ATL@CHC: Heyward goes 0-for-2, scores run in return

CHICAGO -- Jason Heyward returned to Wrigley Field on Saturday encouraged by the way his legs responded after he played his first game in nearly a month.

Heyward handled the center field duties while playing five innings and recording three plate appearances in Friday's win over the Cubs. This marked the first game action he had seen since his jaw was fractured on Aug. 21.

Wanting to protect Heyward's legs much like he would during the early days of Spring Training, manager Fredi Gonzalez stuck to his plan to limit Heyward to a potential pinch-hit appearance on Saturday; in the bottom of the eighth inning, Heyward entered the game to play right field and did not get an at-bat in the Braves' 3-1 loss. The 24-year-old outfielder should be back in the starting lineup to play five or six innings of Sunday's series finale against the Cubs.

The hope is that Heyward will gradually increase his endurance while playing in most of the remaining eight games the Braves have leading into the postseason.

"The more at-bats and the more pitches he sees, the better he's going to be," Gonzalez said. "You can run 100 sprints, but nothing duplicates standing in the outfield for five or nine innings."

Value undeniable, but Freeman stays humble

ATL@CHC: Freeman pads Braves' lead with no-doubter

CHICAGO -- Freddie Freeman might not garner the attention needed to win the National League's Most Valuable Player Award, but there is no doubt he has been the most valuable member of a Braves team that could end this season with the NL's best record.

"I know you don't take for granted what he has done," Braves outfielder Jason Heyward said. "Not every team has guys like that who can play the defense for you, who can get the big hit and who want to be in that RBI situation every time, especially with two outs. I'm really happy for him."

Freeman entered Saturday hitting .310 with 22 home runs, 103 RBIs and an .881 OPS. While the 24-year-old first baseman has said his teammates deserve some of the credit for his first 100-RBI season, he has done his part while hitting .431 (53-for-123) with runners in scoring position.

"I've had lot of [run-producing] opportunities, too," Freeman said. "There have been times where I've needed to get the hits. But it's not without what my teammates have done in front of me in the lineup."

Freeman's batting average with runners in scoring position ranks second in the National League to St. Louis' Allen Craig's .454 (59-for-130) mark. If Freeman keeps this average above .417, he will set the Braves record for this statistic, which has been tracked back to 1974.

Freeman does not rank at the top of some of the traditional statistical categories. But he ranks second in the NL with 8.15 runs created per every 27 outs, which measures runs created per team in a standard nine-inning game. Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt leads the NL with a 8.49 mark.

While he has established himself as one of the game's most consistent middle-of-the-lineup hitters in just his third full big league season, Freeman has repeatedly said that he takes as much pride in what he provides from a defensive perspective.

According to FanGraphs, Freeman ranks fourth among all NL first basemen with a seven defensive runs saved.

"Day in and day out, he gives you everything he's got and gives you great at-bats," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's going to be mentioned in that [MVP] conversation."