The calendar flipped, Julio Teheran actually got into some jams, and the Rockies pitched a rookie the Braves had never seen before Thursday night, a typical red flag for the Braves. But the momentum of this homestand was way too much for any of that to matter.
On the first day of August, Justin Upton played like it was April, launching a pair of home runs to start and finish the Braves’ 11-2 win over the Rockies. His three-run shot in the eighth inning just put the put the finishing touches on the Braves’ perfect 7-0 homestand.
The Braves went undefeated in a homestand of seven or more games for the first time since April of 2000 and only the second time since the franchise moved to Atlanta in 1966.
“We had one of the younger teams, so I feel like everybody is just hitting their stride now, coming together, jelling really nice,” Jason Heyward said.
Heyward hit one of the Braves’ three home runs Thursday night. They also had only three strikeouts. That and the 40 runs the Braves scored in four games against the Rockies is a pretty good indication of how far this offense has come.
When Upton got off to his scorching start with 12 home runs in April, he was carrying the Braves. For the past four days, hitters up and down the lineup have gotten into the act.
Chris Johnson had multi-hit games in each of the seven games of the homestand, while going 16-for-29 (.552). He went 3-for-5 Thursday to raise his batting average to .346, which trails only Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (.359) in the majors.
Heyward is 8-for-24 (.333) with two homers, nine runs and seven RBIs in six games since manager Fredi Gonzalez moved him into the leadoff spot. Brian McCann hit a pair of three-run homers in the series. Freddie Freeman continued to pound Rockies pitching, going 8-for-17 (.470) with two home runs and six RBIs. And Upton, who went 2-for-5 with five RBIs Thursday after a three-hit game Wednesday, is starting to cook again.
“For some reason he thinks he has to go find his power again,” Heyward said of his lockermate, Upton. “But I don’t really think he has to look too far. Really happy to see him do what he’s capable of, relax, be comfortable and have some fun.”
The Braves hit .336 this homestand, while averaging 7.3 runs per game. Their pitchers had a 2.25 ERA, even with Brandon Beachy struggling (seven earned runs) in his first start back from Tommy John surgery.
The streaking Braves headed for Philadelphia with an 11 ½ game lead in the NL East, their largest division lead since Sept. 21, 2003.
“We’ve swung the bats well,” Upton said. “We’ve gotten some unbelievable pitching performances out of our guys. It’s been fun to be a part of.”
Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were headlining the Braves rotation for that 9-0 homestand in April of 2000. These days it’s young-uns Mike Minor and Teheran, who started this roll in a weekend sweep of the Cardinals and finished it with more good work in a four-game sweep of the Rockies.
Teheran gave up as many hits in the first inning Thursday – two infield singles on swinging bunts – as he did in seven innings against the Cardinals Saturday, but he showed his fortitude by working out of a pair of bases loaded jams in the first two innings, allowing only one run.
Teheran struck out Todd Helton and Nolan Arenado on six pitches, cranking up to 95 mph against each off them, to escape the first-inning jam and set the tone for his night. He matched a career-high 11 strikeouts in only five innings, allowing one run.
“I think he just got upset and he really elevated his game with his fastball,” Gonzalez said. “He blew it by some pretty good hitters there in that first inning.”
Teheran was doing well to remain in the game through five innings, after throwing 57 pitches in the first two innings. Ten came against Corey Dickerson, who fouled off eight straight pitches in the second inning before sending Upton to the right field wall on a sacrifice fly.
“I didn’t use my two-seamer like I did earlier in the season,” Teheran said. “Today I was trying to make my pitch and using my four-seamer that was coming out good from my hand.”
His counterpart Chad Bettis was just called up from Double-A. He was greeted by a two-run homer from Upton nine pitches into his first major league start.
Upton then instigated a five-run barrage in the eighth inning with a three-run shot off reliever Edemer Escalona.
After hitting four home runs in three months, Upton started August with his first multi-homer game since April 6 against the Cubs, when he and his brother B.J. hit game-tying and walkoff homers in the ninth.
“What I worked on in the offseason, got away from me after April,” Upton said. “I’ve been working to get back to it.”