Braves hint at looming surge in split vs. Mets

May 4th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Nothing lost. Nothing gained. Now the Braves will spend the next five months attempting to overcome the six-game division deficit they faced after ending a four-game series with a 9-2 win over the Mets on Wednesday afternoon at Citi Field.

Though it was good to see these two teams face each other for the first time this season, the National League East wasn’t going to be decided in May. But by sandwiching wins around Tuesday’s ugly doubleheader, the Braves at least prevented getting buried too far in the standings. The six-game division deficit equals the one the reigning World Series champs faced against the Mets on July 28 of last year.

But instead of counting on another late-season surge, the Braves are hoping to get right much earlier than they did last year. They showed some signs of turning the corner during a series that included its share of ups and downs. 

“Our team chemistry is really high and we’re all having fun,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “Good things are happening on the baseball field and we’re communicating well. So yeah, good things are coming.” 

The Braves have won just one series this year and they opened this road trip by losing two of three to the last-place Rangers. But while they might not have found their stride yet, here were three encouraging things seen during this series:

Timely hitting
OK, there wasn’t an abundance of timely hitting. In fact, there really wasn’t any during Tuesday’s doubleheader. But d’Arnaud contributed a huge two-strike hit in the sixth inning of Monday’s win and he drew his first walk of the season to plate the first run of the seven-run sixth that decided Wednesday’s game.

The Braves entered Wednesday’s sixth having gone 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position during this series. But Ozzie Albies, Adam Duvall, Dansby Swanson and Ronald Acuña Jr. recorded four hits with RISP in the big inning. d’Arnaud interrupted this stretch by drawing a bases-loaded walk, the only free pass he has drawn in 73 plate appearances this year.

Atlanta entered Wednesday hitting .159 (22-for-138) with runners in scoring position over their past 20 games. 

“It was nice to keep the line moving a little bit with the one big inning,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t know if we had done that this year. That was good to see. It shows we are capable of that.”

The bottom of the order
Making the sixth-inning uprising even more encouraging was the fact it included Duvall’s two-run double and Swanson’s RBI single. The Braves need this duo to be productive to make the lineup less top heavy and help create more opportunities for Acuña Jr.

Swanson started slow, but has hit a team-best .341 with a .954 OPS over his past 13 games dating back to April 22. After producing what was just his third multi-hit game on Wednesday, Duvall was still hitting .191 with a .537 OPS and just one home run. 

Still, Duvall’s average exit velocity and hard-hit rate are higher than they were when he hit 38 homers last year.

“Traditionally, I’ve started off slower,” Duvall said. “I just need to clean some things up and we’ll be right where we need to be.”

Acuña's energy
Acuña has gone just 5-for-25 with one extra-base hit since being activated from the injured list. But as he played in three of the four games against the Mets, he showed no signs of being just 10 months removed from a torn right ACL.

The energetic outfielder created some excitement during Wednesday’s sixth inning when he got in a rundown and ended up sprinting around and past Francisco Lindor to reach second base successfully. After sliding and dusting himself off, the 24-year-old star looked toward his dugout and playfully ran in place.  

“I’m sure all the medical people were [gasping] when they saw him running around like that,” Snitker said. “But it just goes to show you how healthy he is.”

Acuña recorded the Braves’ fastest first-to-home time (30.5 ft./sec.) during Monday’s series opener and on Tuesday he smoked a 116.6 mph double, which stands as the fourth-hardest-hit ball he has ever hit. He hasn’t been cleared to play every day yet, but it’s going to be hard to keep him out of the lineup the more he shows his body and knee can endure the daily grind.