Braves catcher Gerald Laird is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the Phillies on Sunday. Atlanta didn’t finish with the NL’s best record because of the Cardinals’ victory on Sunday, but it will still head into the postseason with momentum from the 12-5 win against Philadelphia. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves closed their regular season with a 12-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, but it wasn’t enough to catch the St. Louis Cardinals for the best record in the National League.
The Braves will have to play the Los Angeles Dodgers in their National League Division Series starting Thursday, while St. Louis — which defeated the Chicago Cubs 4-0 — gets the winner of Tuesday night’s wild-card game between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Evan Gattis hit a two-run homer in the first inning, Gerald Laird went 4-for-4 with a walk and Elliot Johnson drove in five runs at Turner Field as the NL East-champion Braves finished the season 96-66 — a game worse than NL Central-winner St. Louis, which would have lost a tie-breaker with Atlanta.
“We were scoreboard watching,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
The Braves, who led the majors with a 56-25 home record, will still get home field for the NLDS against the NL West-winning Dodgers, but not the NL Championship Series if they advance.
“We know it’s a tough task facing the Dodgers pitchers, but you’ve got to beat good pitchers if you want to move on in the playoffs,” said Laird, who was filling in for Brian McCann. “We’ve got good pitching, too.”
It was all about hitting as the regular season came to a close, though.
“If there is such a thing as momentum, hopefully this will carry over,” Gattis said.
The rookie slugger added two singles to his home run and Andrelton Simmons had two singles and a double as the Braves pounded out 17 hits against the Phillies.
Julio Teheran (14-8) got the victory, although he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth inning after just 66 pitches. The rookie right-hander allowed six hits, including a three-run homer by Erik Kratz, and four runs over his five innings, striking out three and walking none.
The loss dropped the Phillies (73-89) into fourth place in the NL East and left them 20-22 under Ryne Sandberg, who took over for Charlie Manuel on Aug. 16.
Phillies starter Zach Miner (0-2) lasted just 2 1/3 innings and was charged with five runs while allowing seven hits and walking three.
“It’s been a tough go the last week,” said Sandberg, whose team won just two of its last 11 games. “It just stressed the need we have for more pitching depth going into next season.”
Freeman drove in his 109th run of the season with a first-inning single and Gattis followed with his 21st home run, connecting on a 3-2 fastball from Miner.
The Braves added two runs in the third inning, with Simmons’ RBI-double the big hit, before the Phillies broke through for four runs in the fourth inning off Teheran.
Kratz capped the inning by picking on a hanging 1-2 slider and hitting a towering drive that just cleared the fence near the foul pole in left field. The three-run blast was Kratz’s ninth homer of the season.
Jose Constanza, pinch-hitting for Teheran, then gave the Braves some breathing room with a two-out, two-run single in the fifth inning.
Johnson drove in two runs with a triple in a three-run sixth and doubled in two runs in the eighth inning as the Braves pulled away.
“It was nice to get him here,” said Gonzalez of the utilityman, who was claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals in late August.
“I’m greatfull for the opportunity and I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Johnson said.
NOTES: 3B Chris Johnson, batting .321, was out of the Braves lineup Sunday, but not because of a heated exchange with first base coach Terry Pendleton at the end of Saturday’s loss. Johnson, 2-for-19 on the homestand, has been dealing with a sore right shoulder. Johnson apologized for throwing his helmet and hitting Pendleton. … Phillies 3B Cody Ashe had to come out in the first inning after being hit in the face by a one-hop throw. … The Braves’ McCann missed his third straight game with a groin strain, but is expected to be ready for the start of the playoffs. … With the crowd of 42,194, the Braves drew 2,548,679 for the season — their best attendance since 2007.