The Braves once played in the National League West, and Freddie Freeman probably wishes they still did, except for the flights. He’s done more damage per at-bat against Arizona and Colorado than any other team, and over the weekend the Diamondbacks absorbed more blows from the bat of the big first baseman.
Freeman’s three-run homer in the third inning broke open a tied game and sent the Braves to a 6-2 win Sunday that clinched a three-game sweep of the West-leading Diamondbacks at Turner Field, where the Braves have won 20 of their past 26 and have a majors-best 28-11 home record.
Paul Maholm (9-6) pitched 6-2/3 solid innings and Brian McCann and Dan Uggla also homered for the Braves, who are 15-1 when they’ve hit three or more homers. The big-swinging Braves are 44-9 in all games in which they’ve hit at least one homer, and 4-25 when homerless.
“We played a great game today,” Freeman said. “Paul pitched great, and Danny and Mac and I got some big home runs. It’s always nice when you win the first two games of the series to go out there and get on them early, hopefully knock them down early, and that’s what we did.”
They maintained their majors-best 6-1/2-game lead over second-place Washington in the East, and have a day off Monday before a three-game home series against the Marlins. Then it’ll be on to Philadelphia and Miami for the Braves, who’ve lost 15 of their past 23 road games.
Maholm allowed two runs and eight hits for his fifth win in seven home starts, walking two and striking out three. The veteran has a 1.93 ERA in seven home starts, compared with a 5.09 ERA in 10 road starts.
The home-road dichotomy has been the rule for most Braves pitchers and hitters including Freeman, who has eight of his nine homers at home, including two in the past two games against the Diamondbacks. He also doubled Sunday.
“He continues swinging a hot bat,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “and I think with McCann behind him now, and starting to see the old McCann, it’s going to be more difficult for other teams to navigate around him like we saw against the Mets (who walked Freeman repeatedly).”
Freeman has hit more than 50 points higher at home than on the road, with a slugging percentage more than 100 points higher. But it’s never mattered against the Diamondbacks, for he pillages Arizona pitching in Atlanta or Phoenix.
His .420 average (29-for-69) against them is his highest against any team, and Freeman has as many homers (five) in 18 games against the Diamondbacks as he has in 43 games vs. Philadelphia (five), and more than he has in 45 games vs. Washington (four) or 40 vs. Miami (three).
He homered to straightaway center Saturday and just to the left of center in the third inning Sunday. Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward had one-out singles before Justin Upton grounded into a 6-4 fielder’s choice. Heyward had a hard takeout slide at second as Upton hustled to beat the relay throw and avoid an inning-ending double play.
“On the boxscore you don’t even see that play – Jason going into second base and keeping that rally going for Freddie to hit that three-run homer,” Gonzalez said. “And that’s big. That’s big hustle.”
Heyward said, “Playing the game the right away. Extend the inning for reasons like that, you never know what can happen.”
What happened was this: With runners on the corners and two out, Freeman drove a first-pitch sinker from Arizona starter Trevor Cahill (3-10) to the pavilion seats for a 4-1 Braves lead.
Always one of the most frequent first-pitch swingers in the majors, Freeman’s weekend homers both came on first pitches, giving him four first-pitch homers this season.
“I just put my foot down and swung, hoped for the best,” he said, “and I was able to get it out there today.”
Freeman is third in the NL with a .422 average with runners in scoring position, including .419 in with two outs. The Braves began the day with four of the league’s five lowest individual averages with runners on base — B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Uggla and Simmons – while Freeman’s .374 average in those situations is among the NL’s top five.
“Really consistent,” Heyward said. “He’s someone who wants to be in that spot every time. He goes up there and tries to put up a good at-bat, get a pitch to hit hard. He’s come through a lot, obviously. You don’t take it for granted. You really appreciate it.”
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