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Braves cut magic number to 2 in comeback win

Atlanta rallies with 5 runs in 7th, leads Philly by 7 1/2 games
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- It appears the theme for the Braves' season might have been presented on Opening Day. The five-run, sixth-inning deficit Julio Teheran suddenly encountered that afternoon seemed like a distant memory once Nick Markakis sunk the Phillies with a walk-off home run.

Six months later, the Braves are still routinely overcoming adversity, and the Phillies are regretting the inability to take advantage of the potential prosperity that materialized as the heavily favored Nationals became also-rans in the National League East race.

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ATLANTA -- It appears the theme for the Braves' season might have been presented on Opening Day. The five-run, sixth-inning deficit Julio Teheran suddenly encountered that afternoon seemed like a distant memory once Nick Markakis sunk the Phillies with a walk-off home run.

Six months later, the Braves are still routinely overcoming adversity, and the Phillies are regretting the inability to take advantage of the potential prosperity that materialized as the heavily favored Nationals became also-rans in the National League East race.

View Full Game Coverage

Nearly all of the lingering drama in this race faded as the Braves spotted the Phillies a three-run lead and then immediately erased their deficit during the decisive five-run seventh inning of Friday night's 6-5 win at SunTrust Park.

Video: PHI@ATL: Snitker on the 5-run 7th inning in 6-5 win

"I always say there's an 'it factor' with teams," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You don't know how they get it, but when you've got it, it's really something special. You can't manufacture it. It's nothing you can put together. It's not something I can give as a manager. Some teams just have it. It's a fun thing to be around."

Widely considered to be a year ahead of schedule, the resilient and overachieving Braves are now possibly less than 24 hours away from celebrating a division crown. They sit 7 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Phillies, and their magic number is two with eight games remaining. The Nationals were eliminated Friday night.

Video: PHI@ATL: Braves discuss the thrilling 6-5 triumph

"We're just taking it one game at a time," Braves third baseman Johan Camargo said through an interpreter. "Tomorrow is just another day. I think we're just going out there to have fun and enjoy the moment."

The Braves lost 13 of 18 at one point in July and then proceeded to win 14 of their next 18. They blew a six-run eighth-inning lead during a Sept. 5 loss to the Red Sox and then seized a strong division lead by winning seven of their next eight. They entered this series having lost 14 of their past 18 road games.

But when their backs have been pushed against the wall, the Braves have frequently responded much like they did on Friday, when Teheran's impressive start was marred by Ronald Acuna Jr.'s defensive miscue during a three-run seventh. Ozzie Albies cut into the deficit with a two-run homer off Pat Neshek, who allowed four earned runs while recording just one out in the bottom half of the seventh. Lucas Duda beat the shift with a key single, and Ender Inciarte greeted former Brave Luis Avilan with a game-tying double. Avilan's seven-pitch battle against Camargo ended when the third baseman laced a changeup to left to create a lead that would not be squandered.

Video: PHI@ATL: Albies launches a 2-run jack to right field

"There was just so much heart and grit and determination and desire and all the adjectives right there with what those guys did," Snitker said. It's what these guys are all about. They never quit. They're never down. We always work the game to give them a chance. I think if we can keep the game manageable, we've seen all year these guys don't quit. There's unbelievable fight in each and every one of them. It's a really cool thing to see and be a part of."

Camargo was not able to understand the translation when asked whether the Braves have the "it factor." But after a few moments, the smiling third baseman replied, "We are a family and that's it."

Video: PHI@ATL: Minter freezes Quinn to pick up the save

AGGRESSIVE JULIO
Teheran had recently created concern as his velocity dropped and his walk rate increased. But showing his own sense of resiliency, the right-hander provided an effort that at least strengthened his bid to fill the final spot in what would be a four-man playoff rotation. He surrendered Cesar Hernandez's leadoff homer and then retired 14 of the next 15 batters faced.

Video: PHI@ATL: Teheran gets Hoskins, strands runner at 3rd

With his four-seam fastball averaging 90.8 mph and an effective curveball complementing his slider, Teheran pitched around J.P. Crawford's sixth-inning leadoff triple and attempted another escape after putting two on with one out in the seventh. But once Acuna initially broke in, he was unable to recover and prevent Wilson Ramos from recording a two-run double. Jose Bautista's RBI single chased the Atlanta hurler, who allowed four runs over 6 1/3 innings.

"Those things happen," Camargo said. "It's baseball. Those things never lead us to judge the quality of the team we have. The same thing happened to me in Arizona, where the team picked me up as well. We never take those things too seriously. We keep fighting. It was important for us to show Acuna and everybody else we've got their back."

SOUND SMART
• Albies' two-run shot was his 23rd homer of the season, but just his third within a span of 218 at-bats going back to July 13. Prior to that, the All-Star second baseman had 20 homers through his first 393 at-bats of the season.

• Teheran stands with Mike Leake, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and Jose Quintana as the only pitchers to make at least 30 starts over each of the past six seasons.

• Against NL East teams, the Braves have gone 45-23 and the Phillies have gone 32-39.

HE SAID IT
"If they played in the seventh game of the World Series, it won't be any different than it was right there. The fans were unbelievable. They have been all year. They have supported these guys. Tonight was no exception." -- Snitker

UP NEXT
Mike Foltynewicz will take the mound when the Braves resume their four-game series against the Phillies on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Foltynewicz is coming off one of his worst starts of the season, having allowed six earned runs in just 4 2/3 innings against the Cardinals. But he has posted a 2.62 ERA over his past nine starts. Philadelphia will counter with Jake Arrieta, who has a 6.03 ERA over his past seven starts. 

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

Atlanta Braves, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Julio Teheran

Newcomb skipped as Snitker opts for hot hands

Lefty, who has struggled of late, will be available out of bullpen vs. Phillies
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Braves manager Brian Snitker didn't mince words when asked why he decided to skip Sean Newcomb's start during this weekend's series against the Phillies. But he also indicated Newcomb will make another regular-season start and possibly still factor into discussions about the postseason rotation.

"We just wanted to go with the guys who have the hotter hands really," Snitker said. "We'll stick [Newcomb] in the bullpen for the rest of the homestand. After that, we'll regroup and see where we're at."

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ATLANTA -- Braves manager Brian Snitker didn't mince words when asked why he decided to skip Sean Newcomb's start during this weekend's series against the Phillies. But he also indicated Newcomb will make another regular-season start and possibly still factor into discussions about the postseason rotation.

"We just wanted to go with the guys who have the hotter hands really," Snitker said. "We'll stick [Newcomb] in the bullpen for the rest of the homestand. After that, we'll regroup and see where we're at."

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Recognizing the opportunity to clinch the National League East during this weekend's series against the Phillies, the Braves opted to have Kevin Gausman, Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Anibal Sanchez serve as their starters.

Newcomb, who has a 7.44 ERA over his past seven starts, had been lined up to start Saturday. Foltynewicz (Saturday's starter) and Sanchez (Sunday's starter) were moved up a day. Both will be on regular rest.

