Braves' offense finds a spark in skid-snapping win over O's

June 13th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- If momentum was just about tomorrow’s starting pitcher, then the Braves would have been rolling by now. And if timely hitting truly is contagious, then Atlanta's bats are about to benefit from what and their other pitchers have provided throughout the season.

A frustration-filled road trip ended in gratifying fashion as the Braves snapped a five-game losing streak with a 6-3 win over the Orioles on Thursday afternoon at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. López lowered his MLB-leading ERA to 1.69 and delivered the big early blow against one of the game’s hottest pitchers.

“Where we were today, that win is huge,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

This was certainly a much-needed win for a team that had lost 23 of its past 39 games and 17 of their past 26. Instead of dropping six consecutive contests on a nine-game road trip, the Braves headed home hoping they have halted the maddening offensive struggles that have plagued them over the past six weeks.

“To get a win against a team like this that has been hot is definitely huge,” López said through an interpreter. “I think it starts to give the sense that you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You’re hoping it sort of sparks some resemblance of the team we were last year, where we were attacking teams in the first inning.”

The 146 first-inning runs scored by the 2023 Braves stand as the third-highest total in AL/NL history. The 24 first-inning runs the current Braves had tallied entering Thursday stood as the seventh-lowest total among all MLB teams.

So, there was a sense of relief when Ozuna doubled after Michael Harris II singled and doubled to start Thursday’s game against Cole Irvin, who entered the game with a 1.26 ERA over his past seven starts. The Braves had squandered Harris’ leadoff triple during Tuesday’s series opener and they had left the bases loaded in the first inning of Saturday’s loss to the Nationals.

Ozuna’s double to the right-center field gap gave the Braves a 2-0 lead and increased his NL-leading RBI total to 57. It also halted Atlanta’s woes with runners in scoring position.

When the Braves won 19 of their first 36 games, they hit .312 (88-for-282) with runners in scoring position. They hit .205 (68-for-334) in those situations during a 16-23 stretch that carried into Thursday and .198 (38-for-192) during the 9-17 skid carried into this series finale.

"Sometimes, you’re going to make good pitches and they’re going to hit it -- and they get paid to,” Irvin said. “That’s a sleeping ballclub right now. They’re very good, and they’re able to put some damage up. I’m just thankful to keep them in the ballpark today and limit damage."

Irvin’s words confirm that opposing pitchers still have the utmost respect for the Braves’ lineup, despite the absence of Ronald Acuña Jr. and the team's extended offensive struggles, which began nearly a month before Acuña suffered his season-ending knee injury.

There’s still plenty of firepower.

Harris and Albies have shared the leadoff spot in Acuña’s absence, but it now looks like Harris will be at the top of the lineup on a daily basis. Putting him just ahead of Albies creates some speed and potential run-producing opportunities for Ozuna, Olson and Austin Riley, who is hoping to be the next Atlanta player to break free from his first-half funk.

Albies highlighted his four-hit day with a pair of doubles that positioned him to score in the first and ninth innings. He also drove in Adam Duvall with a two-out single in the fourth.

The clutch hits weren’t abundant, as the Braves went 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners, but there were enough of them to provide López with adequate support, a rarity thus far.

López has earned just four wins through his first 12 starts. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer 11 times, and he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any outing. If the offense had consistently backed him over the past couple of months, the Braves would have won more than just eight of the games he started.

But instead of dwelling on the past, the Braves will look toward the future and hope Thursday provided the spark they have been seeking over the past few weeks.

“It’s a huge win,” Albies said. “I’m happy we won so that we can set the tone in a more positive and happy way.”