Three Cuts: Braves drop Rockies in offensive clinic

BY foxsports • July 30, 2013

Fueled by a six-run fourth inning, the Atlanta Braves' offense jumped all over the Colorado Rockies' pitching staff for the second-consecutive night, winning 11-3. Here are three observations from the game:

When the Braves returned from a seven-game road trip to Chicago and New York, manager Fredi Gonzalez sent his usual leadoff hitter, Andrelton Simmons, out to lead off against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. Simmons went 0-for-4 in the game and saw only 16 pitches, dropping his hitting splits in the 1-hole down to .223/.261/.338.

Despite a 4-1 win, Gonzalez wanted to shake things up.

So to kick off the second game of that series, Gonzalez moved a 6-foot-5 outfielder into the No. 1 spot. He has yet to look back. Over the course of the past four games -- which, yes, does somewhat coincide with Turner Field's opening of the winningest Waffle House stand in the country -- Atlanta is 4-0 and averaging 6.8 runs per game.

"It's crazy that Jason's leading off. It's weird," said Freddie Freeman, who notched his fourth career multi-HR game against the Rockies Tuesday night. "But it's all coming together."

Entering Tuesday's meeting, the Braves had scored more runs than all but two National League teams (Dodgers, Mets) in July. But after adding 11 more runs to the total, Atlanta's 128 runs scored this month leads all NL teams -- a far cry from the offense that was shutout 11 times by June 22. In fact, the team has not posted a goose egg in 30 games.

"One through eight, I thought we did a nice job," Gonzalez said after his team's 11-3 win bolstered its NL East lead to 10 games. "Nice approach at the plate, and swinging the bats and adding on some runs lately. ... When you keep the line moving and you're having good, quality at-bats, we could do that to people. We have that kind of offense."

Of course, Heyward is not the only player driving in runs, but he is providing a top-of-the-lineup presence the team has not featured for the majority of 2013. He's hitting at a .381 clip since moving to the top, including two home runs, five RBI and two walks. By shifting the lineup toward the top and flipping shortstop Andrelton Simmons down to the No. 8 hole -- where he also has hit .381 and generally appears more comfortable -- the team has settled into a groove.

From Heyward to Justin Upton to Chris Johnson to Todd Cunningham (more on him in a minute), Gonzalez's lineup card keeps translating into productivity.

It was a rough beginning for the Braves rookie -- just the third of his career -- as the Rockies began to tee off early on: they drew a first-inning lead-off walk, followed by a single and then a sac fly to plate Colorado's first run. In the second inning, a two-run homer by third baseman Nolan Arenado gave the Rockies a 3-1 lead. Wood's outing was beginning to look reminiscent of Brandon Beachy's the night before -- Beachy allowed at least one run in each of the first four innings on Monday.

But Arenado's shot was the last run Wood allowed.

He wrapped up his evening with a career-best seven innings pitched, allowing three earned runs on six hits and one walk. Wood struck out a career-high seven batters in the process, all while dealing with a recurring cuticle hindrance on his pitching hand. Not too shabby against the National League's No. 2 scoring offense. For his efforts, Wood, who was the team's second-round draft pick last season, earned his first career win and received the traditional signed lineup card.

"After those first couple innings, just settled down. Me and Mac (catcher Brian McCann) kinda took control of the game," Wood said. "We were clicking throughout the rest of the game. ... I told Mac before the game, before we started warming up in the bullpen, that it's first time I've had that feeling where I felt like we'd go out there and have some success."

Wood gave up just three hits after the second inning.

Following the masterful collective performance of starters Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen in the Cardinals sweep, the Braves could not have asked for better timing from the offense. With the two biggest question marks presently on staff -- Beachy due to injury, Wood due to experience -- taking the mound against an explosive lineup, the Braves have responded by scoring 20 runs in two games.

That production saved the day for Beachy. It then instilled confidence in Wood.

And as Wood continues to acclimate to his MLB schedule, his numbers should only improve.

"The preparation I was able to do -- Mike Minor helped me a ton kinda getting me in the video room and showing me the ropes. Up here, that's just one of those things you gotta take advantage of your resources. From a preparation standpoint, in terms of the video and knowing what I wanted to do to their lineup specifically, was really key for me," he said. "That and kinda having a normal, in-between starts, my routine from day to day -- the running, the lifting, all of that -- I think it's really the first week that I was able to do that. ... I felt a lot more comfortable."

When recent Braves call-up Todd Cunningham, the 24-year-old outfielder from Jacksonville, Ala., received the long-awaited call from Triple-A Gwinnett manager Randy Ready, he was sitting on teammate David Hale's dock on Lake Lanier, surrounded by friends and fellow minor leaguers.

The call came in at midnight.

"They knew something was up because I kinda took the call and walked off. It was kind of an awkward silence when I re-approached the group. Which side of the news is it?" Cunningham said to reporters after settling into the Braves clubhouse. It was not smooth sailing from there, though. The new addition also ran into a speed bump at the security gate. "I had to verify so I could park and all I kinds of stuff. I said, 'I promise they called me.'"

Security debacle aside, Cunningham did receive his first plate appearance on Tuesday, notching a well-hit single in his first major league at-bat. Rockies veteran Todd Helton even congratulated him with a glove pat when he reached first base. All-around good moment.

Cunningham is considered just a stop-gap solution until regular Braves outfielders B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer return from the disabled list, which, according to Gonzalez, could happen sooner rather than later. Upton is scheduled to play at least three games on a minor league rehab stint before being activated; Schafer, who just started running outside of the pool this week while dealing with a fractured foot, could being his rehab stint as soon as Saturday. That's good news for the big club, expected news for the young guys.

Cunningham replaces Reed Johnson on the roster after the veteran was sent to the DL with tendinitis in his right Achilles. For those counting at home, that's three outfielders on the Opening Day roster on the DL. In return, the likes of Cunningham and Joey Terdoslavich have received their first tastes of the big leagues, however brief.

Considered an all-around solid player -- "Talking with some of our scouts, he's gonna be one of those guys that's not gonna light you up, like if you walk into the ballpark today you're gonna say, 'OK'; but if you follow him for four or five days, you're gonna say, 'Wow this guy's pretty good," Gonzalez said. -- Cunningham is hitting .279/.357/.352 with two home runs in 410 plate appearances at Triple-A Gwinnett this season.

At least he'll make it through the gates without incident next time around.