"I don't think [Newcomb] needs a break, he just wasn't pitching that great," Snitker said. "I talked to him about that and just told him we were going to go with the other guys. We just wanted to go with the guys that were going a little better."

Over the past week, a popular question has centered around whether the Braves would be more likely to leave Teheran or Newcomb off their postseason roster. The fact they didn't skip Teheran during this series might provide some indication, which way the team might lean.

Video: STL@ATL: Toussaint K's 8 in pivotal game vs. Cards

But if Teheran and Newcomb do not impress over the season's final week, there will be further reason to wonder if Touki Toussaint might fill the fourth spot in the four-man playoff rotation.

Toussaint has made just four career starts. But if the rookie right-hander impresses during his final regular-season start next week, he could add further intrigue to the situation.

While Toussaint would be a candidate to be placed on the playoff roster as a long reliever, the Braves do not seem to envision Newcomb or Teheran filling that role. So the roster candidacy for both likely hinges on being placed in the rotation.

"We're still talking about things," Snitker said. "I just want to focus on winning tonight."

Bullpen picture
If Arodys Vizcaino and Chad Sobotka continue pitching like they did while combining to cover the final two innings of Thursday's win over the Phillies, both could find themselves placed on the postseason roster.

Vizcaino's right shoulder certainly looked fine as he touched 98.5 mph and flashed his wicked slider during a perfect eighth inning. Now the former closer must prove his shoulder can favorably respond in a manner that would give Snitker comfort to carry him on the postseason roster. He will likely pitch on consecutive days at least once before the regular season concludes.

Sobotka has made just 11 career appearances, but he looked like a legit high-leverage option as he recorded three strikeouts during an 11-pitch ninth inning. The 25-year-old right-hander touched 98.4 mph with his fastball and threw six sliders, three of which resulted in a swing and miss and two that were called strikes.

"If you pitch like that, it's kind of hard to ignore because he was really good," Snitker said. "He threw strikes and attacked the hitters. His stuff was really good."

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

Atlanta Braves, Sean Newcomb

This adjustment made all the difference for Acuna

Change in batting stance has led to amazing second half for 20-year-old slugger
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer could see the tremendous physical potential, and he was well aware of the accomplishments that had earned Ronald Acuna Jr. the status of being baseball's top prospect. But Seitzer also knew that the 20-year-old phenom was destined for frequent frustration if he did not make the necessary mechanical adjustments shortly after Atlanta manager Brian Snitker reached his breaking point just before the All-Star break.

In the midst of occasionally displaying his five-tool talents, Acuna was too frequently taking off-balance swings, chasing fastballs up in the zone and simply going through the growing pains you'd expect from a kid who reached the Majors with less than 600 plate appearances above the Class A Advanced level.

ATLANTA -- Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer could see the tremendous physical potential, and he was well aware of the accomplishments that had earned Ronald Acuna Jr. the status of being baseball's top prospect. But Seitzer also knew that the 20-year-old phenom was destined for frequent frustration if he did not make the necessary mechanical adjustments shortly after Atlanta manager Brian Snitker reached his breaking point just before the All-Star break.

In the midst of occasionally displaying his five-tool talents, Acuna was too frequently taking off-balance swings, chasing fastballs up in the zone and simply going through the growing pains you'd expect from a kid who reached the Majors with less than 600 plate appearances above the Class A Advanced level.

"Snit said about three days before the break, 'I'm about done watching his at-bats. It's gross.'" Seitzer said. "I had been waiting for the right time to make changes to his setup. [Snit] said, 'Now is the time.'"

Those four words spoken by Snitker, combined with the instruction and application that followed, stand as one of the primary reasons the Braves are possibly just days away from clinching the National League East. Acuna has carried the team throughout the second half, and he's led some to wonder if he'll be drawing Mike Trout-level praise as early as next season.

"He's the best player I've ever seen, he's just unbelievable," Atlanta center fielder Ender Inciarte said after Acuna homered eight times within 34 at-bats spanning from Aug. 8-14.

 Video: Acuna Jr. hits 6 homers over 5 straight games

Since applying the mechanical adjustments and moving to the leadoff spot immediately after the All-Star break, Acuna has hit .320 with 19 home runs and a 1.067 OPS. Top NL MVP Award candidate Christian Yelich of the Brewers is the only player in the league with more home runs during that span. Yelich and the Dodgers' Justin Turner are the only NL players with a higher OPS.

To truly appreciate the elite level Acuna has reached, it's best to look back at the beginning of this year's journey, when he hit .249 with seven homers and a .742 OPS over 184 plate appearances before the break. He struck out in 30.4 percent of his plate appearance and drew a walk just 6.5 percent of the time.

Since the break, Acuna has struck out 21.7 percent of the time and drawn a walk in 11.6 percent of his plate appearances.

"The first day after the break, the timing with his swings was night and day," Seitzer said. "I think he went, 'Holy cow, I'm seeing the ball so much better, and I feel better and I'm on time.'

"Then, the confidence came quickly. We started seeing him chase less sliders and swing at fastballs up. When he started making them come to him in the zone, the kid is a really good hitter on secondary stuff. If you hang something on the first pitch, he's going to smoke it."

Now to rewind back to when Snitker gave the go-ahead to Seitzer, who expressed the need for a mechanical change while conducting a pre-break evaluation that focused on a number of metrics, including contact rate, exit velocity and launch angle.

"Mechanically, we put him in a different stance to try to simplify things," Seitzer said. "All I told him was, 'Get in an athletic position and get your hands back,' because he was late getting his hands back. When he'd go into his leg kick, he'd really fall forward."

Video: ATL@NYY: Sabathia fans Acuna, leaves bases loaded

When Acuna debuted at the Major League level in April, his bottom hand was angled and his bat barrel rested above his right shoulder. So when he leg kicked and began to load, his hands moved back before coming forward. The fact that Acuna has incredibly fast hands occasionally masked this flaw. But it was not enough to prevent frequent frustration.

Seitzer's solution was to get Acuna's hands further away from the body, and he instructed Acuna to adjust his bottom hand enough for the bat to be more vertical in his stance. The adjustment essentially eliminated the need for the young slugger to move his back after he leg kicked and began moving forward with his swing.

"He was ready to make the changes," Seitzer said. "This kid has done everything we've asked him to do. He's been unbelievably coachable."

Acuna believes slightly opening his stance has also proved to be quite beneficial.

"I feel like it's helped me recognize pitches a little better," Acuna said through an interpreter. "When I had more of a closed stance, I'd open up more during the stride and it would make it tougher to recognize the pitches."

Video: WSH@ATL: Acuna records 1st career 4-hit game in win

A couple numbers that truly stand out are Acuna's .388 batting average (the sixth-best average among players who have seen at least 500 pitches) and the .815 slugging percentage (trumped only by Yelich and Trout) he has produced against pitches in the strike zone in the second half. He hit .236 and slugged .425 against those pitches before the break.

"He's not missing these pitches, because he's in a much better position to fire when he wants to fire," Seitzer said. "When hitters feel like they don't have to rush to catch up, then everything slows down in terms of what you see with the recognition."

