ATLANTA — Here are three things we learned from the Braves’ 8-5 win over the Dodgers, a back-and-forth game that ultimately turned on a single power stroke:
1. Justin Upton apparently loves playing in the Braves’ alternate reds
On April 5, the first Friday of the season, the Upton brothers made MLB history by becoming the first sibling pair to belt homers in the ninth inning of the same game — with B.J. tying the score against the Cubs … and Justin ending it with a walk-off blast.
Fast forward to this Friday night, the sixth inning specifically, as Justin Upton strode to the plate with the Braves down 4-2 and the bases loaded — the product of a Jordan Schafer pinch-hit single, a Dodgers infield error and a walk to Jason Heyward.
Justin Upton, who was traded to the Braves (23-18) during the winter, attacked Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez from the get-go, fouling off the first pitch with a violent swing.
Just missed it.
“The first one, I got a pretty good gauge,” recalled Upton after the game. “Got my timing down. After that, I was just looking for a good pitch to hit.”
After a ball outside, making the count 1-1, the table was set for another signature moment to Atlanta’s young season: Rodriguez grooved a straight fastball, prompting Upton to quickly pivot his hips and throttle a grand slam over the left-field wall, giving the Braves a 6-4 lead and creating a spur-of-the-moment victory chance for starter Paul Maholm (two earned runs allowed, three strikeouts in six innings).
“It was one of the prettiest swings I’ve ever seen, put to a baseball,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. “(The Dodgers) tried to go left-right-left (pitchers-wise) to go through Justin … and he made them pay.”
Maholm might end up paying for Upton’s blast, as well.
“I’ll take (a grand slam) every time I start,” said Maholm, who has surrendered just two or less earned runs in six of nine outings this year. “I may have to compensate Justin pretty well (for the homer).”
2. The Braves’ bullpen shall never be in dire straits with Craig Kimbrel in the fold
With Jonny Venters undergoing another Tommy John surgery and Jordan Walden getting placed on the disabled list, Atlanta’s bullpen was seemingly at a point of weakness heading into a six-game homestand with the Dodgers and Twins.
But none of that anxiety trickled down to Kimbrel, who stifled Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier (pinch hitter) and Matt Kemp in the ninth to put the Braves’ home victory on ice.
The best thing about it, Kimbrel (2.93 ERA, 12 saves) has yet to find an indomitable rhythm to the season, something on par with last year’s greatness:
From May 8 to Oct. 3, Kimbrel didn’t allow a walk in back-to-back games. And during that span, he yielded a base hit in consecutive outings only three times.
3. The Dodgers’ lineup wasn’t exactly a Who’s Who of star power
OK, so Scott Van Slyke (the son of former major leaguer Andy) cracked two solo homers on Friday.
That aside, it’s hard to imagine Los Angeles ($220.3 million payroll) stringing together many wins with a batting order that includes Nick Punto, A.J. Ellis, Luis Cruz, Dee Gordon, one starting pitcher and the aforementioned Van Slyke, who has bided his time in the minor leagues for nine straight seasons (2005-13).
At some point, Kemp (0 for 5 on Friday) and Crawford (1 for 5, one RBI) are going to need more offensive support to help the Dodgers (17-23) dig out of a last-place hole in the National League West — the culmination of injuries, middling production from stars, a sluggish bullpen and a general inattention to details.
For Exhibit A, the Dodgers walked seven batters on Friday night and committed crucial errors in the sixth and seventh innings — when the Braves transformed a 4-2 deficit into a three-run victory.
To be fair, both judgment-call errors came off line-drive shots from Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, prompting his manager to quip: