ATLANTA -- Instead of extending their recent woes in maddening fashion, the Braves staged a ninth-inning comeback and celebrated a timely win that eased some of the frustration they have felt through the season’s first two weeks.
After blowing a lead in the top of the ninth at Truist Park on Thursday afternoon, the Braves staged a two-run rally and snapped their four-game losing streak. Dansby Swanson’s single sealed a 7-6 walk-off win over the Marlins, who were three outs away from claiming a four-game sweep against the three-time defending National League East champions.
“Any time you break a losing streak, it's good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “To lose two extra-inning games early in the series and come back like we did today, we kind of looked more like ourselves. We had a little life. So yeah, that was a good one.”
Nobody was counting the Braves out after just a couple weeks. But the past few days certainly caused concern. Their losing streak began with Sunday’s disputed replay ruling against the Phillies and included two extra-inning setbacks wrapped around a lopsided defeat on Tuesday, which is also when Max Fried and Cristian Pache both suffered injuries that put them on the IL.
“That was more like vintage Braves for the teams that I've been on,” Swanson said. “Just really competitive, especially when things seemed to not fall our way, which it feels like the whole year has been like that, right? It feels like everything has gone not in our direction. So that was more like what I think we're all accustomed to, just the competitive at-bats in the ninth and the no-quit attitude.”
Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s win:
The Braves’ offense has consisted primarily of the incredible production provided by Ronald Acuña Jr., who became the first MLB player to reach seven homers with his fifth-inning two-run shot off Trevor Rogers. But the ninth-inning rally included valuable contributions from a few of the lineup’s key contributors.
Ender Inciarte and Acuña began the frame with consecutive singles against Dylan Floro, who issued a 10-pitch walk to Freddie Freeman to load the bases with nobody out. Floro then walked Ozzie Albies to tie the score, before Swanson hit his game-ending single to left field.
Swanson’s game-winner improved his OPS to .597. How much has Atlanta’s lineup struggled? Acuña (1.492) and Freeman (.790) are the only other Braves regulars with a higher OPS.
“We’re still a work in progress, but we’re getting closer and closer as the at-bats pile up,” Snitker said.
Swanson has tallied five game-winning RBIs in his career, including three against the Marlins. Bryce Harper is the only player with more game-ending RBIs (6) since Swanson’s MLB debut on Aug. 17, 2016.
“I love to have that pressure and the game hanging in the balance,” Swanson said. “I love that part of the game. I love to win. One of my favorite things in life is winning.”
Pablo Sandoval gave the Braves another big boost when he came off the bench in the sixth inning to hit a go-ahead three-run homer off Zach Pop. The 34-year-old veteran has already notched three pinch-hit home runs in 2021.
Along with a game-tying homer during a 10-inning loss to the Phillies on Opening Day, Sandoval also hit a game-winning pinch-hit homer on April 7 at Nationals Park. The Braves’ single-season record is four pinch-hit homers, a total tallied by Johan Camargo (2019), Evan Gattis (2013) and Tommy Gregg (1990).
The record for pinch-hit homers in a single month is also four, which Erubiel Durazo did for the D-backs during the first month of the 2001 season.
“I mean [Sandoval] goes up there and swings,” Snitker said. “He’s aggressive, and he stays ready. I feel good when he’s up there.”
Constructing the bullpen
There’s no doubt the Braves have missed Chris Martin, who went on the IL with right shoulder inflammation on Saturday. But Martin’s absence, combined with the team’s recent woes, didn’t lead Snitker to ask closer Will Smith to pitch for the second time in less than 24 hours -- and the fifth time in six days.
So Snitker handed Thursday’s one-run ninth-inning lead to A.J. Minter, who made his first appearance since walking each of the three batters he faced while attempting to protect a two-run lead in the eighth inning of Monday’s loss to the Marlins.
This outing wasn’t much better for Minter, as he issued a leadoff walk, allowed former teammate Adam Duvall to hit a game-tying double and gave up a go-ahead single to Garrett Cooper.
Minter’s struggles have created further reason to question whether the Braves have enough quality depth to build a championship-caliber relief corps. Atlanta’s bullpen was 23-0 when leading after the seventh inning last year. It has already lost two such games this season.
“You give guys responsibility and you see how they react, and then you adjust accordingly,” Snitker said.