Acuna's ability to slash his strikeout rate and improve his walk rate by nearly 50 percent since the break has been influenced by the fact his first-half outside-the-zone swing percentage (14.3) has dropped to 10.2 since the break.

Looking at the in-zone swing-and-miss rate, Acuna's percentage has actually risen from 6.4 before the break to 7.6 in the second half. But his improved ability to better identify pitches and more consistently do damage earlier in the count has led to led to a lower percentage of plate appearances ending in a two-strike count -- 53 percent in the first half and 43 percent in the second half.

"He's still going to punch out," Seitzer said. "He's got power, and he doesn't get cheated when he goes. There's going to be some swing-and-miss there. But it's going to get better. He's 20 years old for crying out loud."

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

Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuna Jr.

Braves' magic number at 4 after win over Phils

Duda, Gausman come up big as Atlanta moves closer to NL East title
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- As the Braves took another step toward delivering the knockout blow, they provided a reminder of how much better they became once general manager Alex Anthopoulos diligently did what he could to address his club's needs.

Nearly two months after being acquired from the Orioles, Kevin Gausman remains energized by the opportunity to be part of a postseason race that became even less tight on Thursday night, when the Braves widened their National League East lead with an 8-3 win over the Phillies at SunTrust Park.

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ATLANTA -- As the Braves took another step toward delivering the knockout blow, they provided a reminder of how much better they became once general manager Alex Anthopoulos diligently did what he could to address his club's needs.

Nearly two months after being acquired from the Orioles, Kevin Gausman remains energized by the opportunity to be part of a postseason race that became even less tight on Thursday night, when the Braves widened their National League East lead with an 8-3 win over the Phillies at SunTrust Park.

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"These games mean a lot," Gausman said. "As a player, that's all you can ask for -- to be in September and to be playing meaningful games. To be a pitcher coming from Baltimore with the season we were having there, the playoffs were a far-fetched dream. So to be in this situation is great."

Video: PHI@ATL: Gausman fans Alfaro for his 1st strikeout

While producing a 2.80 ERA in the nine starts made since his July 31 acquisition, Gausman has influenced the envious position inhabited by the Braves, who own a 6 1/2-game division lead over the second-place Phillies. The magic number has been reduced to four with just nine games remaining, six of which will be played against Philadelphia.

"It's always huge to get the first game of a series, no matter who you are playing," Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "We'll take it today and carry the momentum into tomorrow."

Video: PHI@ATL: Swanson, Gausman, Suzuki on win over Phils

Whatever remaining fight might have been left in the Phillies was minimized as the Braves tallied a four-run eighth, which featured Dansby Swanson drawing a bases-loaded walk before an out was recorded. Swanson had also produced the hustle double that put him in position to score when the recently acquired Lucas Duda laced Tommy Hunter's cutter down the right-field line for a decisive pinch-hit RBI double.

Video: PHI@ATL: Swanson hustles to second for the double

Anthopoulos focused on the pitching staff when he added Gausman to his rotation and acquired relievers Jonny Venters and Brad Brach before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. His desire to add a left-handed bat to his bench was satisfied with the Aug. 29 acquisition of Duda, who has gone 3-for-15 with two doubles and a homer as a pinch-hitter since the trade with the Royals.

"We've done a great job," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Alex and his guys didn't sit around and wait. They went out and tried to make our club better. It has and it's going to pay off."

Snitker dodges foul ball, but not without a priceless reaction

Gausman might not be the overpowering ace who is going to strike fear into opponents. But he provided a glimpse of his resolve when he allowed the Phillies to tally a first-inning run and then surrendered three hits during a two-run third. He minimized damage in that frame and then proceeded to retire each of the final 11 batters he faced in his 6 1/3-inning effort.

"He found his groove and then once he got out there, he got over that hump and it was kind of what we expected when we got him," Snitker said. "He's been good the whole time he's been here. He's had a couple of games, but he's just been really big for us since he's been here."

Video: PHI@ATL: Snitker on Gausman, offense in win vs. Phils

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The suddenly red-hot Freddie Freeman, who has hit .404 over his past 12 games, helped create an early advantage when he teamed with Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis to record three consecutive one-out singles in a two-run first against Vince Velasquez, who allowed three runs over three innings.

Video: PHI@ATL: Markakis plates Inciarte with an RBI single

The Phillies could have limited the first-inning damage to one run had first baseman Rhys Hoskins fielded Johan Camargo's chopper and thrown to second base to begin what would have been a likely double play. But once Hoskins stepped on the bag, Markakis got himself in a rundown that allowed Freeman to score from third.

Video: PHI@ATL: Freeman scores as Markakis gets in a rundown

BULLPEN HELP
The early portion of this homestand enhanced concerns about the Braves' bullpen, which could assume a much different look if Arodys Vizcaino remains healthy and Chad Sobotka continues to look like a legit high-leverage option.

Vizcaino's right shoulder certainly looked fine as he touched 98.5 mph and flashed his wicked slider during a perfect eighth inning. Now the former closer must prove his shoulder can favorably respond in a manner that would give Snitker comfort to carry him on the postseason roster.

Sobotka also displayed an impressive mix of plus fastballs and sliders as he struck out each of the three batters faced in the ninth. The 25-year-old rookie has worked four scoreless innings since returning from a short late-season stint with Triple-A Gwinnett.

"I really liked what I saw out of Chad," Snitker said. "In that game, in that situation, that was really nice to see. Vizzy, too -- that was a huge outing from Viz. If we can get him back and you see that out of Chad, that's some really big pieces moving forward."

UP NEXT
Julio Teheran will attempt to move the Braves closer to a division title when he opposes the Phillies on Friday at SunTrust Park, with first pitch set for 7:35 p.m. ET. Teheran's velocity has dipped recently and he has issued 10 walks over his past 10 innings. But he still has a 3.04 ERA over his past nine starts. This will be his fourth start against Philadelphia this season, but first since April. The Phillies will counter with Nick Pivetta, who has a 5.97 ERA over his past six starts.

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

Atlanta Braves, Lucas Duda, Kevin Gausman

Brian Snitker dodged a foul ball -- but not without a priceless reaction

The Braves defeated the Phillies, 8-3, on Thursday night, reducing their magic number to four. Atlanta is now 6 1/2 games ahead of the Phillies and are holding on to the first place spot in the National League East. With that great news, it's easy to imagine how excited Braves manager Brian Snitker must be ... even after a moment of being a bit scared.

These 20 pitchers boosted their stock this year

MLB.com

Last week, we took a look at 20 hitting prospects who boosted their stock in 2018. Now it's time to turn attention to the mound.

Most of the 20 pitchers listed below are on our Top 100 Prospects list, though some are on their respective organization's Top 30 only. All of them used very strong 2018 seasons to make large jumps up rankings and more firmly onto the prospect radar.

Last week, we took a look at 20 hitting prospects who boosted their stock in 2018. Now it's time to turn attention to the mound.

