Three Cuts: Hard-luck Minor falls to White Sox, 3-1

BY foxsports • July 21, 2013

Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 3-1 loss to the White Sox, one of Atlanta's biggest hard-luck defeats of the season.

From May 8-June 15, covering eight Minor starts (all Atlanta victories), the Braves scored a total of 58 runs, or 7.3 per outing.

In that span, Minor notched five wins and a 2.25 ERA.

Of the southpaw's last six starts (June 20-July 21), the Braves scored only 22 runs, or 3.6 per outing. In that span, Minor posted a very-respectable ERA of 3.68 (with 38 strikeouts).

So, it's not like Minor has deserved the fate of only one win in the last month.

On Sunday, Minor (eight strikeouts) went the distance against the White Sox, surrendering only a run in the 1st (the result of one walk, one wild pitch, one Adam Dunn RBI single), a run in the 3rd (one double, one Alex Rios RBI single) and then one unearned run in the 6th.

Aside from that, Minor (9-5) faced four or fewer batters five times. In the grand scheme of things, we're talking about minimal damage in a ballpark (U.S. Cellular Field) that's usually ripe for high scoring on warm, breezy days.

On the plus side, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was spared the act of burning through the bullpen for a second straight day; and with a pitching rotation that boasts six rock-solid starters (including Brandon Beachy, who's killing time in the minors), Minor has again emerged as the club's go-to asset.

It goes without saying: He'll need a similarly stellar outing against the Cardinals on Friday. It could be the Braves' most revealing series of the season.

For Innings 2-5, the Braves accounted for nine baserunners (eight hits, one walk) but managed only one run against White Sox pitchers Jose Quintana (5 1/3 innings) and reliever Ramon Troncoso.

For the game's opening six frames, Chicago pitchers had to operate from the stretch position at least once per inning.

And yet, Atlanta missed on nearly every opportunity to force a tie or go ahead, minus the fifth-inning, RBI single from Evan Gattis, the outfielder who ended up logging some time at catcher after Gerald Laird's leg injury. (Brian McCann was Sunday's designated hitter.)

Put it all together, and this was an eminently winnable game for the Braves, who had at least two runners on base in four of the first six innings ... before going down quietly in the 7th, 8th and 9th.

The biggest letdown: In the second inning, the Braves loaded the bases with zero outs — courtesy of a Freddie Freeman single, McCann walk, Gattis infield single — but came up snake eyes, after Dan Uggla struck out and Reed Johnson lined into a rally-killing double play.

For the day, Freeman and Gattis led the club with two hits apiece. But no individual stat could overshadow Atlanta's galling number of runners stranded (11).

In last week's midseason review, I wrote about how the Nationals (48-50) had to finish at least 8-3 in their 11-game homestand, or risk falling behind the loftier playoff contenders during August and September — when Washington will be subjected to a pair of looooong road trips.

I also acknowledged how the Phillies (49-50) were strong candidates to be sellers before the MLB trade deadline on July 31, as a means of expediting a rebuilding process that requires more than a few minor tweaks.

Well, with Philly dropping two to the Mets and Washington getting swept by the Dodgers this weekend, Atlanta's odds of taking the National League East by mid-September — partly due to a lack of competition among the East rivals — are becoming stronger by the day.

In other words, championship-contending clubs, like the Braves, ideally shouldn't lose three-game sets against the White Sox (39-56) and/or Marlins. But when there's no sweep involved (on the negative end), it's hardly a blip on the big-picture screen.

At 55-43, Atlanta is still cruising toward 90-plus wins ... without figuratively breaking a sweat.

Bottom line: It's not the Braves' fault the other NL East clubs are wilting down the stretch. Or, at this pace, before the final turn.

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