Atlanta Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella is still hitting balls hard but opponents have adjusted. (Reuters)
NEW YORK — Tommy La Stella has surpassed most expectations since arrived from Triple-A in May, but the Braves’ rookie second baseman has also endured a couple of slumps and experienced firsthand the differences in scouting and defensive positioning at the big-league level.
Since hitting his first major league homer on Aug. 8, La Stella was 6-for-40 (.150) in his past 13 games before Wednesday, with four walks, seven strikeouts, .175 slugging percentage. But he did have three RBIs in his past four games and several recent hard-hit balls directly at defenders.
La Stella was asked whether he’d noticed teams positioning defenders better against him after his first couple of months in the majors.
“Have I noticed it?” he said, smiling. “Yeah, they definitely know how to position the defense. They’ve got the spray charts and everything, it basically comes down to the statistics; the numbers don’t lie, pretty much. So yeah, I’ve definitely noticed that, too. It’s one of those things, all you can do is hit it hard, hopefully it falls for a hit.”
“Just going to keep swinging it. It’s definitely frustrating, though.”
Called to the majors in late May, La Stella was batting .268 with 16 extra-base hits, 30 RBIs and a .344 on-base percentage in 76 games (304 plate appearances) before Wednesday night’s game against the Mets, when the New Jersey native hit a sharp double down the third-base line to the left-field corner in his first at-bat.
Gattis hit .411 (23-for-56) in his first 16 games, then went 3-for-41 (.073) in his next 11 games. He heated up again and batted .318 with a .402 OBP and 16 RBIs over his next 30 games through the end of July, before cooling off at the beginning of August.
He’s been used in a second-base platoon with fellow rookie Phil Gosselin for the past couple of weeks.
POSTSEASON HOPES ALIVE: The 2012 Atlanta Braves were the first team victimized by the addition of second wild card and the subsequent randomness of a single game determining which team advances and which stays home.
However, two years after a 94-win Braves squad was eliminated by the 88-win St. Louis Cardinals in the National League wild-card game, the second wild card and the lure of a winner-take-all play-in game is the only thing keeping Atlanta’s postseason hopes alive.
The Braves snapped a three-game losing streak Wednesday with a 3-2 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field. Atlanta’s win, coupled with the Washington Nationals’ 8-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, pulled the Braves within 6 1/2 games of the Nationals in the National League East.
That is the biggest deficit facing any second-place team, and the Nationals’ red-hot play in the second half — Washington is an NL-best 24-15 since the All-Star break — indicates the long and unlikely road ahead of the Braves in the division.
Meanwhile,, the Braves remained only 1 1/2 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the race for the second wild card heading into Thursday night’s late game at the New York Mets.
“I think the wild card and the second wild-card team … it’s great not only for the teams that are in it, but also the fans,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said he doesn’t discuss the wild-card race with Braves players, but he figures they are well aware of their place in the standings.
HEWARD AT LEADOFF?: When Jason Heyward started Wednesday night’s game against the Mets with a home run, it was a reminder of why Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez likes the big right fielder at the top of the batting order for a team lacking prototypical No. 1 hitter.
It was Heyward’s 11th homer and fourth leadoff homer this season, and the seventh leadoff homer of his career.
But here are the numbers that the Braves like most in regards to Heyward batting leadoff: 66-44. That was their team record before Wednesday in 110 games with Heyward batting leadoff over the past two seasons.
That’s a .600 winning percentage, which was better than any major league team’s overall record this season before Wednesday. Heyward gives the Braves an imposing physical presence to start games, and his combination of speed and power can put pressure on an opposing pitcher right away.
THIS & THAT: Julio Teheran won his third consecutive start Wednesday night, when he allowed one run on three hits and two walks while striking out four over 6 1/3 innings as the Braves edged the Mets 3-2. Teheran has allowed just three runs over 18 1/3 innings during the winning streak. He is 13-9 overall this season with a 2.90 ERA in 28 starts. … Left fielder Justin Upton remained on an RBI tear Wednesday night, when he had a run-scoring groundout in the third inning. Upton has 22 RBIs in his past 17 games and now has 88 RBIs this season, which places him third in the National League. He is hitting .289 with 25 homers.