ATLANTA -- Maybe it was purely coincidental this result was garnered on the same day the top of the lineup was altered. But for the first time in more than a week, the Braves looked much like they had during most of this season's first half.Julio Teheran hearkened back to
ATLANTA -- Maybe it was purely coincidental this result was garnered on the same day the top of the lineup was altered. But for the first time in more than a week, the Braves looked much like they had during most of this season's first half.
Julio Teheran hearkened back to memories of his more consistent days, and the Braves entered the All-Star break riding the high created by Sunday afternoon's much-needed 5-1 win over the D-backs at SunTrust Park.
"We needed that today," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "We obviously haven't been playing the way we wanted the last couple weeks. So, to end on a good note for the first half was great."
Teheran scattered four hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings, and Freeman provided an RBI double during the decisive third for the Braves, who will now enter the All-Star break feeling better than they had while dropping eight of the 10 games that led up to this series finale against the D-backs.
After an 11-inning win at Yankee Stadium on July 2, the Braves owned the National League's best record. Their recent struggles knocked them from the top spot in the NL East, but they will enter the second half just a half-game behind the first-place Phillies.
"At the end of March, if somebody would have asked if [I'd take] being 10 games over .500 and a half-game out of first, I wholeheartedly would have," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It was a really solid half. We did a lot of good things. Young guys have taken some huge steps forward."
While starting pitchers Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb expedited their development in a positive manner, the offense has benefited from the quick rise of Ozzie Albies, who stands as a MVP candidate less than a full calendar year into his Major League career.
Placed back in the leadoff spot for this first-half finale against D-backs All-Star left-hander Patrick Corbin, Albies made his presence known with an RBI infield single during the decisive third. The speedy second baseman drew an errant throw from Jake Lamb and then aggressively took third base. He later scored on Freeman's double.
"I think that's our game," Snitker said. "That's what makes us go. We have some youth. We have some athleticism. We've got guys who can run. When we use that tool we have and that weapon we have, it makes us a better team."
Other than to confirm he chose not to play Ender Inciarte against a left-handed starter on Sunday, Snitker did not elaborate on his post-break plans for the leadoff spot. But it goes without saying Inciarte can't create excitement or serve as a catalyst if he continues to be mired in his current slump. He has batted .176 with a .300 on-base percentage over his past 18 games and has hit just .208 against left-handed pitchers this season.
So, it certainly wasn't surprising to see Inciarte sit while Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. filled the lineup's top two spots against Corbin.
Albies has hit just .234 with a .282 on-base percentage in the 40 games he's been utilized as the leadoff hitter. But the 21-year-old spark plug is heading toward his first All-Star Game leading the NL in runs and extra-base hits. He hasn't necessarily developed the plate discipline to be categorized as a leadoff hitter, but his unique ability to consistently generate offense with both his bat and legs seemingly makes him the Braves' best candidate to fill this role.
"We're real aggressive," Freeman said. "We just haven't been getting on base the last few games. It's nice to see us put the pressure on the defense again. Good things usually happen."
The good Julio
Strengthening his status as one of the game's most unpredictable pitchers, Teheran has produced a pair of strong starts since allowing the Yankees five runs while recording 10 strikeouts over just five innings on July 4. The veteran right-hander limited the D-backs to four hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings. He enters the All-Star break having allowed one run over his past 13 innings.
"That's the way we wanted to finish," Teheran said. "I was just doing my job like I did my last start. Everything was working."
Teheran found success with both his slider and curveball, which accounted for 42 percent of his 77 pitches. Coming off a pair of 100-pitch outings, the most encouraging aspect of his outing was his fastball, which touched 93.2 mph during a sixth-inning strikeout of Paul Goldschmidt and averaged 90.7 mph.
Before going on the disabled list in early June, Teheran's four-seam fastball averaged 89.8 mph. Since returning, it has consistently sat in the 90s.
"My arm is feeling good right now," Teheran said. "Hopefully, it feels good for the second half. I know myself. The first couple months were rough for me. But when we got in this stretch in June, I feel like I've gotten stronger. My fastball, I feel like it's gotten a little more life."
Teheran helped himself in the seventh inning, when he picked off A.J. Pollock ahead of Lamb's double. His 32 pickoffs since the start of his 2013 rookie season are 17 more than any other right-hander has recorded within this same span.
The Braves will enjoy the All-Star break and then hit the road to face the Nationals Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Snitker announced Anibal Sanchez will start the series opener. Newcomb and Foltynewicz will start the final two games of the series.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.