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Braves activate LHP Freeman, option Allard

Reliever looks to regain command in return from shoulder injury
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Instead of sticking to their plan of giving Sam Freeman another Minor League rehab appearance, the Braves activated the left-handed reliever from the disabled list before Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Rockies.

Freeman returns to Atlanta's bullpen hoping to distance himself from the second-highest walk rate among qualified Major League relievers -- 6.13 walks per nine innings -- that led to a 5.45 ERA over 39 2/3 innings.

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ATLANTA -- Instead of sticking to their plan of giving Sam Freeman another Minor League rehab appearance, the Braves activated the left-handed reliever from the disabled list before Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Rockies.

Freeman returns to Atlanta's bullpen hoping to distance himself from the second-highest walk rate among qualified Major League relievers -- 6.13 walks per nine innings -- that led to a 5.45 ERA over 39 2/3 innings.

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Once Freeman allowed opponents to hit .327 with a .438 on-base percentage over 16 appearances from June 15 to July 28, the Braves placed him on the 10-day disabled list with left shoulder inflammation.

Freeman labored through an Aug. 12 rehab appearance for Class A Rome, but then he seemingly regained some arm strength during two appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett. He pitched around a walk in both of the scoreless innings he recorded for the Stripers.

Rookie Kolby Allard was optioned to Gwinnett to create a roster spot for Freeman, who produced a 2.55 ERA over 60 innings (58 appearances) for Atlanta last season.

Toussaint tunes up
Touki Toussaint prepped for a return to the Majors with nine strikeouts and one run allowed over six innings in Gwinnett's win over Buffalo on Saturday night. The Braves have not made an announcement, but it appears Toussaint will return to the Majors to start against the Marlins on Thursday or Friday.

Toussaint allowed one run and two hits over six innings when he made his Major League debut against the Marlins last week. MLB Pipeline ranks him as baseball's 76th-best prospect and the seventh best in the Braves' system.

Prospect watch
Third baseman Austin Riley -- Atlanta's No. 4 prospect and 43rd overall -- hit .308 with a .922 OPS and 10 homers over 222 plate appearances for Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett before spraining his right knee on June 3. Over 146 plate appearances since returning from a month-long stint on the disabled list, he has batted .262 with a .717 OPS and just one home run.

Riley has also struck out once every 3.18 at-bats while with Mississippi and Gwinnett. His struggles have likely lessened the likelihood he will begin the 2019 season as Atlanta's third baseman. But at 21 years old, he still has plenty of time to live up to his tremendous potential.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Kolby Allard, Sam Freeman

Folty's gem spoiled as 'pen falters in 9th, 10th

Against Minter, Rockies score 3 runs with 2 outs to tie game
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Two days after his unavailability was highlighted as Brad Brach was unable to preserve a one-run, ninth-inning lead, A.J. Minter couldn't record the one out the Braves needed to avoid a third consecutive disheartening loss.

Mike Foltynewicz performed like the frontline starter every postseason contender needs, and the Braves were positioned to strengthen their National League East lead until a seemingly easy ninth inning turned into a disastrous one for Minter in Saturday night's 5-3, 10-inning loss to the Rockies at SunTrust Park.

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ATLANTA -- Two days after his unavailability was highlighted as Brad Brach was unable to preserve a one-run, ninth-inning lead, A.J. Minter couldn't record the one out the Braves needed to avoid a third consecutive disheartening loss.

Mike Foltynewicz performed like the frontline starter every postseason contender needs, and the Braves were positioned to strengthen their National League East lead until a seemingly easy ninth inning turned into a disastrous one for Minter in Saturday night's 5-3, 10-inning loss to the Rockies at SunTrust Park.

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DJ LeMahieu delivered the crushing blow with his solo homer off Luke Jackson, who allowed a pair of runs in the 10th. But the postgame focus centered around Minter, who had to explain the fact that him allowing four consecutive hits and three runs with two outs had nothing to do with a small cut that developed on his thumb at the start of the ninth.

Video: COL@ATL: Foltynewicz K's 9 over 7 shutout innings

"It was just pretty pathetic on my part," Minter said. "I came in to get three outs in a three-run game and couldn't get the job done. I'm going to have to wear that one."

As the Braves have lost three straight to the Rockies, who have bolstered their postseason bid by winning seven of their past eight, they have tasted heartache. Brach squandered the ninth-inning lead when three top relievers were unavailable for Thursday's series opener. Sean Newcomb struggled in Friday's lopsided loss. But even greater frustration was felt Saturday, when Colorado erased a three-run deficit with two outs and none on in the ninth.

"When we had this [rough] stretch before [in July], nobody was running away with it," said Braves manager Brian Snitker, whose team remains a half-game in front of the second-place Phillies. "We're still right there. This is a really good club we're playing. They're strong. They just keep coming at you."

Video: COL@ATL: Markakis plates 2 with a base hit in the 3rd

After Minter retired Carlos Gonzalez to open the ninth, he received a visit from Snitker and trainer George Poulis. The 24-year-old southpaw showed them he was simply dealing with a small cut that developed on his left thumb two pitches into this appearance. 

"It had nothing to do with the outcome of the game," said Minter, who entered having allowed just seven hits and one run over 12 innings dating back to July 14.

The cut was nearly invisible by the time Minter spoke to the media. But the lingering effects of the inning were clearly visible.

Video: COL@ATL: Snitker on loss to Rockies, Foltynewicz

"When you've got to throw it down the middle, they're going to make you pay for it," Minter said. "That's Major League Baseball. I tried to stay within myself and tried to throw strikes. It was pretty pathetic, especially when Folty pitched the game he did and the hitters did their job."

But location was not necessarily the issue for Minter, who allowed Trevor Story to fuel the ninth inning with a double recorded against a cutter on the inside corner. David Dahl followed by singling against an elevated fastball. Ian Desmond hit a low fastball on the inside corner to left for a two-run double and Gerardo Parra followed with a game-tying single recorded against a cutter on the outside corner.

Video: COL@ATL: Parra ties the game in the 9th with RBI hit

As Minter progresses through his first full Major League season, he has been described as a left-handed Craig Kimbrel and also occasionally provided the reminder he is still in the early stages of his development. This was just his second blown save in 13 opportunities, but he has now allowed at least three runs in less than an inning in three appearances.

"He gets amped up," Snitker said. "He's not a veteran closer. This is all new to him. The reps he's getting, he's not an established guy yet. He's still trying to figure things out and how to do it."

Video: COL@ATL: Camargo makes a superb barehanded play

AUGUST SURGE
Foltynewicz has allowed more than two earned runs in just five of 24 starts, but four of those outings were accounted for during a rough stretch around the All-Star break. As he has posted a 1.35 ERA through four starts this month, he has seemingly righted himself in time for the stretch run.

Foltynewicz recorded nine strikeouts and limited the Rockies' potent lineup to four hits over seven scoreless innings. When he allowed one run over eight innings against the Marlins on Monday, it marked the first time he'd completed at least seven innings since tossing a two-hit shutout against the Nationals on June 1.

