ATLANTA -- Less than two months after being told that he might play left field a couple of times a week at the Triple-A level, Austin Riley has produced one of the most power-filled starts to a Major League career and helped the homer-happy Braves match an achievement realized just
ATLANTA -- Less than two months after being told that he might play left field a couple of times a week at the Triple-A level, Austin Riley has produced one of the most power-filled starts to a Major League career and helped the homer-happy Braves match an achievement realized just one other time in franchise history.
Over the 45 games played dating back to Riley’s Major League debut on May 15, the Braves have hit 31 more homers than they did in the 42 games played before he was promoted. So maybe, there’s been reason to expect this potent lineup to explode like it has, while tallying six two-out runs in Wednesday night’s 9-2 win over the Phillies at SunTrust Park.
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But as the numbers continue to mount and become even more impressive, there’s still reason to appreciate the instant capabilities of this Braves team, which has tallied nine runs or more in six of its last 22 games.
“I think we’re capable of it every night,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Are you realistically going to do it? Probably not. That’s why I feel so good in these games. I never feel out of a game against these guys, because I know an inning like that can happen at any time.”
There was a lot for Snitker to like as his team snapped a two-game skid and regained a 5 1/2-game lead over the second-place Phillies in the National League East. His offense might have once again stolen the spotlight, but Bryse Wilson also made a solid impression as he held the Phillies scoreless until Bryce Harper fueled Philadelphia’s two-run sixth with an opposite-field solo shot.
But just when it looked like the Phillies might have gained some momentum, Riley killed it by giving the Braves a four-run lead with the two-out, three-run homer that he hit in the bottom of the sixth against Nick Pivetta’s 0-1 slider. The 409-foot shot gave the 22-year-old outfielder 15 homers through his first 45 games. He’s the ninth player in MLB history to reach that total within that span and just the second Braves player to do so.
Wally Berger hit 17 homers through the first 45 games of his career for the 1930 Boston Braves. Gary Sanchez holds the MLB record with 19 homers within that span.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have 15 already,” Riley said. “There’s a lot of season left and a lot of stuff to work on. Fifteen home runs is great. But a single every now and then, or a walk or two, would also be nice.”
There’s certainly room for improvement from Riley, who has hit .266 and produced a .895 OPS while striking out once every 2.84 at-bats. He entered Wednesday having hit .188 with a 2.53 AB/K rate over his past 14 games.
“I said they’re going to throw him so many sliders, he’s going to learn how to hit them,” Snitker said. “It’s just good on-the-job training. It’s not the first time I’ve seen him do it. You always feel like the next at-bat could be the one for him.”
The Braves now have five players -- Freddie Freeman (22), Ronald Acuna Jr. (20), Josh Donaldson (16), Dansby Swanson (15) and Riley (15) -- who have hit at least 15 home runs before the All-Star break. The only other time that occurred in franchise history was 2003, when Javy Lopez, Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and Vinny Castilla combined to do so.
Donaldson has spent the past few weeks showing why the Braves were wise to give him $23 million to fill Riley’s normal third-base position this year. His three-run homer off Pivetta in the fourth inning was his eighth homer in his past 21 games, and the latest of the four home runs that he has tallied within his past 18 at-bats against the Phillies.
With Donaldson strengthening the middle of the lineup, and Riley lengthening the intimidation level while filling the sixth spot, the Braves are on pace to hit 251 home runs, which would shatter the franchise record (235) set in 2003. The 83 homers hit since May 15 are six more than any other NL club.
“I kind of expected that after watching these guys in Spring Training,” Donaldson said. “I didn’t know Austin would come up here and do what he’s doing. I hadn’t got a chance to see him play. But the kid has a lot of potential, and obviously, a lot of power.”
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.