MIAMI -- As the Braves continue to strengthen their place atop the National League East standings, Freddie Freeman is creating reason to wonder if he might end up winning a second straight NL MVP Award.
Freeman strengthened his resume as he hit for the cycle in Wednesday night’s 11-9 win over the Marlins at loanDepot park. The 31-year-old first baseman became the first player to accomplish the feat twice while playing for the Braves. And he’s likely the first to do it at the end of a day that began with his wife pushing a cappuccino toward him and saying this one “has a lot of hits in it.”
“It’s just pretty cool,” Freeman said. “These are the special nights. It’s really hard to talk about. Everything has to go right. … Things just had to go perfectly well, and it did tonight.”
Freeman secured the cycle when he homered off Marlins right-hander Luís Madero in the sixth inning. He doubled in the first and tripled during a four-run fourth. His fifth-inning single put him a home run shy of the Braves’ first cycle since he produced one on June 15, 2016, in a win over the Reds.
“I was telling Dansby [Swanson], ‘This guy is good enough right now,’ knowing it was for the cycle,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s how special he is, and he hit it to the deepest part of the ballpark.”
Freeman joined Trea Turner and Jake Cronenworth as the only players to hit for the cycle this season.
“I was just doing everything I could to not come out of my approach,” Freeman said. “It was working so well the first three at-bats. I knew it. Everyone knew that I needed just the home run there. To be able to do it on the four consecutive [plate appearances], that was pretty cool. It's definitely a special night that I’ll always remember.”
How rare has it been for a Braves player to hit for the cycle? Well, it’s been done eight times in franchise history. The only other players to do this during the club’s Atlanta era were Mark Kotsay (2008) and Albert Hall (1987). The other five instances occurred in 1910 or earlier.
But hitting for the cycle actually wasn’t this game’s most significant rarity. The Braves drew five bases-loaded walks, their highest total since at least 1916. Still, the eight-run lead carried into the ninth quickly diminished as Josh Tomlin was charged with five runs and Will Smith allowed a two-run homer before striking out former Braves catcher Alex Jackson to end this odd night.
“A win is a win, it doesn’t matter how it happens,” said Freeman, who has helped the surging Braves win 10 straight road games, MLB’s longest-such streak of this season.
With their sixth straight win overall, the first-place Braves ensured they will enter Thursday’s off-day leading the second-place Phillies by 3 1/2 games. Their bid to win a fourth straight National League East title has been fueled by a reconstructed lineup that continues to feature Freeman as its centerpiece.
As the Braves have won 13 of 15 dating back to Aug. 3, Freeman has hit .386 with a 1.094 OPS. Austin Riley and Swanson have capably carried the load as the Braves have persevered since losing Ronald Acuña Jr. to a season-ending knee injury on July 10.
But Freeman remains the heart and soul of the Braves, who were 7 1/2 games out of first place and a season-high five games under .500 (30-35) on June 16. Their rotation became a strength over the two months that have followed, and those starters have been backed by the resurgence of their first baseman.
Freeman exited June 9 hitting .224 with a .784 OPS. Over the 62 games that have followed, he has hit an MLB-best .372 with a 1.044 OPS. The two-month surge allowed him to exit Wednesday night’s game hitting .301 with a .919 OPS.
“You could tell he was a little down at the beginning of the year, but really he’s just the same guy,” said Braves veteran starter Charlie Morton, who struck out nine over six innings to earn his 12th win. “He’s just really even-keeled and doesn’t really say a lot. He just goes out and just does his job. And man, it’s impressive.”
This marks the first time this year Freeman has gone to bed with a .300 batting average. He has come a long way in a couple of months and now has the opportunity to surge over the season’s final 40-plus games -- like he did when he won last year’s NL MVP Award.
“You know me,” Freeman said. “I like the three at the start of the batting average. I obviously didn’t get off to the start I wanted to this year. But luckily, it wasn’t a 60-game season. I feel, for two or three months now, I’ve been doing pretty well. I’ve still got six or seven weeks to close this thing out. So I just got to keep going.”