Three Cuts: Braves dominate Phils, miss out on top NL seed
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves did all they could, beating the Phillies 12-5 in the final game of the regular season. Unfortunately for Atlanta, the St. Louis Cardinals also enjoyed a good afternoon, beating the Cubs 4-0 to finish the regular season one game ahead of Atlanta for the best record in the National League. That means the Braves lost home-field advantage up to the World Series and will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.
However, they will enter the postseason on a positive note. Here are three cuts from Sunday’s win at Turner Field:
Evan Gattis is not B.J. Upton. You only had to see the pop fly by Phillies second baseman Freddy Galvis in the second inning that fell in for a hit to understand that. It was the kind of ball Upton would have snagged while yawning. Gattis looked like he might pull a hamstring getting the ball back to the infield.
Then there was Gattis’ six-inch vertical leap in the fourth when Erik Krantz hit Julio Teheran’s only bad pitch over the left-field wall to score three runs. Upton might not have been able to save the home run, but he would have come exponentially closer to the ball.
Then in the ninth, when Upton was inserted into the lineup, he snagged a hard-hit ball by Cesar Hernandez that appeared destined for the left corner. The sliding grab ended the game on a high note while punctuating the defensive differences between Upton and Gattis.
But Gattis isn’t Upton at the plate, either.
In the first inning on Sunday, Gattis hammered a 3-2 pitch 390 feet over the left field wall to score two runs and give the Braves a 3-0 lead. He later singled in the fifth and sixth, scoring once more on a wild pitch.
“More important than the (first-inning) homerun was getting the early lead,” Gattis said. “Last game of the year, you want to jump out ahead and put the pressure on them. If there is such a thing as momentum, it’s good to get it going.”
Gattis finished the year with plenty of momentum, batting .243 with 21 homers and 63 RBI without breaking into the lineup as an everyday position player.
This now puts manager Fredi Gonzalez in a tough spot. Should Gattis start in left field against the Dodgers? He could cost the Braves some runs on defense, but no team in 100 years has won a pennant starting two position players that were batting below .200 — Upton finished the season with a .184 average while Dan Uggla closed out 2013 batting .179.
“We’ll meet again on Tuesday,” Gonzalez said about his lineup decisions. “We’re going to take tomorrow off and we’ll talk about it more then.”
In the meantime, Gattis is just thrilled to be playing baseball in October.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Think of all the guys who have been in the game (for years) who haven’t made it. There are a lot of veterans on this team who haven’t been there, so I’m not going to take it for granted. I know how special it is.”
He wished he’d gotten a couple of more pitches – his manager wanted that as well – but with home-field advantage still (at the time) very much a possibility and the Braves only leading by one run in the bottom of the fifth, Gonzalez pinch-hit for Julio Teheran, who had a better outing than his numbers indicate.
Teheran threw 66 pitches in five innings, giving up six hits and four runs. But he only threw one bad pitch, a hanging slider that Kratz squeezed over the left-field wall by no more than a couple of feet.
“It would have been nice to let him get a couple more (innings of work),” Gonzalez said. “But we were still trying to win the game. The Cardinals were still playing. We were scoreboard watching, so with home-field advantage on the line, we needed to see if we could put some more runs up there.”
It won’t be Teheran’s last outing of the year. He, along with Kris Medlen and Mike Minor will likely start the first three games of the postseason, with Medlen the almost certain starter for Thursday.
“All of those guys have been pitching pretty well,” Gonzalez said.
It isn’t clear yet whether Freddy Garcia or Paul Maholm will start in Game 4, but on Sunday afternoon, no one was thinking that far ahead.
“It feels really good to be in the playoffs,” Teheran said. “I felt like I had good stuff and threw good pitches, just one mistake, but now we have to get ready for what’s next.”
The Braves scored 15 runs in the last 10 innings of the 2013 regular season — impressive numbers that Atlanta hopes will set the tone for the weeks ahead.
Sunday’s offense was almost silly. Backup catcher Gerald Laird had four hits, matching the most of his career and the first time he has gone 4-for-4 since 2008. He also scored four runs, tying a career high. Meanwhile, second baseman Elliot Johnson logged a career-high five RBI.
It went on and on from there.
Freddie Freeman got two hits and scored twice, Andrelton Simmons went 3-for-4 and scored three times. Jose Constanza pinch-hit for Teheran in the fifth and promptly drove in two more runs.
There were a couple of scary moments. Freeman made a diving grab early in the game and stretched out in ways that could have pulled a groin muscle, while Johnson tried to field a pop fly in foul territory and ended up diving headfirst into the Phillies dugout. Both came out fine, but injures have been such a major problem for the Braves that many in Turner Field gasped at the prospect of even more players going down.
The players shrugged at those plays.
“To win the series you have to play the same game that got you here,” Laird said. “You have to play good baseball like you have all year and if we do that, I like our chances. We’ve got some good pitchers, some good bats and guys who like to compete, so I don’t think (the playoff atmosphere) is going to be a problem for us.
“Now we just have to go out and get it done.”