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Surging Braves sweep Pirates, win 7th straight

Atlanta has improved in multiple areas ahead of showdown with Phillies
@mlbbowman
June 13, 2019

ATLANTA -- A little more than two months after being swept out of Philadelphia to open the season, the surging Braves are right where they want to be as they prepare to welcome the second-place Phillies to Atlanta. There’s certainly no denying the current strength of the Braves’ lineup, which

ATLANTA -- A little more than two months after being swept out of Philadelphia to open the season, the surging Braves are right where they want to be as they prepare to welcome the second-place Phillies to Atlanta.

There’s certainly no denying the current strength of the Braves’ lineup, which is once again being enriched by Ozzie Albies’ dynamic potential. Albies’ double highlighted a five-run fifth inning that enabled Atlanta to complete a four-game sweep with a 6-5 win over the Pirates on Thursday afternoon at SunTrust Park.

Box score

“This is more of what I pictured,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I felt like we’re going to have to get this thing going and play, and let it play out. It’s been everybody. It’s not just one guy. It’s a team effort. They’re out there working and playing up to their capabilities.”

The Braves have won a season-best seven straight games, and they have gone 22-10 since being swept at Dodger Stadium in May. They now stand with the Dodgers as the only National League teams with at least 40 wins and will carry a 1 1/2-game division lead into Friday’s series opener against the Phillies, who have lost eight of their past 13 games.

“We’re playing good baseball from top to bottom,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “Our lineup has been absolutely phenomenal. Our defense has been great. We show up on a nightly basis to play. We’ve got a lot of good things going on right now.”

Here is a look at how the Braves have improved in multiple facets since the start of the season:

OFFENSE: Over the 31 games played with Ronald Acuna Jr. back in the leadoff spot, the Braves have averaged 5.61 runs per game, which ranks second in the NL during this span. Over the 38 games that preceded this lineup switch, Atlanta averaged 4.82 runs per game, which ranked eighth.

This improvement has certainly been influenced by the fact this adjustment was made six days before the arrival of Austin Riley, who has 10 homers and a .950 OPS through the first 27 games of his career. But Acuna’s return to the top of the lineup has certainly maximized the value of Freddie Freeman, who has produced the NL’s third-best OPS (1.092) since Snitker made this move.

Freeman fueled Thursday’s five-run fifth with a triple off Joe Musgrove, who started on two days’ rest after being ejected in the first inning of Monday’s series opener. But the big blow in the inning was the two-run double produced by Albies, who has further lengthened a potent lineup while hitting .338 with a 1.006 OPS over his past 19 games.

There was certainly reason to worry when Albies hit .197 with a .582 OPS against right-handed pitchers over a 109-game stretch that dated back to last year’s All-Star break. But the switch-hitting second baseman has quieted concerns while hitting .378 (14-for-37) with a 1.219 OPS from the left side over his past 13 games.

“It’s fun to watch opposing managers try to get through our lineup,” Freeman said. “They haven’t been succeeding the past couple weeks.”

ROTATION: Dallas Keuchel is not set to make his Atlanta debut before next weekend’s series against the Nationals. But the Phillies will be seeing a rotation that looks much different than the injury-depleted one they saw in March, when they faced Julio Teheran and two prospects -- Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright.

Nor will the Phillies have to face Mike Soroka, who endured his first rough start of the season Wednesday, or Teheran, who extended his recent success by limiting the Pirates to two runs -- one earned -- over six innings. Instead, they’ll face Max Fried, Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz.

While Fried has produced a 5.09 ERA over his past nine starts and Foltynewicz has not yet rekindled last year’s success, the rotation has been bolstered by the latest revitalization of Teheran, who has a 0.81 ERA over his past eight starts.

At some point within the next six weeks, the Braves might benefit from acquiring a frontline starter. But if Teheran continues to work his magic and Foltynewicz eventually finds himself, this rotation certainly has the potential to be much more consistent over the remainder of the season.

BULLPEN: When closer Luke Jackson allowed the Pirates to cut the deficit to one run with consecutive two-out hits in Thursday’s ninth, there was further reason to believe the Braves need to add a proven closer or more depth to their bullpen. Jackson’s vast improvement has solidified this relief corps, but he’s now allowed a run in six of his past 10 appearances.

The Braves will miss Newcomb’s bullpen presence for a few days while he makes what will likely amount to just one spot start to allow Keuchel a chance to prepare for his season debut. But this corps has been enriched by the in-season additions of Jerry Blevins and Anthony Swarzak. Blevins helped complete this latest sweep by working a perfect eighth after Swarzak cleaned Touki Toussaint’s seventh-inning mess by striking out Colin Moran.

“This is the baseball we expect to play,” Freeman said. “What we’ve been doing the last two, three or four weeks is what I think all of us envisioned. We knew when we put it all together, we’d be really good and tough to beat. The last couple weeks it’s been fun to watch.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.