'This is what you sign up for': Braves set for crucial series vs. Mets

August 3rd, 2022

ATLANTA -- Ozzie Albies walked through the clubhouse with a limp and Jake Odorizzi spent the morning hours introducing himself to his new teammates. All seemed to be going well for the Braves until they blew a late lead in a 3-1 loss to the Phillies on Wednesday afternoon at Truist Park.

Charlie Morton delivered 6 2/3 scoreless innings and Orlando Arcia homered for a second straight day. But Nick Castellanos’ two-run homer off Collin McHugh doomed the Braves, who will now head to New York to begin a five-game series that will influence their bid for a fifth straight National League East title. They trail the first-place Mets by 3.5 games after New York beat the Nationals on Wednesday evening.

“After you play one hundred and whatever games, you want to be in this position where these games are big,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “After the All-Star break, this thing starts throttling forward and this is what it’s all about. This is good. It will be fun. This is what you sign up for.”

The Braves might have carried a five-game winning streak to Queens had J.T. Realmuto’s hustle and speed not negated what would have been an inning-ending double play in the eighth. Realmuto’s effort scored Rhys Hoskins with the tying run and extended the inning for Castellanos to hit a two-run homer off McHugh. 

Now the Braves must turn the page and set their sights on gaining ground on the Mets this weekend. Five games in four days will provide a challenge. But the good news: The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader is the series’ only day game.

The Braves have an MLB-best 40-15 record since June 1, despite having split their past 10 day games. They have also lost nine of their past 11 series finales. So Atlanta will be looking to immediately right itself when Kyle Wright opposes Carlos Carrasco in Thursday night’s series opener.

Wright has a 2.39 ERA over his past six starts and Carrasco posted a 0.90 ERA in five July starts. Their matchup marks the start of a weekend that could be filled with great pitching duels. Max Fried and Max Scherzer are both scheduled to pitch during Saturday’s doubleheader, but it’s not known which game either will start. The series will likely conclude with NL Rookie of the Year favorite Spencer Strider opposing Jacob deGrom. 

Odorizzi, who was acquired from the Astros on Monday, will make his Braves debut when he starts one of Saturday’s games. 

“If you want to win a division, you’ve got to beat the team that’s in front of you,” Odorizzi said. “Coming from a team in Houston, we were a first-place team trying to run down the Yankees for the best overall record. It feels similar in that we’re trying to win the division. It’s the same kind of chase.” 

Though Albies is still a few weeks away from returning from a fractured foot, the Braves are in good position. Ronald Acuña Jr. has a .580 OPS over his past 38 games, but Austin Riley, Matt Olson and Dansby Swanson have been among the game’s most productive hitters over the past two months. In addition, Eddie Rosario has shown some promise as he prepares to share left field with the newly-acquired Robbie Grossman, who showed his skills against right-handed pitchers when he doubled in Wednesday’s eighth on the only swing he has taken thus far as a Brave.

The rotation appears to be in good shape, and the Braves’ bullpen will get an upgrade once another Trade Deadline acquisition, Raisel Iglesias, joins the club in New York. Kirby Yates could also soon be activated from the injured list.

The Braves didn’t get going until this point of last season. They are in a much better position this year. But another early August surge would significantly improve their bid to win yet another division crown. 

“If you come out of that series and you played really well and you won some of those games, you feel really good about where you’re at,” Morton said. “I think that’s the important thing, to set us up for the series that come after that series. Somebody is going to go on a stretch where there’s some separation or you’re gaining some ground. It’s just a matter of when it’s going to happen and who’s going to do it.”