"When I went through that rough stretch, I was really rushing with my delivery and leaving pitches up in the zone, especially my slider," Foltynewicz said. "It's been really good this year. So, when I stay back and stay over the rubber, I can get that downhill angle, especially with the fastball. It just opens up all the offspeed from there."

Video: COL@ATL: Foltynewicz makes throw from ground

SOUND SMART
Ronald Acuna Jr. extended his hitting streak to 11 games when he began his seventh three-hit performance since the All-Star Game with a first-inning single. The 20-year-old outfielder walked ahead of Nick Markakis' two-run, bases-loaded single in the third inning. He also singled, stole second base and scored on Freddie Freeman's eighth-inning single.

Acuna has reached safely from the leadoff spot in the first inning of each of the past nine games. This is the longest such streak in the Majors since Rafael Furcal reached safely while leading off nine straight games for the Dodgers in 2009.

Video: COL@ATL: Acuna Jr. gets on to lead off in 9 straight

UP NEXT
Anibal Sanchez will take the mound when the Braves and Rockies conclude their four-game series Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET. Sanchez limited Colorado to two runs over five innings on April 7. Colorado will counter with German Marquez, who has a 2.91 ERA over his past eight starts.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Mike Foltynewicz, A.J. Minter

Culberson welcomes chance to pitch again

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Less than 24 hours later, Charlie Culberson was dealing with some expected normal soreness and hoping he'll get another opportunity to prove the value of his versatility extends to the pitcher's mound.

"I think he's a definite option down the road," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I'm not going to feel any apprehension at all about having him [pitch again] because of how well he did it."

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ATLANTA -- Less than 24 hours later, Charlie Culberson was dealing with some expected normal soreness and hoping he'll get another opportunity to prove the value of his versatility extends to the pitcher's mound.

"I think he's a definite option down the road," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I'm not going to feel any apprehension at all about having him [pitch again] because of how well he did it."

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Given it would likely mean being on the wrong end of a lopsided loss, managers don't spend much time thinking about having position players pitch. But Culberson at least gave Snitker and the Braves something to think about as he consistently commanded a somewhat lively fastball while making his first career pitching appearance in the ninth inning of Friday's 11-5 loss to the Rockies.

Culberson allowed two hits and one run while pitching for the first time since he was a high school senior in 2007. His fastball touched 93.7 mph and averaged 92.2 mph, which per Statcast™ is slightly below MLB's 93.1-mph average. The average spin rate of his four-seam fastball was 2,430 rpm, which is well above MLB's average (2,262 rpm).

"I knew my ball had some carry to it," Culberson said. "This is the big leagues. There are guys who do this as a living and work really hard at it. I'm not downplaying pitching because it's not easy. But I know that if I worked at it, I'm not saying I'd be as good as these guys. But I honestly wouldn't mind being a guy help mop up an inning or so."

Culberson stands with Jonny Gomes (Aug. 28, 2015) as the only position players to make a pitching appearance for the Braves dating back to 1990. Injury risk has served as one of the primary reasons managers have long shied away from asking a position player to pitch. But there have been 58 Major League games played this year that included a pitching appearance from a position player.

"We dip into the well so much that after a while there's nowhere else to go," Snitker said. "You're in bullpens earlier and more often. It's a different animal."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Charlie Culberson

Longest home runs for every MLB team

Statcast measures farthest blast since 2015 for all 30 clubs
MLB.com

Ever since Babe Ruth launched Major League Baseball into the live-ball era with his awe-inspiring home runs, wowed fans have been asking: "How far did that ball go?"

Teams had their own methods for estimating home run distance for nearly a century. But now, the launch of Statcast™ has given us a whole new tool to answer the question, thanks to the tracking technology at every MLB ballpark.

Ever since Babe Ruth launched Major League Baseball into the live-ball era with his awe-inspiring home runs, wowed fans have been asking: "How far did that ball go?"

Teams had their own methods for estimating home run distance for nearly a century. But now, the launch of Statcast™ has given us a whole new tool to answer the question, thanks to the tracking technology at every MLB ballpark.

Here is a look at the longest homers hit by each of the 30 MLB clubs since Statcast™ began tracking home run distances at the start of the 2015 season.

American League East

Blue Jays: Josh Donaldson, April 23, 2015, vs. BAL; Sept. 17, 2017, at MIN
Distance: 481 feet (Watch them: HR No. 1; HR No. 2)
Both of these big flies were demolished. The first, with a 112.5-mph exit velocity, Donaldson launched into the second deck at the Rogers Centre. He hit the second even harder, at 113.5 mph, reaching the upper tank at Minnesota's Target Field. Full Blue Jays leaderboard

Orioles: Jonathan Schoop, Aug. 26, 2015, at KC
Distance: 484 feet (Watch it)
The Orioles have had their share of big sluggers in recent years, but it's Schoop who holds this title. One of baseball's best sluggers at second base, he jumped on this Johnny Cueto pitch that tailed in off the inside corner and kept it just fair down the left-field line at Kauffman Stadium. Full Orioles leaderboard

Rays: J.P. Arencibia, Sept. 7, 2015, at DET; C.J. Cron, Aug. 18, 2018, at BOS
Distance: 464 feet (Watch them: Arencibia's; Cron's)
Arencibia played only 24 games for Tampa Bay -- all in 2015, his final MLB season -- but he had no shortage of power. The opposing pitcher for this home run, the Tigers' Randy Wolf, was also in his final season. Nonetheless, they combined for an entry in the Rays' Statcast™ record book.

Arencibia got company when Cron showed off some light-tower power at Fenway Park in the dog days of August 2018. Cron crushed a 112.9 mph, 33-degree, 464-foot moonshot off David Price way over the Green Monster and over Lansdowne Street. Full Rays leaderboard

Red Sox: Hanley Ramirez, April 29, 2017, vs. CHC
Distance: 469 feet (Watch it)
Before this, Ramirez was tied with David Ortiz for the longest Red Sox homer, at 468 feet. But here, facing former Boston hurler John Lackey at Fenway Park, he took that honor all for himself. Ramirez drilled a center-cut two-seamer way over the Green Monster for a monstrous solo shot. Full Red Sox leaderboard

Yankees: Aaron Judge, June 11, 2017, vs. BAL
Distance: 495 feet (Watch it)
Judge became a sensation in 2017 because of feats like this one. The AL Rookie of the Year cleared the left-field bleachers at Yankee Stadium with a 118.6 mph, 495-foot homer. It was the longest homer of 2017 and tied Judge for the second-longest big fly in Statcast™ history. Full Yankees leaderboard

AL Central

Indians: Mike Napoli, Sept. 9, 2016 vs. MIN
Distance: 463 feet (Watch it)
The Party at Napoli's reached the highest deck at Target Field on this September night, as this blast helped the first baseman reach a career-high 93 RBIs on the season. Napoli had also hit a 464-foot ball in foul territory the night before at Progressive Field.

