3 keys to win vs. Phils -- and to the rest of '21

Swanson's slam helps Snitker earn 400th win as Braves' manager

July 23rd, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- It's no secret that the road trip on which the Braves embarked on Thursday will have a significant impact on not only the way they approach the upcoming Trade Deadline, but also their chances at winning a fourth straight National League East title.

Though the trip got off to a less-than-ideal start with the club not arriving in Philadelphia until approximately 2 a.m. ET, Atlanta couldn't have asked for a better initial result on its nine-game divisional swing. The Braves showed no signs of fatigue despite the late-night travel, delivering a resounding 7-2 victory over the Phillies in the opener of a four-game set at Citizens Bank Park.

"It was a good ballgame. Guys bounced back good after the long day yesterday, the late travel and all that,” said manager Brian Snitker, who earned his 400th career managerial victory. “They had a lot of energy today. A lot of emotion, a lot of energy.”

The win moved Atlanta (47-48) into a tie with Philadelphia (47-48 for second place in the NL East, four games back of the idle first-place Mets (50-43). The Braves will head to Citi Field on Monday for a five-game series to round out this season-defining trip.

Perhaps just as important as the victory itself on Thursday was how Atlanta got the win. snapped out of a brief slump with a third-inning grand slam, continued his recent run with an impressive eight-strikeout effort and chipped in a fourth-inning solo homer to give the Braves some much-needed production out of left field. It also doesn't hurt that Ozzie Albies (three hits, two runs) and Freddie Freeman (two hits and two walks) kept plugging along.

But let's take a closer look at those first three areas -- each of which figures to play a prominent role in how things unfold for Atlanta down the stretch.

Swanson's grand performance

Though Swanson went 1-for-19 (.053) over the last five games in the No. 2 spot, his slide down the order on Thursday wasn't a demotion. Instead, Snitker said he simply wanted to put the lefty-masher Albies between the pair of left-handed hitters atop the lineup (Joc Pederson and Freeman).

"The last week or so hadn't gone great, but he's what, [fifth] on our team in RBIs?" Snitker said before the game. "Get him back down there, where he can hopefully knock in a few more runs."

Swanson did exactly that, swatting a two-out grand slam -- the first of his career (and possibly his life) -- in the third inning that opened up a 5-0 lead. His 46 RBIs trail only Albies (63), Freeman (55), Ronald Acuña Jr. (52) and Austin Riley (47) on the team.

"That might be my first one of all time -- like throughout my 20-year baseball career -- that might be the first one I've ever hit," Swanson said. "It's a cool moment, obviously. A great way to start the road trip, just for us in general. That was honestly the best part about it, being able to be up five runs after that. I feel like that helped set the tone."

Arcia produces in left

The Braves' lack of offensive production from left field has been a glaring concern all season. That position group -- one that has consisted primarily of Marcell Ozuna and Abraham Almonte -- entered Thursday hitting .213 with an MLB-worst .337 slugging percentage.

Before seeking a potential upgrade on the trade market, however, Atlanta opted to first try converting shortstop Orlando Arcia to an outfielder late last month. Prior to this season, the 26-year-old Arcia had never appeared anywhere other than shortstop -- and he didn't make his first professional appearance in left field until June 29 with Triple-A Gwinnett. Five days later, he was the starting left fielder in his Braves debut.

On Thursday, Arcia connected for his second homer in 12 starts with the club. He's hitting .250 (11-for-44) with nine RBIs since joining the Braves, while playing exclusively left field.

“I think he's done a really good job, especially defensively. He's worked out there and he still continues to do his infield drills,” Snitker said. “He's a very aggressive kid. He's got power and he's up there on the attack, which is good."

Morton finding stride

Morton came out firing on Thursday, striking out two batters in each of the first three innings en route to an eight-strikeout performance. He allowed two runs over six-plus frames, bringing his ERA to 2.40 over his last seven starts dating to June 17.

The veteran right-hander cruised through six scoreless innings before letting three straight Phillies batters reach to begin the seventh. Morton allowed a leadoff triple to Didi Gregorius followed by an RBI double to Odúbel Herrera before walking Ronald Torreyes to end his night.

Though Morton isn’t one to scoreboard watch, and he typically subscribes to the mentality that it doesn’t matter who the opponent is on any given day, he acknowledged the gravity of these next eight games.

“In terms of the math, it really does [matter], because this division is just so tight and everybody seems to be going through something similar,” Morton said. “But I really do think that our team is just really, really good, and we just need to get going on one of those streaks.”