Most of the 20 pitchers listed below are on our Top 100 Prospects list, though some are on their respective organization's Top 30 only. All of them used very strong 2018 seasons to make large jumps up rankings and more firmly onto the prospect radar.

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

Chris Paddack, RHP, Padres' No. 5/MLB No. 48
Paddack missed all of 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery, so it was tough to know what to expect. A 12.0 K/9 and ridiculous 0.8 BB/9 rate (120 K's, 8 walks) went far beyond any projections and allowed him to skyrocket to the middle of the Top 100 and from No. 23 to No. 5 on the Padres' Top 30.

Jesus Luzardo, LHP, A's No. 1/MLB No. 12
To say Tommy John surgery is in Luzardo's rearview mirror is an understatement. He's now the second-best lefty prospect in the game and jumped up from No. 60 on the preseason Top 100 thanks to a season that saw him pitch across three levels and start the Futures Game.

Dane Dunning, RHP, White Sox No. 6/MLB No. 62
An elbow sprain that shut Dunning down in late June puts a damper on his season, but the good news is he didn't need surgery. Before the injury, he pitched his way to Double-A and continued to miss bats (10.4 K/9) and not walk guys (2.7 BB/9) to move up 30 spots in the Top 100.

Video: Top Prospects: Dane Dunning, RHP, White Sox

Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP, Yankees' No. 3/MLB No. 73
The right-hander moved from No. 14 on the Yankees' Top 30 up to No. 3 and jumped firmly onto the Top 100 in a year that saw him start in the Class A Advanced Florida State League and finish in New York, posting a 67/8 K/BB ratio along the way in the Minors.

Touki Toussaint, RHP, Braves' No. 7/MLB No. 74
The questions about Toussaint's ability to start long-term have disappeared after a huge 2018 season that saw him finish tied for eighth in strikeouts in the Minors while considerably cutting his walk rate and making a strong contribution to the playoff-bound big league club.

Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Twins' No. 4/MLB No. 77
Graterol's Tommy John surgery in 2016 is well behind him, and he backed up his stirring 2017 U.S. debut with a year that saw him pitch across two levels of Class A ball before he turned 20. Along the way, he struck out 9.4/9 and walked just 2.5/9 to go from unranked up to No. 77 on the Top 100.

Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers' No. 4/MLB No. 78
May continued his ascent up the Dodgers' ladder, and prospect lists in his second full season of pro ball, going from No. 11 to 4 on the team's Top 30 and jumping to No. 78 from being unranked, while pitching across two levels and reaching Double-A at age 20.

Justus Sheffield, LHP, Yankees' No. 1/MLB No. 27
The Yankees' top prospect began the year No. 48 on the Top 100 and has shot up 21 spots thanks to pitching extremely well across two upper levels (2.48 ERA, .195 BAA, 9.5 K/9) and pitching in the Futures Game. Sheffield capped things off by receiving his first callup in September.

Video: BOS@NYY: Sheffield seals Yankees' win in MLB debut

Griffin Canning, RHP, Angels' No. 3/MLB No. 81
Canning wasn't on the Top 100 to start the season and was at No. 8 on the Angels' list, but now he's at No. 81 and No. 3 in a vastly improved system after he pitched his way to Triple-A in his first full season of pro ball.

Dylan Cease, RHP, White Sox No. 5/MLB No. 44
Cease moved up 17 spots from his preseason ranking on the Top 100, and it's quite possible he's still under-ranked, especially after he was as dominant as any pitcher in the Minors late in the season (0.51 ERA, .107 BAA, 14.8 K/9 in August).

Video: Cease named Pipeline Pitcher of the Year

Adonis Medina, RHP, Phillies' No. 3/MLB No. 69
The right-hander also made a 17-spot jump in the Top 100, shaking off a rough July with a very strong August (2.57 ERA) to help him finish with nifty 9.9 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 ratios for the season in the Florida State League.

Peter Lambert, RHP, Rockies' No. 2/MLB No. 84
After thriving in hitting environments over his first few seasons, Lambert dominated the Double-A Eastern League to earn a promotion to Triple-A at age 21 and jump firmly onto the Top 100. While he scuffled there, he finished with 11 scoreless innings over his final two starts.

Mike Soroka, RHP, Braves' No. 1/MLB No. 15
Before a shoulder strain effectively ended his season in June, Soroka had taken his stuff and pitchabiltiy and was on his way to cementing himself as a 21-year-old big-league starter. His lack of walks and high ground-ball rate made him very efficient and earned him a jump into the top 20 overall.

Logan Allen, LHP, Padres' No. 8/MLB No. 85
Allen might be the third-best lefty prospect in the Padres' system, but he definitely put himself more on the national prospect radar (unranked to No. 85 overall) thanks to a year that saw him post incredible numbers (2.54 ERA, .205 BAA, 9.1 K/9) in Double- and Triple-A at age 21.

Josh James, RHP, Astros' No. 6
James wasn't ranked on Houston's Top 30 at the start of the season, but now he's in the top 10 and impacting the big league staff thanks to a breakout campaign that saw him pitch across Double- and Triple-A while finishing with a .191 BAA and ending tied for fourth in the Minors with 171 K's.

Video: SEA@HOU: James strikes out 7 in 1st career win

Luis Oviedo, RHP, Indians' No. 10
Oviedo started the year in the short-season New York-Penn League as an unranked prospect, but he pitched his way to full-season ball for the first time before being shut down as a precaution. Along the way, the 19-year old struck out 10.6/9 and posted a 2.05 ERA to go along with a .190 BAA.

Garrett Whitlock, RHP, Yankees' No. 11
As an 18th-rounder from the 2017 Draft, it's not surprising Whitlock was unranked at the start of the season, but when he finished third in the Minors with his 1.86 ERA and had a combined .214 BAA and 9.1 K/9 while touching Double-A, it's no wonder he's now No. 11 on New York's list.

Luis Patino, RHP, Padres' No. 12
Unranked to start the year, this 18-year-old went to full-season ball in May and dominated there (2.16 ERA, .220 BAA, 10.6 K/9) to put a big up arrow next to his name, showing even more dominance in the second half (1.74 ERA, .202 BAA, 11.1 K/9 in 11 starts).

Emilio Vargas, RHP, D-backs' No. 14
A move to the California League can be a kiss of death for pitching prospects, but for Vargas, it helped put him on the map as he finished second in the system in both ERA (2.88) and strikeouts (170) while pitching his way to Double-A and going from unranked to the top 15.

Dean Kremer, RHP, Orioles' No. 16
Unranked this preseason with the Dodgers, Kremer was having a breakout year in the California League and had earned a promotion to Double-A when he was sent to the O's in the Manny Machado deal, then dominated post-trade and finished the year leading the Minors in strikeouts (178).

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Youth is served: Each club's best rookie in 2018

MLB.com

Each year, a new group of rookies sets out to make a mark in the Major Leagues, and in 2018, many of these young players have made history with their performances. They're fueling clubs during postseason races, as well as giving fans a glimpse of what's to come in the years ahead.

