• Exclusives

    Braves take Giant step toward October

    By Bud L. Ellis

    I’ve been around the grand ol’ game long enough to know a baseball season is a long march, from the briskness of April through the stifling heat of summer into the chilly pressure cooker of October.

    Randall Delgado impressed in second career start Tuesday.

    But there are times during the 162-step journey to the postseason when you can feel the finish line, even on the third Monday of August. Sitting in Turner Field on Monday, a refreshing breeze blew through the ballyard downtown, making it feel nothing like the dog days of summer.

    In the air was something else that hinted of October. The Atlanta Braves hit the field for a big four-game set with the team that bounced them from the playoffs last season, the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Four games against the champs, followed by three games with the biggest surprise in baseball this season, NL West-leader Arizona.

    And now we sit four nights later, and the Braves find themselves squarely in the driver’s seat for their second-consecutive NL wild-card berth. A four-game lead four nights ago now sits at six, the Braves taking three out of four against San Francisco, capping the series win with a tense 1-0 victory Thursday that felt every bit like the games that will be staged two months from now.

    The Braves extended their advantage in the wild-card standings, but it’s the manner in which Atlanta found success the past 100 hours that causes thoughts to dance toward what could be for this team. Consider:

    Monday, the Braves were down to their final strike, before Freddie Freeman ripped a single off Brian Wilson to plate two runs in the bottom of the ninth, giving Atlanta a 5-4 victory.

    Tuesday, rookie Randall Delgado carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning in just his second major-league start, and after fellow rookie Arodys Vizcaino shut down the Giants in the 10th and 11th innings, Martin Prado’s single sent Atlanta to a 2-1 win.

    The Braves fell 7-5 on Wednesday, but scored four times in the bottom of the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate.

    M.Minor outpitched Giants ace, T. Lincecum, Thurs in 1-0 win.

    Thursday, Mike Minor outdueled Tim Lincecum, striking out nine in six innings as Chipper Jones’ solo homer propelled the Braves to the series victory.

    Roll this around your brain for a minute: The past four nights against the defending World Series champions, this generation’s version of the Braves’ Young Guns – Minor, Delgado, Vizcaino, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel – struck out 18 hitters in 18 innings while allowing one run.

    Venters and Kimbrel were rookies a year ago. Delgado started the season at Double-A; Vizcaino at Single-A. Minor has bounced between Atlanta and Triple-A all season, but in his past two starts – a victory over the Cubs on Friday and Thursday’s gem – the left-hander has shown a level of comfort and confidence on the mound that speaks to better times ahead.

    You could say that about the Braves as a whole. The infusion of speed from Michael Bourn and Jose Constanza, the return to health for Jones and Brian McCann, and the solid work being done by the three-headed monster of Eric O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel gives Atlanta every reason to believe these won’t be the only games of meaning it plays this season.

    October is reserved for baseball’s grandest moments, when the grind of the regular season transforms into a tension-filled sprint to the world championship. Six weeks to go. A six-game lead in the wild card. Four more days off the calendar, and a giant step taken toward October.


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    Follow Bud L. Ellis on Twitter: @bud006 and BravesWire: @TheBravesWire