All-Star finalists lift Braves in wild comeback
First-place Atlanta showing late resilience consistently
WASHINGTON -- Don’t call it a comeback. Call it a way of life for the Braves, who once again flexed their offensive might while overcoming a pair of four-run deficits on the way to claiming a 13-9 win over the Nationals on Saturday at Nationals Park.
Dansby Swanson's three-run, eighth-inning home run off Joe Ross proved to be the decisive blow delivered by the Braves, who tallied four runs in both the seventh and eighth innings. They trailed 5-1 after three innings and 8-4 through six innings.
“I think the more you do it, that’s when you start saying, ‘Wow, we keep doing this over and over again,'” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “As much as I’d like to win without heart-racing moments like this, it’s pretty spectacular what this team is doing. It’s really hard to put in perspective what we’re doing.”
If you’re wondering how the Braves have built their season-best 5 1/2-game lead in the National League East, you can start with the deep, high-powered and resilient lineup that has tallied a Major League-best 158 runs in the seventh inning or later, according to STATS.
This reality makes it easier to accept that they have now erased a four-run deficit in the seventh inning or later four times this year. Before this latest comeback, they had erased a six-run, seventh-inning deficit in Cleveland on April 20, a four-run, ninth-inning deficit in Miami on June 9, and a five-run, seventh-inning deficit against the Phillies on June 14.
“That’s what they do,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They just keep coming back. It was a good win.”
Snitker’s night began miserably, as he watched Mike Foltynewicz display negative body language while allowing eight earned runs over just four innings. After the Braves cut the deficit to one run in the top of the fifth, Foltynewicz surrendered three straight singles to begin Washington’s three-run fifth.
While Foltynewicz may have to take his 6.37 ERA to Triple-A Gwinnett, the Braves are going to continue to be fine with an offense that has produced a .923 OPS while averaging 7.5 runs through this month’s first 20 games.
Here is how Saturday's comeback evolved -- and how unlikely it was -- backed by Win Expectancy data from FanGraphs.
Nationals lead, 5-2; Braves’ Win Expectancy 16%
After Anibal Sanchez struck out the first two batters, Ronald Acuña Jr. laced a sharp single and Swanson followed with a double. Freeman followed with a two-run single to bring the Braves within a run and match the franchise record with an RBI in 10 consecutive games.
The Braves’ offense continues to revolve around Freeman, who has hit .344 with 14 homers and a 1.117 OPS over his past 40 games. The veteran first baseman is in the Starters Election round of the All-Star balloting process and may be back in the National League’s starting lineup for a second straight year.
“He’s so good,” Swanson said. “You can just write that because there’s nothing else to say.”
Nats lead, 8-4; Braves’ Win Expectancy 5.7%
The Nationals’ bullpen woes were extended when Trevor Rosenthal opened the inning by walking three straight batters within a span of 15 pitches. Right-handed reliever Tanner Rainey then got ahead with a 0-2 count before Swanson drew a key bases-loaded walk.
This set the stage for Freeman, who cleared the bases by lacing an opposite-field, game-tying double off Rainey’s first-pitch fastball.
“Everyone wants to get a hit in a big situation,” Freeman said. “For us to work four straight walks, that was huge, especially Dansby. Rainey was coming in throwing hard and throwing strikes too. To lay off the 3-2 pitch that he did, that just sets the whole inning up, and you want to keep the line moving.”
Nats lead, 9-8; Braves’ Win Expectancy 25.2%
After A.J. Minter allowed the Nationals to regain the lead via a wild pitch in the seventh, Ozzie Albies and Tyler Flowers began the eighth with consecutive singles. Johan Camargo followed with a pinch-hit, game-tying double. Two batters later, Swanson crushed his game-winning three-run homer off Ross, who was likely going to start Sunday’s game if he hadn’t been needed in this one.
Swanson’s 392-foot shot into the Braves’ left-center field bullpen came against a 1-1 slider. The Atlanta shortstop has batted .213 (13-for-61) and tallied three of his 14 home runs against sliders this year, a massive improvement from the .131 (16-for-122) he hit against sliders last year.
“You have an approach and a plan to get those guys in, especially with the infield in,” Swanson said. “You just go up there with the confidence of knowing exactly what you need to do. You just have to be on time, basically.”
This latest comeback will only bring more attention to the Braves, who have seven players -- Freeman, Swanson, Albies, Acuna, Josh Donaldson, Nick Markakis and Brian McCann -- on the Starters Election ballot.