With the aid of all 30 MLB.com beat writers, here's a look at each team's best rookie this season:

Each year, a new group of rookies sets out to make a mark in the Major Leagues, and in 2018, many of these young players have made history with their performances. They're fueling clubs during postseason races, as well as giving fans a glimpse of what's to come in the years ahead.

With the aid of all 30 MLB.com beat writers, here's a look at each team's best rookie this season:

Video: Callis looks at rookies' long-term futures

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Ryan Borucki
Borucki has opened his Major League career with quality starts in 10 of his first 15 outings. Even though Borucki did not make his debut until the end of June, he has the third-most starts of at least six innings and two runs or fewer among Major League rookies. Only San Francisco's Dereck Rodriguez has registered more of those starts this season. Borucki appears to be a future cornerstone of the Blue Jays' rotation and his rookie campaign has been an overwhelming success with a 3.86 ERA.

Orioles: Cedric Mullins
It's been a tough year for Baltimore, but Mullins has given O's fans a glimmer of hope in the past two months. Since becoming the first Oriole to record three hits in his debut, the center fielder -- who moved Adam Jones over to right -- has showcased his range and speed and has become a table-setter for a lineup that sorely needs more dynamic players.

Rays: Joey Wendle
Tampa Bay acquired Wendle from Oakland during the Winter Meetings -- the same day the Yankees finalized their acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton. Many found humor in how the Rays "answered" their division foe's acquisition. Wendle has hardly been a joke, though. He's played second base, third base, shortstop, right field and left field. While Wendle's glove has been dazzling as billed, particularly at second, his bat has been equally so. He always seems to be in the middle of rallies. Wendle has above-average speed and runs out every ball, and he's shown decent power. He has been a big reason for Tampa Bay's marked improvement this season.

Red Sox: Brian Johnson
Out of options, Johnson had no option but to become a dependable contributor for the Red Sox this season, and that's exactly what he has done. Though he has unspectacular numbers (4-4, 4.24 ERA), Johnson has been one of the most important members of the pitching staff for manager Alex Cora because of his ability to move seamlessly between the bullpen and starting rotation, and often doing both roles within days of each other. In 12 starts, Johnson is 4-2 with a 4.06 ERA. He could have a few more wins, but he was taken out just shy of five innings numerous times.

Yankees: Miguel Andujar
Nothing was handed to Andujar, who made the most of an early-season opportunity when Brandon Drury landed on the disabled list to grab hold of the third-base job. Andujar's calling card is his bat, and he quickly cemented a reputation as an extra-base hit machine, tallying the third-most extra-base hits by a rookie in Yankees history behind Joe DiMaggio (88) and Aaron Judge (79). The AL Rookie of the Month in June and August, Andujar has worked to polish his defense. With Gleyber Torres also enjoying a strong season, the Yanks have two legitimate choices to follow Judge as the AL Rookie of the Year Award winner.

Video: BOS@NYY: Andujar opens scoring with a solo HR in 2nd

AL CENTRAL

Indians: Shane Bieber
Indians manager Terry Francona jokes that Chris Antonetti, the team's president of baseball operations, did not bring Bieber to MLB camp in the spring because the manager would not have let the pitcher return to the Minors. Bieber, 23, cruised through Double-A and Triple-A, posting a 1.47 ERA with 77 strikeouts vs. seven walks in 79 2/3 innings. When the back of Cleveland's rotation ran into some issues, Bieber rose to the big leagues. He debuted in late May and returned for good in June. The rookie has enjoyed a promising campaign and figures to be a part of the Tribe's postseason pitching staff.

Royals: Brad Keller
Keller, a right-hander, was an absolute steal in the Rule 5 Draft. He started the season in the bullpen and eventually graduated to the rotation, where he has been arguably the Royals' best starter and certainly a top-of-the-rotation guy moving forward. Opposing hitters throughout the season have called facing Keller an "uncomfortable at-bat." His four-seam fastball, which hovers around 93-95 mph, moves like a cutter, and he has worked to develop an effective slider and changeup. During a recent six-game stretch, Keller went 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA, permitting just a .645 OPS. While Keller, 23, likely won't win the AL Rookie of the Year Award -- especially with Shohei Ohtani, Torres and Andujar in the running -- he at least deserves some consideration. Keller is a lock for the rotation in 2019.

Tigers: Niko Goodrum
The Tigers took a chance on the former Twins second-round pick, extending a Spring Training invite in the hopes that his versatility and athleticism would help him stick while learning on the job in the big leagues. Much to their surprise, Goodrum has become essentially an everyday player and a cog in Detroit's lineup, with a .741 OPS that ranks second on the team to Nicholas Castellanos. He has made a start at every defensive position except center field, catcher and pitcher.

Twins: Jake Cave
The Twins took a chance on Cave in March, acquiring him from the Yankees for Minor League right-hander Luis Gil, and Cave has responded with a strong rookie season. The 25-year-old wasn't expected to play much this season, but with center fielder Byron Buxton out most of the year because of injuries and offensive inconsistency, the left-handed-hitting Cave has filled in nicely. He's capable of playing all three outfield positions and has shown some power offensively, hitting .257/.300/.458 with 11 homers and 13 doubles through his first 82 career games.

White Sox: Daniel Palka
The White Sox picked up the left-handed slugger off waivers from the Twins on Nov. 3, 2017. While he didn't break camp with the team, Palka not only leads the White Sox in home runs, but also set a single-season franchise record for most homers from a left-handed-hitting rookie. Palka has a knack for the big hit, having knocked out six home runs in the ninth inning. Left-handed reliever Jace Fry made a solid late-inning rookie impression, but Palka provided the biggest power boost.

Video: CWS@CLE: Palka breaks scoreless tie with HR to center

AL WEST

Angels: Shohei Ohtani
A rocky Spring Training created some questions about how Ohtani's talent would translate to the Majors, but he quickly erased those doubts once the regular season began. For two months, he dazzled as a two-way phenom for the Angels, emerging as a dominant right-handed pitcher with a triple-digit fastball and devastating splitter and an impact left-handed bat with impressive raw power. An elbow injury derailed his magical season and led to a Tommy John surgery recommendation earlier this month, but it hasn't prevented Ohtani from continuing to hit. He is the first player to log 10 pitching appearances and hit 20 home runs in a season since Babe Ruth in 1919, making him a front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

Video: SEA@LAA: Ohtani goes back-to-back with Trout for 20th

Astros: Max Stassi
Stassi made his Major League debut during the Astros' 111-loss season of 2013, and he has bounced between the big leagues and Triple-A each season since while maintaining his rookie status. He's spent most of this year as Houston's backup catcher to Brian McCann, and he is hitting .233 with eight homers and 27 RBIs through 85 games. Stassi was on pace to catch more games than McCann, who missed a chunk of time with knee surgery, and Martin Maldonado, who was acquired in a July trade and cost Stassi significant playing time down the stretch.

