Freeman has faded in the MVP discussion, but he took it upon himself to stop the bleeding. He knocked in three runs, two via homer, and was a contributor in the Braves’ successful double steal. Ender Inciarte swiped home, and Freeman initially was called out at second before a replay review overturned the play and awarded the Braves a fifth run.
Toussaint outpitched his line after a rocky start: 5-2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and three walks. Harrison Bader took him deep in the fifth, but Toussaint was otherwise settled in.
“I’m having a blast,” he said. “Probably one of the best teams in baseball, most exciting team in baseball. Anytime we can put up five runs. So I’m having a blast.”
He allowed a leadoff single to Jose Martinez before retiring the next two. He walked Jedd Gyorko and Yadier Molina singled, chasing him from the game. Jonny Venters coaxed a grounder from Matt Adams to limit the inning’s damage to one.
The 22-year-old likely won’t be in the postseason rotation, but he’s pitched himself into a role. The concern would be how he reacts to coming out of the bullpen, which he’s done once in the majors, walking four and allowing three runs against the Nationals earlier in the homestand.
But it’s performances such as Wednesday’s that remind how tantalizing Toussaint is. His off-speed is stifling, helping him rack up high strikeout numbers and making hitters look measly in the process. Manager Brian Snitker stopped short of saying Toussaint would be on the postseason roster, and Toussaint himself wouldn’t acknowledge these games as an audition, but reading the tea leaves, the answer is obvious.
“He’s pitched very well, that’s for sure,” Snitker said. “How he carries himself. I don’t ever see the game speeding up on him like a lot of young guys. Very confident and like I said, things he does well: He holds a running game, the athleticism, the confidence he has. Just never seems to get amped up and let it get away from him, which is impressive from a kid that young.”
The Braves have a surplus of arms – as everyone knows – and some will be sent elsewhere for more immediate help. Toussaint probably won’t be among the expendable options. The Braves have a keeper.
Freeman carried the load at the plate. It was his second consecutive three-hit game, and he’s hit .405 across his last 11.
“I’ve felt pretty good for a couple weeks now actually,” Freeman said. “I started doing a new drill with (hitting coach Kevin Seitzer) in Arizona, and it’s locked me back in. Just a little flip drill in the cage. I’ve been feeling better lately and hopefully I can continue that.”
The Braves took a 2-0 lead in the fourth, Bader’s homer cut it in half, then the team responded with a three-run fifth.
Flowers opened the frame with a double. Two outs later, Ronald Acuna walked. Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty, arguably the best rookie arm in the bigs and high school teammate of Braves lefty Max Fried, began to tire.
His wild pitch gave the Braves another run. He walked Inciarte before Freeman’s single to right brought forth the Cardinals bullpen. The Braves executed the double steal, and just like that had a three-run inning. They had just two hits in the fifth and scored each run with two down.
“You shouldn’t be pressing at all,” Freeman said. “This is what you work for for six, seven months. For us to be in this situation, this year, it’s the greatest feeling there is. So hopefully people in this clubhouse can realize how fun it is and we go out and have fun playing baseball.”
The win ensures the Braves enter the weekend series with the Phillies up at least 5-1/2 games. The disaster scenario – a Philadelphia four-game sweep – means the Braves would still retain a lead of no less than 1-1/2 games. Even splitting the series would put the Braves in a near insurmountable spot with six games remaining.
“It’s going to be a big series, a fun series,” Snitker said. “We’re getting all their top guys and we’re running our top guys at them.”