On Friday afternoon, the Atlanta Braves were just one game over .500 and in the midst of easily their roughest stretch of the 2014 season. On top of that, the MLB-leading Oakland Athletics were set to arrive at Turner Field for a three-game set, and it appeared for all the world as if the team would need a miracle to stay alive in the National League playoff race.
Then, the home team completed a much-needed sweep.
The 26-year-old Minor, who entered the night with a 5.33 ERA over 104.2 innings, has been (justifiably) maligned throughout the season, but on this night, his performance was more than acceptable. Oakland’s Nate Freiman got the best of Minor to the tune of two home runs, but aside from that, Minor was spotless, and he finished the night having completed seven innings while allowing just two earned runs on four hits and two walks, while striking out six.
Offensively, the biggest singular blow off the night came off the bat of Justin Upton, and that has been somewhat of a theme in the recent past. Upton finished the night 2-for-3 with two runs scored, but his two-run blast against Oakland left-hander Jon Lester gave the Braves their first lead of the night. Previous to Upton’s home run, the only notch on the scoreboard came during an odd sequence in which Justin advanced to third on a throwing error before scoring on an Evan Gattis single, but the home run was the epitome of “real” damage against Lester, and Justin Upton has been dominant against left-handed pitching.
Later, the Braves tacked on some much needed insurance, as Chris Johnson drove a solo home run over the left field wall to lead off the bottom of the 7th inning. Atlanta’s bullpen would eventually need that insurance, as Anthony Varvaro allowed a leadoff double to Sam Fuld in the 8th that was turned into a three-bagger courtesy of an error by B.J. Upton. Fuld was quickly brought to the plate on a sacrifice fly from Coco Crisp, and the lead shrunk to 4-3 with five outs to play.
Aside from utterly bizarre bullpen management that saw Fredi Gonzalez insert James Russell (left-handed) to face Josh Donaldson and Derek Norris (right-handed) in a high leverage spot, the remainder of the night went swimmingly for the Braves. Russell allowed a single to Donaldson before retiring Norris via groundout, and Craig Kimbrel was absolutely electric in slamming the door on 9 pitches for his 37th save of the season.
Because the Washington Nationals generated yet another come-from-behind win on Sunday, the Braves were unable to gain any ground on their 6-game deficit in the NL East, but on the bright side, Atlanta is now tied with Pittsburgh, trailing the San Francisco Giants by just 1.5 games in the Wild Card chase. The Braves will return to action on Monday night against those same Pirates, as they travel to Pittsburgh to begin a three-game series with Ervin Santana on the mound to oppose Vance Worley.