The Braves have simply teed off on the Rockies, with Wednesday’s 9-0 victory extending their winning streak to six overall and the lead in the National League East to 11 games. That’s the largest advantage in baseball by eight games and just two less than the leads in the NL Central, West and American League East, Central and West — combined.
So is manager Fredi Gonzalez worried about complacency?
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“I’m worried about today’s game. That’s the only thing I’m worried about,” he said. “I haven’t picked up that (daily) stat pack in two months, especially the first page (which shows the standings).”
There is this nugget to keep in mind: in the wild-card era, no team with a division lead of three or more games entering September has failed to make the playoffs (the Braves did see a large edge slip away in 2011, that was for the wild card). With just seven games against teams with records of .500 or better, the stage is set for Atlanta to enter the final month in complete command.
Herewith, three cuts from the Braves’ victory:
1. Freddie Freeman, Purple People Eater
The Braves first baseman had an RBI single in the first inning, and one in the second. Then he added another hit in the fourth inning and yet another in the sixth.
Yes, Atlanta has had its way against the Rockies this entire series and Wednesday, Justin Upton had three hits and Evan Gattis, Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons all had two apiece. But for Freeman in particular, feasting on Colorado pitching has been par for the course.
In 21 career games against Colorado, he has 29 hits, 25 RBI and 10 home runs — which includes 13 hits, two homers and six RBI in the first three games of this series — and he’s batting .358 with an .815 slugging percentage. Oh, and that four-hit performance tied his career high, which came May 4, 2012 against — the Rockies.
Those numbers against Colorado are the best of Freeman’s career against any opponent he’s faced at least 20 times, with only the Mets, who he has a .293/.374/.546 slash line in 48 games, coming close.
So what’s at the root of his domination of Colorado?
“There’s no explaining it, Freeman said. “I don’t know what it is. I was struggling against St. Louis and we got it clicking a couple of days ago in the video room and in the cage and unfortunately the Rockies were the ones where I started clicking. It seems like I always click against them.”
He needed it.
In his first 10 games after the All-Star break, Freeman was 7-for 31 (.226) an was .143 (3-for-21) in the six games before Colorado came to down. Against the Cardinals, he had just one hit in 10 at-bats.
The Braves will face right-hander Chad Bettis, a Double-A call-up who will make his major leave debut, in the series finale. Given the way Atlanta has batted in this series, with ? runs, ? hits and a ? average, Thursday could be a recipe for more of the same from Freeman and Co.
2. Minor is taking the reigns
Gonzalez has stressed that he doesn’t want anyone placing that “ace” label on Mike Minor, but unfortunately for the Braves manager, his 25-year-old pitcher is doing that all on his own.
On a night when he was overshadowed by the offense, Minor was dominant. Between Dexter Fowler’s game-opening single and a two-out base hit from Nolan Arenado in the fifth inning, Minor retired 13 straight. He finished with six strikeouts and zero walks in improving to 11-5.
“Mike did a nice job and it’s hard to pitch with that kind of lead,” Gonzalez said. “You keep going out there and … there was a lot of delay between us scoring some runs and them changing pitchers. He did a nice job keeping that edge going and that’s something that sometimes young pitchers can’t handle and he did that.
It was his third shutout of the season and it continued an impressive run for the 25-year-old. In Minor’s last five starts he’s 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA and 0.79 WHIP and that includes his shutting down the then-MLB-best Cardinals to the tune of one run and four hits over seven innings.
While Minor says the breaks have gone his way of late, with hanging curveballs up in the zone resulting in ground-ball outs, not hits, he’s also learned to lean on his fastball more to set up the rest of his arsenal.
“It’s just more so attacking the hitters on both sides so they can’t get comfortable,” Minor said. “They can’t lean out over, they can’t look for limited pitches down to two (strikes). I’m just attacking with all four (pitches) to keep them off balance.”
Regardless if luck or ability is paving his way, Minor is delivering the kind of performances the Braves so sorely need after Tim Hudson’s season-ending injury.
3. The Braves are standing pat, for now
Wednesday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline came and went without another deal by the NL East leaders — and that was fine by Gonzalez. After all, the Braves had already acquired the left-handed reliever they had been angling for in landing Scott Downs from the Angels on Monday.
Though there remains the possibility the team could still trade for a backup infielder via a waiver wire deal or even a starter if the rotation, which brought back Brandon Beachy this week, falls flat. But with a sizable lead in the division — and a relatively soft market — Atlanta just wasn’t under any pressure to do anything.
“Our team is set. It’s a good team,” Gonzalez said. “There is always the waiver-wire deals … so I’m sure we’ll see what’s out there to improve the club. But you feel good. We wanted a veteran bullpen arm, a left-hander, and we got that. We’ve got some guys coming back from the DL shortly. It’s a good club.”
One of those players on the disabled list began his road back while the Braves were playing the Pirates as B.J. Upton, who has been out since July 13, played for Triple-A Gwinnett, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout, a flyout and a groundout. Fellow outfielder Jordan Schafer is also expected to return from the DL within the next week.
General manager Frank Wren is no stranger to late boosts via the waiver wire, acquiring Derek Lee in 2010, Jack Wilson a year later and Jeff Baker last season.