"That's good for bragging rights," Napoli's teammate, Rajai Davis, told MLB.com. "That's an awesome, great feeling. I don't think I've ever hit the ball that far in batting practice. He's doing it in games. That's awesome. We can all admire that." Full Indians leaderboard

Royals: Brandon Moss, July 1, 2017, vs. MIN
Distance: 477 feet (Watch it)
Moss left his mark during his lone season in Kansas City, golfing this pitch to help spur a four-run comeback for the home side against the rival Twins. Moss would retire the following spring, but his power clearly remained in his bat until the end. Full Royals leaderboard

Tigers: J.D. Martinez, July 21, 2015, vs. SEA
Distance: 467 feet (Watch it)
Not to be outdone by Nelson Cruz's 455-foot shot in the top half of the third inning, Martinez one-upped Seattle's slugger in the bottom half with this impressive blast to straightaway center at cavernous Comerica Park. The dinger impressed just about everyone in the ballpark, except perhaps the slugger who hit it.

"It all means the same to me," Martinez told MLB.com about his big fly. "I don't care. People get caught up on [distance]. To me, I really pay no mind. I just hit it, and I just hope it gets out." Full Tigers leaderboard

Twins: Kennys Vargas, June 20, 2017, vs. CWS
Distance: 483 feet (Watch it)
There really wasn't any doubt about this homer as soon as Vargas' bat met this pitch from White Sox starter Derek Holland with a scorching 114.1-mph exit velocity. Vargas' shot climbed high above the bullpen in left-center at Target Field for one of four 450-plus foot homers the first baseman hit in less than 800 at-bats in a Twins uniform. Full Twins leaderboard

Video: CWS@MIN: Vargas crushes a 483-foot home run

White Sox: Avisail Garcia, April 3, 2018, vs. TOR
Distance: 481 feet (Watch it)
Garcia was coming off a terrific 2017 campaign in which he finished second in the AL batting race with a .330 average, but he showed he could be much more than a slap hitter with this prodigious blast at Rogers Centre. Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ's slider caught too much of the plate, and Garcia punished it with a blistering 116.7-mph exit velocity.

"It was a pretty impressive blast, just from standing in the dugout and watching it," White Sox manager Rick Renteria told MLB.com. "Anybody who is a fan of baseball must have been impressed by that shot." Full White Sox leaderboard

AL West

Angels: Mike Trout, July 8, 2015, vs. COL
Distance: 477 feet (Watch it)
Trout's second homer of the night travelled deep to straightaway center field, landing halfway up the bleachers at Coors Field. Better yet, Trout's solo blast tied the ballgame and led to an eventual 3-2 win for the Angels. Full Angels leaderboard

Astros: George Springer, May 31, 2017, vs. MIN
Distance: 473 feet (Watch it)
Springer's blast capped a two-homer day against the Twins, part of a massive series for the eventual World Series champions in which they set a franchise record for runs scored in a three-game series.

"That's all I've got," Springer said of the homer. "That's about all I can hit it." Full Astros leaderboard

Athletics: Matt Olson, Sept. 15, 2017, vs. PHI
Distance: 483 feet (Watch it)
Olson's sky-high blast at Citizens Bank Park came at the peak of an incredibly powerful rookie season in which he crushed 24 homers in just 189 at-bats for Oakland. Phillies starter Mark Leiter Jr. knew he was in trouble as soon as Olson connected; all there was left to do was wait and see where the slugger's blast would eventually land. Full A's leaderboard

Mariners: Nelson Cruz, Sept. 24, 2016, vs. MIN
Distance: 493 feet (Watch it)
Few players in the game can crush a baseball like Cruz, and the Boomstick found the third deck at Target Field with this neck-craning blast. Cruz's shot remains among the longest homer hit outside the thin air of Coors Field, and it came one night after he had launched a different 454-foot homer for Seattle. Full Mariners leaderboard

Video: SEA@MIN: Cruz crushes 493-ft homer

Rangers: Nomar Mazara, May 25, 2016, vs. LAA
Distance: 491 feet (Watch it)
The rookie Mazara raised his profile substantially with this towering drive to the upper deck at Globe Life Park, turning on and punishing an offspeed pitch from Angels starter Hector Santiago.

"That was loud," said Rangers catcher Bobby Wilson of Mazara's dinger. "You need earplugs for that one." Full Rangers leaderboard

National League East

Braves: Freddie Freeman, June 13, 2015, vs. NYM
Distance: 464 feet (Watch it)
Atlanta's most consistent slugger got a hold of this first-inning fastball from Mets ace Jacob deGrom, pulling it high and deep onto the right-center-field bridge at Citi Field. Full Braves leaderboard

Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton, Aug. 6, 2016, vs. COL
Distance: 504 feet (Watch it)
This is it -- the longest home run since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015, and the only one projected at more than 500 feet. The 504-foot distance may have been aided by the thin air at Coors Field, but Stanton has shown plenty of times that he doesn't need any help to clear the fence. Full Marlins leaderboard

Video: Must C Crushed: Stanton connects on 504-foot home run

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes, April 24, 2018 vs. STL
Distance: 463 feet (Watch it)
Cespedes was off to a tough start to the 2018 season, batting .195 with an MLB-most 37 strikeouts entering this Tuesday night matchup in St. Louis. But with a pair of runners on in the fifth, New York's big slugger proved his power was still very much intact. Cespedes tied up the Cardinals with this moonshot that landed next to the "Big Mac Land" seating section in left field, surpassing Justin Ruggiano's 461-foot homer from Aug. 23, 2016, which also came at Busch Stadium. Full Mets leaderboard

Nationals: Michael A. Taylor, Aug. 20, 2015, vs. COL
Distance: 493 feet (Watch it)
Rockies starter Yohan Flande was cruising against the Nationals until Taylor gave his club a humongous game-tying lift on this blast to left-center. Taylor's dinger may have received an assist from the friendly Coors Field environment, but his 110.1-mph exit velocity was no joke. Taylor's ideal 26-degree launch angle also helped this ball go a long way. Full Nationals leaderboard

Phillies: Maikel Franco, July 10, 2016, vs. COL
Distance: 471 feet (Watch it)
Rockies reliever Jason Motte attempted to go up and in on Franco with a fastball, but the Phillies third baseman was ready for the challenge. Franco turned quickly on the pitch, pulling it into the high altitude at Coors Field for a long line-drive homer. Full Phillies leaderboard

NL Central

Brewers: Domingo Santana, July 26, 2017, vs. WSH
Distance: 476 feet (Watch it)
Nationals Park has housed plenty of its own sluggers, from Bryce Harper to Anthony Rendon to Ryan Zimmerman. But it was the visiting Santana who etched his name atop the ballpark's list of longest home runs on this summer evening. Santana turned on an inside fastball from Gio Gonzalez and crushed it over the visitors' bullpen, high into the left-field concourse. Full Brewers leaderboard

