PHILADELPHIA -- Even with Freddie Freeman in the midst of arguably the best stretch of his brilliant big league career, the Braves know they will need contributions from the rest of the lineup to make a run in the National League East.
They got plenty of those on Saturday -- as well as yet another big performance from Freeman -- in a 15-3 rout that ended with the Phillies calling on infielder Ronald Torreyes to record their final five outs at Citizens Bank Park. The victory moved Atlanta (48-49) back into a second-place tie with Philadelphia. The Braves are four games back of the Mets -- who fell to the Blue Jays on Saturday -- with a pivotal five-game series at Citi Field looming following Sunday’s series finale in Philadelphia.
“It's either gonna help [general manager] Alex [Anthopoulos] go get us some help or it's not,” Freeman said. “When you play nine games in eight days against guys that are in first -- and now we're tied with the Phillies in second -- it's big, especially right before the Trade Deadline. We've got to take care of business [Sunday] so we can keep getting closer and closer to the Mets."
Freeman staked the Braves to an early lead when he clobbered a two-run homer off a sign on the second-deck facade in right field, sending an echo through the entire ballpark. He added a single and scored another run in the third inning.
None of that comes as any surprise, though. Freeman is hitting .442 with seven homers over his last 25 games -- the best 25-game stretch of his career. That includes hitting .500 with five homers in the last 10 games alone.
More important were the contributions Atlanta received from the rest of its lineup. Abraham Almonte hit a solo homer of his own in the second inning, then added a two-run single in the third and another single in the sixth (though he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double). Almonte's three-hit, three-RBI night came after he had gone just 2-for-23 with zero RBIs in his last nine games.
Joc Pederson capped a four-hit night with a three-run homer off Torreyes. Dansby Swanson, who hit a grand slam in Thursday’s win and had two hits on Friday, chipped in three hits (including a pair of doubles), drove in a run and scored another. Ozzie Albies piled on with a no-doubt three-run homer -- making a dent of his own in the same sign hit by Freeman -- to push the lead to 10-1 in the eighth. Austin Riley added a two-run shot later in the inning off Torreyes.
“It was nice to score those runs like we did, that's for sure,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It was good to see [Almonte], he had some good at-bats. Dansby's been swinging the bat good after having a little spell there. And Freddie's Freddie.”
That all backed a solid, albeit abbreviated, outing from Drew Smyly. The left-hander tossed four scoreless innings against his former club before departing due to left knee pain that popped up during his final frame. Pitching with a 6-0 lead, Smyly loaded the bases with three consecutive walks to start the fourth, but he emerged unscathed by forcing Didi Gregorius to ground into a 1-2-3 double play before getting pinch-hitter Travis Jankowski to fly out.
Smyly’s health will be key over the next few days for a Braves team that adjusted its rotation specifically to get Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Smyly a start against each the Phillies and the Mets during this season-defining road trip. Atlanta is 7-1 in Smyly's last eight starts, during which the southpaw has posted a 2.40 ERA.
"It just started feeling tight -- kind of like a pull -- throughout that fourth inning,” said Smyly, who will be evaluated further on Sunday. “I was able to get through it, but after talking with the trainers and the coaches after that inning, we thought it was best just to take it to the house and make sure everything was OK before you do anything worse."
While the Braves will be hoping for good news off the field on Sunday, their performance on the diamond could go a long way toward determining how this week will play out leading up to Friday’s Trade Deadline. They’ll have to get past Aaron Nola to earn a series victory -- and get back to .500 -- before heading to New York for that crucial five-game series against the first-place Mets.
“It gives us a chance to win the series at the start of the biggest road trip of the year,” Freeman said. “This was big going into Nola [on Sunday], so hopefully this gives us confidence going against Nola -- he's one of the best pitchers in the game. It was good for us to do that tonight, so we can get a chance for a series win.”