Three Cuts: Braves earn walk-off win over Brewers
ATLANTA — Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 3-2 victory over the Brewers, played on a brisk, breezy September night at Turner Field.
Around the sixth inning, the Turner Field scoreboard flashed an interesting stat, revealing that 16 of Simmons' last 21 base hits had come of the extra-base variety (double, triple, homer).
Fast forward to the ninth inning: With Justin Upton (two hits, one run) and Evan Gattis (three hits, one RBI) occupying the base paths with two outs, Simmons (0 for 3 at the time) strode to the plate, expecting a fastball from Brewers reliever Donovan Hand ... but comfortable enough to aggressively pursue other pitches.
"I knew I didn't have to do too much. I saw the pitcher work with some pitches off-speed," recalled Simmons.
Sure enough, Simmons demonstrated sublime patience on Hand's 0-1 delivery, following the path of an over-the-plate changeup and then clubbing it into right-center field.
At the crack of the bat, with Upton sprinting home from second base, Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez momentarily had a beat on the ball ... but its tailing action was too much for any Milwaukee fielder.
"He's come up big in those situations all year; he's quite a hitter," said Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez in the post-game media scrum. "You feel good, you feel good."
Simmons' game-winning hit — his third of the season — would improve the Braves' record to 93-64, but the real drama centered around the deft-fielding, clutch-hitting shortstop's chances of reaching second base, before Upton would score and before his teammates could maul him, in full celebration.
But alas, Simmons didn't make it to second base, the result of his jubilant 'mates creating a burly blockade around the bag, as if they knew Simmons was four feet from his 17th extra-base-tally among 22 hits.
Such is life for a Braves team that still leads the Cardinals by the slimmest of margins (1/2 game) in the high-stakes chase for the National League's best record — with home-field advantage leading up to the World Series as the prize.
The Braves can only judge Garcia (who turns 37 on Oct. 6) on what they've seen in person; and of his six outings with Atlanta, covering four starts and 27.1 innings, the Venezuelan righty has sterling tallies of one win, a 1.66 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 20/5 K-BB ratio.
And in light of Fredi Gonzalez's recent declaration that rookie Alex Wood would be used in the bullpen during the playoffs, the club's Game 4 start becomes a de facto battle between Garcia (two runs allowed, seven strikeouts in 6.2 innings against Milwaukee) and veteran lefty Paul Maholm (10-10, 4.44 ERA), who has yielded four or more runs in eight of his last 15 starts.
Advantage: Garcia ... at least on paper.
"Freddy really knows how to maneuver himself through a major league lineup," said Gonzalez, while crediting his starter with another "outstanding" effort. "He doesn't rattle ... he's a nice piece that we've added to our roster (for the stretch run)."
Garcia, a two-time All-Star (2001-02), has started 10 playoff games during his 15-year MLB career, tallying a 6-3 record, 3.28 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Of equal importance, Garcia endured at least six innings five times, allowing three earned runs or less on each occurrence.
Garcia hot streak aside, the Braves could always hand the Game 4 ball to their Game 1 starter, the result of implementing a three-man rotation for the postseason (Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran).
But for whatever reason, numerous teams have abandoned that (perfectly fine) strategy from the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
For the sake of argument, let's say the Braves draw the "NLCS A" schedule on Major League Baseball's Web site. Their games would be next Thursday and Friday at home (Oct. 3/4), the following Sunday and Monday on the road (Oct. 6/7) and back at Turner Field for the decisive Game 5 (Oct. 9), if necessary.
If Medlen goes 6 2/3 innings in the playoff opener (likely facing the Reds, Pirates or Cardinals), who's to say he couldn't return the following Monday — on three full days' rest — for another stint of 6 2/3 innings?
This is what's so vexing about the new age of baseball: Teams move heaven and earth to make the playoffs ... only to become too conservative once the pressure gets ratcheted up.
My personal creed: Ride your horses as much as humanly possible!
The mini-rant really has nothing to do with Garcia or the Braves. The untimely demise of the three-man rotation has been a baseball-wide bone of contention for roughly 10-15 years.
The upside to the rejiggered playoff format, which now holds the wild-card clashes on separate days (National League on Oct. 1; AL on Oct. 2):
Against the Phillies this weekend, the Braves can go full bore with Medlen (Friday), Teheran (Saturday) and Minor (Sunday) in pursuit of the National League's No. 1 seed.
And all three would still be rested for NLDS Games 1-3.
Since July 23, spanning 32 appearances and 31.2 innings, Carpenter boasts a 1.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 36/7 K-BB ratio.
For a guy with a lifetime ERA of 3.71 (Astros, Blue Jays, Braves), Carpenter may have found his calling as an 8th-inning dynamo, paving the way for Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel (1.27 ERA, 96 strikeouts in 65 innings) in the 9th.
For the playoffs, Carpenter also has the capacity to pitch two or three innings in a single outing, depending on the situation and availability of Kimbrel (who garnered the win on Tuesday).
"I thought the three right-handed hitters Carp faced" — Jonathan Lucroy, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez — "weren't chopped liver," beamed Gonzalez. "There were some big-time right-handed hitters in that (8th) inning."