Cardinals: Marcell Ozuna, April 3, 2018, vs. MIL
Distance: 479 feet (Watch it)
Ozuna's first Cardinals home run also established him atop his new team's home run distance leaderboard. Facing Brewers starter Chase Anderson, Ozuna connected with a 117.2-mph exit velocity and sent Anderson's offering deep to left-center -- also setting a new Statcast™ mark for the longest homer at Miller Park. Full Cardinals leaderboard

Cubs: Kris Bryant, Sept. 6, 2015, vs. ARI
Distance: 495 feet (Watch it)
Wrigley Field can become a launching pad when the wind blows out toward the bleachers, but even as a rookie, Bryant proved he didn't need much help launching prolific blasts. This one bounced off the new scoreboard in left field -- fittingly right next to Bryant's own picture -- to further build Bryant's prestige with the North Siders. Full Cubs leaderboard

Video: ARI@CHC: Statcast™ on Bryant's blast off scoreboard

Pirates: Pedro Alvarez, Oct. 4, 2015, vs. CIN
Distance: 479 feet (Watch it)
Pittsburgh's hulking slugger decided the right-field seats at PNC Park weren't enough on the final day of the 2015 regular season, instead clearing the bleachers completely and depositing this ball into the Allegheny River. Alvarez simply demolished the pitch, connecting with a 115.4-mph exit velocity and uppercutting with an ideal 29-degree launch angle. Full Pirates leaderboard

Reds: Eugenio Suarez, June 2, 2016, vs. COL
Distance: 465 feet (Watch it)
Listed at just 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds, Suarez struck a blow for undersized infielders with this massive shot to left-center at Coors Field. This was actually Suarez's second homer of the game, capping an impressive evening for the third baseman. Full Reds leaderboard

NL West

D-backs: Jake Lamb, April 29, 2017, vs. COL
Distance: 481 feet (Watch it)
In the days before the humidor, balls flew out of Chase Field. What's surprising about Lamb's blast isn't where it was hit, but the opposing pitcher he victimized. The Rockies' Tyler Anderson is a left-hander, and southpaws overall had been extremely effective against Lamb. But in this at-bat, the platoon disadvantage didn't bother Lamb at all. Full D-backs leaderboard

Dodgers: Joc Pederson, June 2, 2015, at COL
Distance: 477 feet (Watch it)
Considering the Rockies are in their division, it's no surprise that the Dodgers hit their longest homer at Coors Field: a majestic blast by Pederson way up into the center-field bleachers. It came in a series in which Pederson crushed four home runs -- one in each game. Full Dodgers leaderboard

Giants: Brandon Belt, May 22, 2015, at COL
Distance: 475 feet (Watch it)
Another NL West club, another entry from the friendly environment of Coors Field. Belt jumped on a hanging changeup and launched it far into the third deck in right field. This type of blast has been a rarity for the Giants, who hit the second-fewest homers of 420-plus feet (74) from 2015-17, ahead of only the Braves. Full Giants leaderboard

Padres: Franchy Cordero, April 20, 2018 at ARI
Distance: 489 feet (Watch it)
Franchy absolutely crushed this one. The D-backs' Matt Koch grooved Cordero a fastball, and Cordero hammered it 116.3 mph all the way up the scoreboard in dead center at Chase Field, instantly establishing a new longest home run of the 2018 season and a Padres Statcast™ record. He obliterated the team's previous best of 465 feet, which had been set by Melvin Upton Jr. in June of 2016. Cordero's blast is also the longest hit at Chase Field since Statcast™'s introduction in 2015, and the 10th-longest hit by anyone in baseball since 2015. Full Padres leaderboard

Video: SD@ARI: Cordero crushes 489-ft. HR at 116.3 mph

Rockies: Mark Reynolds, July 21, 2016, vs. ATL
Distance: 484 feet (Watch it)
Yes, the Rockies' longest home run came at home. Reynolds, the powerful veteran, got ahead in the count 2-0 against a rookie left-hander, Hunter Cervenka, who fired a fastball over the middle of the plate. Reynolds demolished it at 108.8 mph, sending a drive most of the way up the bleachers beyond the left-center-field wall. Full Rockies leaderboard

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSimonMLB.

Toussaint fans 9 in win for Triple-A Gwinnett

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Saturday.

As staples in Class A Beloit's lineup for much of the season, it was only fitting that 19-year-olds Austin Beck and Lazaro Armenteros powered the offense on a night in which the Snappers set season highs in both hits and runs.

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Saturday.

As staples in Class A Beloit's lineup for much of the season, it was only fitting that 19-year-olds Austin Beck and Lazaro Armenteros powered the offense on a night in which the Snappers set season highs in both hits and runs.

Beck and Armenteros -- Nos. 5 and 6, respectively, on the A's Top 30 prospects list -- both collected three hits including a home run and combined for eight RBIs and six runs to lead Beloit in an 18-4 rout of Burlington. Altogether, the Snappers tallied 18 hits and had five players finish with at least two hits.

Lazarito's three hits all went for extra bases, as he sandwiched a two-run homer in the sixth inning between a pair of doubles to finish 3-for-4 with three RBIs. He also reached twice via a walk in the contest en route to a career-high four runs scored. The Cuban outfielder entered the game mired in a 1-for-20, 12-strikeout slump that included three straight three-strikeout games.

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

Beck, on the other hand, has been surging of late, as his 3-for-6 showing on Saturday marked his sixth multihit performance in the last 10 games. He finished with a career-high five RBIs, four of which came on an eighth-inning grand slam that capped an 11-run frame.

Both teenage outfielders have lived up to high expectations in their first full seasons.

Selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2017 Draft and signed for a club-record $5,303,000, Beck is hitting .294/.334/.389 with two home runs, 27 doubles and 55 RBIs in 108 games with Beloit.

Lazarito, whom the A's signed for $3 million out of Cuba in July 2016, has appeared in just 64 games -- he didn't make his Midwest League debut until May and also spent a month on the disabled list -- but owns a .276/.376/.410 line with seven home runs and 33 RBIs.

No. 5 overall prospect Victor Robles (Nationals' No. 1) broke out of a 2-for-29 funk with a 4-for-6 performance that included a double and two runs scored out of the leadoff spot for Triple-A Syracuse. It was the 21-year-old outfielder's second four-hit game of the season and his first since April 7, two days before he suffered the hyperextended left elbow that led to a three-month stay on the disabled list.

• No. 16 overall prospect Jo Adell (Angels' No. 1) hit a double and scored in each of his first two at-bats and then added a solo home run after a 1-hour, 52-minute rain delay as Double-A Mobile defeated Biloxi, 7-1, in game one of a doubleheader. The homer was Adell's 20th of the season -- a total that the 19-year-old outfielder has reached in 92 games spanning three levels in his first full season.

