Atlanta or Pittsburgh in the upcoming three-game set (Monday-Wednesday) would create great separation in the battle for the No. 3 spot in the wild-card standings.
From the Braves' perspective, a sweep or series win in Pittsburgh might even vault the club into one of the wild-card slots.
Not that MLB.com has a lot of faith in Atlanta's postseason chances: Before Sunday's nationally televised game, the statistical eggheads at MLB.com had given the Braves a 4.5-percent chance of winning the NL East ... and just a 28.9-percent chance at making the playoffs altogether.