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  • 17 Jun
    ATLANTA (AP) — Freddie Freeman spent the previous four
    seasons playing for an Atlanta team that averaged 90 losses a year.Now that the
    Braves are back challenging for a division
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    , the All-Star first baseman knows his club can’t afford any
    long losing streaks.“It’s been four days, so I thought this was a big win for
    our team,” Freeman said. “I thought we played a quality baseball game today and
    hopefully we can carry that into this Philly series.”Freeman hit a two-run homer
    and drove in three runs, Touki Toussaint pitched into the sixth inning and the
    NL East-leading Braves snapped a four-game skid with a 7-3 victory over the St.
    Louis Cardinals on Wednesday.It was a critical win for Atlanta, which is 5½
    games ahead of the second-place Phillies and opens a four-game home series
    against them on Thursday. Philadelphia blanked the New York Mets 4-0 on
    Wednesday night.The Braves have a magic number of six over Philadelphia to
    clinch their first division title since 2013.St. Louis, which had won three
    straight, trails Milwaukee by three games for the top NL wild card but leads
    Colorado by 1½ games for the second spot. The Rockies lost 5-2 at Dodger
    Stadium.Atlanta closer A.J. Minter, working in a non-save situation in the
    ninth, walked two to load the bases, but he ended it by striking out Jose
    Martinez and getting Paul DeJong to pop up.Freeman’s 23rd homer, an
    opposite-field shot to left-center, put the Braves up 2-0 in the fourth against
    Jack Flaherty. Freeman went 3 for 3 and is hitting .405 over his past 11
    games.“He’s getting the ball in the air, and it’s carrying, and that’s always a
    good thing,” manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s a welcomed sight if we can get
    him going.”Toussaint (2-1) allowed five hits, two runs, three walks and struck
    out eight in 5 2/3 innings. A rookie making his fourth career start, Toussaint
    was chased after Yadier Molina’s RBI single cut the lead to 5-2 in the sixth.“We
    survived the first couple of innings with essentially zero fastball command,
    then suddenly we had some decent command of it and were able to flip the script
    and challenge guys with some early contacts,” Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said.
    “If he gets ahead of guys, it’s a tough arsenal to defend.”Flaherty (8-8) gave
    up five
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    a season-high five runs and two walks with six strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.
    Facing the Braves for the first time, Flaherty began the game as the NL rookie
    leader in strikeouts, winning percentage and opponents’ batting average. He had
    gone 4-1 with 1.69 ERA in his previous eight starts.Flowers doubled to begin the
    three-run fifth and scored on a wild pitch. Freeman chased Flaherty with an RBI
    single, and the lead swelled to four runs on a double steal by Ender Inciarte
    and Freeman. The Braves successfully challenged to get the call overturned that
    Freeman had been tagged out.“I thought things went well early, then Freeman put
    a good swing on a ball and then in that one inning things kind of got away,”
    Flaherty said. “I put a couple of guys on base with walks and then Freeman put
    another good swing on the ball.”Atlanta added a run to make it 6-2 in the
    seventh. Inciarte doubled and scored when second baseman Kolten Wong threw
    errantly to first on a potential double play grounder.Jedd Gyorko’s sacrifice
    fly in the eighth cut the lead to 6-3. Flowers’ eighth homer in the bottom half
    of the inning made it 7-3.At least for one game, Atlanta played well at home,
    where it had dropped 14 of 18 and has won just one of its past seven
    series.Freeman, who became the first Braves first baseman with 20 homers and 10
    stolen bases in a season since Dale Murphy in 1978, wants his teammates to enjoy
    the pennant race and not press.“It’s fun. It really is,” Freeman said. “This is
    what you work for six, seven months. To be in this situation this year, it’s the
    greatest feeling there is.”OUCHHarrison Bader was hit in the back of the helmet
    by a pitch in the third, but he convinced St. Louis’ trainers that he wasn’t
    affected and jogged to first. Going deep against Toussaint for his 12th homer in
    the fifth, Bader said he felt no measure of revenge. Toussaint wasn’t trying to
    hit him.“The two are completely independent of each other, honestly,” Bader
    said. “I was just trying to make a good swing.”UP NEXTCardinals: RHP John Gant
    (7-6, 3.53 ERA) will start when St. Louis, following a day off, opens a
    three-game home series against San Francisco. He allowed six hits and six runs
    in his previous start, a 17-4 loss to the Dodgers.Braves: RHP Kevin Gausman
    (10-10 Kyle
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    , 3.92 ERA) will make his ninth start since being
    acquired in a trade with Baltimore as Atlanta tries to pad its lead on the
    Phillies. He is 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts at SunTrust Park. The Dodgers
    are 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and have stranded 11 runners on
    base. Trailing the Red Sox 2-0, LA will need the offense to step up if they have
    any hopes of winning their first World Series in 30 years."The Dodgers trail the
    Red Sox in the World Series 2-0. After two underwhelming performances, the
    Dodgers will head to Los Angeles, where they’ll look to begin their quest for
    four wins in five games. Through two games, LA has managed to plate six runs.
