Before we begin, let's take a moment to appreciate the dominance of Julio Teheran in his return from the disabled list Sunday against the Padres
He struck out 11 -- the second-most of his career -- amid six no-hit innings in the Braves' 4-1 victory after a 10-day DL stint for a right thumb contusion. That effort made the right-hander the sixth Atlanta pitcher to not allow a hit in a start of at least six innings, and just the second to reach double-digit Ks in such an outing.
Derailed by a hamstring camp and high pitch count (95), it was key for a number of reasons. The first being that it was at SunTrust Park, where he entered with the third-highest FIP of any starter (5.59) at home (minimum of 70 innings); his four-seam fastball velocity averaged 91.4 mph after sitting at 88.4 his last time out, and finally, it wasn't against the Mets.
The last of those points could be made tongue-in-cheek, but the fact of the matter remains that in two starts against New York at home, he has a 1.29 ERA, and in all of his four appearances at home he has just one -- April 16 against the Phillies -- in which he had a 6.35 ERA or less.
So, yes, it was significant.
It also capped a 5-1 homestand as the Braves hit the road for two games in Toronto, before they host the Orioles in interleague play. Atlanta now heads north 13 games over .500 and with a 3 1/2 game lead over the Nationals in the National League East, the largest advantage of any division leader.
Life is most certainly good for the Braves as they begin their Canadian expedition, especially for Nos. 3 and 4 hitters who are setting the stage for a run at franchise history.
1. Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis on pace to make Braves history
If you haven't heard yet, Nick Markakis is in the midst of a career season. He'a also, as you might have heard, never been to the All-Star Game. That could change as the first voting update showed he's in line to start, along with the Nationals' Bryce Harper and former Atlanta outfielder Matt Kemp.
Also, if you've been unaware, Freddie Freeman is finally getting nation-wide attention, leading all of the NL in that aforementioned first voting update.
While standing as two of the recipients of Braves Country's impact on the Midsummer Classic voting -- along with Ozzie Albies, who leads all NL second basemen in balloting -- they're also setting the stage for something no two Braves hitters have ever done.
Sunday, Markakis had a three-hit game, including a double off reliever Brad Hand that was just the second two-bagger and third extra-base hit Hand has allowed all season to a left-hander. That day gives him an NL-best 92 on the season, just two ahead Freeman, the league's leader entering Sunday.
Markakis is now on pace for 210 hits on the season. That would tie Felipe Alou in 1968 for the eighth highest single-season total in franchise history and the fourth highest since the team moved to Atlanta. Freeman, meanwhile, is trending toward a 208-hit season, which would be 10th overall on the franchise list and fifth since the move to Georgia.
With Ender Inciarte breaking the 200-hit plateau last season, either would put the Braves in line for their first seasons of back-to-back 200-hit years since Ralph Garr did it in 1973 and '74. But the franchise, not in Boston, Milwaukee or Atlanta has ever had two players with 200 hits in the same season.
In fact, just 74 times since 1908 has a team had multiple players with 200 or more hits, with the Red Sox last doing it in 2016 with Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia and no NL team has pulled it off since Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla with the 1998 Rockies.
So if you needed any more reason to #VoteFreddie or #TakeKakes to the All-Star Game, the makings of Braves history should do the trick.
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2. Anibal Sanchez latest in Braves' successful run of reclamation projects
The Tigers declined his option. The Twins released him. But Anibal Sanchez is now riding a run of three straight starts with a 0.93 ERA and opposing batters scuffling to the tune of a .138/.176/.292 slash line.
Their loss has most certainly been the Braves' gain, as the 34-year-old former ERA title winner from five years ago has found his groove again.
Coming off a season in which he had a 6.41 ERA in 105 1/3 innings over 28 appearances (17 starts) with Detroit, Sanchez sports a 1.93 ERA in seven games (six starts) for the Braves.
He's thriving by doing what he's done at his very best during his 13-year career: confusing hitters ... while continuing a Braves' history of success with reclamation projects.
