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Freddie bolsters MVP case for contending Braves

MLB.com @mlbbowman

MIAMI -- Approximately 24 hours after saying there isn't as much talk about a team's needs following a win, Freddie Freeman once again proved he is capable of covering some of the Braves' flaws as he continues to produce an MVP-caliber season.

Freeman reintroduced himself to the home run trot and extended his assault of Marlins pitchers during Monday night's 12-1 win at Marlins Park. His two extra-base hits provided an early advantage for Sean Newcomb, who helped the Braves move back into a first-place tie with the Phillies in the National League East.

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MIAMI -- Approximately 24 hours after saying there isn't as much talk about a team's needs following a win, Freddie Freeman once again proved he is capable of covering some of the Braves' flaws as he continues to produce an MVP-caliber season.

Freeman reintroduced himself to the home run trot and extended his assault of Marlins pitchers during Monday night's 12-1 win at Marlins Park. His two extra-base hits provided an early advantage for Sean Newcomb, who helped the Braves move back into a first-place tie with the Phillies in the National League East.

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"Any time Freddie is doing what he's capable of doing, he can pick up everybody else by what he does," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Everybody else thinks, 'OK, everything is good,' and they go out and grind out good at-bats. Nobody feels pressured to really make something happen."

As the Braves bounced back from Sunday's loss to the Nationals, they had one scout watching the Rangers, who might be able to interest Atlanta with the offer of left-handed reliever Jake Diekman. Another of the team's scouts was watching the Royals play the Tigers, who might be able to fill Atlanta's offensive needs by dealing Nicholas Castellanos.

What occurs between now and next Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline will influence how the Braves finish this season. But any potential addition will only prove valuable if Freeman continues to fuel an offense that seems to have found a catalyst in the form of newly assigned leadoff hitter Ronald Acuna Jr.

Video: ATL@MIA: Acuna Jr. plates Inciarte with a single

Acuna produced his third straight multi-hit game since being moved to the top of the lineup and Charlie Culberson capably filled Ozzie Albies' void with a career-high four-hit game. Dansby Swanson added a solo shot. But the tone was set by Freeman, who drilled a two-run homer in the first inning and then further frustrated Jose Urena with a two-out double in the two-run third.

"That was a good win for us to put behind yesterday," Freeman said. "We had a lot of guys in scoring position yesterday, but we didn't get it done. We had a chance to keep the game close and we didn't get it done. I felt like we came out here and put a stamp on it and proved we have a really good team."

Video: ATL@MIA: Swanson cracks a solo homer to left in 2nd

Freeman's opposite-field homer accounted for his first home run since July 1 and just his second dating back to June 15. Through June 14, the veteran first baseman had homered once every 18.6 at-bats. Still, even though his power might have recently waned, he still entered Monday ranked among the top three NL players in fWAR (Fangraphs' WAR model) and Weighted Runs Created Plus.

Urena, who allowed five runs over four innings, simply became the latest victim of Freeman, who has hit .469 with five homers and a double over 32 at-bats against the Marlins this season.

"He's definitely had an MVP-type season," Culberson said. "I think all he wants to do is win, and if we win, I'm sure he'll be right in the mix, and hopefully he can take home the MVP after the season."

Tweet from @Braves: Which one of y���all did this 😂👏 pic.twitter.com/ItpiCsv2LP

Though he might stand as the NL's Most Valuable Player, Freeman believes the team MVP award should go to the versatile Culberson, who more than capably took over in left field while Acuna spent a month on the disabled list. The veteran utility man doubled ahead of Freeman's first-inning homer and added an RBI double in the sixth. He has hit .293 with a .781 OPS in 38 starts this season.

"He's the MVP of our team," Freeman said. "When Ronald went down, he went to left field and kept going. Ozzie has been down the last couple days and he's just picked it right up. It's huge. There aren't too many words to describe what Charlie has been doing. He's the reason why we have a chance to play meaningful games in September."

Video: ATL@MIA: Culberson collects 4 hits in Miami

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Though it became a rout, Newcomb deserved credit for bouncing back after walking three of the first seven batters faced. The young lefty surrendered Justin Bour's leadoff homer in the second and then willed himself through six otherwise untarnished innings.

Newcomb allowed three consecutive one-out singles in the fourth before recording consecutive strikeouts within a span of six pitches against Yadiel Rivera and Derek Dietrich, who looked at two straight fastballs to end the threat. Dietrich's approach might have been altered when Newcomb got Rivera to look at a first-pitch curveball.

Entering the game, Newcomb had recorded the third-worst first-pitch strike percentage among 79 qualified Major League pitchers. He had recorded a strike with a little less than half (44 of 89, 49 percent) of the first-pitch curveballs he had thrown. But his ability to drop one in against Rivera may have prevented damage and allowed him to preserve the bullpen for Tuesday afternoon's game.

"The curveball is a pitch that has been inconsistent for me at times," Newcomb said. "So it was good to just rip one in there. That just left the door open for a lot of other stuff to work."

Video: ATL@MIA: Newcomb fans 5 over 6 solid frames

SOUND SMART
Freeman has now totaled 25 opposite-field home runs since the start of 2016, tying him with Baltimore's Chris Davis for the most by a left-handed hitter during this span. His latest traveled 397 feet, which stands as the fourth longest he has hit the other way over the past three seasons.

"I was able to get something out over the plate," Freeman said. "I was just trying to hit the shortstop, and it went up in the air. They had the hole open over there. So I was just trying to hit it there, but it went up."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
When the Braves were rained out on Saturday, Ender Inciarte took advantage of the chance to spend time in the batting cage to correct the flaws that had led him to hit .195 over a 19-game span that ran through Friday. He has since collected a pair of three-hit performances and continued to show why he has won a Gold Glove in each of the past two seasons.

Inciarte robbed Martin Prado of an extra-base hit when he raced to his right to snare a long drive along the warning track in the sixth inning. He trumped that gem in the eighth, when he ran 108 feet to backhand Bryan Holaday's liner, which had a 45-percent catch probability, according to Statcast™.

Video: ATL@MIA: Inciarte runs 108 ft. to make tough catch

"It would be huge to get him back going [offensively]," Snitker said. "That play against Martin, I didn't think there was any way he was going to catch that ball, and he runs it down. It's so good to have him out there."

Video: ATL@MIA: Inciarte reaches out near the wall for grab

UP NEXT
Julio Teheran will be well-rested when he takes the mound for the Braves during Tuesday afternoon's finale against the Marlins. Teheran will be pitching for the first time since he completed 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the D-backs on July 15. He has allowed one or no runs in three of his past four outings. Miami will counter with Wei-Yin Chen. First pitch is scheduled for 12:10 p.m. ET.

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

Atlanta Braves, Charlie Culberson, Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Sean Newcomb, Dansby Swanson