Key for Braves down the stretch? Getting 'dangerous' trio going

September 20th, 2022

ATLANTA -- This seems to be a good time for , and to awake from their recent slumber and strengthen the Braves’ bid to win a second consecutive World Series title.

Yeah, Atlanta has continued to roll despite Swanson, Riley and Olson all battling inconsistent stretches since the start of August. But as the defending champs claimed a 5-2 win over the Nationals on Monday night at Truist Park, they were reminded of the value this trio provides to the top of the lineup.

“We’ve won, what was that, our 92nd win tonight?” Olson said. “I feel like we haven’t had one through nine clicking at one time all together. It’s any given night any part of the order can come up big for us. That’s what makes us dangerous.”

Riley moved three homers away from his first 40-homer season and Olson snapped an 0-for-22 skid when he began a two-hit performance with a double during a three-run fourth. Their contributions helped claim his MLB-best 19th win and also kept the Braves just a game behind the first-place Mets in the National League East.

One of the evening’s more light-hearted and encouraging scenes unfolded when Olson returned to the dugout after scoring in the fourth and raised his arms to the sky. The veteran first baseman had reason to be thankful after snapping a 2-for-39 skid that dated back to Sept. 7 and a 4-for-66 skid that went back to Aug. 28.

“Yeah, [raising my arms] was kind of playing, but it was also kind of real,” Olson said. “My struggles have been kind of evident. I’ve shown a little frustration, which I typically try not to do. So it’s nice to have the guys give me a little nod and have some fun for me.”

Continuing to play his comedic role, Guillermo Heredia playfully asked for the ball Olson hit to halt his woes in the fourth. When Braves manager Brian Snitker was asked if he could see the relief, he drew laughter by quickly responding, “What, on my face?”

Even with this recent skid, Olson still is tied for sixth among MLB players with 70 extra-base hits. Riley ranks second on this list with 76, despite hitting .226 with a .744 OPS since the beginning of August.

Riley was other-worldly as he hit .423 with 11 homers and a 1.344 OPS in July. While that wasn’t sustainable, he is capable of being a more consistent threat than he has been over the past six weeks. But the good news is he has continued to show power, or at least just enough.

Riley’s first inning homer off Nationals starter Cory Abbott snuck just over the left-center-field wall. But when you’re hitting .200 in September, you are glad to accept whatever gifts the baseball gods offer. Five of his 12 hits this month have been home runs.

“Both [Riley and Olson] have had [rough] spells or whatever, but nothing very long,” Snitker said. “They’ve both been able to fight their way out of it. With their makeup, they’re going to allow themselves to succeed. They’re strong mental guys. But I know it has to feel good for Matt, especially.”

Now that Ronald Acuña Jr. seems to be getting back to his productive ways in the leadoff spot, there is even greater value to what Swanson, Riley and Olson can contribute from the next three lineup spots. None of these three players entered Monday with an OPS above .725 going back to the beginning of August. Swanson has a .662 OPS and Olson a .636 OPS during this stretch.

Because of the contributions Michael Harris II, Travis d’Arnaud, William Contreras, Vaughn Grissom and Robbie Grossman have made from the bottom half of the lineup, the Braves still have a chance to win a fifth straight division title.

But the bid would certainly be strengthened if the top half of the lineup lives up to its great capability during the season’s final two weeks.

“Any time we get those guys going all at once, we’re definitely dangerous,” Wright said.