Three Cuts: Braves turn it on late, clinch sweep of Cards

BY foxsports • July 28, 2013

ATLANTA — Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 5-2 victory over the Cardinals (62-40), clinching a sweep of the National League's premier club, record-wise.

Yes, it's still July; and yes, Atlanta only has an 8 1/2-game lead over Washington (winners of three straight).

But with the convincing sweep of the Cardinals, the Braves — baseball's sixth team to 60 wins — can begin harboring thoughts of posting the Senior Circuit's best record by season's end, thus locking up home-field advantage throughout the NL postseason.

(The American League champion, by way of an All-Star Game victory, will own homefield in the World Series.)

Prior to the weekend set, the Braves figured as long shots for the No. 1 seed, given their 45-45 record from April 17-July 25 and recent rash of injuries (Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, B.J. Upton, Jordan Schafer).

But Atlanta enjoyed a problem-free weekend of great fielding, clutch hitting, advantageous baserunning and dominant pitching, in the form of holding St. Louis — the National League's top offense (1st in runs, hits, RBI, batting average, OBP, OPS) — to just three runs in three days.

(According to FOX Sports South writer Zach Dillard, no team had previously held the Cardinals to such a number over a three-game span this season.)

On Friday, Mike Minor outdueled St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright to help push Atlanta to a 4-1 win. On Saturday, Julio Teheran dazzled the Cards in perhaps his greatest outing of the year (which is saying a lot).

And on Sunday, the quartet of Kris Medlen (starter), Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel stymied the Cardinals on national TV, while Jason Heyward (two hits, two RBI, solo homer), Chris Johnson (three hits, three runs) and rookie pinch-hitter Joey Terdoslavich (game-winning RBI — the first of his career) carried the Braves offense.

"That was the common denominator for all three games — good starting pitching," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez in the postgame media scrum. "We only used three guys out of the bullpen for three games — Avilan, Walden and Kimbrel. Our starting pitching was so good, we didn't have to use anybody else."

At 60-45, the regimented Braves have maintained a seasonal pace of 92 wins for roughly two months.

The pessimist would say Medlen allowed seven or more hits for the sixth straight outing — a stat hardly becoming of a purported ace who's not a lock for a starting role during the playoffs (given Atlanta's admirable depth up front).

They might also lament how Medlen (six innings, two runs allowed, four strikeouts) had the help of three double plays to escape potential jams, excluding the Cardinals' two-run fifth inning.

"(Simmons) is the middle defense," gushed Gonzalez of Andrelton Simmons, one of baseball's best defensive shortstops. "He and Danny (Uggla) did a great job turning double plays."

The optimist, in turn, would declare this to be Medlen's best start of July . . . and the closest thing to his successful run from May 2-June 8, when the Braves right-hander tallied two wins, a 2.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 42/16 K-BB rate.

Plus, with Sunday's victory, Medlen — in just two months' time — has improved from a 1-6 debacle to a more palatable 7-10 mark for the year, entering the August/September stretch.

Digging deeper, Medlen encountered only three or four hitters five times on Sunday, with the lone hiccup coming in the 5th, when Pete Kozma (double), pitcher Shelby Miller (double) and Carlos Beltran (single) helped produce a pair of runs.

(In the postgame, Medlen relayed a message from injured pitcher Tim Hudson, who playfully derided his friend and teammate — through the use of a choice expletive — for giving up two hits to Shelby Miller.)

Regarding Beltran's hit, a bloop single that fell between left fielder Evan Gattis and the hard-charging Simmons, it's fair to rhetorically wonder two things aloud:

**Would Justin Upton have made the catch, if he were occupying left field? (The injury to brother B.J. prompted the outfield shuffle.)

**Did Gattis momentarily break his pursuit of the ball, due to some spur-of-the-moment apprehension of running into Simmons, full-bore?

A few things stand out about Freeman's acrobatic, dugout-rail catch in the eighth inning:

Where did he think Matt Holliday's pop fly was headed, upon contact?

Freeman thought it would initially go foul. So, he just ran to a safe spot, jumped on the rail and snagged it from the throes of the Braves' cement dugout.

How often, if ever, does he get a chance to practice awkward catches during warmups?

Freeman's simple response: "I don't test anything. If I run into the wall (going for a ball), I run into the wall."

Was that the greatest catch of his career?

Freeman: "It's definitely up there. Up two runs (4-2 in the 8th), with the meat of (the Cardinals') order coming up ... you definitely want to catch everything that's in your area."

And, last but not least ...

Was Freeman aware that his teammates were a tad late to form a human shield, in case the All-Star tumbled over the rail, head-first?

Freeman deftly answered that with some playful humor.

"They ran away, and then B.J. came in," Freeman recalled. "(Pitcher) Alex Wood did not help me at all — put that in the paper. He ran away."

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