Athletics: Lou Trivino
Trivino has been an absolute godsend for what's become a deep and dangerous Oakland bullpen, arriving in late April and quickly taking over setup duties behind All-Star closer Blake Treinen with a high-90s fastball and a mid-90s cutter -- a devastating duo. The flamethrowing right-hander singlehandedly bridged the gap for much of the first half before the midseason arrivals of Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelley and Fernando Rodney, working multiple innings more times than not. Center fielder Ramon Laureano, who has been superb on both sides of the ball since his August promotion, also deserves consideration.

Mariners: Daniel Vogelbach
The 25-year-old first baseman made the Opening Day roster after a huge spring, then was sent down when he struggled at the plate in April. But after putting up good numbers again in Triple-A, Vogelbach has flashed his power potential with a couple of big home runs this week as a September callup, including a game-winning pinch-hit grand slam to beat the Astros on Monday.

Rangers: Ronald Guzman
This is a tossup between Guzman and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who did a terrific job in a utility role that included time at catcher. But Guzman has emerged as the Rangers' first baseman of the future by showing power, run production and superb defensive ability. There is still more improvement and development needed, but Guzman is among the AL rookie leaders in home runs and RBIs. His emergence also allowed Joey Gallo to take over in left field, which had been a troubled spot for Texas.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Video: STL@ATL: Acuna Jr. belts a solo smash for his 26th HR

Braves: Ronald Acuna Jr.
Acuna has lived up to his top prospect status, as he spent the season's second half producing numbers baseball has seldom seen from a player who has not yet turned 21 years old. He introduced himself to the Majors in April and then suffered a late-May knee injury that sidelined him for a month. But when Acuna was moved to the top of Atlanta's lineup immediately after the All-Star break, the 20-year-old outfielder suddenly became one of the game's top catalysts and power threats. He became a strong NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate and likely earned some down-ballot NL MVP Award consideration.

Marlins: Brian Anderson
Not only has Anderson been the Marlins' top rookie in 2018, he has established himself as one of the young faces of the franchise. He's also built a case to be a top-five finisher in the NL Rookie of the Year Award balloting. On the big league roster from wire to wire, Anderson has played third base and right field. He will lead all NL rookies in games played and hits.

Mets: Jeff McNeil
McNeil was never a top prospect, and when he arrived in the big leagues, he first drew attention for his unusual knobless bat. But since he took over at second base following the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, he's been a revelation at the plate, commanding attention for his outstanding contact ability and all-around hitting prowess. McNeil hasn't slowed down, either -- he leads all rookies in hitting since his July 24 debut, including 17 multihit games in 54 contests, and is second among all players in triples in that span, with five.

Nationals: Juan Soto
Soto wasn't even the Nats' most heralded prospect coming into the year -- that was Victor Robles. But he's hit at an almost unprecedented level for his age, putting himself on lists alongside names like Griffey and Harper. Soto's combination of plate discipline and power marks him as a future star. He's not only a top NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate; he might even get some down-ballot consideration in the crowded NL MVP Award field.

Video: Must C Classic: Soto youngest to swipe 3 bags in game

Phillies: Seranthony Dominguez
One of the reasons the Phillies held first place in the NL East as late as Aug. 12 is Dominguez, who joined Philadelphia's bullpen in May. He posted a 1.85 ERA in 34 appearances through Aug. 3, striking out 49 and walking 13 in 39 innings, becoming manager Gabe Kapler's most trusted weapon with the game on the line. Dominguez struggled down the stretch as the former starter adjusted to a new role, but there is no question NL East batters are not looking forward to facing him in the future.

NL CENTRAL

Brewers: Freddy Peralta
Taylor Williams pitched in more games and Corbin Burnes is playing the most significant role among Brewers rookies down the stretch, but in terms of aggregate value this season, Peralta gets the nod. By making 14 starts, including a history-making 13-strikeout Major League debut on Mother's Day, Peralta helped hold together a starting rotation that was a quiet strength for much of the year despite Jimmy Nelson's year-long absence and significant disabled list time for Zach Davies, Wade Miley and others. Among Major League starters who pitched at least 70 innings, only Chris Sale had a lower opponents' average than Peralta.

Cardinals: Jack Flaherty
With respect to Harrison Bader (3.5 fWAR), Jordan Hicks (105 mph fastball) and Yairo Munoz (.275 average), it's Flaherty who has emerged as the star of St. Louis' loaded rookie crop -- and the Cardinals' new ace. Premature? Not if you consider how the on-the-playoff-bubble Cards manipulated their rotation so Flaherty will be on turn to start their most important game of the year, whether that's the NL Wild Card Game or a must-win during the season's final series. The 22-year-old has earned the responsibility: He ranks among the NL rookie starter leaders in strikeouts (first), starts (second), innings (second), ERA (fourth), wins (first), fWAR (second) and WHIP (third).

Cubs: David Bote
An 18th-round Draft pick in 2012, Bote was pressed into duty when Kris Bryant was injured and has delivered in the clutch. On July 26 against the D-backs, he smacked a game-tying two-run homer with one out in the ninth. On Aug. 12 against the Nationals, Bote delivered a pinch-hit walk-off grand slam in the ninth. That blast helped teach people how to pronounce his last name (it's bow-tee). He hit another walk-off homer on Aug. 24 against the Reds and is the first Cub since Bryant in 2015 with two walk-off homers in one season. Bote has helped support the Cubs' motto to be versatile, starting at second, third, shortstop and in the outfield.

Video: David Bote's heroics vs. the Nationals this season

Pirates: Richard Rodriguez
Far from a household name, the 28-year-old rookie has become a vital part of Pittsburgh's bullpen in his first extended Major League opportunity. Signed as a Minor League free agent, Rodriguez entered the week with a 2.57 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 79 strikeouts in 63 innings over 56 appearances. Rodriguez doesn't possess overwhelming stuff, but he's getting the job done with a 92.9-mph four-seam fastball he throws about 75 percent of the time plus a swing-and-miss slider.

Reds: Jesse Winker
Winker gets the nod despite having his season cut in half by injury. After a slow start, he found his stroke and some power. Overall, Winker batted .299/.405/.431 in 89 games but was slashing .362/.465/.554 in June and July before his year was halted by right shoulder surgery in his non-throwing arm to repair an injury that nagged him even in the Minors. Expected to be fully recovered by Spring Training, the 25-year-old with great plate discipline could be an even bigger offensive threat when fully healthy.

NL WEST

D-backs: Yoshihisa Hirano
While Hirano is technically a rookie as far as Major League Baseball is concerned, he certainly was not inexperienced coming into this season after spending 11 seasons pitching in Japan. The D-backs signed him to a two-year contract during the offseason, and he has more than met their expectations. Used primarily in a setup role through the first five months of the season, Hirano's effectiveness -- along with his unflappable makeup -- eventually got him moved into the de facto closer's role in September.

