ST. LOUIS -- While gaining their first winning record of 2021 with a three-game sweep in St. Louis this week, the Braves provided strong indication they are no longer that same maddening bunch that labored through this season’s first four months and somehow stayed in the thick of the National League East race.
There was reason for the Braves to feel some relief as they finally moved their record above the .500 mark with an 8-4 win over the Cardinals on Thursday night at Busch Stadium. They got yet another big home run from Austin Riley and then capped their decisive six-run eighth inning by drawing four consecutive bases-loaded walks.
“That was really weird, I’m not going to lie,” Riley said. “Bases loaded and then they walk [four] guys. It doesn’t really happen that often. But I feel very fortunate and thankful we were able to get three [wins] in a row and hopefully get this momentum that we need.”
Momentum had been a foreign idea for the Braves, who played 18 games after the All-Star break before finally winning two in a row. They followed that Wednesday night win by exiting this series with what is their first three-game winning streak since July 10.
It took 109 games for the Braves to gain their first winning record (55-54). But bolstered by last week’s key Trade Deadline acquisitions and strengthened by the MVP-caliber production Riley and Freddie Freeman have provided, there’s reason to think a fourth consecutive NL East title could be quite attainable. Atlanta sits just 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets.
“I hope we can get a couple more above .500 so I don’t even have to talk about it anymore,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said with a chuckle. “I haven’t put much into it, honestly. I wish we were 10 [games] over, but we’re not. I like where we are. We’re right there in the race.”
Riley stands as a key reason the Braves have managed to persevere without the presences of Ronald Acuña Jr., Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud. The 24-year-old third baseman has batted .352 with nine homers and a 1.161 OPS over 24 games going back to July 7.
The latest of those home runs -- his 23rd of the season and eighth within his past 13 games -- might have been the most influential. Riley fell behind, 1-2, to Giovanny Gallegos and took a slider in the dirt before belting the hanging slider that followed to tie the game at 4.
“That was a really good at-bat,” Snitker said. “He fouled off a pitch or two. I was sitting there thinking, ‘Man, he’s seeing this guy pretty good.’ That was huge from where we were and it’s a big win.”
The Braves went on to take a four-run lead without putting a ball in play. After Dansby Swanson followed Riley’s homer with a double, Gallegos was replaced by Alex Reyes, who recorded a strike with just four of his 21 pitches.
“[Reyes] is a really, really good pitcher,” Vogt said. “He has a tendency to throw the ball out of the zone at times. We showed great patience and made him come over the plate. Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of that and give ourselves a pretty good cushion.”
Vogt delivered the go-ahead sacrifice fly in Wednesday night’s win and has been solid at catcher since being acquired from the D-backs immediately after the All-Star break. He joined the team a day after the Braves traded for Pederson, whose fourth-inning solo shot on Thursday was his third homer since arriving in Atlanta and second against a left-hander.
Duvall and Soler are a couple of other recent acquisitions who have already strengthened an outfield mix that will get stronger when Eddie Rosario comes off the injured list within the next week or two.
The bullpen has also gotten stronger with the arrival of Richard Rodríguez and resurgence of Tyler Matzek. A remaining weak spot for the club is backstop, which will also be bolstered when Travis d’Arnaud comes off the IL to take Kevan Smith’s roster spot within the next four games.
“It’s starting to feel like that mojo is back,” Snitker said. “How these guys are roaring back, it’s kind of like how we’ve done it the last two or three years. It seems more like us. And all of the new guys are pitching in and all of them are having a big hand in what we’re doing now.”