Braves power to sole possession of first

August 15th, 2021

As the Braves sit atop the National League East standings with a lineup that includes an abundance of power, it’s remarkable to consider how much has changed for them since the All-Star break. Many of the concerns that surrounded this team for much of the season’s first four months have steadily evaporated over the past few weeks.

extended his recent power barrage and teamed with to hit back-to-back homers in a 6-5 win over the Nationals on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park. The victory sealed a three-game sweep for the Braves, who have won 10 of their past 12 games.

The Braves (62-56) were in third place on Aug. 1, four games behind the then-first place Mets. A little more than two weeks later, they are one game ahead of the Phillies (61-57) and two games in front of the Mets (59-57).

“This is kind of what we’ve been searching for all season,” Riley said. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. I know that’s a little cliché, but it’s the truth. If we can get hot and get rolling and get everyone clicking, we can put ourselves in a good spot.”

Though Atlanta enhanced its power supply by acquiring , and over July’s final two weeks, it’s evident the club’s internal power sources remain quite strong even after suffered a season-ending knee injury on July 10. Freeman and Riley reached the 25-homer mark in this series finale and Swanson was one shy of this mark after tallying his fourth homer of this series.

After allowed three runs over four innings, the Braves leaned on their bullpen and preserved the lead gained with their three-run fifth, which was capped by Swanson scoring on a wild pitch. The inning began with Freeman and Riley hitting consecutive homers against Paolo Espino. This marked the fourth time Atlanta hit back-to-back homers this year, but just the first time since May.

“This lineup is deep now and we’re getting contributions from a lot of guys, which is a really good thing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Hopefully we can go for another two and half months or whatever and do that.”

While Freeman and Riley have been bidding for a 30-homer season for at least a month, this milestone only recently became a potential reality for Swanson. The 27-year-old shortstop entered the series homerless in 38 August at-bats. But he bid adieu to Nationals Park having homered in four of his 11 most recent at-bats.

“I don’t say anything to him, I don’t want to screw it up,” Snitker playfully said. “It’s something the way that ball carries when he hits it. The at-bats he has are so good.”

Swanson tallied his 24th homer of the season with the two-run shot he hit off Espino in the third. Freeman and Riley then hit their 25th homers within a span of three pitches in the fifth.

As things currently stand, Freeman and Riley are the only players who have already hit 25 homers for the Braves this season. Acuña had 24 homers when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee and Swanson has matched that total. As for Duvall, he’s tallied 26 homers total this season, including four in the 15 games he’s played since being acquired from the Marlins.

When was the last time the Braves had four different players hit 25 homers in a season? That would be the 2006 Braves, and the four players were Jeff Francoeur, Andruw Jones, Adam LaRoche and Chipper Jones.

Yes, the fact Duvall hit 22 of his homers with the Marlins will exclude him from any list of players who hit 25 homers for the Braves this year. But with 22 homers, might soon join this club.

So, the Braves are going through this month with five different players who could end up having a 25-homer season. They of course went through the first four-plus months with another who tallied 24 home runs. How unique might it be to assemble this much power? Well, the 2019 Twins and '03 Red Sox are the only two clubs in MLB history to have six different players hit at least 25 homers for them in a season.

Along with having five players who could hit 25 homers this season, the Braves also have Pederson and Soler, a pair of sluggers who could end up with at least 20 home runs this year. Atlanta’s lineup over the remainder of the year could consist of seven different players in the midst of a 20-homer season. The eighth regular in this lineup is Travis d’Arnaud, who produced a 24-homer pace during last year’s shortened season.

How many teams have had seven players hit 20 homers for them in a season? The answer is 11, but the 2018 Dodgers are the only NL club to do this.

With Soler, Pederson and Duvall coming in as midseason additions, the Braves aren’t going to match that Dodgers club. But having that kind of firepower down the stretch and into the postseason could prove quite valuable for this revitalized Atlanta squad.

“No matter what the situation is in the game, we’re still in it and we’re never out of it,” Riley said. “It’s been a fun little run right now.”