ATLANTA Here are three things we learned from the Braves' 11-3 win over the Marlins, the club's fourth straight victory and largest hitting output of the season (16 hits):
1. For Kris Medlen, 'tis better to be somewhat shaky and lucky ... than very good and snakebitten
In the postgame media scrum, Medlen (three runs, nine hits allowed over six innings) was the first to admit he wasn't at his best against the Marlins.
But in the same breath, he was also comparing Tuesday's effort to that of Reds pitcher Homer Bailey, who threw his first career no-hitter against the Giants in Cincinnati.
"You're not always going to go out there with your best stuff, and I've come to realize that, because it happens to me a lot," said Medlen, with some playful sarcasm. "Me and Homer Bailey had contrasting stuff tonight ... I look up at the scoreboard, and he's throwing 97 in the 7th inning, and that just (ticks) me off."
Medlen did one-up Bailey in one aspect: He registered his first multiple-hit night at the plate, legging out a bunt single in the 3rd (followed by a major collision at first base) and then crushing a double over center fielder Marcell Ozuna in the 5th.
That prompted Medlen to announce his new goal for the season become the Braves' most reliable hitting pitcher, "now that (Tim Hudson) has come back to earth a bit."
Jokes aside, of his last 12 outings, spanning 74 innings, the pitcher Medlen has yielded just three or less runs 11 times, invoking fond memories of last year's dominance in the final two months.
From July 31 to Sept. 30, covering 12 starts and 83.2 innings, Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA overall) absurdly amassed a 9-0 record, 0.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 8410 K-BB ratio.
Medlen's 2013 numbers (6-7, 3.11 ERA) might fall short of last year's tallies; but in a sense, it really doesn't matter.
The Braves (49-34, 5 12 games up in the East) are blessed with more prodigious hitting and more powder-keg potential this season; and if Medlen's idea of a tough night is surrendering three hits and scattering nine hits ... then so be it.
More often than not, he'll still come away victorious.
2. It would be a mini-travesty if Freddie Freeman didn't make the National League All-Star team
For the time being, forget that Freeman accounted for one RBI, two hits and two runs in Tuesday's victory.
Forget that Freeman currently stands as the Braves' runaway leader in hits (81), RBI (53), on-base percentage (.384), slugging (.470) and OPS (.854 150 at-bats minimum). And for every other pertinent category (minus steals), he's in the top four.
And forget that, in fantasy circles, Freeman ranks among baseball's top 12 corner infielders, regardless of league affiliation.
His defensive gems against the Marlins five off-the-bat snags, one beautifully executed 3-6-3 double play and two leaping, off-the-bag tags (rescuing errant throws) that saved the Braves from surrendering more runs to a frisky Miami offense.
At least in the beginning.
Yes, on a night when the Braves collected 11 runs and 16 hits, Medlen notched his third straight win and Justin Upton (one RBI, three hits, three runs) flashed all-world form at the plate ... Freeman still emerged as the conquering hero.
Now for the bad news: It's hard to handicap which first basemen aside from leading vote-getter Joey Votto (14 homers, .325 batting, .437 OBP) will represent the Senior Circuit at the All-Star Game on July 16 (New York's Citi Field).
It's a strong base of secondary candidates, including Freeman, with probably one or two missing the cut:
(Stats as of July 1)
Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks 20 HR, 69 RBI, 54 Runs, 8 Steals, .301 BA
Allen Craig, Cardinals 9 HR, 63 RBI, 44 Runs, 1 Steal, .318 BA
Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers 10 HR, 48 RBI, 29 Runs, .296 BA
And don't forget about the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo (12 homers, 48 RBI), who might be the best of a bad Chicago lot this season making him a viable default candidate for the Midsummer Classic.
3. From my perspective, the Braves' magic number with the Marlins has dropped to 12
In one respect, Miami should be commended for winning eight of its last 11 games with a patchwork lineup that comprises Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison, Juan Pierre and a large handful of promising, but still-developing prospects (Ozuna, Adeiny Hechavarria, Derek Dietrich, Rob Brantly).
No matter how you slice it, though, the Marlins (30-52) are still a last-place team in the NL East, and they're still in direct competition with the Astros (30-54) for baseball's worst record by season's end ... with the likely reward of landing prep extraordinaire Touki Toussaint in next year's MLB draft.
It's not even about the Marlins having inferior firepower on the offensive end. In the latter half of the 6th, with the score deadlocked at 3-all, Justin Upton, Freeman and Brian McCann each collected base hits on plays that were doable outs, defensively.
Instead, Miami bungled three straight chances to keep game tied heading into the 7th.
On Upton's hit, Morrison couldn't get to a line drive roughly 1 12 feet to his right. On Freeman's infield single, second baseman Derek Dietrich couldn't field the liner cleanly, missing out on two potential putouts (first basesecond base).
And for McCann's deep, but RBI-less single, Pierre rounded off his pursuit to the left-field line ... allowing the airborne ball to fall at his feet.
The Marlins got a momentary reprieve after that, with Dan Uggla and Reed Johnson (filling in for an injured B.J. Upton hand spasm) striking out. But then, Chris Johnson laced a two-run double, enabling Justin Upton and Freeman to score. For the season, Johnson is batting a red-hot .371 from the 8-hole, with three homers and 11 RBI.
"We split the gaps (doubles- and triples-wise) with a couple of guys tonight," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, recalling the team's six doubles and one triple (Justin Upton) against Miami.
"I thought our biggest double was Chris Johnson's with the bases loaded. (Marlins reliever Ryan) Webb was going to get out of that inning (after two strikeouts) ... but Chris (slithered) one right down the first-base line," pushing across two runs.
Miami's nightmare wasn't over yet, though. Jordan Schafer (pinch-hitting for Medlen) produced an RBI infield single; and Andrelton Simmons (two hits, two RBI) then notched a squeeze-bunt single, allowing Johnson to score Atlanta's fourth run of the inning.
That was the ballgame.
Regarding the "magic number" teaser in the sub-head, it's been said many times in print and on the Fox Sports South podcast: The Braves (4-0 against Miami) need to post a 16-3 seasonal record against the downtrodden Marlins.
Bottom line: When you're competing for a division title and home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs, chalk wins over a roster that's more suited for Triple-A than the majors is absolutely essential.
Hence, the need for a .750 winning percentage.