Mike Minor has pitched a few great games this season, without question. Yet of all of them, today’s gem was my favorite.
The game started off the way too many Braves games have begun of late: with the opponent taking the lead. Minor did work around some trouble in the first, after loading the bases with one out, so I guess not all is as it has recently been. But he succumbed to the Reds in the second. In that inning, Zack Cozart tripled – on a ball Reed Johnson badly misplayed in center – the Hamster grounded him in, Homer Bailey struck out, Chris Heisey doubled off the left field wall, and Shin-Soo Choo, who just keeps killing the Braves, singled in Heisey. 2-0 Reds, just like that.
Cincinnati didn’t score again. After throwing 52 pitches in the first two innings, Minor summoned his inner-CC and tossed 5 scoreless frames on a mere 50 pitches. In fact, he allowed just one base runner the rest of the way. Considering just how shaky he looked in the early going, you have to admit: this was one of the grittier, more impressive performances of the young southpaw’s career. A year ago this game probably gets away from Minor; today, he posted a great line and drove in 2 runs just for kicks (to atone for the 2 he gave up, of course). Minor now enters the All-Star Break with an 8.48 k/9, a 3.34 FIP, and a well-earned reputation as the team’s best, most consistent starter.
The other Braves played a hand in today’s victory as well. And they did so with a depleted lineup to boot. Atlanta entered the game with their top five outfielders sidelined by injury, yet that is mere prologue to today’s heroics: for the backups to the backups posted a ridiculous 7 for 11 line on the day. Of particular note was Jose Constanza, who it seems was only just yesterday starring in Braves Journal’s Fredi-Wars. But without the recent baggage of “hot-hand theory” dividing the electorate, and in the face of doubters marveling at a .263/.320/.305 AAA line, “Georgie” went 3 for 4 at the top of the lineup. It may not be sustainable in the long-term, but right now we need all the help we can get. May your hand get hot, Jose.
Also of note were Brian McCann and Dan Uggla. Those two mainstays did what they do best – hit homers – and before the 7th inning was over, Atlanta had taken a commanding 5-2 lead. Then the bullpen did what it does best: get outs without surrendering runs. Luis Avilan (shaky) and Craig Kimbrel (not even a little shaky) slammed the door, and that was that.
The Braves, now 54-40, will try to make it to 55 wins tomorrow, their last game before the festivities begin in New York. It will also be their last game against Cincinnati – until, potentially, October.