• No. 36 overall prospect Triston McKenzie (Indians' No. 1) racked up a season-high eight strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings to lead Double-A Akron past Harrisburg, 5-1. He allowed one earned run on three hits and a walk in the outing, throwing 64 of 93 pitches for strikes. While a forearm issue cost McKenzie the first two months of the season, the 21-year-old right-hander has done his part to assuage any concerns about an injury by posting a 2.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and .198 BAA with 76 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings (14 starts) in his first Double-A campaign.

• Back in the Minors after an impressive big league debut on Monday, No. 76 overall prospect Touki Toussaint (Braves' No. 7) allowed one earned run on four hits to earn the win for Triple-A Gwinnett. The 22-year-old righty issued one walk, hit a batter and struck out nine while throwing 64 of his 99 pitches for strikes. Toussaint has been excellent at the Triple-A level, posting a 1.93 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings (six starts), and it shouldn't be long until he's back with Atlanta.

Toussaint delivers 6 strong frames

Braves No. 11 prospect Kyle Muller recorded the first complete game and shutout of his career as he pitched Double-A Mississippi past Chattanooga, 1-0, in game one of a doubleheader. He scattered five hits and also struck out five while throwing strikes with 65 of his 100 pitches in the outing. The 20-year-old left-hander is 3-0 in three Double-A starts, with a 2.50 ERA and 19-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 innings. Pitching at three levels in his first full season, Muller has compiled a 2.94 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 43 walks over 128 2/3 innings (23 starts). Travis Demeritte (No. 23) provided all the offense with a fourth-inning solo shot, his 16th home run of the year.

Muller caps complete game

Indians No. 19 prospect Tyler Freeman's three doubles accounted for half of Class A Short Season Mahoning Valley's total hits in a loss against State College. It was the second straight three-hit game by the 19-year-old shortstop. He's leading the New York-Penn League in average (.379), hits (83), doubles (26), on-base percentage (tied, .423), slugging (.562) and total bases (123).

Nationals No. 21 prospect Reid Schaller allowed one hit over five scoreless innings in his best pro start for Class A Short Season Auburn. The 2018 third-round pick struck out four and generated seven ground-ball outs en route to facing one above the minimum in the outing. Of his 58 pitches, 42 were strikes.

Phillies No. 10 prospect Cole Irvin entered out of the bullpen with two outs in the second inning and proceeded to go the distance, tossing the remaining 7 1/3 scoreless innings in Triple-A Lehigh Valley's 4-1 win over Indianapolis. The 24-year-old lefty allowed two hits, walked a pair and struck out six while throwing 63 of 94 pitches for strikes in the relief appearance, his first of the year. Irvin ranks among the International League leaders with 12 wins (tied, first), a 2.71 ERA (third), 1.07 WHIP (first) and 149 1/3 innings (first).

Rays No. 11 prospect Nick Solak went 2-for-5 with a pair of solo home runs in his first multi-homer game of the season for Double-A Montgomery. The 23-year-old has homered four times in the last six games to push his season total to 18, a career high. Acquired from the Yankees during the offseason as part of a three-team trade with Arizona, Solak has produced a .281/.382/.449 line with 36 extra-base hits, 82 runs scored and 21 steals in 117 games with the Biscuits.

Yankees No. 25 prospect Michael King went the distance in his third career start at the Triple-A level. Starting the opener of Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's doubleheader against Norfolk, King allowed one earned run on seven hits with four strikeouts over seven innings. The strong performance was merely the latest during a breakout campaign that's seen the 23-year-old right-hander post a 1.95 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 135-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 143 innings (22 appearances, 21 starts) across three levels.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Braves' nicknames for Players' Weekend

MLB.com

For the second consecutive year, Major Leaguers will put their personalities and passions on the field when Players' Weekend takes center stage during all games from Friday, Aug. 24, through Sunday, Aug. 26.

Here are the nicknames the Braves will wear on their backs while sporting colorful, non-traditional uniforms featuring alternate designs inspired by youth-league uniforms:

For the second consecutive year, Major Leaguers will put their personalities and passions on the field when Players' Weekend takes center stage during all games from Friday, Aug. 24, through Sunday, Aug. 26.

Here are the nicknames the Braves will wear on their backs while sporting colorful, non-traditional uniforms featuring alternate designs inspired by youth-league uniforms:

Video: Get ready, 2018 Players' Weekend is August 24-26

:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::

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2018 Players Weekend nicknames
Best nickname for every team
All you need to know about Players Weekend

Ronald Acuna Jr.: "SABANERO SOY"
Ozzie Albies: "PUCHI"
Jesse Biddle: "JB"
Brad Brach: "B-RAD"
Johan Camargo: "JC"
Shane Carle: "SHUGGA"
Charlie Culberson: "CULBY"
Adam Duvall: "DUVY"
Ryan Flaherty: "FLASH"
Tyler Flowers: "MMBB"
Mike Foltynewicz: "FOLTY"
Freddie Freeman: "ANDREW"
Sam Freeman: "FREEZY"
Max Fried: "MAXIMUS"
Kevin Gausman: "GAUSY"
Ender Inciarte: "GAME ENDER"
Luke Jackson: "SKYWALKER"
Nick Markakis: "TTT"
Brandon McCarthy: "MAC"
A.J. Minter: "MINT"
Sean Newcomb: "NEWK"
Wes Parsons: "PARSONS"
Jose Ramirez: "RAMIREZ"
Anibal Sanchez: "ALEJO"
Mike Soroka: "ROCK"
Kurt Suzuki: "ZUK"
Dansby Swanson: "DANS"
Julio Teheran: "EL CABALLO DE OLAYA"
Jonny Venters: "JV"
Arodys Vizcaino: "ARODYS"
Dan Winkler: "WINK"

Atlanta Braves

Who's leading the crowded NL MVP Award race?

MLB.com @castrovince

Who is in the running for the National League MVP Award? The better question might be, "Who isn't?"

While the foremost members of the American League MVP Award field are fairly well established (Mike Trout is having the best Mike Trout season, Jose Ramirez is putting up one of the great seasons by a third baseman in history and Mookie Betts is the central figure of a Red Sox team for the ages) the NL field seems to evolve by the hour. There is a cluster of similarly strong statistical cases on the position player side and even some brewing discussion about pitchers who could contend for the honor.

Who is in the running for the National League MVP Award? The better question might be, "Who isn't?"

While the foremost members of the American League MVP Award field are fairly well established (Mike Trout is having the best Mike Trout season, Jose Ramirez is putting up one of the great seasons by a third baseman in history and Mookie Betts is the central figure of a Red Sox team for the ages) the NL field seems to evolve by the hour. There is a cluster of similarly strong statistical cases on the position player side and even some brewing discussion about pitchers who could contend for the honor.

Six weeks from now, some uber-hot stretch by a particular player on a team sealing an October entry could make all of this moot, but for now, there are legit MVP arguments to be made in many markets. So here's one man's ranking of the NL MVP Award field, with a quick look at each guy's case.