Dodgers: Walker Buehler
In any year not involving Acuna or Soto, the Dodgers' 24-year-old sensation would likely have been a favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year Award. Since his April recall from the Minor Leagues, Buehler was a steady presence through Clayton Kershaw's extended absence and has since cemented himself beside Los Angeles' ace at the top of the rotation, allowing two or fewer runs in 17 of his 21 starts. With the Dodgers embroiled in a tight divisional race, he has a 1.62 ERA since the start of August, and with his season mark at 2.74, he could become Los Angeles' first rookie starter to post an ERA under 3.00 with at least 20 starts since Hideo Nomo in 1995.

Video: COL@LAD: Buehler K's career-high 12 over 6 frames

Giants: Dereck Rodriguez
The son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez is steadily establishing his own identity as a ballplayer as well as his candidacy for a respectable finish in the NL Rookie of the Year Award balloting. The 26-year-old, who converted to pitching from playing the outfield, demonstrated his consistency by pitching at least six innings and allowing two or fewer runs in nine consecutive starts. Despite their losing record overall, the Giants are 9-8 when Rodriguez starts. What makes Rodriguez's story even more remarkable is that he did not pitch above Double-A in Minnesota's farm system last year. San Francisco signed him as a Minor League free agent last November.

Padres: Franmil Reyes
Reyes was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft last December after leading all Padres Minor Leaguers in home runs in 2017. Thankfully for San Diego, he went unselected. Reyes' power is otherworldly, and he's made huge strides with his approach at the plate. The hulking 6-foot-5, 275-pounder is still a liability defensively. But he's grown into a legit middle-of-the-order game-changer.

Rockies: Ryan McMahon
Drafted as a third baseman but blocked at the hot corner by one Nolan Arenado, the 23-year-old McMahon made the Opening Day roster with eyes on the starting first-base job, but he was beat out by veteran Ian Desmond. After struggles at the plate and two extended Minor League stints, McMahon's .330 on-base percentage since his July 29 recall is fourth among Rockies. He has also shown a penchant for clutch homers -- four of his five 2018 long balls have come late in close games with Colorado trailing, including a memorable three-run walk-off shot against the Dodgers on Aug. 11.

Freeman powers Braves as magic number hits 6

First baseman goes 3-for-3 with HR, 3 RBIs in win over Cardinals
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman has tasted the euphoria of the postseason, the despair created by a late-season collapse and the hopelessness felt as he spent the past four seasons serving as the lingering cornerstone of a massive rebuilding process. So it's easy to understand why this year's journey with the Braves has been so special.

"When I came up, we were winning," Freeman said. "Then to go through four years of not winning, it makes you appreciate this kind of baseball again. It's fun. It really is. You shouldn't be pressing at all. This is what you work for, for six or seven months. For us to be in this situation this year, it's the greatest feeling there is."

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ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman has tasted the euphoria of the postseason, the despair created by a late-season collapse and the hopelessness felt as he spent the past four seasons serving as the lingering cornerstone of a massive rebuilding process. So it's easy to understand why this year's journey with the Braves has been so special.

"When I came up, we were winning," Freeman said. "Then to go through four years of not winning, it makes you appreciate this kind of baseball again. It's fun. It really is. You shouldn't be pressing at all. This is what you work for, for six or seven months. For us to be in this situation this year, it's the greatest feeling there is."

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Freeman helped create a feeling of relief as he extended his recent surge by homering during the three-hit performance he provided to back Touki Toussaint during Wednesday afternoon's 7-3 win over the Cardinals at SunTrust Park. The Braves still have some work to do. But they have now escaped the four-game losing streak that had heightened concerns about the possibility another Atlanta sports team was on the verge of collapsing.

Video: STL@ATL: Freeman rips an RBI single to right

"I don't know if must-win would have been the right term," Freeman said. "It was much needed. It just had felt different the past couple days coming around here. I thought today was a huge momentum boost for us."

With what was just their fifth win in their past 18 home games, the Braves reduced their magic number to six with 10 games to play. They own a 5 1/2-game lead in the National League East over the Phillies, who defeated the Mets, 4-0, on Wednesday night before heading to Atlanta for a four-game series.

Though they were unable to complete the sweep and claim a fourth straight win, the Cardinals will still enter Thursday's off-day with at least a half-game lead in the battle for the NL's second Wild Card spot.

When asked if this victory created a sigh of relief, Braves manager Brian Snitker admittedly said, "A little bit."

Video: STL@ATL: Snitker on Freeman and Toussaint in 7-3 win

While Ronald Acuna Jr.'s strong second-half production stands as the primary reason the Braves have led the division since Aug. 13, Freeman remains the face of the franchise and the man capable of putting the team on his shoulders during this stretch run and the postseason that would follow.

Freeman was considered by many to be the favorite for the NL MVP Award before he hit .195 with one homer and a .584 OPS over a 22-game stretch from Aug. 16-Sept. 7. The All-Star first baseman has acknowledged what he might have lost from a personal standpoint during that stretch. But while hitting .405 (17-for-42) with two homers over his past 11 games, he has seemingly rounded into form just in time to once again be a difference-maker.

"I started doing a new drill in Arizona with [hitting coach Kevin Seitzer] and it's kind of locked me back in. It was just a little flip drill in the [batting] cage," Freeman said. "I've been feeling pretty good for the last couple weeks."

Freeman's opposite-field homer off Jack Flaherty provided an early advantage for Toussaint, who allowed two earned runs and five hits over 5 2/3 innings. The rookie right-hander has made just four starts, but he has produced a strong candidacy to be placed on the postseason roster as a long reliever or possibly the fourth starter.

Video: STL@ATL: Toussainst K's 8 in pivotal game vs. Cards

Flaherty stands as a potential Game 1 starter for the Cardinals if they reach the postseason. But the right-hander certainly wasn't at his best as the Braves tagged him for five earned runs over just 4 2/3 innings. Tyler Flowers, who provided a late insurance run with a homer in the eighth, opened Atlanta's three-run fifth with a double and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Freeman delivered a two-out RBI single and helped account for another run when he stole second, allowing Ender Inciarte to score on the back end of the double steal.

Video: STL@ATL: Flowers strokes a solo home run to left

"[Freeman] is getting the ball in the air and the ball is carrying," Snitker said. "That's always a good thing. That's a welcome sight if we can get him going."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Along with halting their losing streak, the Braves also avoided enduring yet another late-inning meltdown. But while it was good to see A.J. Minter escape a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, there was still reason to be concerned about the fact he created one. The rookie closer recorded a strike with just two of his first 11 pitches and then loaded the bases with consecutive one-out walks.

After receiving a visit from pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, Minter fooled Jose Martinez by throwing three straight changeups ahead of an 0-2 cutter that created a swing and miss. The young lefty ended the game with Paul DeJong's popup that Freeman snared.

"The guy over 90 percent of the time throws a cutter and hard slider," Martinez said. "Knowing they were facing a fastball hitter, they just tried something else. He threw changeups and one [cutter]. I wasn't expecting that at all. I could have had a better at-bat."

Video: STL@ATL: Minter gets DeJong to pop up to end the game

Going back to Aug. 18, when he blew a three-run lead with two outs and nobody on against the Rockies, Minter has surrendered 12 hits, issued five walks and allowed six earned runs over nine innings. An early clinch would at least provide him what might be some necessary rest at the end of his first full Major League season.

