The scorching Braves broke open a 2-2 game in the eighth Tuesday, with Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Dan Uggla all hitting homers off Kelvin Herrera in a 6-3 win over the Royals.
Crushing Herrera made the victory especially impressive. While hardly a household name, Herrera has been one of the AL’s best relievers since the start of 2012. Including his first six appearances this year, he had allowed four homers and posted an 88/22 K/BB ratio in 89 2/3 innings.
The Braves hit five homers in all tonight. Juan Francisco hit the first two, both off Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie.
The eighth-inning outburst came too late for Braves starter Kris Medlen, who left after seven, so Eric O’Flaherty ended up with his third win in relief. He’s tied for the major league lead in victories.
The Braves have won 10 straight since losing their second game of the season, and they’ve outscored the oppositing 62-23 this season. They’re the only team in either league with fewer than four losses.
The only bad news for the Braves tonight was that reliever Luis Avilan went down with a hamstring injury in the ninth and had to be helped off.
Here are the Cubs and Pirates lineups for tonight’s Wild Card game in Pittsburgh:
CF Dexter Fowler
RF Kyle Schwarber
LF Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
3B Tommy La Stella
2B Starlin Castro
C Miguel Montero
SS Addison Russell
SP Jake Arrieta
Cubs manager Joe Maddon wanted Tommy La Stella in the lineup over Jorge Soler or Chris Coghlan, so he starts at third base and Kris Bryant shifts to left field. Bryant started just four games in left field all season, compared to 136 starts at third base. Also of note: After batting Addison Russell ninth–behind the pitcher–116 times this season Maddon has him in the more traditional eighth spot tonight.
RF Gregory Polanco
3B Josh Harrison
CF Andrew McCutchen
LF Starling Marte
C Francisco Cervelli
2B Neil Walker
SS Jordy Mercer
1B Sean Rodriguez
SP Gerrit Cole
Pedro Alvarez started 119 games at first base for the Pirates and with right-hander Jake Arrieta on the mound he was the presumed starter tonight, but instead manager Clint Hurdle has benched the 27-homer slugger in favor of utility man Sean Rodriguez. Alvarez is vastly superior to Rodriguez offensively, especially versus a righty, but he’s also very shaky defensively. During the regular season Rodriguez started a grand total of one game at first base against a right-hander, so this qualifies as a hunch by Hurdle.