The Atlanta Braves were not celebrating Sunday afternoon because they punched their ticket to the 2015 postseason, but because their staff ace Shelby Miller snapped his 24-start winless that spanned over four months as the Braves defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 6-0 in game one of the doubleheader. Miller’s last win came May 17th against the Miami Marlins where he was one out away from a no-hitter.
“As a team, we haven’t been this excited in a long time,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
It’s hard to give a pitcher the title of staff “ace” when he finishes the season with a 6-17 record, but when you total 205.1 innings (8th in NL) and record a 3.02 ERA (11th in NL) it shows that he controlled what he could control and unfortunately didn’t lead to wins. Shelby Miller was the poster child for how useless the win-loss statistic can be on how good of a season a pitcher has.
Miller was dominant in his outing on Sunday against his former team the St. Louis Cardinals. The 24-year-old pitched eight shutout innings and allowed only three hits and struck out seven. Miller did struggle with walks (three) but he was always able to regroup and make quality pitches.
“I was just trying to finish the season strong and finish with something to take into Spring Training with a better idea of where we are trying to go,” said Miller after the game.
The key to today’s monumental win was early run support from a beleaguered Braves offense. Nick Markakis scratched across the first run with a bloop single down the left field line that scored Michael Bourn. Cameron Maybin would come through with two outs in the first inning with an RBI single to right field, extending the Braves lead to 2-0.
As Miller kept trucking along, Atlanta’s offense started to bust out with some power. Adonis Garcia would launch solo home runs in the fourth and sixth innings respectively to give the Braves a 4-0 lead. That would give Garcia 10 home runs on the season, making him the last Braves rookie with double-digit home runs since Evan Gattis in 2013 would cranked out 21.
Andrelton Simmons would further the lead in the seventh inning as he belted a two-run home run to give the Braves a 6-0 lead. Simmons’ initial reaction was that he hit a routine fly ball but it kept carrying over the left center field fence. With those three home runs, the Braves would finish the season with 100 long balls as a team, which is by far the least amount in MLB.
Shelby Miller had struggled in the month of September, recording a 7.11 ERA in five starts. However, when you have the weight of this winless streak and the continuation of no run support (2.36 runs of support on the season), its hard not to press and force the matter on the mound.
“Obviously, I had some ups and downs. I had some good games and some bad ones,” Miller said postgame. “I’m a guy who is trying to take all positives from the season and take those into the offseason. I’ll realize what didn’t go so right in some games and what wasn’t really going my way to try to get those things out of the way. I just want to continue to get better, not only as a player, but as a person and a teammate.”
St. Louis didn’t exactly put in their “A” team as they wrapped up the NL Central division title earlier in the week. John Lackey (13-10, 2.77 ERA) did get the start in game one of the doubleheader and lasted only four innings where he allowed three runs on five hits. Mike Matheny kept Lackey in long enough just to get him ready for the postseason. St. Louis’ regulars did start the game but Matheny would replace half of his starters by the sixth inning.
“I think we got the guys tuned up that we wanted to get tuned up,” said Matheny postgame. “Got the feel of the game and that’s what we were hoping for.”
Atlanta would also take game two of the doubleheader with a 2-0 win, led by Braves rookie right-hander Matt Wisler (8-8, 4.71 ERA). Wisler, 23, continued his September success as he picked up the win by going 8.2 innings of shutout ball with three strikeouts. In his last five starts, Wisler posted a 2.33 ERA giving the Braves a ton of confidence heading into the offseason.
As a whole pitching staff the Braves organization should be encouraged. Atlanta won eight of their last nine home games and their entire pitching staff produced an ERA of 0.56.
One player who won't get enough credit for today's outcome is Braves backup catcher Ryan Lavarnway who caught both games of the doubleheader. He was flawless behind the plate and did a great job leading the Braves' young pitchers as they pitched back-to-back shutouts.
The Braves would finish the season with a 67-95 record, which is the lowest win total for this Atlanta organization since the 1990 season where they went 65-97. Despite being swept in a three-game series against the Braves, the Cardinals still finished with a record of 100-62. That is the first 100-win season since 2005 (100-62), and St. Louis would eventually be ousted in the NLCS against the Houston Astros.