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

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

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.)

"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."

Atlanta Braves: Up Next

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.

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."

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."

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.

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?

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. 

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.