Hot Donaldson spells trouble for Braves’ rivals

Slugger breaks out on 8-2 homestand that gives club 4-game East lead

June 19th, 2019

ATLANTA -- A little more than a week after entering this 10-game homestand one game back in the National League East, the Braves exited it with a four-game lead and reason to believe has suddenly re-established himself as one of the game’s most dangerous hitters.

“Even before [this homestand] he had the presence,” Braves catcher said. “But yeah, I think he’s starting to believe he’s got it going on. When somebody gets confident, they can be pretty dangerous.”

Just as some might have been questioning whether Donaldson could continue to produce elite numbers, the former American League MVP once again became a monster at the plate. He landed some blows against Phillies pitchers this past weekend and extended his power surge with the decisive two-run homer that vaulted the Braves to a 7-2 win over the Mets Wednesday night at SunTrust Park.

“We’ve been swinging the bats really well,” Braves first baseman said. “You could tell Josh was very, very close. We’ve scored a lot of runs. We’ve hit a lot of home runs. If we’ve got Josh Donaldson back to being Josh Donaldson, this is going to be a fun year.”

This has certainly evolved into what could be a very enjoyable year for the Braves, who have gone 26-11 since moved back to the leadoff spot for MLB’s second-best winning percentage (.703) in that timeframe. They added ’s powerful bat on May 15 and have watched Freeman manufacture an MVP resume while constructing a 1.123 OPS and tallying 14 of his 21 homers within the past 32 games.

Though the Braves have been trending in the right direction for more than a month, no stretch has been more impressive than this 8-2 homestand produced against the Pirates, Phillies and Mets. They tallied 84 runs and drilled 26 homers within this 10-game stretch.

To put this in perspective, the Phillies have totaled 64 runs this month and nine NL teams entered Wednesday having totaled fewer than 26 home runs in June.

“We’re swinging the bats,” Donaldson said. “I don’t know how much better it can get than what it is right now. We’ll see how long it rides.”

Freeman gave the Braves an early advantage in this series finale with the opposite-field, two-run homer he hit off Steven Matz, and Donaldson provided the decisive blow with the 439-foot go-ahead blast he hit off the Mets’ left-hander in the sixth.

It was fitting for Donaldson to cap a break-out homestand by homering against a curveball thrown by a left-hander. Before going on the field a few hours before Saturday’s game against the Phillies to hit against a breaking ball machine, he was batting .180 (20-for-111) against offspeed and breaking balls. Against southpaws, he was hitting just .167 (8-for-48) with no home runs.

Donaldson has since gone 2-for-4 with two homers against lefties and 10-for-17 with four home runs and three doubles against offspeed and breaking balls.

“I feel like I’m able to get my swing off right now,” Donaldson said. “Seeing the ball is important. Being able to slow the game down and be able to identify pitches as early as I am right now is a huge bonus.”

Within the span of the past five games, Donaldson has gone from being a slightly-above average offensive contributor to the powerful threat the Braves envisioned when they gave him a one-year, $23 million deal in November.

Donaldson entered the homestand with eight home runs and a .773 OPS and then seemed to show some frustration when he was ejected in the first inning of the first game for his part in an aggressive verbal altercation with Pirates pitcher Joe Musgrove.

After batting .385 (15-for-39) during this 10-game stretch, he found himself with 14 homers and an .857 OPS.

“You can start to see him lock it in a little bit,” Braves starting pitcher said. “That’s really fun to watch. You hear [Brian McCann] and other veterans talk about when he gets locked in, it’s like a different animal. You’re starting to see it.”

Freeman strengthened his bid for a 40-homer season and continued to distance himself from his struggles against right-handers while producing a 1.248 OPS during the homestand. Acuna continues to be a dynamic catalyst from the leadoff spot and the starting rotation will add former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel to the mix Friday.

This has certainly been an enjoyable stretch for the Braves, who now know Donaldson is still quite capable of being one of the game’s most feared hitters.

“He can do some things that when I’ve been squatting back there, I’ve thought, ‘how in the heck do you do that?’” Flowers said. “Hopefully, that’s where he’s heading and that’s what it seems like.”