(All stats are through Thursday.)


1. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
.975 OPS (2nd), 162 OPS+ (1st), 157 wRC+ (1st), 5.3 bWAR (tied for 1st among position players), 5.0 fWAR (tied for 1st)
You know how many qualified NL players had a lower OPS than Carpenter's .558 mark as of May 15? Just two: Lewis Brinson (.529) and Carpenter's teammate Dexter Fowler (.551), neither of whom (spoiler alert) will be appearing on this list.

Video: WSH@STL: Carpenter rips go-ahead 3-run homer in 8th

So strictly within the context of 2018, this might be the most unlikely MVP Award case of them all. And it also might be the best. As you can see, I'm putting more emphasis on advanced offensive rate stats, but do note that Carp is leading in good old-fashioned dingers (33), too. And if storyline matters to you, he's powered the Cards back into contention in the second half.

Carpenter also makes his own salsa, which should be worth like 0.1 WAR, at least.

2. Freddie Freeman, Braves
.939 OPS (4th), 154 OPS+ (2nd), 150 wRC+ (2nd), 5.2 bWAR (3rd), 5.0 fWAR (tied for 1st)

There is nothing especially unusual about Freeman's 2018. Though his batting average has never been higher (and is tops in the NL) other more meaningful rate stats like OPS, OPS+ and wRC+ are darn near identical to his 2016 and '17 seasons (the latter of which, unfortunately, was truncated due to a broken left wrist).

Video: MIL@ATL: Freeman extends streak to 14 with a double

So it's not news that Freeman is awesome at baseball, but suddenly this season -- as a function of the Braves finally having a contending team around him -- he is a household name and prominent NL MVP Award pick. Though teammate Nick Markakis deserves some down-ballot love and Ronald Acuna Jr.'s importance becomes more pronounced by the day, Freeman probably deserves the top honor as much as anybody right now and can win it if he and Atlanta finish with a flourish.

3. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
.981 OPS (1st), 145 OPS+ (6th), 145 wRC+ (6th), 4.8 bWAR (tied for 4th), 5.0 fWAR (tied for 1st)

Arenado has finished in the top eight of the NL MVP Award voting each of the past three years, but he has never finished higher than fourth. There is a known bias against numbers accrued in Coors Field, and, anyway, Arenado wasn't helped by the fact that the Rockies' lone postseason appearance in his tenure was last year's second Wild Card slot, when his case was complicated by the historic leadoff production of teammate Charlie Blackmon (Arenado finished ahead of Blackmon but received one fewer first-place vote).

Video: COL@HOU: Arenado drills his 30th homer of the season

This year, Trevor Story's strong year could complicate things, though probably not to the degree that Blackmon did. The bigger issue might be the right shoulder injury Arenado has battled in recent days. But with the Rox deeply embroiled in the NL West race, Arenado is again a worthy candidate.

4. Javier Baez, Cubs
.896 OPS (7th), 130 OPS+ (13th), 132 wRC+ (tied for 13th), 4.8 bWAR (tied for 4th), 4.2 fWAR (tied for 5th)

Baez has been the most valuable everyday player on a first-place Cubs team, and his WAR total helps reflect the value of his defensive versatility and 19 steals.

Video: CHC@PIT: Baez makes sprawling stop in the 3rd

But Baez has a .325 on-base percentage that drags down his overall offensive profile relative to the rest of the league. The only time in the past 40 years that a position player won the MVP Award with an OBP below .350 was Andre Dawson in 1987. He, too, was a Cub, so maybe there's some cosmic symmetry there, but Baez would still appear to have his work cut out for him if the usual standards are applied here.

5. Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs
.920 OPS (6th), 137 OPS+ (9th), 145 wRC+ (5th), 4.1 bWAR (tied for 6th), 4.2 fWAR (tied for 5th)

Like Carpenter, Goldschmidt has asserted himself with an in-season surge (his OPS bottomed out at .675 on May 22), and he comes with the added pedigree of three prior top-three NL MVP Award finishes. This past year, his case fizzled when he played through a right elbow injury and had a miserable September (.555 OPS). This year, Goldy seems poised for a much more robust finish, and the D-backs could win the NL West.

Video: ARI@CIN: Goldschmidt homers in the 6th and 9th inning

Maybe Goldschmidt will finally get over the MVP Award hump, though teammate David Peralta might sap some of his vote strength.

6. (tied) Max Scherzer, Nationals; Jacob deGrom, Mets; and Aaron Nola, Phillies
Scherzer: 2.19 ERA (2nd), 0.88 WHIP (1st); deGrom: 1.81 ERA (1st), 0.97 WHIP (2nd); Nola: 2.28 ERA (3rd), 1.00 WHIP (3rd)

The stars don't always align for a pitcher to win the MVP Award, but this could be one of those years in the NL.

As you can tell from the length of this list, nobody on the position-player side is up and running away with this thing, and that could continue to be the case down the stretch. Voters are increasingly turning to WAR as a basis for their MVP Award argument, and as of this writing, these three hurlers all outpace every NL position player in bWAR (the same is true of Scherzer and deGrom in fWAR, though Nola is behind some position players -- as well as D-backs lefty Patrick Corbin -- in that FanGraphs calculation).

Video: WSH@CHC: Scherzer K's 11 over 7 shutout innings

Therefore (and without getting too deep into the statistical woods here), it is conceivable.

But unlike when Clayton Kershaw won the NL MVP Award in 2014 or Justin Verlander won the AL MVP Award in 2011, the Cy Young Award winner here is not clear-cut (both of those guys were unanimous Cy Young Award winners in those respective seasons). deGrom is outpacing Scherzer in ERA and adjusted ERA, but he has famously won just seven games. Scherzer could notch 20 wins and 300 strikeouts. Nola probably trails both of those guys in the Cy Young Award discussion, and yet, for those who place importance upon October entry, he might actually be more likely to garner MVP Award votes (the Phils don't have a legit MVP Award candidate on the position-player side).

Video: NYM@NYY: deGrom K's 12 over 6 2/3 stellar frames

So as if the position-player race for the NL MVP Award weren't confusing enough, here's another layer of complexity. Yes, a pitcher could win this MVP Award, but even if you get to the point where you're comfortable with that notion, you've still got to decide which pitcher. So I'd label it doubtful right now.

9. Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
.814 OPS (25th), 118 OPS+ (tied for 22nd), 123 wRC+ (tied for 19th), 5.3 bWAR (tied for 1st), 4.3 fWAR (4th)

Teammates Jesus Aguilar (.950 OPS, 149 OPS+) and Christian Yelich (.886 OPS, 3.6 fWAR) also have a case here. But Aguilar's WAR is dinged by his defensive positioning, and Yelich is an easy-to-underrate player who is good at pretty much everything but not superlative in any one category.

