‘Small-ball’ Braves sweep past Dodgers

ATLANTA — There are two ways to view the Braves’ weekend sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers:

The pessimist might point out how Atlanta encountered a deficit heading into the sixth inning all three games, an odd sight for a first-place, home-standing club taking on a last-place team seemingly on the road to nowhere.

The optimist would characterize Sunday’s comeback victory — where the Braves rallied for four runs in the eighth inning to forge a 5-2 win — as yet another example of a championship contender coming up big in clutch situations.

They might also note how the Braves trotted out a starting lineup that didn’t include B.J. Upton, Chris Johnson, Evan Gattis or Dan Uggla — and still ended up with a positive result.

Either way, Atlanta has plenty to be thankful for Sunday night — from the officials/umpires who didn’t call the game early after two long rain delays (one before first pitch and a 33-minute interruption in the 6th) … to the cavalcade of small-ball playmakers who helped the Braves become the first National League East club to 25 wins.

“It’s just the way this team is. We play 27 outs, we play till the end,” said catcher Gerald Laird, whose pinch-hit RBI single tied the game at 2 in the 8th. “This team knows what they’re doing, especially when we can get some guys on base. We’ve won a lot of games with the long ball, but today, we played ‘small ball’ and got ourselves in a good situation.”

For the second straight outing, the Braves pitchers allowed three or less hits against the struggling Dodgers (17-25). Kris Medlen and Co. stifled the Los Angeles bats on Saturday; and Mike Minor, Anthony Varvaro, Luis Avilan and Craig Kimbrel took care of business on Sunday — with the final three hurlers allowing zero hits for innings 7 through 9.

“Our pitching was good, really good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We hung around, and (the pitchers) gave us a chance to win.”

In six strong innings (preceding the second rain delay), Minor fanned nine batters and allowed just two runs on three hits, with none coming after Matt Kemp’s double in the 3rd.

“(Minor) did a helluva job, wiggled himself out of a few situations,” beamed Gonzalez. “It’s to the point where you can’t wait for his next start … because he just keeps getting better and better.”

For a while, it seemed like Minor would suffer his third defeat of the season, with the Braves struggling at the plate (and on the base paths). But everything ultimately changed in the 8th, beginning with a seemingly innocent single from Freddie Freeman.

That prompted a Brian McCann walk, a Dodgers error on Andrelton Simmons’ picture-perfect bunt on the wet grass and Laird’s RBI single — the surprising result of five days between plate appearances.

So much for layoff rust, as Laird crushed Brandon League’s first pitch into right field to score Freeman.

“It’s just one of those things … you have to get the best pitch you can, and sometimes, it’s that first pitch,” said Laird, who opted for League’s fastball, instead of waiting on his wicked slider.

The Braves’ mood-altering inning continued with Ramiro Pena’s sacrifice-fly RBI (scoring McCann), Chris Johnson’s pinch-hit single (scoring Simmons) and Jordan Schafer’s textbook sacrifice bunt — Atlanta’s second successful drag of the stanza — scoring Laird.

“It was a big win. And it just goes to show guys (again) — we can win at anytime,” Laird said.

With the roaring weekend just a memory now, the Braves can look forward to 10 consecutive games against sub-.500 clubs — starting with the Twins (home), Mets (road) and a four-game set with the American League’s Blue Jays, as part of a Major League Baseball initiative to spice up 15 Interleague encounters, from May 27-30, with home-and-home series for every matchup.

Visa issues aside (when entering Canada), the pessimist would have trouble finding fault with the Braves’ remaining May docket.