Braves claim pivotal set over 1st-place Mets

July 29th, 2021

NEW YORK -- After his team sealed a key series victory with a 6-3 win over the Mets on Thursday afternoon at Citi Field, Braves manager Brian Snitker had a straightforward response when asked what he hopes might happen before Friday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.

“I don’t waste time on that,” Snitker said. “If it happens, it does. If it doesn’t, we’re going to keep fighting like we have been.”

After ’s latest homer and a strong showing from the bullpen, the Braves claimed their third win in this five-game series and exited New York four games behind the first-place Mets in the National League East.

“We had a chance to win all five,” Braves starter said. “We were right there in every single game. It’s a big series for us. It was nice to get away with a win.”

The Braves have alternated a win and a loss through each of their first 14 games played since the All-Star break. Consequently, they haven’t had a .500 record since July 10, and they’re still in search of their first winning record of the season.

But while going up against the Rays, Padres, Phillies and Mets over the past two weeks in the NL Wild Card race, Atlanta has maintained hope that it can remain competitive without Ronald Acuña Jr., who is out for the season, and Marcell Ozuna, whose future will be determined by the legal system.

“We’re hanging in there,” Snitker said. “That’s all I can say. Hopefully, we’ll get on that run we’ve been waiting for [for] four months.”

Here are three key takeaways from Thursday’s win:

The Life of Riley
Riley extended his recent power surge and gave the Braves their first runs of the series finale with a two-run homer off Taijuan Walker in the fourth inning. The red-hot third baseman also added a RBI single in the fifth. He went 8-for-19 with four homers during the series at Citi Field.

Riley has homered six times in the past seven games and his career-high season total has risen to 21. He has teamed up with Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies to give Atlanta firepower at the top of its lineup in the absence of Acuña.

But when you consider Thursday marked just the third time in the past 10 games that the Braves have scored more than two runs, it’s easy to understand why this club could use a bat -- to at least lengthen a lineup that includes a few Triple-A players like Abraham Almonte, who did homer in the finale.

One offensive upgrade the Braves can count on is veteran catcher , who began a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday.

“If we keep continuing to play [the] baseball I know we're capable of, I think we’ve got a chance to get ahead of this thing and make a run for it,” Riley said. “I think it’s definitely there for us.”

Riley has now hit eight home runs in 71 career at-bats at Citi Field. Given that Chipper Jones called one of his sons “Shea,” some Braves fans have playfully questioned whether Riley plans to name his first-born child “Citi.”

“I got to hit a few more homers before I think about that one,” Riley said with a laugh.

Matzek’s revival
was one of the most reliable relievers in last year’s air-tight Atlanta bullpen. But he has declined this year and he began to struggle even more with his command once MLB began enforcing its policy on sticky substances in June.

So the Braves were thrilled to see Matzek cruise through two scoreless innings against the Mets. The lefty touched 98.6 mph with his fastball and New York whiffed with four of the eight swings taken against him.

“That might have been as good as I’ve seen Matzek in the two years he’s been here,” Snitker said.

With the bullpen being the team’s weakest link, there’s a need for Atlanta to add at least one reliever before the Deadline. But with Huascar Ynoa possibly returning within the next couple of weeks, the relief corps could be strengthened with internal assets.

Ynoa will stretch out to be a starter, which could protect some of the Braves’ other arms down the stretch if they opt to use a six-man rotation, but he could also be used as a reliever. Kyle Muller and Touki Toussaint could also feature in either the rotation or the bullpen.

Strong rotation
Jesse Chavez, Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith combined to toss five scoreless innings after the Braves lifted Smyly, who retired just 10 of the 12 batters he faced. Smyly exited after allowing Pete Alonso to drill a two-run homer into the third deck in the fifth inning.

Smyly admitted he may have been subconsciously thinking about his left knee, which had bothered him in his last start. But he has been reliable over the past two months and is a key reason why the rotation has posted the NL’s second-best starters’ ERA (3.00) since the All-Star break.

With a solid rotation, top-heavy lineup and potentially capable bullpen, the Braves have the potential to make things interesting over the final two months of the season. But they may need to get some help on Friday in order to do so.

“I think we know we’re really good,” Smyly said. “I know we’ve been talking about it all season. But it’s just a matter of getting on a roll and putting a win streak together.”