ATLANTA Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Wednesday, aside from the drainage system at Turner Field has few peers in baseball circles:
1. The genesis of Mike Minor's undoing was a walk to Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco
For 4 23 innings, Minor bore the look of a burgeoning ace, allowing just one hit and striking out seven. But then, with Donovan Solano on second base and two outs, fate took a turn for the worse, with the Braves southpaw handing out a free pass to Nolasco a career .100 hitter in the majors.
"(The fourth inning) started out so innocently," recalled Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez in the postgame."'Ah, it's a two walk, (no worries) ... and then BAM!."
That pounding was the sound and sight of Miami leadoff hitter Justin Ruggiano blasting a three-run homer over the left-field wall, giving the Marlins a 3-2 lead and dampening the spirits of a Braves crowd that was already waterlogged from steady rains throughout the night.
"Nevertheless, that seemed to be the key to the game right there," Gonzalez said.
An inning later, the Marlins pushed across another run off Minor, thanks to a one-out single from Placido Polanco and two-out RBI double from shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who surprisingly has enjoyed three straight games of multiple hits.
Regarding Minor, the perpetually positive Gonzalez didn't seem too bothered by an outing that was almost of high quality. When asked if he has seen any changes from Minor in the last month, the Atlanta skipper quickly dismissed things, saying, "I still see the guy who gives you a nice chance to win a ball game (every outing)."
2. The Braves' lack of plate patience may have been proportionate to both teams' desire to avoid a doubleheader on Thursday
It's a bit of a misnomer to label Atlanta's hitters as boom-or-bust talents, free swingers who are indifferent to collectively striking out six, seven or 11 times per game.
After all, eight Braves hitters (with 100 or more at-bats) currently own on-base percentages north of .300 (Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Justin Upton, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, Evan Gattis) the same amount of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the best team in baseball (52-31).
But none of that really mattered on Wednesday, as Nolasco (two runs allowed, six strikeouts) plowed through seven efficient innings without walking a single hitter.
The same Nolasco who possessed a Turner Field ERA of 5.34 prior to this series. The same Nolasco who was tattooed for 10 total runs against the Braves last year in back-to-back starts (July 25 and 31).
Don't get me wrong. Nolasco (5-8, 3.95 ERA, 9025 K-BB) may be one of the National League's more underrated pitchers, a rock-solid asset who has surrendered just three or less walks in 26 of his last 27 outings (including Wednesday). But on this night, the Braves never really put him in a position to potentially implode.
Of Nolasco's seven frames, he faced four or less hitters six times. And in the 3rd, with runners at the corners and the heart of the Braves order primed to hit, Nolasco retired Justin Upton with a harmless fly ball to right field, halting Atlanta's momentum.
(Brian McCann belted a solo homer in the 4th, extending the Braves' lead to 2-0 ... but it would be a short-lived advantage.)
Regarding the notion of playing through steady rains, Gonzalez was quick to salute the Braves' ground crew for keeping the field in tip-top shape for three-plus hours.
"Hopefully, we'll able to get tomorrow's game in too," said Gonzalez, alluding to the threat of more rains for Thursday night's series finale.
3. It's hard to project whether Minor will make the National League All-Star team
Hypothetically speaking, let's say NL manager Bruce Bochy (Giants) picks a staff of 14 pitchers, featuring at least seven starters and five closers.
That would leave spots open for two wild-card hurlers, either starters, closers or high-end middle relievers.
Here's my speculative list of sure things and fringe candidates:
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Stats: 7-5, 1.93 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 12633 K-BB
Cliff Lee, Phillies
Stats: 9-2, 2.59 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 11521 K-BB
Matt Harvey, Mets
Stats: 7-1, 2.00 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 12432 K-BB
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Stats: 11-5, 2.22 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 11412 K-BB
Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
Stats: 12-3, 2.46 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 8517 K-BB
Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Stats: 8-5, 3.08 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10733 K-BB
Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks
Stats: 9-1, 2.49 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 8930 K-BB
Jason Grilli, Pirates (27 saves, 1.72 ERA, 0.85 WHIP)
Craig Kimbrel, Braves (23 saves, 1.48 ERA, 1.02 WHIP)
Aroldis Chapman, Reds (20 saves, 2.65 ERA, 57 Ks)
Sergio Romo, Giants (19 saves, 2.32 ERA, 1.00 WHIP)
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies (16 saves, 1.99 ERA, 0.85 WHIP)
ON THE FRINGE
Jose Fernandez, Marlins (5-4, 2.72 ERA, 1.06 WHIP)
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (2.41 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 596 K-BB)
Kyle Kendrick, Phillies (7-5, 3.59 ERA, 7027 K-BB)
Mike Minor, Braves (8-4, 3.15 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10423 K-BB)
Mat Latos, Reds (7-2, 3.03 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10930 K-BB)
Jeff Locke, Pirates (8-1, 2.12 ERA, 1.15 WHIP)
Lance Lynn, Cardinals (10-3, 3.75 ERA, 1.19, 10639 K-BB)
The rookie Fernandez makes the squad, thanks to his talents and Miami's dearth of All-Star-worthy options (Giancarlo Stanton's spring injuries curtailed his selection).
And for the last spot ... Minor currently has the lead, but it could come down to the quality of Latos's Friday start against the Mariners.