Three Cuts: Braves bats go silent day after clinching East
ATLANTA -- The champagne flowed, sprayed and ultimately bathed the Braves as they celebrated their National League East title Sunday in Wrigley Field.
Back home, their first game post-clinching had all the feel of a hangover. No pun intended.
"I think we were ready to play," said Evan Gattis, who went 0 for 4. "I guess I could see, but I didn't witness it."
Atlanta's bats went silent as they managed two hits through five innings -- Andrelton Simmons' second-inning triple -- and three in all as Mike Minor ran into more early trouble as the Braves fell 5-0. It marked the third time they were shut out in the last eight games.
But the rough start to the final home stand didn't damper the mood as the "We Own The East" T-shirts were visible throughout Turner Field and a "Welcome To Choptober" sign graced the Chop House in right-center.
Plus, there was at least one highlight-worthy moment that shored up any lingering doubts about Jason Heyward's health as he made a diving catch in center-field of which manager Fredi Gonzalez said, "I don't know there's too many center fielders in the major leagues that can even attempt to make that play."
Here are three observations from the Braves' loss:
The East already theirs, the Braves attention is now firmly on securing the top seed and home-field advantage in the postseason.
It takes on a greater importance given Atlanta's dominance at home, where it's a league-best 52-23, compared to a road split of 40-41, which makes them the only team currently in playoff position that has a record below .500.
They entered the day with a one-game lead over the Cardinals for the top spot, but St. Louis equaled Atlanta with 92-65 in beating the Nationals 4-3. The Braves do own the tie-breaker, having taken the season series 4-3.
The schedule would seem to slightly play in the Braves' favor as they take on two fourth-place teams in the Brewers and Phillies. Meanwhile the Cardinals deal with surging Washington before closing out with the 90-plus loss Cubs.
Atlanta can barely avoid a letup, which they got against Marco Estrada, threw seven scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out six. As sharp as he was, manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Braves did themselves no favors against him.
"Estrada had us off-balance, swinging at stuff in the dirt," Gonzalez said. "His change-up and his slider was pretty good. ... He gave us fits offensively."
Tuesday, the Braves get their first look at Tyler Thornburg, the 3-1 rookie who has a 1.96 ERA in six starts. His last two outings -- both wins -- he's allowed just two combined runs and five hits in 12 innings. The Braves will counter with veteran Freddy Garcia. He has allowed two runs in 13 innings over his last two starts.
Some 556 miles away at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals will throw Michael Wacha (3-1, 3.21 ERA) vs. Gio Gonzalez (11-7, 3.39 ERA) and it's a bet both the Braves and Cardinals will be scoreboard-watching as the race for the top seed figures to get more interesting.
Carlos Gomez drilled the first pitch he saw -- and just the third Mike Minor had thrown -- to left field for a solo home run. Four innings later, Jonathan Lucroy got to the Braves left-hander for a two-run shot.
With those two homers, Minor has allowed seven in his last five outings and that comes after giving up just three in the 11 starts before that.
"I think I'm trying to throw more sinkers in and then I throw four-seamers and away, and when I go back and forth with it and different release points with it, I'm leaving balls up," Minor said. "They're big-league hitters. They see that and they can take advantage of it."
We've seen Minor (13-8) get tagged in spurts before, yielding six homers in four starts from April 28-May 13 and seven in six outings from June 4-26 and he's had six games in which he's surrendered multiple home runs. In those outings Minor is 0-3 with three no-decisions.
He's also had his issues in the first inning, allowing three in a 6-5 loss to the Nationals last week and with Gomez's solo shot, has given up nine runs in the first in his last seven starts.
The playoff rotation hasn't been set, but with the way Kris Medlen (7-2, 2.45 ERA since August) is pitching, the guess here is that he starts Game 1 of the Division Series, with Minor going in either Game 2 or 3.
Gonzalez said Minor will make one more start in the regular season, which with a typical five days rest would put him back on the mound Saturday against the Phillies.
Minor limited the Phils to two runs and four hits with seven strikeouts and no walks over seven innings in his only start against them Sept. 6. How he deals with them this time around could wind up being a crucial with the NLDS looming, but Minor sad he won't approach it any differently.
"(I'm just going to) try and stay sharp and work on my pitches," Minor said. "Stay aggressive."
First, there was 'Beasts from the East,' then 'The Legend of El Oso Blanco.' Now, the Braves and Aaron Chewning have unloaded their latest high-production music video on the jumbotron before Monday's game with 'Baselines,' a parody of Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines.'
Featuring the Braves mascot, Homer, resplendent in a suit, former All-Star catcher Javy Lopez and a bevy of women in Braves jerseys, the NL East celebration tune boasts: "We got the Uptons, we got the Johnsons, we pretty awesome."