Murphy's power surge is huge bright spot in sweep of Tigers

Braves' offense 'starting to find a rhythm' as catcher belts pair of 2-run HRs in four-hit finale

June 19th, 2024

ATLANTA -- The Braves have been feeling great about Reynaldo López and their pitching staff all season. They exited this homestand feeling much better about a lineup that awoke over this past week.

Austin Riley solidified the middle of the lineup with his awakening over the past few days. As for , he showed the lineup’s potential length as he highlighted a four-hit performance with a pair of home runs in a 7-0 win over the Tigers on Wednesday afternoon at Truist Park.

“We all feel a lot better about [the offense],” manager Brian Snitker said. “You can kind of see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Murphy hit a two-run homer in the third against top AL Cy Young Award candidate Tarik Subal and another against Mason Englert in the fifth. The 2023 All-Star catcher completed his first multihit game of the season with a seventh-inning single. Murphy’s contributions were more than enough for López, who tossed five scoreless innings and exited with an MLB-best 1.57 ERA.

“I always remained confident that once this team woke up and got going, we’d hit our stride,” López said through an interpreter. “What an incredible day for Murphy. It’s so good to have him out there. He evokes confidence.”

The Braves have won six of seven since enduring their first five-game losing streak since 2017. They began this three-game sweep of the Tigers with a pair of 2-1 wins and ended it by scoring six-plus runs for the fifth time in their past seven games.

Atlanta tallied six-plus runs in 13 of its first 24 games. But the Braves reached this total in just nine of the 41 games played from April 27-June 13. Ronald Acuña Jr. (torn ACL) won’t return this season and Michael Harris II (hamstring strain) likely won’t be back before the All-Star break.

But the Braves still have plenty of firepower. They tallied five runs (four earned) in four innings against Skubal, who had posted a 2.20 ERA in his previous 14 starts.

“The offense has been clicking a little bit more,” Murphy said. “We’re starting to find a rhythm. It’s just one of those things where you hope it’s contagious and it builds momentum.”

Some of the May struggles could be attributed to the long absences of Murphy, who missed nearly two full months with a left oblique strain suffered on Opening Day, and Riley, who missed two weeks with a left intercostal strain he sustained on May 12. They may have both finally erased the rust.

Murphy was hitting .135 with one homer and a .408 OPS through the 56 plate appearances he tallied before Wednesday. He seemed to turn things around as he accounted for three of the four hardest-hit balls during this series finale. Murphy’s fifth-inning homer came off the bat at 108.7 mph and his seventh-inning single had a 106.9 mph exit velocity. His first homer registered 106.8 mph, according to Statcast.

This was what the Braves regularly saw last year when Murphy ranked among the 84th percentile in hard-hit rate. But entering Wednesday, he had produced a 106-plus mph exit velo just once this season -- a 108.7 mph single in Friday’s win against the Rays.

“It feels real good, especially with the way I had been struggling,” Murphy said. “Having a day like that improves your mood.”

Suddenly, the Braves have reason to feel good about what had been an underperforming offense. Losing Harris during the first inning of this homestand was a blow, but Jarred Kelenic has been an adequate replacement in the leadoff spot. Kelenic hit .308 with a .910 OPS during this six-game homestand.

This was also a very productive stretch for Riley, who hit .526 with three homers and a 1.802 OPS over these six games. The third baseman entered the homestand hitting .220 with three homers and a .618 OPS.

Matt Olson has been surging over the past month and Marcell Ozuna has been one of the game’s most productive hitters going back to May 2023. Even without Acuña, the top and middle of the lineup can still be quite rough on opposing hitters.

And if this was the start of something for Murphy, the Braves might start to find the length their lineup has lacked most of the season.

“[Murphy] kind of looked like his old self,” Snitker said. “That’s exciting in and of itself. But throughout the lineup, we’re kind of being who we are again.”