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Braves win No. 90: 'Hopefully we get a lot more'

@paul_casella
September 9, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Prior to Monday's series opener in Philadelphia, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman listed a handful of reasons that the 2019 Braves are poised to make a deeper run than that of the '18 club that bowed out in the National League Division Series after winning the NL East.

PHILADELPHIA -- Prior to Monday's series opener in Philadelphia, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman listed a handful of reasons that the 2019 Braves are poised to make a deeper run than that of the '18 club that bowed out in the National League Division Series after winning the NL East.

Hours later, Atlanta defeated the Phillies, 7-2, at Citizens Bank Park for its 90th win of the season, matching the total of last year's division champs … with another 17 games to play. Needing just 145 games, this is the fastest the Braves (90-55) have reached the 90-win mark since 2003, when they did so in just 143 games.

Box score

“It’s a very good number, that’s for sure," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of win No. 90. "We’ve got a lot of baseball to play, so hopefully we get a lot more."

Atlanta extended its division lead to 9 1/2 games over the Nationals and lowered its magic number to clinch the NL East to 10 games. The Braves also moved within three games of the idle Dodgers for the best record in the NL.

"It's big," Josh Donaldson said. "I think, as a team, we would like to get the best record in the National League to set you up for home-field advantage."

The Braves have won 10 of their last 11 games and improved to 18-4 dating back to their series victory against the Dodgers from Aug. 16-18. Freeman circled that three-game set as the point where things started to really click for Atlanta, but the latest victory showcased three reasons why the four-time All-Star insists this year will be different than 2018.

Foltynewicz turns in latest Atlanta gem

Mike Foltynewicz continued to hold his own in the Braves' suddenly dominant starting rotation. The right-hander retired the first 13 batters he faced Monday night before allowing a solo home run to Corey Dickerson in the fifth.

Foltynewicz allowed just one run off three hits over seven innings, while striking out seven and walking none.

"Folty has the capability to go out there and fully dominate lineups, I truly believe that," said Donaldson, who praised Foltynewicz's ability to limit hard contact against the Phillies. "I feel like tonight was one of those outings where he’s showing that.”

Foltynewicz has a 1.91 ERA over his last five starts, though two of those outings lasted fewer than five innings.

"He’s getting there," Snitker said. "Hasn’t been consistent enough yet. I’d like to see him do that, right there, three or four times in a row. That would be good."

While the Braves would certainly welcome a return to form from Foltynewicz, his potential postseason role remains up in the air. After all, the Atlanta starting rotation has a 2.52 ERA dating to the start of that mid-August series against the Dodgers, easily the best in the Majors during that span.

"That's how you win, you win with pitching," catcher Brian McCann said. "We've got a great bullpen, we've got a great rotation, and right now we're really hitting our stride."

Acuna leads deep lineup

Their dominant pitching has helped the Braves overcome the recent struggles of Ronald Acuña Jr., who entered Monday hitting .165 (13-for-79) with 30 strikeouts over a 21-game stretch.

Acuna clubbed his 15th career leadoff homer -- the most in the Majors since he moved to the No. 1 spot following last year's All-Star break -- and worked a pair of walks on his way to scoring three times.

As has become the norm, Acuna had plenty of help. Ozzie Albies had his third multi-hit effort in the last five games, Freeman had a three-hit night and Donaldson hit his 37th homer of the season, one shy of Acuna and Freeman for the team lead. Those top four hitters in Atlanta's lineup combined to go 7-for-16 (.438) with six RBIs and six runs. All of that comes without Nick Markakis, the club's usual No. 5 hitter, who is eyeing a potential return this weekend.

The Braves have won five of their last six meetings against the Phillies, outscoring their rival 56-28 in the process.

"As a team, they’re the best in our division," said Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper. "They go out and play their game every single night. One through four right there, their gauntlet is pretty tough. I think they’re hitting on all cylinders right now and I think they have [been] all year."

Not folding vs. aces

Within the last five games, the Braves have squared off against Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola -- a quartet that would rival any opposing rotation Atlanta might face in the postseason.

"It’s been a rough go here, when you look down and you see all those names -- man, those are tough rides, because those are some of the best in the business,” Snitker said. “And we’ve done a really good job against them."

After earning victories against Strasburg and Corbin before dropping Sunday's finale vs. Scherzer, the Braves tagged Nola for four runs off six hits and four walks over six innings. Atlanta was previously 0-4 against the Phillies in games started by Nola this season, compared to 6-2 when Philadelphia started anyone else. Those two losses came in the second and third games of the season.

"I thought they came out swinging the bats well, especially against Nola," Harper said. "Not too many teams can do that against him."

Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.