Lucky 13: Braves extend streak with rally in eighth
Heyward, J-Up deliver clutch hits as Atlanta wins 13th straight game
WASHINGTON -- A road trip that will significantly influence how the final weeks of this season play out concluded in perfect fashion and with some indication that the red-hot Braves could become even more formidable if this was a sign of things to come from Kris Medlen and B.J. Upton.
Recognizing the opportunity to further strengthen his club's comfortable lead atop the National League East standings, Medlen produced his finest start of the season and provided Jason Heyward the opportunity to deliver the decisive two-out eighth-inning single that enabled the Braves to extend their dominance of the Nationals with Wednesday night's sweep-clinching 6-3 win at Nationals Park.
"This was a big series," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "We pushed the lead to three more games up on them. We came in here and we let them know we're here to stay."
Along with extending this season's Major League-best winning streak to 13 games, the Braves exited this three-game series with a 15 1/2-game lead over the second-place Nationals in the NL East. With 47 games remaining, Atlanta's magic number to clinch its first division title since 2005 is 33.
"They outplayed us," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Plain and simple. They just outplayed us."
Once Craig Kimbrel escaped a bases-loaded jam to complete a 36-pitch ninth inning, the Braves could fully appreciate what they accomplished during this perfect six-game road trip that began in Philadelphia. Any lingering hopes the Phillies and Nationals had of winning the NL East evaporated over the course of the past week.
"It's been fun," Justin Upton said. "Anytime you can win as many ballgames as we have, team morale is good and things are going well for us. So it's definitely fun to be a part of."
After notching one-run wins in the first two games of this series, the Braves secured the sweep with a decisive eighth-inning rally that was sparked by Andrelton Simmons' two-out double. After Joey Terdoslavich drew a walk against Ryan Mattheus, Heyward greeted left-handed reliever Ian Krol by shooting a go-ahead single through the right side.
Justin Upton then provided some insurance as he capped a three-hit performance with a two-run double to left field. This was just the latest of the many contributions he has made while hitting .440 (22-for-50) with five home runs and a 1.329 OPS during the winning streak.
While his younger brother is now producing like he did during his torrid April, B.J. Upton has finally started to live up to expectations this week. With 10 hits in 21 at-bats since coming off the disabled list on Saturday, he has raised his batting average from .177 to .198, and more important, looked more like the guy the Braves envisioned when they signed him to a five-year, $75.25 million contract in November.
"I'm starting to get there. I'm definitely starting to feel pretty good out there," B.J. Upton said. "I've just got to keep working and maintain to keep it to where it is. Tonight is probably the best I've felt."
Upton essentially echoed the thoughts Medlen had after allowing three runs, despite surrendering just three hits over seven strong innings. While proving perfect in five of the innings he completed, he resembled the pitcher he was when he produced a 0.97 ERA in the 12 starts he made during last season's final two months.
"I felt I needed to step up and kind of close out the series," Medlen said. "I felt great. It's probably the best I've felt all year. I felt like I was throwing my curveball both for strikes and for chase. Anytime I have that third pitch, it's really going to help me."
Medlen retired the first 11 batters he faced and then issued a five-pitch walk to Bryce Harper just ahead of allowing Jayson Werth to tie the game with a two-run opposite-field home run in the fourth inning.
"I tried not to get cute with Harper, but he hits fastballs and he can definitely hit my fastball," Medlen said. "So he's not a guy I can necessarily just go pump heaters against. I tried to get cute a little bit. I fell behind and walked him. Werth did his thing."
The only other two hits Medlen surrendered were consecutive singles by Werth and Adam LaRoche in the seventh before Ian Desmond delivered a game-tying grounder that proved to be too soft for Simmons and Dan Uggla to turn an inning-ending double play.
Desmond's grounder erased the short-lived lead the Braves gained via Justin Upton's seventh-inning solo home run off Fernando Abad, who was one of the five relievers the Nationals used after Jordan Zimmermann needed 88 pitches to complete just four innings.
Heyward began the game with a double and scored on Freeman's single up the middle. The Braves extended their lead to 2-0 when B.J. Upton and Simmons produced consecutive fourth-inning singles to load the bases for Medlen, who helped himself with a sacrifice fly that would have been an extra-base hit had Denard Span not raced into the left-center-field gap to make an impressive catch.
"They're a good ballclub," B.J. Upton said. "We didn't think they were going to be a pushover coming in there. We swept them, and that says a lot."