ATLANTA Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 11-2 rout of the Rockies clinching Atlanta's seventh consecutive victory and a four-game sweep of Colorado.
1. Rookie pitcher Julio Teheran has come full circle as a burgeoning ace
On April 23, the Rockies (51-59) and Braves set a major league record for coldest game-time temperature (23 degrees) the opener for a day-night doubleheader at blustery Coors Field.
For the nightcap, Teheran unwittingly initiated a run of excellence that has not been duplicated by any Braves starter this season:
Of his last 18 starts (including Thursday's 11-strikeout gem), Teheran has surrendered just three runs or less 16 times. In that span, covering 115 innings, he boasts formidable tallies of 8-5, a 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 10521 K-BB rate.
And for the season, the Colombian righty is a perfect 21 for 21 in yielding three or fewer walks an uncanny streak for any rookie pitcher, regardless of era.
On this night, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was impressed at how Teheran weathered early jams but escaped with only one run allowed.
"Getting out of those first two innings with minimal damage was a big turning point," said Gonzalez of his rising star.
In the post-game media scrum, Teheran acknowledged his rough start walking two batters and allowing four hits in the opening frames. But it also motivated him to rear back and find a little more velocity on his fastball, including the four-seam heater.
"Yeah, that was amazing," said Teheran, noting his amped-up fastball during tense situations. He tallied four strikeouts in Innings 1-2, at a time when Colorado stranded four runners.
After that, it was smooth sailing.
All this begs the rhetorical question: Assuming the Braves (64-45, 11 12-game lead) wrap up the National League East title in a timely manner (around Sept. 19-20), has Teheran done enough to warrant a rotational spot in a five- or seven-game playoff series presumably as the Game 3 or 4 starter?
The kid certainly deserves an opportunity to shine in the postseason even he was born just months before the Braves reached their first World Series as an Atlanta franchise (1991).
If the postseason started today (work with me here) ... the Braves would face the Dodgers in the National League Divisional Playoffs, a seven-game series with Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at Turner Field.
Teheran somehow eluded the Dodgers when the clubs squared off in May and June. And so, Los Angeles would enter that hypothetical series without any viable track record against the 22-year-old phenom.
Does that work to Teheran's advantage? Or would the proverbial 'playoff jitters' supersede any type of upper hand on the kid's part?
By the way, Teheran has notched double-digit strikeouts three times in a 62-day span. The other Braves pitchers, as a group, have accomplished the feat once this season.
2. Atlanta's offense has much to celebrate from this one-sided series
The Braves carved up the Rockies for at least 14 hits each night. For the series, the club absurdly batted .424.
Justin Upton (two hits, two runs, five RBI) belted two homers on Thursday his same dingers tally from May 18-Aug. 31.
Atlanta had four separate innings of five or more runs in the series (five, six, six, seven).
Chris Johnson (three hits, two RBI) has notched multiple hits in seven straight games.
This series marked the Braves' most prolific four-outing stretch of the season 40 runs.
Freddie Freeman (two hits, two runs) batted at a .530 clip against the Rockies (9 for 17), accounting for two homers and eight runs, as well.
Jason Heyward (one homer, two RBI, three runs) has two homers and an on-base percentage north of .360 when batting in the lead-off spot.
Teheran, the winning pitcher, collected his first multiple-hit game as a big leaguer, although that factoid was momentarily lost on his skipper.
"One through eight, (our hitters) did a nice job," said Gonzalez.
3. There are two ways to view the Braves' upcoming slate of 17 consecutive intra-division battles (Aug. 2-21)
The optimist would point to the above stretch of games (six against Philly, six against Washington, three against Miami, two against New York) as a convenient chance to put the NL East race to bed by early September, while gathering momentum for the Braves' battle for the National League's No. 1 playoff seed (currently controlled by the Pirates).
The pessimist, in turn, might point to these familial outings (eight road, nine home) as the last great window of opportunity for struggling clubs, like the Nationals (52-56) and Phillies (50-58), to make something of the divisional race.
In other words, Philly and Washington might be in complete desperation mode this month ... whereas Atlanta may simply be on 'cruise control' during the dog days of August.
OK, so that sounds a little farfetched for a club that has won seven straight without contributions from injured stars B.J. Upton and Tim Hudson. But it's also a little odd Atlanta hasn't incurred a losing slide of more than four games all season.
After all, even the heartiest of championship contenders encounter some sort of sustained funk during the year.