Heading into Sunday afternoon’s action, the Atlanta Braves had a real chance to complete a series sweep over their chief rival, and after just two innings of action, the home team had built a lead that would allow them to cruise to a 10-2 victory over the Washington Nationals.
The fireworks were out early for the Braves offense, as they put up a 3-spot in the opening frame against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez. After Jason Heyward drew a leadoff walk and BJ Upton executed a bunt single, Freddie Freeman connected on a sacrifice fly to score Heyward (who advanced to 3rd on a throwing error on Upton’s bunt), and that set the stage for the single biggest knock of the game. Justin Upton continued his incredible hot streak with another 2-run home run to score his brother, and Atlanta led 3-0 in the blink of an eye.
Fortunately for the home team, the offense wasn’t nearly done, and the explosion kept coming in the very next inning. Tyler Pastornicky (starting at second base in place of Dan Uggla) tripled and was brought home by a Jason Heyward double, and that set up another blast for a red-hot hitter, when Freddie Freeman took Gonzalez over the right field wall to break open the game at 6-0. From there, it was full-on cruise control for the Atlanta Braves.
On the mound, the Braves were (once again) led by an incredibly effective start from 35-year-old Aaron Harang. The big right-hander navigated 6 innings while allowing only 5 hits and 1 earned run, and Sunday’s effort marked the third straight time (i.e. all of his starts in an Atlanta Braves uniform) in which he completed 6+ innings and allowed 1 run or fewer. In fairness, no one could have expected this type of domination from Aaron Harang, but he has been a revelation and that continued as he nearly blanked the Nats.
When Harang exited with 3 innings remaining, the Braves held a 6-1 lead, and with the trio of Ian Thomas, Jordan Walden and Gus Schlosser did enough to secure the victory. The duo of Thomas and Walden cruised through the 7th and 8th innings while allowing only 1 base-runner and picking up 3 strikeouts, and while Schlosser allowed a solo home run to Adam LaRoche in the 9th, the massive lead was never threatened down the stretch.
For good measure, Atlanta’s offense tacked on 4 “insurance” runs in the bottom of the 8th with an additional offensive onslaught. Jason Heyward reached on an Ian Desmond error (uh oh), and when Freddie Freeman blasted a double to bring him around from 1st, that set the stage for the final blow. Andrelton Simmons blasted a 3-run home run (scoring Freeman and Justin Upton, who had walked in the previous at-bat) to dead center field, and when the ball finally landed, the lead was insurmountable.
Days like this are always fun in terms of evaluating the box score, and this was no exception. Freddie Freeman (2-for-4, HR, 2B, 2 runs, 4 RBI) and Justin Upton (2-for-3, HR, 2 BB, 2 runs, 2 RBI) are both operating on another planet right now, and Jason Heyward (1-for-4, 3 runs, BB) seemed to be in the right place at the right time with quality at-bats. Perhaps most importantly, though, BJ Upton continued his uptick at the plate, finishing the game with 2 hits in addition to top-flight defense in center field.
Obviously, not all days throughout the 162-game schedule will be quite as pleasurable as this one for the Atlanta Braves, but when the 10-2 margin of victory is on the “correct” side against a big-time rival, it is all smiles in Braves Country.