ATLANTA -- The Astros didn’t need to make any statements. They have nothing to prove to anyone else in baseball, having won the World Series last year and played in three other Fall Classics in the previous five seasons. Simply put, they’re currently one of the most accomplished franchises in the game.
Another slow start to this season -- keeping with a trend of the previous three years -- and injuries to key players Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Lance McCullers Jr. perhaps showed the Astros were a bit more vulnerable this year. Or perhaps they just needed a few weeks to begin clicking on all cylinders.
The Astros reminded everyone of their heavyweight status by storming into Truist Field and sweeping three games from the red-hot Braves, coming from behind three times in the process. On Sunday, they scored twice in the eighth inning and three times in the ninth to win, 5-2 -- their season-high fourth win in a row.
“I thought we played a lot better baseball this series than we’ve been playing,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I thought it was a great team win today, and basically all three days. We played good baseball and hope we keep it rolling.”
Yordan Alvarez tied the game with a two-out, two-run single in the eighth off lefty reliever A.J. Minter, giving him 27 RBIs in 20 games, and rookie Corey Julks snapped a 2-2 tie in the ninth with a pinch-hit, two-out single off Minter. Bregman added a two-run single for some insurance runs for the Astros, who are 12-2 when scoring at least five runs.
"Look at their résumé,” Minter said. “You could argue they have been the best team in baseball the past five years. They don't give up."
The Astros improved to 5-1 during a challenging stretch in their schedule, with series wins over the Blue Jays (2-1) and Braves (3-0). Next up is a series in St. Petersburg to face the 19-3 Rays, who are 13-0 at home this year and have the best record in baseball.
“They’re a very good ballclub,” Bregman said. “You can obviously see it by their record, and it’s going to be two good teams playing against each other. We’ve got a stretch of really good teams playing against each other, starting with Toronto and then a really good Braves team. I look forward to getting to Tampa and getting going.”
The biggest at-bat of the game was Julks’ against Minter in the ninth. With the game tied at 2 and runners at first and second and two outs, Julks pinch-hit for catcher Martín Maldonado and fell behind in the count, 1-2, before hitting a 2-2 changeup up the middle, scoring Kyle Tucker from second with the go-ahead run.
“I was just trying to stay ready, trying to see what the pitcher had and try to build a solid plan in case I came up,” Julks said. “I was trying to get a good read on him, feel for him, and tried to go execute.”
The Astros outscored the Braves, 11-0, in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings in the series. They have outscored all opponents, 54-31, in the seventh through ninth this year.
“In most games, if you can win the seventh, eighth, ninth, it puts you back in the game if you’re behind, and it gives you a relatively comfortable lead with less outs to go in the ballgame,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
Julks, the 27-year-old rookie who was a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster, clapped his hands and pumped his fist when he reached first base in a rare show of emotion.
“Yeah, that kind of came over me,” said Julks, who is slashing .327/.333/.491 with two homers and seven RBIs in his first 55 Major League at-bats. “It was definitely an exciting moment.”
Braves starter Max Fried held the Astros scoreless for 6 2/3 innings, allowing three hits, while Astros starter Cristian Javier struck out 10 batters in six innings, whiffing seven in a row during one stretch. Houston’s bullpen threw 9 1/3 hitless innings in the series, with 11 strikeouts and three walks.
“We made a lot of mistakes [on the bases],” Baker said. “We were fortunate enough to win. Corey fouled off some tough pitches and came up with that single up the middle. That was big, those insurance runs from Breggy. That was a big series to win.”