The average fastball velocity -- once at a career-high 94.2 mph during that aforementioned 2013 season -- has dipped to 90.6, and so too, has Sanchez's usage of the pitch. He's throwing it just 28.5 percent of the time compared to 40.9 just two seasons ago, and he's relying even more on a changeup that he's offering up a rate of 22.6 percent. Two years ago, he threw it just 16.7 percent of the time.
The pitch he calls the "butterfly," the changeup which Sanchez has bewildered opponents at a turtle pace of as low as 66 mph, gives him an average changeup velocity of 80.9 mph. Only nine starters with at least 30 innings pitched have been slower, and at the same time, it's helped Sanchez sit 28th in the majors with 2.2 changeup runs above average.
It's only been seven games -- and small-sample size me all you want -- but he currently sports an ERA+ of 201 that's secondly to only Justin Verlander among starters 34 or older, and the Astros ace -- and his former Tigers teammate -- is the only player in that age demographic with better ERA (1.61).
The right-hander has provided Atlanta with three quality starts this season, and he's just the latest aging pitcher to do so. Since the start of the 2013 season, no one has had more players 34-plus provide a QS than the Braves' eight, a list that includes the likes of Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, Tim Hudson and Brandon McCarthy, who has three this season. But it also includes arms with similar storylines to Sanchez's.
Aaron Harang was let go by the Indians in '14 and gave Atlanta 25 quality starts in 2014 at age 36; Garcia was acquired for cash considerations in '13 at age 36 and had three QS, and made a start in the National League Division Series vs. the Dodgers; and Eric Stults signed a minor league deal in the winter of 2015 and provided three quality starts at 35.
There are peripherals that Sanchez may not be able to maintain this level of production -- the 1.5 HR/9 over the last three starts is concerning -- but the veteran has provided more value than anyone could have expected when the Braves brought him in for a look late in spring training.
He also could provide manager Brian Snitker with some difficult decisions when his rotation options all return to health. Which takes us to ...
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3. Braves likely to turn to strength to address bullpen depth problem
There are positives amid the negatives, but over the last two weeks, the Braves bullpen has had some major struggles -- and addressing that depth likely lies in pulling from where Atlanta has it in excess: the rotation.
Heading into Sunday's series finale against the Padres, only the Rockies (6.81) and Royals (6.68) had higher ERAs the last 14 days than Atlanta's 6.14 and the Braves had the fifth-highest FIP in that span (4.72).
Despite four outings in which he's faced five batters, Arodys Vizcaino has settled in with five saves and a 0.00 ERA during that run, and A.J. Minter has had his moments in allowing two earned runs over his last eight appearances 2.57 ERA last two weeks).
The Braves took a step toward trying to shore that up, optioning Gohara to Triple-A on Sunday, while bringing back Luke Jackson two days after he opted for free agency in lieu of an outright assignment to Gwinnett, but this feels like more of a stop-gap instead of an answer.
Jackson has bounced back from three runs in 5 1/3 innings of work in his first MLB stint this season with a 1.69 ERA over his last 21 1/3 innings pitched as a starter and reliever in Triple-A. But the best option for the Braves bullpen is clearly in pulling from that depth with the starters.
Mike Foltynewicz landing on the 10-day disabled list (backdated to June 13) with right triceps tightness delays things, but if he returns when he's eligible Saturday against the Orioles, the expectation here is Brandon McCarthy transitions into a relief role.
Sanchez has made a relief appearance already this season, but he's been so effective of late in the rotation it seems unlikely he moves. Meanwhile, McCarthy, who has three quality starts in his 14 outings, but has been tagged for a 6.26 ERA since May 5, a span of eight starts.
There's the possibility the Braves could look to a six-man rotation that would guarantee Sean Newcomb an extra day's rest, as he has a 1.91 ERA with six days off, but a rotation with an extra man is not a philosophy Snitker has talked glowingly about.
It's a role McCarthy isn't unaccustomed to, having made three such appearances in 2017 with the Dodgers and 58 games in his career. Now, there's the possibility the Braves could go out and acquire bullpen help, but in the interim sliding McCarthy over may be the most logical maneuver.