The Rockies picked the wrong time to face the resurgent Braves, who suddenly are playing as if they aim to clinch a division title by early September.
Freddie Freeman had four hits, Brian McCann hit a three-run homer for the second consecutive night, and Mike Minor pitched seven near-perfect innings Wednesday night in a 9-0 rout against Colorado that pushed the Braves’ winning streak to six games and their National League East lead to 11 games.
“We’re clicking on all cylinders,” Freeman said. “We’re coming after them early on and keeping it going throughout the game. And Mikey did what Mike does – he went out there and threw zeroes up.”
The Braves have outscored the Rockies 29-11 in the first three games of a four-game series, and they’ll try to complete a sweep of the series and seven-game homestand Thursday when they send Julio Teheran to the mound against Chad Bettis, just called up from Double-A to make his major league debut.
For the first time in the live-ball era, the Braves have scored six or more runs in an inning in three consecutive games.
“You’re not going to get this kind of production for 162 games, but it’s what we’re capable of,” McCann said. “And when we get hot, we’re as good a hitting team as any in baseball. I’m hoping we keep this momentum going for the rest of the way.”
Minor (11-5) allowed two hits and no walks with six strikeouts and faced 22 batters in seven innings, one over the minimum. The Rockies had only one base runner against Minor after Dexter Fowler’s leadoff single in the first inning. (Fowler was thrown out by McCann trying to steal second.)
“(Pitching) is the reason we’re where we’re at,” McCann said. “Our starting staff keeps us in every single ballgame, our bullpen is lock-down. I think the offense is that last piece to get a little bit more consistent. And I think we’re showing you that we’re a dangerous ballclub.”
Rockies nemesis Freeman, after hitting two homers Tuesday, went 4-for-4 with a walk and two RBIs, giving him a .358 average with 10 homers, 25 RBIs and a .815 slugging percentage in 21 career games against the Rockies. The four hits matched his career high, also against the Rockies on May 4, 2012.
“There’s no explaining it,” Freeman said. “I don’t know what it is. I was struggling against St. Louis and got it clicking a couple of days ago in the video room and in the cage.”
McCann put the finishing touches on his best month since July 2012. He hit .337 with six doubles, six homers and 17 RBIs in 22 games this July.
“With the way everybody’s swinging the bat right now, you’re seeing really good pitches to hit, everybody is,” McCann said. “Our lineup never quits.”
Minor is 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA in his past five starts, with five walks and 30 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings. He threw 70 strikes in 95 pitches, and manager Fredi Gonzalez considered bringing him back for the eighth inning before opting to pinch-hit after home-plate umpire Marty Foster was struck in the arm by a pitch that also hit Andrelton Simmons.
When it became apparent Foster would leave and another umpire would have to move behind the plate, Gonzalez said he didn’t want Minor pitching again after waiting through another long inning including the delay. X-rays were negative and Foster had a soft-tissue contusion to the same area where he was hit by another pitch last week.
Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood (2-4) had a 1.23 ERA and .200 opponents’ average in six road starts before the Braves rocked him for 10 hits and eight runs in 2 1/3 innings. The right-hander had previously allowed five runs in 36 2/3 innings on the road.
On Tuesday, Rockies starter Juan Nicasio was torched by Braves hitters for 10 hits and eight runs in four innings, after coming in with a 0.47 ERA and .129 opponents’ average in his previous three starts.
The seven-run third inning gave the Braves 28 runs in the first 21 innings of the series, and here’s how it went down:
Jason Heyward, who has excelled since moving into the leadoff role on this homestand, started the inning with a walk. That was followed by three consecutive singles from Justin Upton, Freeman and Evan Gattis, the latter two driving in a run apiece.
McCann was up next and got ahead in the count 2-0 before pulling a fastball to the right-field seats, the first homer off Chatwood this season away from Coors Field. McCann has hit .347 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in his past 27 games.
“You put him in that lineup between Gattis and Freeman and he’s a threat, he’s a presence and we know that,” Gonzalez said. “Last year with his injury to his shoulder he wasn’t, but this year he’s a presence in that lineup. It’s nice to have him out there.”
The Braves weren’t done. Chris Johnson singled for the fifth consecutive hit before Chatwood recorded the first out in the inning, striking out Dan Uggla. Andrelton Simmons followed with a double to put two in scoring position, and Minor joined the hit parade with an RBI single.
A ground out by Heyward drove in the seventh run of the inning and pushed the lead to 8-0.
After ranking at or near the bottom of the league in hitting with runners in scoring position for the first half of the season, the Braves have done impressive work recently to raise their average to .254 in those situations before Wednesday, third-best in the behind the Rockies (.264) and Cardinals (.334).
They raised it some more by going 7-for-16 with runners in scoring position in the first six innings.
“I think you’ve got to accumulate as many wins as you can, as quick as you can,” Gattis said after the Braves pushed their NL East lead to 11 games over Washington. “Win as many games as you can right now, absolutely. It’s good to beat up on some teams.”
For the Rockies, it was foreboding when Heyward led off the first inning by reaching on a error by second baseman Charlie Culberson, a rookie from Calhoun making his first start for the Rockies. Upton followed with a single and Freeman singled in the game’s first run.
The lead could’ve been 2-0 in the second inning, when Uggla hustled from second on Simmons’ single. Uggla was called out at the plate, but replays showed catcher Yorvit Torrealba’s tag attempt actually missed his back by inches.
But if anyone was concerned about that would-be run coming back to haunt the Braves, that notion was quashed beneath the seven-run outburst in the next inning.