PHOENIX -- It was shaping up to potentially be a bad finish to the Braves’ 10-game road trip entering this weekend’s series at Arizona.
The starters were struggling. The hitters couldn’t drive in baserunners. After dropping Thursday’s opener to the D-backs, the Braves were on a four-game losing streak and were looking to avoid their first five-game skid since dropping six straight from Sept. 25-30, 2017.
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Everything turned around this weekend.
Atlanta won three straight games vs. Arizona, ending a stretch of 20 games in 20 days with a 5-3 victory on Sunday afternoon at Chase Field. After sweeping the Marlins and getting swept by the Dodgers, the Braves ended the trip with a series win and sit in second place in the National League East, three games behind the Phillies.
A key moment in the series-clinching win came in the seventh, when the D-backs had the bases loaded with two outs, trailing Atlanta, 4-3. After Sean Newcomb struck out Christian Walker, the Braves brought in Dan Winkler to face Wilmer Flores, who hit a line drive to right field that Nick Markakis made a sensational catch on to end the inning.
“We started out hot, went cold, then got hot again,” Markakis said. “We finished up like we wanted to finish up, and we’ll move on from here.”
As Atlanta heads home for a Monday off-day, here are three takeaways from the 6-4 road trip:
1) The starters are getting into a rhythm
Mike Soroka has been the Braves’ most consistent starter, but he didn’t pitch in Los Angeles, where Kevin Gausman, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz combined to post a 9.53 ERA. The starts at Arizona were much better.
Soroka, Julio Teheran and Gausman each allowed one earned run in six innings in the first three games of the series. On Sunday, Fried, who exited in the second inning after getting hit by a liner in his left hand in his previous start, returned to the mound and allowed three runs over five innings.
The Braves’ rotation posted a 3.80 ERA on the trip, getting five quality starts. The starters had a 2.35 ERA during the four-game series at Arizona.
They weren’t the cleanest outings, but Atlanta’s starters escaped most of the jams they created, particularly Gausman (seven stranded baserunners between the third and sixth innings on Saturday) and Fried, who left the bases loaded in the first en route to stranding six on Sunday.
“We limited damage, guys made pitches, made plays,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It just shows, the whole series, they were a hit or two away each game from just blowing the game open, and fortunately, our guys made pitches and plays.”
While Soroka and Fried have had strong starts to the season, the veterans of the staff -- Teheran, Foltynewicz and Gausman -- all have an ERA of 4.26 or higher. If that trio can pitch well, as Teheran and Gausman did at the end of this trip, that could be key to helping the Braves stringing together more wins.
2) The bats are heating up
Atlanta’s offense started to go quiet before heading to L.A., scoring three runs in its series finale at Miami. That started a stretch of six straight games with four runs or fewer, as the Braves went 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position in the first five games of that span.
Snitker tweaked the top of his batting order on Friday, and it paid dividends as the Braves scored 13 runs and collected 32 hits over the final three wins of the trip.
However, the production is coming from throughout the lineup. Six different players drove in a run in Saturday’s win. On Sunday, utilityman Johan Camargo and backup catcher Tyler Flowers each had two hits and two RBIs, with Flowers providing a key insurance run with an eighth-inning RBI triple.
“The guys on the bench, they’ve been outstanding all year long,” Markakis said. “It’s what you need to be successful on a team. It’s not just certain guys doing it day in and day out, it’s an accumulation of everybody.”
3) Ronald Acuna Jr.’s short slump looks to be over
Acuna’s average may have plummeted to .270 following the first game of the road trip at Miami on May 3, after he was batting .327 on April 16. But there was never a reason to be concerned.
Last year’s National League Rookie of the Year Award winner, Acuna is one of baseball’s rising stars, and he showcased why at the end of this road swing.
Acuna ended a 19-game homerless streak in Wednesday’s series finale vs. the Dodgers. Then, he moved from the cleanup spot, where he made his first 36 starts of the season, to hitting leadoff, where he started 66 times in 108 games last year, on Friday and hit a tie-breaking eighth-inning home run to lift Atlanta to victory.
“He’s got a little different look about him, like he’s getting really hitter-ish looking to me,” Snitker said.
The 21-year-old Acuna, who worked with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer in Los Angeles to make some adjustments to his approach, has a five-game hitting streak. He is also playing well defensively, as he made a nice leaping grab to rob Adam Jones of extra bases in the second inning on Sunday.
Jake Rill is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JakeDRill.