Taking care of business.
The phrase is often overused in sports culture, but there isn't a more apt use of words to describe what the Atlanta Braves did this week against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves entered the three-game series with the express need to secure two victories, and despite a hiccup in the opener, Fredi Gonzalez and his team were able to do just that.
Monday's opener was, for lack of a better term, a punch in the gut for various reasons. Chief among them was the fact that old pal Jeff Francoeur went crazy against his old team, producing four (!) hits for the first time in multiple years and generally annoying Braves Country in a way not achieved since Dan Uggla earlier in the season. Beyond Francoeur's heroics, the Braves were befuddled by another former teammate in Aaron Harang, as the big right-hander flatly out-pitched Alex Wood by allowing only one run in six innings on the way to the win.
Fortunately, the rest of the series went as planned.
Well, it may be overstated to suggest that anyone saw "The Shelby Miller Game" coming on Tuesday night, but that happened as well. Miller continued his incredible start in a Braves uniform with a three-hit shutout against the Phillies in the second game of the series, and he achieved the feat while throwing only 99 pitches. A shutout with fewer than 100 pitches has been termed as the "Maddux" in some circles, and for one night, Miller pitched up to that standard while striking out eight batters and issuing only one walk.
It is almost unfortunate that the offense was overshadowed on Tuesday night as well, simply because it was a veritable explosion. The Braves scored nine runs, with six of them coming against Philly starter Chad Billingsley, and both Freddie Freeman and Kelly Johnson produced home runs. It was a big game for both players, with Freeman going 3-for-4 with three runs and scored and Johnson driving in four runs, but on the whole, the Braves scored nine runs on 12 hits, and that is always acceptable.
In the finale, things didn't come quite as easily, but in the same breath, it was a comfortable win. The top three spots in the batting order (occupied by Nick Markakis, Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman) combined for 8 hits in 12 plate appearances, and the trio scored four runs and produced six runs batted in during the game.
Of course, it wouldn't be a series without manager Fredi Gonzalez doing something questionable, and he filled that quota by allowing Mike Foltynewicz to remain in the game in the sixth inning despite signs of wear. That move didn't (fully) bite Gonzalez, though, as the bullpen and an offensive cushion bailed him out, and Jason Grilli ended the evening with a celebration on the mound for his ninth save of the season.
Beating the Philadelphia Phillies in a series won't "win" the Atlanta Braves anything in the overall scheme of things, but losing to the Philadelphia Phillies certainly wouldn't do Atlanta any favors. That is the basic takeaway here, and the Braves simply did what they needed to do this week, setting up what should be an interesting weekend series in the nation's capital. The Braves are a .500 team right now, and if you polled the fan base prior to the season, that would have been an acceptable result after 28 games.
On to Washington.