SOUND SMART
Freeman has now recorded a double-digit stolen-base total for the first time in his career. He is the fourth first baseman in Braves history to hit 20 homers and record 10 stolen bases in a season. The last to do so was Dale Murphy in 1978. Murphy played first base in 129 games that season and handled the catching duties in 21 games. The former Gold Glove Award winner didn't move to the outfield until 1980.

Video: STL@ATL: Freeman steals base after call overturned

HE SAID IT
"We thought it was weird in April playing them so much, but I guess Major League Baseball did a nice job with the scheduling. We know what they've got and they're behind us. It's going to be a big matchup this weekend." -- Freeman, on the Braves playing seven of their final 10 games against the Phillies

UP NEXT
Kevin Gausman will take the mound when the first-place Braves welcome the second-place Phillies to SunTrust Park on Thursday at 7:35 p.m. ET. These two teams will play four times this weekend in Atlanta and three more times next weekend in Philadelphia to close the regular season. Which club lays claim to the National League East title will be determined within this span. Gausman has struggled in his past two starts and now faces a Philadelphia club that tagged him for a season-high 12 hits while he was with the Orioles in July. Vince Velasquez will start the opener for the Phillies.

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

Atlanta Braves, Freddie Freeman, Touki Toussaint

Braves held to Acuna's HR in 4th straight loss

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- While they have spent the past six months exceeding expectations, the Braves have prided themselves as being a determined bunch with the offensive firepower necessary to consistently create late-inning excitement.

But as this final homestand has gone on and they close in on the opportunity to celebrate a season that few predicted, the Braves have too often suffered a late-inning punch similar to the one that sealed their fate in Tuesday night's 8-1 loss to the Cardinals at SunTrust Park.

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ATLANTA -- While they have spent the past six months exceeding expectations, the Braves have prided themselves as being a determined bunch with the offensive firepower necessary to consistently create late-inning excitement.

But as this final homestand has gone on and they close in on the opportunity to celebrate a season that few predicted, the Braves have too often suffered a late-inning punch similar to the one that sealed their fate in Tuesday night's 8-1 loss to the Cardinals at SunTrust Park.

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"You're going to go through your rough spots over 162 games," first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "These past four games have been a little rough, but we've got two weeks to figure it out."

A little more than two weeks from now, the postseason will begin. Whether the Braves get to participate will depend on how they recover from their current four-game losing streak, which has immediately followed the six-game winning streak that gave fans hope to celebrate a division title at home.

With 11 games to play, the Braves have a 5 1/2-game lead over the Phillies in the National League East, and their magic number to clinch the division stands at seven. This is a pretty fortunate position, considering they have lost 14 of their past 18 home games.

The Braves are no strangers to late-game magic, but their bid for more has been made more challenging by the bullpen, which has allowed a one-run deficit grow in the sixth inning or later of each of the past four games.

"Your job as a reliever is to come in and keep the game where it's at," veteran Jonny Venters said. "That game right there tonight, we were in it up until that eighth inning. I try to go out there with the mindset every night to get the outs I'm supposed to get and keep the game where it is. I just didn't do it today."

Anibal Sanchez provided the Braves yet another strong start, exiting his six-inning effort with Paul DeJong's two-run homer accounting for the only damage. But the 2-1 deficit the Braves faced at the end of seven ballooned during the Cards four-run eighth, which was fueled by Venters walking Matt Carpenter and allowing Jose Martinez to double off the left-field wall.

Video: STL@ATL: Sanchez K's 9 over 6 innings of 2-run ball

Dan Winkler surrendered a RBI single to DeJong and walked Marcell Ozuna to load the bases. Enter Sam Freeman, who struck out pinch-hitter Patrick Wisdom before Yadier Molina delivered the dagger with a single that scored three runs when the ball went under left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr.'s glove.

Video: STL@ATL: Molina plates 3 on single, error in the 8th

"Again, it was a couple walks, and we just couldn't stop the bleeding the one inning," manager Brian Snitker said. "With the one-run deficit, we definitely have a chance to win the game. But when we let that thing spread, it's tough to come back from that."

Video: STL@ATL: Snitker on lack of run support in 8-1 loss

The acquisition of Venters and Brad Brach at the non-waiver Trade Deadline has prevented the bullpen from faltering as frequently as it did as July neared an end. But dating back to Aug. 1, Atlanta's relief corps has a 4.14 ERA, a figure that has been inflated after this group allowed 16 earned runs over the 18 1/3 innings in the past four games.

"We've just got to trust our stuff and go right at guys," Venters said. "I think we'll be fine. Tomorrow is a new day. Hopefully, we'll get out there and get it done."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Acuna gave the Braves a 1-0 lead with the homer he hit over the Braves' bullpen to begin the bottom of the third. Cardinals left-hander Austin Gomber encountered more trouble in the inning when he surrendered Nick Markakis' double and then issued consecutive walks within a span of eight pitches, but he ended the threat by getting Ender Inciarte to fly out to center field.

"Just one of those days where there was a lot of traffic on bases, but you have to figure out a way to get out of it," Gomber said.

SOUND SMART
Acuna now has 26 home runs, the fifth-highest total in a season by a player before turning 21. Ahead of him are Mel Ott (42 in 1929) Frank Robinson (34 in 1956), Tony Conigliaro (32 in 1965) and Al Kaline (27 in 1955).

HOME vs. ROAD
Much has been made of the fact that the Braves have a better road record (45-30) than home record (38-38). But through Aug. 15, they were 34-24 at home and 34-27 on the road.

Their recent road success has been influenced by the fact they have played the Pirates, Marlins, D-backs and Giants over the past month. During this same span, their home opponents have been the Rockies, Rays, Cubs, Pirates, Red Sox, Nationals and Cardinals.

The only team to make the postseason with a losing home record during a non-strike season is the 2001 Braves, who were 40-42 at Turner Field.

HE SAID IT
"We've been down this road before, a few times this year. All it takes is one game to get you rolling and get you back on a run. We've been resilient. We've come back before. There's no reason to think we won't do it again. Guys just got to relax, play their game and let it fly." -- Snitker

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Sanchez produced one of the niftiest defensive plays of the night in the fifth, when he scooped Gomber's safety squeeze attempt and flipped it out of his glove toward catcher Kurt Suzuki, who denied Kolten Wong's attempt to score. The Cardinals challenged that Suzuki was blocking the plate, but the call was upheld after a 23-second review.

Video: STL@ATL: Sanchez flips for out at home after review

UP NEXT
Touki Toussaint will take the mound when the Braves and Cardinals conclude their three-game series on Wednesday at 12:10 p.m. ET. Toussaint has made a good impression through his first three career starts, and he kept the D-backs scoreless before exiting during a two-run sixth on Sept. 9. St. Louis will counter with Jack Flaherty, who has a 1.69 ERA over his past eight starts.

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

Atlanta Braves