Braves' 'big dogs' continue much-needed power surge with 4 HRs

June 16th, 2024

ATLANTA -- If the Braves are going to start hitting homers like this again, then maybe they can persevere as they spend at least the next couple weeks without another of their star outfielders.

’s fifth-inning go-ahead shot was the first of four home runs the club hit to back an effective Charlie Morton in a 9-2 win over the Rays on Saturday afternoon at Truist Park. Atlanta has won three straight games for the first time since May 8-11 and has spent the past two days escaping its long offensive funk.

“I feel like we have so many talented guys in here, once we get a little bit of momentum, I feel like the game is kind of over,” Kelenic said. “Once we took the lead right there, especially with the big dogs coming up behind me, you saw it. … They capitalized, and we had a big inning.”

Kelenic, who was filling the leadoff spot for the first time this season, and all homered in the decisive five-run fifth against Rays starter Ryan Pepiot. added a three-run blast in the seventh. This marked just the third time the Braves have hit four homers in a game this season, and the first since April 19. They did so a franchise-record 20 times last year.

Morton limited Tampa Bay to one run over six innings and benefited from the power surge that extended Atlanta’s recent success. The Braves scored six runs in Thursday’s win in Baltimore, and they have totaled 16 runs through the first two games of this series. This stretch has created hope the lineup can persevere without Ronald Acuña Jr., who suffered a season-ending left knee injury on May 26, and Michael Harris II, who will likely miss at least a month after straining his left hamstring on Friday night.

“It’s good to see a lot of the different guys who are getting their momentum going,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Ozuna has produced a strong MVP-caliber resume while leading the National League in home runs (20), RBIs (62) and OPS (1.021). His two-run homer in Saturday’s fifth inning allowed him to join Acuña (2021), Freddie Freeman (‘17), Andruw Jones (‘05), Gary Sheffield (‘03) and Javy Lopez (‘03) as the only Braves to hit 20-plus homers through the team’s first 68 games since 2000.

Now, it’s time for some of Ozuna’s teammates to help him carry the load. No other Braves player has produced an .800 OPS or higher this year. The closest to reach this mark is Olson, whose success over the past few weeks has provided him with a .794 OPS, far below the .993 OPS he constructed while leading the Majors with a franchise-record 54 homers last year.

Olson went back to back with Ozuna in the fifth and now has 11 homers, seven shy of the total he had through 68 games last year. The veteran first baseman has hit .333 with a 1.005 OPS over his past 19 games, dating back to May 26, the day Acuña was injured.

Now, the Braves are hoping Riley is beginning one of those tears they have regularly benefited from as he hit 30-plus homers each of the past three seasons. The powerful third baseman has gone yard in the first two games of the series against the Rays after homering just three times in the 53 games he had played before Friday.

“Right now, he’s seeing the ball great,” Kelenic said. “He’s such a talented player. No one was worried whatsoever about him. Baseball is a tough game.”

Kelenic has endured his share of growing pains since being taken by the Mets with the sixth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. He was traded to the Mariners a few months later and struggled during the three seasons he spent with Seattle. The talented outfielder has spent the past few weeks showing Atlanta may have been wise to gamble on his upside by acquiring him this winter.

With Harris sidelined for a while, Kelenic will be given the chance to keep his new roles as the team’s starting center fielder and leadoff hitter. He is a skilled defender who runs the bases well, and his bat has shown some life as he has hit .306 with an .887 OPS in 11 games this month.

“I’m just trying to treat it like one at-bat at a time,” Kelenic said. “It allows me to just be present in the box. It makes me stay even-keeled and play chess against the pitcher.”