ATLANTA Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 7-1 victory over the Phillies, before a hearty Turner Field crowd of 27,858.
1. The Braves and Cardinals are all square in the race for the National League's best record sort of
After 159 games ... it has come down to this.
With Atlanta and St. Louis deadlocked at 94-65, we still don't know which powerhouse will possess home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs.
Heck, we don't even know if the Cardinals will end up as the NL Central champion ... although it would take a mini-collapse from St. Louis against the Cubs (Friday-Sunday) and subsequent weekend sweep from Pittsburgh (against Cincinnati) to boot the Cards into the wild-card round.
But amidst the Atlanta-St. Louis uncertainty, the Braves can relish in owning the tiebreaker over the Cardinals, the result of taking the season series, 4-3.
The tie-breaking "clincher" occurred on Aug. 25, when Mike Minor helped the Braves avoid a four-game sweep in St. Louis. But that seemingly random Sunday looms large for Atlanta now, in the event of a year-ending tie.
So, the plan is pretty simple for the Braves: Take the FridaySaturdaySunday games from the playing-out-the-string Phillies (72-87) ... and they'll enjoy the majority of playoff games at Turner Field, leading up to the World Series.
Friday: Kris Medlen (14-12, 3.24 ERA) vs. Cliff Lee (14-7, 2.93 ERA)
Saturday: Mike Minor (13-8, 3.22 ERA) vs. TBD
Sunday: Julio Teheran (13-8, 3.09 ERA) vs. Zach Miner (0-1, 3.08 ERA)
2. Jason Heyward picked the perfect time to enjoy a career-defining night
On Thursday, Heyward notched the first five-hit game of his burgeoning career, the result of one homer, three doubles and a full-bore infield single in the seventh inning.
On a secondary, but hardly trivial note, this night also marked Heyward's first career game of four extra-base hits and fifth career outing of four or more hits.
Not bad for a guy who was an iffy proposition to return by late September ... after breaking his jaw back in mid-August.
"My aggressiveness is coming back, swing-wise, (in terms of) attacking the ball," Heyward said in the post-game media scrum. "I'm just trying to get good pitches to hit, square 'em up."
Heyward's supreme night began with a first-pitch, leadoff homer against Philly's Tyler Cloyd. That blast fueled a five-run spurt in the 1st, highlighted by Elliott Johnson's single (and subsequent steal), Freddie Freeman's RBI double, Evan Gattis's RBI single, Chris Johnson's RBI double and Jordan Schafer's RBI single.
An inning later, Heyward led off with a double. After that, more Braves carnage ensued, with Johnson and Freeman (two hits, one RBI) walking and Gattis (one run, two hits, three RBI) belting a two-run double to left a shot-out-of-a-cannon blow that prompted Johnson (one hit, two runs), running right away, to score just milliseconds after Heyward had crossed the plate.
In a flash, Atlanta held a 7-1 lead.
For the third and fifth innings, Heyward doubled to right and center, respectively; and in the 7th came the aforementioned hustle-play single, clinching his momentous feat.
"It's good to get hits, it's good to get on base with this lineup, and score runs early," said Heyward, who raised his September batting average from .133 to .350 in a single night.
"We're still playing for something; for me, it's good to have time to get hits, time to execute. That's what it's all about."