    When you’re going up against the best offense in baseball, six runs might not
    even be enough in one game. On Wednesday, the Dodgers only scored two runs on
    three hits, and were held without a hit for the final 5 1鈦? innings. In the
    series, the Dodgers are 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position. 11 runners
    have been stranded on base. The opportunities have been there, they’ve just
    failed to capitalize. The Red Sox on the other hand, have taken advantage of
    seemingly every opportunity given to them. They’re 6-for-18 with runners in
    scoring position, with most of their damage coming with two outs. In the 2018
    postseason, Boston has scored more than half of their runs with two outs. The
    problem for LA isn’t necessarily getting runners on base, it’s finding different
    ways to bring them in. In Game 1, the Dodgers were able to string together three
    consecutive hits in the third inning, tying the game at two apiece. With only
    one out, runners stood at first and second. Chris Taylor struck out, followed by
    a groundout from Matt Kemp. It’s situations like these in which you need to
    capitalize on the opportunities handed to you. Transition into the fifth. The
    Dodgers have first and second with nobody out. After a David Freese strikeout,
    Manny Machado stepped to the plate. A wild-pitch would advance the runners to
    second and third with one out. Machado grounded out, bringing in the tying run.
    Yes, a groundout was great because it tied the
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    , but that was not the at-bat the Dodgers needed. In July, the
    Dodgers acquired Machado for this very reason, his bat in the World Series. With
    a chance to give LA a lead, he delivered a tie but that ball would’ve ended the
    inning if not for the wild pitch. The Dodgers needed a big hit there and they
    didn’t get it from Machado or Cody Bellinger, who would fly out to end the
    inning.The Dodgers did their job by chasing Chris Sale after only four innings
    of work. Unfortunately, they couldn’t exploit the Red Sox bullpen. Yet again,
    the Dodgers had a golden opportunity when they loaded the bases in the seventh,
    giving Machado another chance to do some damage. He brought in a run on a
    sacrifice fly, cutting the deficit to one run. But yet again, it was not the
    at-bat the Dodgers needed. Prior to Machado, two of the three previous batters
    had at least three balls in their count, with Yasmani Grandal reaching on a
    walk. Ryan Brasier had allowed two singles and a walk, and was struggling to
    find command. Yet, on the first pitch, Machado swung at a 96-mph fastball, and
    flied out. You can’t really knock Machado for driving in a run, but in such a
    crucial at-bat, you would have liked him to at least try and see some pitches,
    and hope for a better result. A base-hit from Machado likely brings in two, ties
    the game, and puts the Dodgers in a prime opportunity to take the lead.
    Bellinger had another opportunity but flew out to center to end the inning.
    Switching things over to game 2. It looked as if LA was ready to blow things
    wide open in the fourth inning. They had the bases loaded with nobody out. On
    the first
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    Kemp flied to center, bringing in a run to tie the game at one a piece. Kik茅
    Hernandez followed with a solid nine-pitch-at-bat, but ultimately struck out.
    Things looked to be turning in the Dodgers’ favor, as Yasiel Puig brought in one
    with an RBI single. Scoring two runs and taking the lead, it was already a
    successful inning for the Dodgers. Though, with the Red Sox offense looming, two
    runs likely wouldn’t cut it for the game. With runners on first and third, LA
    was in a prime opportunity to tack on some more runs. Austin Barnes stepped up,
    and struck out on three pitches. For the Dodgers, they wouldn’t have a base
    runner the rest of the game and have now stranded 87 runners in the playoffs
    overall.It’s easy to blame big hitters for not breaking tha game wide open but a
    sizable amount of blame belongs to the bottom half of the order as well. Hitters
    five through nine in the Dodgers’ order are 2-for-34 in the first two
    games.Hernadez is 0-for-6 in the World Series and 3-for-32 for the 2018
    postseason. The Dodgers didn’thave a hit from center field or second base in
    Boston.The tough pill to swallow is the fact that the Dodgers could have taken
    either one of these games, possibly both. The opportunities have been there for
    the taking, the Dodgers just haven’t stepped up to the task. With the series
    heading to Los Angeles, the series is far from over. Boston still has to win two
    more games, and they will be without their best starting pitcher until game 5,
    giving the Dodgers the perfect chance to get back into the series. As we’ve seen
    all postseason, the Dodgers have no problem getting runners on base. However, if
    they have any hopes of coming back, and delivering the city of Los Angeles their
    first World Series in 30 years, this Dodgers team will need to step up, and show
    they are a championship caliber team.