Three Cuts: Sanchez-led Tigers blank Braves
Here are three things we learned from the Tigers' 10-0 rout of the visiting Braves on Friday, a one-sided result that didn't quite live up to the World Series Preview hype:
1. The Braves ran into an Anibal Sanchez buzzsaw, plain and simple
Sanchez, the ex-Marlin who signed with the Tigers after flourishing with Detroit during August, September and October last year (post-trade: two or less runs allowed in nine of his final 11 starts), had a 3-11 lifetime record against the Braves, leading into Friday's opener.
But none of that mattered on this night, as Sanchez registered a career-high 17 strikeouts over eight scoreless innings, fanning Freddie Freeman (four), Dan Uggla (four) and Juan Francisco 11 times. All told, Atlanta struck out 18 times, setting a single-game franchise record in that realm.
The first two innings were a struggle for Sanchez, eating into his pitch count. After that, though, it was smooth sailing for one of baseball's most underrated power arms. Of his last 20 outings (dating back to July 17 and including the postseason), Sanchez has notched seven-plus strikeouts 11 times.
In the postgame media scrum, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was quick and candid when summing up Sanchez's scintillating performance.
"Yeah, he was pretty good, and we weren't," said Gonzalez, whose Braves are now 15-7 (first in the National League East). "That's all I've got for you tonight, boys."
2. No major league team, contender or pretender, is immune from the occasional clunker
From the Braves' standpoint, nights like this are going to happen over the course of a marathon schedule.
From pitcher Paul Maholm's perspective, let's hope Friday's brief outing (eight runs, 10 hits allowed in just 3.2 innings) wasn't the unofficial breaking point to an amazing run of three wins ... and only three runs allowed from April 3-20 (spanning four starts and 26.1 innings).
Against the Tigers, Maholm sailed through the first two innings, without incident. In the third, an Omar Infante double, Torii Hunter single and Miguel Cabrera walk set the stage for perhaps the two most crucial at-bats of the evening:
With the bases loaded and one out, Maholm fanned Prince Fielder on a gorgeous slow curve, briefly halting the Detroit rally. But Victor Martinez fought back, cracking a two-run single up the middle, giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead. From there, a Maholm wild pitch, Jhonny Peralta walk and Matt Tuiasosopo RBI single — compounded by an Atlanta error around the plate — opened the floodgates for four total runs.
An inning later, the Tigers pounded Braves pitching with an array of singles and doubles, before the rookie Tuiasosopo clubbed a two-run homer.
When the damage was done, Detroit would only need the third and fourth innings to rack up double-digit runs.
3. In other news, Brian McCann belted two homers in his seasonal debut with the Rome Braves
OK, so McCann's skill level ranks slightly ahead of Single-A pitching, specifically the South Atlantic League's Greensboro Grasshoppers. Nevertheless, he couldn't have asked for a better rehab start to kick off the 2013 campaign, accounting for two hits, two dingers, three runs and four RBI.
And with this bit of encouraging news involving McCann, who has been recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, it further complicates Atlanta's handling of a wonderful problem: With McCann, Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird, the Braves have three strong catchers under contract for this season ... and a top-flight prospect (Christian Bethancourt) waiting in the wings for next year.
While watching the Braves at spring training, you wouldn't have guessed McCann was slated to miss all of April, due to injury. He bounded around the team clubhouse like a 25-year-old kid who was ready for world-class pitching that day. And his prodigious night in Rome — against a pair of pitchers in their early 20s — suggests McCann may be ready for big-league pitching on May 8 (against the Reds).
Regarding Gattis (six homers in 18 games), the rookie turns 27 in August, so it's not like the Braves can afford to stash him in the minors for a sustained period of time -- without hindering his market value.
He logged some starts at first base during Freeman's stint on the disabled list; but with Freeman (0 for 4 on Friday) and McCann on the mend, it's fair to wonder where Gattis will get his daily cuts.
But that's a healthy worry for another day.