4 things to know from the weekend in MLB: Braves, Padres earn statement wins, Rockies sweep defending champs

And with the Reds, Cardinals and Pirates tumbling, the NL Central is looking like a contest between the Cubs and Brewers

It was Mother’s Day this weekend. If your mom, like mine, likes baseball, you might know that the Braves, Padres and Rockies made a statement with series victories this weekend, while the NL Central is looking more and more like a two-horse race. But if your mom doesn't watch ball, I got you.

Here’s what you need to know from across MLB this weekend.

Last week, in these very digital pages, I wrote that the Atlanta Braves had “starting pitching questions” after an ugly sweep against the Dodgers. Since then, Atlanta’s starting pitchers have allowed just four runs across 30 2/3 innings, making yours truly, a person who gets paid to know baseball things, look like something of a bozo. So it goes.

Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Bryce Elder were all fantastic against the Mets this weekend in Queens, spearheading Atlanta’s three-game sweep. Fried didn’t allow a hit across five frames on Saturday, but a garbage-time J.D. Martinez solo shot broke up the no-hitter. Still, Fried is finding his stride. Since getting flattened in his first two starts of the year, surrendering 10 runs over five innings, the lanky lefty has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. The impending free agent looks like a legit Cy Young contender.

The rotation depth behind Morton, Fried, Elder, Chris Sale and Reynaldo López remains hazy — especially because all but Fried have some type of durability/endurance concerns — but that’s the case with most clubs’ second-lever starters. The Braves quintet, to its immense credit, has excelled in the early going, giving Atlanta’s typically fearsome offense enough cushion. How top prospects AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurstop Waldrep perform whenever they’re eventually called up will be a storyline to follow for the Braves, but that’s a July problem.

If not for a ninth-inning, two-run, game-winning tater from Brandon Nimmo on Sunday, Atlanta would’ve left Queens with another sweep. Instead, it was the fourth walk-off win for the Mets so far this year, most in MLB.

Padres starters have recorded three scoreless starts of at least seven innings this year. All three came in the past week. Dylan Cease was masterful against the Cubs on Wednesday, but the gems twirled by Michael King and Yu Darvish over the weekend were particularly impressive considering just how good Los Angeles’ lineup has been this year. Those victories on Friday and Sunday propelled the Padres to a series win over their California rivals and pushed them above .500 for the first time since April 17.

The talent gap between the Padres and Dodgers is simply too vast for San Diego to have any real hope of challenging for the NL West crown. But the soft middle of the National League has underperformed so thoroughly thus far that the 22-21 Padres currently hold the much-too-early-to-matter final NL wild-card spot. If San Diego’s pitching continues to perform well — King, in particular is a huge X-factor — they should remain in the playoff mix. Their showdown this week against the red-hot Rockies will provide a fun test.

The Colorado Rockies, winners of four straight, have MLB’s longest active winning streak (yes, really). This weekend, Ryan McMahon and 2023 All-Star MVP Elías Díaz had some big hits, and the Rockies turned a trio of quality starts from Ryan Feltner, Austin Gomber and Ty Blach into a sweep.

All this from a team that trailed in every single one of its ballgames until May 3.

Now, the Rockies are not good and will not make the playoffs, but any signs of hope are much appreciated within this neglected, understandably pessimistic fan base. And few things are better than a Sunday afternoon win under the sun at Coors Field, baseball’s best beer garden.

Texas, meanwhile, has sputtered in the early going. The fearsome lineup that tore through October is still waiting for postseason hero Corey Seager and his .655 OPS to heat up. Evan Carter, who burst onto the scene as a 20-year-old last autumn, has an enormous platoon problem. His 3-for-27 line against same-sided pitching makes him borderline unplayable against lefties. And the likes of Adolis García, Jonah Heim and Marcus Semien have been just solid to very good, instead of the All-Star-level players they were a year ago.

Still, Houston’s awful start and Seattle’s offensive woes have kept the AL West wide-open for Texas whenever its bats heat up.

Let’s start with St. Louis, which salvaged the finale on Sunday in Milwaukee despite the double-ejection of skipper Oli Marmol and bench coach Daniel Descalso. Still, things are brutal right now for the 16-24 Cardinals, who’ve been less offensive this year than a Disney Channel movie. The recent loss of Willson Contreras — who had been the team’s only above-average bat — for at least six weeks will only make things more dire. Relatedly, here’s a stat so outrageous it sounds fake: the last time the St. Louis Cardinals finished under .500 in consecutive full seasons was 1958 and 1959.

The Reds, who have lost 10 of their past 11, are also going through it. Over that span, Cincy has a team-wide, league-worst wRC+ 49% below average. The Reds haven’t scored six runs in a game since April 27. Elly De La Cruz has been fine, and Jeimer Candelario has been superb, but almost every other Reds hitter is using a pool noodle right now. To make matters worse, the Reds are just three games into a 10-game West Coast road trip that finishes with four games at Dodger Stadium next weekend.

The Pirates saw a ray of sunlight on Saturday, winning the debut of top prospect Paul Skenes in a chaotic marathon. But the joy was temporary, as Pittsburgh lost on Sunday to drop yet another set. They have won just one series since April 7, and now they go on the road for two more crucial division matchups against the teams favored in the NL Central: the Brewers and the Cubs. Pittsburgh’s rotation is legitimately good, but yikes, this offense is shallow.

Maybe if St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh combine to form one team they could challenge Chicago and Milwaukee.