On the heels of four consecutive losses, the Atlanta Braves were still in tremendous shape when it comes to the NL East race as Wednesday began. Still, there wasn’t exactly a feeling of optimism given the team’s recent performance, leaving some urgency on the table as the series finale arrived against the St. Louis Cardinals. After a sleepy start to the game, fireworks began flying in the fourth inning and, when all was said and done, Atlanta avoided the sweep with a streak-busting victory by a final score of 7-3.
As noted above, the 12:10 pm ET first pitch may have actually felt like 1:10 pm ET, as neither side really threatened over the course of three-plus innings at SunTrust Park. Then, the Braves struck first in the bottom of the fourth, with Ender Inciarte leading off with a single and Freddie Freeman promptly bringing him to the plate with a well-timed, two-run blast.
That staked Braves starter Touki Toussaint to a lead and he would eventually leave the game with his team still in front on the scoreboard. The young right-hander did allow a solo home run to Harrison Bader in the top of the fifth but there was more offense to come from Atlanta and it didn’t take long.
Tyler Flowers led off the bottom of the fifth frame with a double but, after two ground-outs, the offensive threat seemed to be waning. Then, Ronald Acuña and Inciarte both drew walks to load the bases and Freeman again produced a positive outcome in the form of a two-run single.
That gave the Braves a 4-1 lead but Atlanta wasn’t done in the inning. With runners on first and third with two outs, Freeman attempted to steal second base and, for a moment, it seemed as if that would cost the home team, as he was ruled out in doing so. However, a replay review overturned the call and, as the initial play was happening, Inciarte broke to the plate, scoring the team’s fifth run and providing more cushion to Toussaint.
Toussaint did allow another run in the top of the sixth and, promptly, that chased him to the dugout with the lead sitting at 5-2. Jonny Venters did emerge to secure the final out of the inning, though, leaving the Braves in a very favorable spot with only nine additional outs to secure to preserve a much needed victory.
Though the Braves were unable to turn a sixth-inning threat into additional insurance, Jesse Biddle entered and smoothly navigated a 1-2-3 inning (with a strikeout) in the top of the seventh. Atlanta did capitalize offensively in the bottom half of the seventh, as an Inciarte double set the stage for an explosion when Kolton Wong uncorked an errant throw, allowing the speedy outfielder to score on what could have been an inning-ending double play ball.
With the lead sitting at 6-2, Shane Carle took over on the mound to begin the eighth inning and things didn’t go well for the right-hander. He allowed a single and a double to begin the frame, setting the stage for potential disaster against Marcell Ozuna with two men on and no outs.
Carle did manage to induce a pop-out against Ozuna but, moments later, allowed a sacrifice fly to allow the Cardinals to climb within a 6-3 margin. The overall danger was mitigated with an inning-ending groundout, however, and a Tyler Flowers home run in the bottom half put the Braves in a fantastic position as the ninth inning began.
Despite the “non-save situation,” A.J. Minter got the call in the ninth inning and, in a terrifying foray, loaded the bases (including two walks) in ugly fashion. With only one out, Minter was forced to face Jose Martinez in a less than ideal spot, but the slugger bailed Minter out with an inexplicable showing, swinging at all four pitches on the way to a pivotal strikeout. The Braves weren’t out of the woods just yet but, eventually, Minter was able to retire Paul DeJong to clinch the 7-3 win.
Freddie Freeman was the story of the day, reaching base in all four plate appearances and blasting a home run in the process. In addition, Inciarte (2-for-3 with a walk and three runs) put together a very strong showing from the No. 2 hole in the lineup and that, combined with reasonably effective run prevention across the board, allowed Atlanta to pick up the victory.
The Braves will remain home for the rest of the week but, beginning on Thursday, the Philadelphia Phillies arrive for a four-game set that could go a long way toward deciding the fate of the National League East. Stay tuned.