Three Cuts: Teheran collects 10th win as Braves trip Padres

Tommy La Stella and Julio Teheran (team-high 10 wins) played a vital role in the Braves' 5-3 win over the Padres -- a victory that boosted Atlanta's playoff hopes for both the NL East and wild-card races.

Braves ace Julio Teheran, who became the first Atlanta pitcher to 10 victories, threw a season-low 20 balls (92 total pitches) against the Padres on Saturday.

Brett Davis / USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA -- Here are three things we gleaned from the Braves' 5-3 win over the pedestrian Padres, a much-needed victory for an Atlanta club that has struggled against also-ran teams this week:

1. It's fitting that Julio Teheran enjoyed a Greg Maddux-like night against the Padres ... considering Maddux will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday

Forget about the three runs and 11 hits allowed. Instead, let's focus on Teheran's tally of 72 strikes and just 20 balls -- the fewest he's thrown in a single outing this year.

Actually, let's go back to the runs and hits for a second. Heading into Saturday, the Padres ranked dead last in the vital offensive categories of runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. (San Diego also ranks 30th in homers. Ugh.)

So, it would be easy to surmise that Teheran (five strikeouts, zero walks) placed a special emphasis on throwing strikes, avoiding Ball-3 counts and essentially daring the Padres (46-57) to beat his accurate array of fastballs and sliders.

For the most part, the plan worked well, with San Diego only scoring in the fourth and sixth innings.

"I kind of feel like I had my best stuff ... they were swinging," said Teheran, who has recorded five-plus strikeouts in 18 of his 22 seasonal starts.

For Teheran's final move, he struck out Padres pinch-hitter Carlos Quentin in 6th and displayed some rare emotion.

"I knew they were (in position) to tie the game, and I didn't want that to happen," said Teheran.

The bullpen fared even better than Teheran, with Shae Simmons, Anthony Varvaro, Jordan Walden and closer Craig Kimbrel (31st save -- one pitch hit 100 on the radar) combining for five strikeouts and zero hits allowed in the final three frames.

Of course, Teheran's contribution wasn't exclusive to pitching. His picture-perfect, suicide-squeeze RBI bunt in the 4th allowed Chris Johnson (two RBI) to score the eventual game-winner.

In his postgame address, Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez revealed that a few of his starting pitchers have a knack for executing sacrifice bunts, and that Teheran "is one of those, obviously."

Gonzalez was doubly confident in Teheran's ability to put down the bunt, since he alerted the pitcher to the strategic move before the at-bat.

"He can handle the bat. He can handle the bat," said Gonzalez.

2. The Braves were all too happy to capitalize on the Padres' litany of mistakes

San Diego's offensive shortcomings carried over to the defensive end, with the Padres committing three crucial errors and looking sloppy, at large, in the infield.

With the Braves trailing 2-1 in the 4th, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis walked to start things up. Chris Johnson then connected on an RBI single, knotting the score.

Then, after Teheran's sacrifice-bunt RBI and a walk to Andrelton Simmons, a seemingly harmless infield single from Tommy La Stella (more on him later) devolved into a throwing error from Padres second baseman Yangervis Solarte (while trying to get the force-out) ... which enabled B.J. Upton to score from third base.

As a capper, Freddie Freeman (three hits) notched an RBI single to put the final touches on Atlanta's four-run spurt.

"It wasn't really pretty baseball," said Gonzalez, lamenting the struggles of both clubs. However, "(the Padres) didn't get the outs (in the 4th), and we made them pay for it."

2a. Tommy La Stella's seasonal average in the 2-hole jumped 80 points on this night

The 25-year-old second baseman has, for the most part, enjoyed a nice rookie season in the majors, entering the game with rock-solid tallies in batting average (.276), OBP (.345), steals (two) and runs (13).

But there was one black mark on his seasonal resume: Heading into Saturday, La Stella was hitting a woeful .067 at the 2 spot. Well, fast forward a few hours, as the Coastal Carolina product rebounded with three singles ... boosting his 2-hole batting average to .147.

"I thought we had a good game plan against (Padres starter Odrisamer Despaigne). ... This guy looks like he's throwing a whiffle-ball game -- sometimes it's 93 (mph) or it's a curveball at 64," said Gonzalez, marveling at the many pitching angles of Despaigne, who took a no-hitter into the 8th against the Mets last Sunday. "We did a nice job of being patient."

3. Forgive the loathsome hypothetical here, but if the National League playoffs started today ... Atlanta would be a wild-card entrant

Of the last 20 years, only once has a Major League Baseball campaign come crashing to a halt before September (the strike season of 1994, which ended on Aug. 12 and never crowned a World Series champ).

So, of course it's ridiculous to put a lot of stock in the above header -- especially when the Braves (56-48, 2nd in NL East) lead the Cardinals (55-48) by a mere 1/2 game.

That aside, it's interesting to see how the Braves and Dodgers (57-47, 2nd in NL West heading into Saturday) are on track for another go-round in the Divisional Series round -- a five-game series that would give Los Angeles two supreme advantages:

a) Dodger Stadium would be the venue for Games 1, 2 and 5 (if necessary) -- unlike last year.

b) Two-time Cy Young Clayton Kershaw (11-2, 1.92 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 134/14 K-BB heading into Saturday) would be a prohibitive favorite to win both starts.

As luck would have it, the Braves and Dodgers will play a three-game set out West next week (Tuesday-Thursday), stoking the fire of a potential playoff preview (another wretched hypothetical).

But neither of these clubs should be considered locks for the wild-card spots at this juncture.

For starters, Atlanta (trailing Washington) and Los Angeles (behind San Francisco entering Saturday) are well within range of capturing division titles; and from a wild-card perspective, St. Louis (55-48), Pittsburgh (54-49) and Cincinnati (52-51) could easily vault to the top of that heap with a simple hot streak.

Which begs the two-part question: If the Braves made the NL playoffs as a non-division champ ... who would start the win-or-go-home Wild Card Game and what would be the subsequent order of the Atlanta rotation for the NLDS?

Ideally, Teheran (the first Braves pitcher to 10 wins) would be slotted against the opposing team's ace for the Wild Card Game, regardless of its location.

Yes, Teheran has posted middling seasonal tallies with ERA (4.09) and WHIP (1.27) on the road; but even at age 23, the kid has -- for my money -- earned the right to be The Man for every Braves playoff series.

Assuming he's on four or five days' rest.

Under that rationale, Teheran would likely get the ball for Game 3 of the NLDS (assuming at least four days' rest). Prior to that, Ervin Santana (9-6, 3.87 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 107/37 K-BB) and Aaron Harang (9-6, 3.31 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 104/49 K-BB) would earn starts for Games 1 and 2. 

Why Santana before Harang, even though the latter has a better ERA?

For me, it's a matter of psychology. If the Braves were to start Harang -- who was released by the Indians during spring training before coming to Atlanta -- it wouldn't necessarily put the fear of you-know-who into the opposing team, especially if Kershaw or Adam Wainwright were also taking the mound.

Atlanta made a huge investment on Santana during the offseason (1 year, $14 million); and with that ... comes the pressure of leading the team through a playoff round -- if Teheran's not available.

As for Game 4, Alex Wood (3.44 ERA) would get the slight nod over Mike Minor (3-6, 5.32 ERA), even though the memories of Minor's gem from Game 2 of the NLDS remain fresh. He was awesome that night against the Dodgers.

The beauty of that tough decision? Minor still has nine weeks to recapture his mojo ... and cement a spot in a hypothetical-but-getting-more-real-by-the-day postseason rotation.

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