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
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.
"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."
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."
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.
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."
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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."
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.
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.
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."
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.