This road trip couldn’t end soon enough for the Braves.
After losing four of six — and their Gold Glove-winning outfielder for 4-6 weeks — it’s back to the friendly confines of Turner Field for the Braves, where they are an MLB-best 44-18 on the season.
But they at least ended the run on a positive note as they brought an end to their three-game losing skid and return to Atlanta with the best record in the National League in hand.
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Here are three observations from Sunday’s slump-busting 5-2 win over the Cardinals.
1. The Braves have made their statement against the NL’s best
From an immediate gratification standpoint, Atlanta badly needed a win Sunday, if for nothing else than to avoid their third four-game losing streak of the season as they continue their toughest stretch of the regular season.
But this a victory came with another reward as the Braves got some bragging rights in the National League as they have won the season series against every team that’s currently in position to make the playoffs.
The Braves are now 4-3 against the Cardinals, who are in line for Wild Card, while posting records of 4-3 vs. the Central-leading Pirates, 5-2 against the Dodgers, who lead the West and 4-3 vs. the second Wild Card team, the Reds.
It means little from the end that the Braves haven’t faced the red-hot Dodgers since June early, back when they were 7 1/2 games out of first place in the West — they now lead that division by 10 games — and Atlanta hasn’t seen the Pirates since June either.
Still, Atlanta is the only team in baseball that’s in playoff position to be above .500 against its league’s contenders, with the Dodgers joining the AL’s Rays and Rangers with winning marks against three such teams.
On a team with just three players on the roster who have postseason experience beyond last season’s Wild Card game — B.J. and Justin Upton and Gerald Laird — it’s the kind of confidence-builder that could be key come October.
2. Minor stands tall again when Braves needed him
Coming off the shortest outing of his career — he yielded four runs and four walks before being yanked with two outs against the Nationals on Aug. 17 — Mike Minor bounced back Sunday.
He provided seven strong innings, giving up six hits and one run, while striking out two and walking one. A career-best 13-5, Minor has now set a personal record in K’s with 147, breaking his previous high of 145 set last season.
It helped Minor’s cause that he had three runs of support after two innings, something that had been largely missing from his last four road outings, in which he went 0-1 after receiving just 2.4 runs of support. On average, Minor had gotten 5.3 rpg in his starts.
For Minor, the performance had shades of the last time he took on the Cardinals July 26, when he outpitched Adam Wainwright, yielding one run in seven innings of the Braves’ win. Just like that night, Sunday the Braves came in having lost four of seven and were days removed from a devastating injury — this time Jason Heyward after losing Tim Hudson in July.
And just like that last time vs. St. Louis, Minor responded with an ace-like start, allowing three base runners through the first six innings before he was tagged for a double by Matt Carpenter that would turn into the Cardinals’ first run two batters later off Matt Holliday’s groundout.
3. The other Johnson is thriving in a Braves uniform
He has yet to play a game in Atlanta, with the entirety of his newly-acquired utility man’s Braves career taking place in St. Louis, but Elliot Johnson is making his mark early on.
Mired in an 0-for-31 slump when he was claimed off waivers from the Royals on Wednesday, Johnson went 2 for 4 in his first game as a Brave and Sunday he provided his first RBI, scoring Jordan Schafer on a line drive to right off Lance Lynn in the opening inning. His second hit of the game would be followed by his first steal in the NL — he’s now 15 for 15 on the season — and his first run.
In four games with Atlanta, he is hitting .266 (4 for 15).