Lucky 7: Braves use homers, good fortune in seven-run rally

September 27th, 2023

ATLANTA -- Bryce Elder didn’t ease the concerns of a fan base prepping to see its team enter a second straight postseason with an injury-depleted rotation. But the Braves' offense reminded these fans that it's capable of compensating for some pitching woes.

It was actually hard for the Braves to find the right way to discuss the good fortune they found as they erased a six-run, sixth-inning deficit in a 7-6 win over the Cubs on Tuesday night. The comeback was fueled by a couple home runs and capped by a routine fly ball that missed Chicago right fielder Seiya Suzuki’s glove and hit the Truist Park turf.

“I don’t know what happened, but some days it’s better to be lucky than good,” Murphy said.

  • Games remaining (5): vs. CHC (2), vs. WSH (3)
  • Standings update: The Braves (101-56) have clinched a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the National League Division Series. They are the top NL division leader, meaning they would face the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 Wild Card series in a five-game NL Division Series starting on Oct. 7.
  • Home-field advantage: The Braves have a three-game lead over the Orioles for MLB’s best record and home-field advantage through the World Series. They have a four-game lead over the Dodgers in the battle for the NL’s best record and home-field advantage through the NL Championship Series.

There’s no denying how good the 101-win Braves are. Their magic number for securing home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series has been reduced to one. Their magic number for securing home-field advantage through the World Series is now two with five games remaining.

As for the Cubs, they have just a half-game lead over the Marlins in the battle for the NL’s final Wild Card spot. They certainly needed this win more than the Braves.

“We've got another tough task ahead of us,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “That's a really good team we're playing. Obviously offensively, you see how quick it can turn.”

When Max Fried and Charlie Morton were both placed on the injured list this past weekend, Braves fans began to worry about a repeat of last year, when Fried (virus) and Spencer Strider (oblique) entered the playoffs in unhealthy fashion. Elder earned an All-Star selection this year, but his recent struggles created concern about what he might do if he starts Game 3 of the NL Division Series.

Elder didn’t lessen those concerns as he allowed five runs over 3 2/3 innings. He was hurt by a couple defensive miscues in a two-run second, but he issued three of his four walks during a two-run third. He has issued nine walks while totaling just 7 1/3 innings over his past two starts. Fatigue could be playing a role as he nears the end of his first full Major League season.

“It was a little better than the last time, but he was pretty much where he was last time when he left [the game],” Snitker said.

Elder might make one more regular season start. Or the Braves could let him get some rest before he prepares for the potential Game 3 start, which is still two weeks away.

Atlanta can take solace in the fact that Strider and Fried will be starting the first two games. The two would also be available to pitch the final two games of the five-game series on regular rest.

Whoever starts for the Braves during the playoffs will be backed by an offense that has hit 301 homers, six shy of the AL/NL record set by the 2019 Twins. Pillar got the Braves rolling when he began the three-run sixth with a homer off Cy Young Award candidate Justin Steele, who cruised through the first five innings.

Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a two-run, opposite-field homer in the seventh to bring Atlanta within one run. This prompted the Cubs to call upon former Brave Drew Smyly, who was fortunate that Marcell Ozuna and Michael Harris II aided his inability to command his curveball by swinging at some pitches out of the zone.

Matt Olson drew a walk ahead of Ozuna’s strikeout and Orlando Arcia did the same ahead of Harris’ strikeout. But just when it looked like Smyly might escape, Murphy hit his routine fly ball to right field.

"I was about to put the third out on my card, and I just happened to peek up and see it," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

It appeared the ball was headed into Suzuki’s glove until it flew right past it and bounced in the outfield grass. The Cubs' outfielder said the lights may have played a part, but he wasn’t willing to make any excuses.

"Defense in the big leagues is as sure as it comes,” Pillar said. “So when that ball is hit, there's that moment of, 'Oh man, we just let this pitcher off the hook.'"

Instead, the Braves took Elder off the hook.