In the increasingly influential community of nerds (and I use the term lovingly), Cain's case seems to have the most traction. You can see here how he fares in the WAR tallies, and he's among the league leaders in average (.301), on-base percentage (.391) and steals (21), in addition to leading in defensive runs saved (17). But Cain's .423 slugging percentage would be the lowest for an MVP Award winner since the 1970s. How much should defensive value, which is so difficult to quantify correctly, matter in the MVP Award vote? Hard to say.

Video: Must C Catch: Cain robs HR to protect 1-0 lead in 7th

10. Eugenio Suarez, Reds
.930 OPS (5th), 147 OPS+ (5th), 145 wRC+ (tied for 5th), 3.8 bWAR (8th), 3.6 fWAR (tied for 9th)

This guy has been the best of the non-contending position players in the Senior Circuit (though that's actually a small pool, given how many NL teams are very much mathematically alive). While voters have finally softened the once-prominent stance that the MVP Award must come from a playoff club, Suarez has not attained the Trout-like transcendence required to overcome his club's well-south-of-.500 standing. Still, he's positioned himself in the conversation for a top-10 finish with a well-rounded campaign, as reflected in his rank in several key categories.

Video: CIN@WSH: Suarez launches a towering solo HR to left

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Newcomb rocked by Colorado in defeat

Utility man Culberson hits 94 mph in pitching debut
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- As Braves manager Brian Snitker evaluated the two-run deficit he faced entering the sixth inning of Friday night's 11-5 loss to the Rockies at SunTrust Park, he felt fine sending Sean Newcomb out to face the bottom of Colorado's lineup with just 85 pitches under his belt.

But instead of having a reliever available when Newcomb encountered almost immediate trouble, Snitker allowed his left-hander to battle through some misfortune and ultimately realize his fourth matchup of the night against Charlie Blackmon would not end in a result as favorable as the previous three.

View Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- As Braves manager Brian Snitker evaluated the two-run deficit he faced entering the sixth inning of Friday night's 11-5 loss to the Rockies at SunTrust Park, he felt fine sending Sean Newcomb out to face the bottom of Colorado's lineup with just 85 pitches under his belt.

But instead of having a reliever available when Newcomb encountered almost immediate trouble, Snitker allowed his left-hander to battle through some misfortune and ultimately realize his fourth matchup of the night against Charlie Blackmon would not end in a result as favorable as the previous three.

View Full Game Coverage

"He had pitched [Blackmon] pretty good," Snitker said. "Rather than bring somebody out of the bullpen again, I was thinking we're down in the game and hoping to leave him out there and he could get him again."

Newcomb had been allowed to face a hitter for a fourth time in a game just once previously this year. But the Braves were hesitant to dip into their bullpen and hopeful Blackmon would fare much like he had when he had struck out in the third and the fourth. But the changeup that had concluded the second of those strikeouts was not as effective in the sixth, when the Rockies center fielder extended Colorado's lead to 6-1 with a two-run triple that bounced past first base on the way to the right-field corner.

Video: COL@ATL: Blackmon grounds 2-run triple in the 6th

"Just being a lefty, I thought I was more likely to face [Blackmon]," Newcomb said. "I was ready to get him. I thought I made some good pitches. It was just a good hitter, who hit a good changeup down the line."

Once the dust settled at the end of evening, during which utility man Charlie Culberson's first career relief appearance was much more impressive than the latest provided by Kolby Allard, the Braves were staring at a second consecutive loss, both of which have been influenced by the need or desire to protect bullpen assets. Their one-run, ninth-inning lead in Thursday's loss to the Rockies evaporated as Brad Brach handled the closing duties because closer A.J. Minter, Jesse Biddle and Jonny Venters were all unavailable.

"You've got to look a day or two ahead when you're doing all this," Snitker said. "Your starter is out there and he's probably on his last leg. He's one guy away and you hope he can get that last out."

The Braves' bullpen did not begin stirring until Chris Iannetta delivered a one-out single that scored Ian Desmond, who had singled and stolen second base. Rockies starter Kyle Freeland then further frustrated Newcomb with a sacrifice bunt attempt placed well enough to result in an infield single. This set the stage for Blackmon.

"I was just hoping where we were, he could get through that sixth," Snitker said. "But it was just kind of a rough night for him."

Before doubling down in the sixth, the Braves seemed fortunate to get five innings from Newcomb, who escaped a second-inning, bases-loaded threat unscathed and then allowed Desmond to produce a three-run triple against a changeup at the knees in the third inning.

Video: COL@ATL: Desmond rips a 3-run triple in the 3rd

Newcomb followed his 134-pitch near no-hitter against the Dodgers with a strong six-inning effort during an Aug. 7 win over the Nationals. But he allowed a season-high 12 hits against the Brewers on Sunday and then was charged with a season-high seven earned runs over 5 1/3 innings during this matchup against the Rockies.

"I honestly felt pretty good today," Newcomb said. "It seemed like they were hitting balls hard right at people and then hitting balls soft for hits. I was pretty happy with the way I was delivering pitches, but obviously not the outcome."

OFFENSE SILENCED
Ronald Acuna Jr. was awarded an infield single in the first before scoring on a Nick Markakis sacrifice fly that accounted for the only run allowed over six innings by Freeland, who has a 2.20 ERA over his past 12 starts.

Video: COL@ATL: Markakis plates Acuna Jr. in the 1st

Dansby Swanson scored Adam Duvall with a seventh-inning double and the Braves tallied three in the ninth. But by that time, they were a long way from their two-run, sixth-inning deficit that further became a distant memory once Allard provided further indication he's not ready to take the big leagues by storm by allowing three eighth-inning runs in his latest shaky appearance.

Video: COL@ATL: Swanson lines an RBI double in the 7th

POSITION PLAYER PITCHES
Culberson showed why the Yankees were at least interested in drafting him as a pitcher before the Giants took him as a shortstop with the 51st pick in the 2007 MLB Draft. Pitching for the first time since high school, the Braves' utility man hit as high as 93.7 mph with his fastball, as he allowed just one run in the ninth inning. He joined Jonny Gomes (Aug. 28, 2015) as the only position players to pitch for Atlanta dating back to 1990.

Video: COL@ATL: Position player Culberson hits 94 mph in 9th

"If my arm was in better shape, I know I could get more," Culberson said. "I love to pitch. That's something that even though I haven't done it for a long time, maybe one day it would be cool to give it a go as a two-way guy. I've always joked around about it. No, I'll leave it at that tonight with one outing. It was fun."

UP NEXT
Mike Foltynewicz will attempt to complete his second strong start of the homestand during Saturday's 7:10 p.m. ET game against the Rockies. Foltynewicz limited the Marlins to one run over eight innings Monday and enters this start having allowed two earned runs or fewer in 18 of his 23 starts. Colorado will counter with Antonio Senzatela, who has a 3.60 ERA in five starts this year.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Sean Newcomb

Sobotka impressing in big league showings

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Chad Sobotka began wondering if his professional career might be nearing an end when the Braves did not invite him to their preseason mini-camp. His optimism was tested again when he began this season with Class A Advanced Florida. But the hard-throwing right-hander now finds himself providing much-needed depth at the Major League level.

"You've got to like the arm," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You've got to start them somewhere, and if they do well, you feed them a little more responsibility. He's got weapons, that's for sure. If he gets confidence and used to this being his new normal, then you might have something there."

View Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- Chad Sobotka began wondering if his professional career might be nearing an end when the Braves did not invite him to their preseason mini-camp. His optimism was tested again when he began this season with Class A Advanced Florida. But the hard-throwing right-hander now finds himself providing much-needed depth at the Major League level.

"You've got to like the arm," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You've got to start them somewhere, and if they do well, you feed them a little more responsibility. He's got weapons, that's for sure. If he gets confidence and used to this being his new normal, then you might have something there."

View Full Game Coverage

Sobotka has made a good impression, as his four-seamer has shown to be a plus fastball while he's allowed just one hit and no runs over five innings since being promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett last week. He recorded four strikeouts over 1 2/3 innings during Friday's 11-5 loss to the Rockies.

Video: COL@ATL: Sobotka K's Iannetta, the side in the 7th

The 6-foot-7 right-hander issued three walks while working the second inning during the first game of Monday's doubleheader against the Marlins. But his control -- which led to him issuing five walks per nine innings with Florida and Double-A Mississippi last year -- has been much better since he made some adjustments to his slider grip.

If left-handed reliever Sam Freeman makes his expected return from the disabled list next week, the Braves will likely need to option either Sobotka or Kolby Allard. Sending Allard back to Gwinnett would simply take away the insurance of having a long relief option to eat innings if a starter makes an early exit or a game is extended far beyond the ninth inning.

By sending Sobotka back, the Braves would be cutting their bullpen depth, which became an issue again Thursday night when closer A.J. Minter and a pair of reliable left-handers -- Jesse Biddle and Jonny Venters -- were unavailable because of recent usage. The recently acquired Brad Brach's inability to preserve a one-run, ninth-inning lead was hindered by a Dansby Swanson error.

Sobotka is far from a finished product and certainly would not be used as one of the primary choices out of the bullpen. But his arrival, combined with Luke Jackson's recent improvement and the non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisitions of Venters and Brach, have at least provided some depth to the Braves' bullpen, which counted Minter and Biddle as its only reliable assets near the end of July.

Video: COL@ATL: Jackson strikes out Arenado to strand a pair

Once September arrives, the Braves may add Brandon McCarthy, Peter Moylan and Luiz Gohara to the bullpen. McCarthy and Moylan will begin their respective Minor League rehab assignments next week. Gohara's recent left shoulder problems were not an issue, as he completed 3 2/3 scoreless innings for Gwinnett on Thursday night.

"We've been doing a good job of spacing guys out and doing a good job of keeping guys to compete with every night," Snitker said. "We were in position [Thursday] night. We went into the ninth inning with a lead."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves

Here's why Acuna-Soto ROTY chase is historic

Dynamic young outfielders on pace to join elite company in MLB history
MLB.com @matthewhleach

We've seen great rookies. Plenty of them in recent years, in fact. We've seen great young players. We've seen great Rookie of the Year Award races.

But if the Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Nationals' Juan Soto keep doing what they're doing, well, we've never seen anything quite like it. It's not just a Rookie of the Year Award race for the ages, though it is that. It's an arrival of young talent for the ages.

We've seen great rookies. Plenty of them in recent years, in fact. We've seen great young players. We've seen great Rookie of the Year Award races.

But if the Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Nationals' Juan Soto keep doing what they're doing, well, we've never seen anything quite like it. It's not just a Rookie of the Year Award race for the ages, though it is that. It's an arrival of young talent for the ages.

• ROTY and long-term ceiling: Acuna vs. Soto

The two young sluggers need only to maintain their season-long paces -- or even fall off just slightly -- to post a pair of seasons the likes of which baseball has never seen in the same year. There have never been two hitters so good, so young, over a full season in the same season.

Soto, 19, carries a 148 OPS+ (a measure of offensive production, adjusted for ballpark and era, where 100 is average). Acuna, 20, is at 145. They're both right around 300 plate appearances, on pace for more than 400 on the season if they just stay healthy.

Video: Breaking down the Rookie of the Year candidates

And that would be unprecedented. In the history of baseball, there have never been two players in the same year to manage an OPS+ of at least 140 while mustering 400 plate appearances at the age of 20 or younger.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn't do it. Dick Allen and Tony Oliva didn't. Neither did Eddie Murray and Andre Dawson, Dusty Baker and Carlton Fisk, or Mike Piazza and Tim Salmon.

But that may still be burying the lead a bit. Because there's a good reason it's never been done twice in the same year.

Only 11 times in the history of the game has a player 20 or younger had an OPS+ of at least 140 in 400 or more plate appearances, and 10 of the guys to do it were all-time greats. In the past 100 years, it's been just eight players, and every one of them is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, or played at that level.

Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez are the only players to do it in the past 60 years. Before that, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle did it in the 1950s. In the '20s and '30s? Ted Williams, Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx.

That's every player since the end of World War I who has posted a season like Soto and Acuna are on pace to do.

So, yes, this does have the makings of a great National League Rookie of the Year Award race, one that could stand alongside Carlos Correa-Francisco Lindor, Ryan Braun-Troy Tulowitzki, Kerry Wood-Todd Helton, Jose Canseco-Wally Joyner and Johnny Bench-Jerry Koosman. But even if that esteemed award had never been created, what these two players are doing is historic.

Video: WSH@STL: Soto cracks a go-ahead 2-run homer in 7th

Soto may be the most refined hitter to arrive in the Majors since Miguel Cabrera. He's displayed a remarkable mastery of the strike zone and an ability to hit to all fields, to go along with his prodigious power.

"He's special," said teammate Daniel Murphy, a pretty refined hitter himself. "It's really special. ... His swing is so fundamentally sound that he can do damage from foul pole to foul pole, which is unique for anybody, much less a 19-year-old. It seems like he rarely goes out the zone. [He] takes his walks and really doesn't strike out a lot. It's really special to watch."

Acuna is a less complete hitter -- most players are -- but a more complete player. His power, speed and defense add up to the kind of cornerstone player teams wait decades for.

Video: Ronald Acuna Jr. echoing a young Roberto Clemente

"He's the best leadoff hitter I've ever seen," said teammate Ender Inciarte. "He's the best player I've ever seen. He's just unbelievable. ... He's a big part of where we are right now."

The two have one more head-to-head series this year, in Atlanta on Sept. 14-16. It's being billed as "Future Stars Weekend" at SunTrust Park, a celebration of the Braves' Minor League talent. But it's unlikely any of those future stars will outshine the two young outfielders who are already stars.

Matthew Leach is the National League executive editor for MLB.com.

Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto