NEW YORK -- Remember when it felt like the sky was falling when the Braves dropped two straight to the Royals and then saw Nick Markakis fracture his wrist during the game that followed?
Well, the Braves, on an eight-game winning streak, have produced one of the National League’s top three winning percentages dating back to July 26, the day Markakis was injured and two days after Dansby Swanson was placed on the injured list. The only National League teams that entered Sunday with a better record during that span were the Mets and the Dodgers, who have both lost a series against Atlanta within the past two weekends.
Josh Donaldson wore “Bringer of Rain” on the back of his jersey for Players’ Weekend. But he was more like the Bringer of Pain as he produced his fourth multi-homer game of the season and backed an impressive Dallas Keuchel, who helped the Braves secure a three-game sweep with a 2-1 win over the Mets on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field.
“We just faced a good Mets team twice and a good Dodgers team,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It shows these guys they can compete with anybody at any time.”
While going 20-9 dating back to July 26, the Braves have won five of their six games played against the Mets, who have lost just three of the other 19 games played within that same stretch. The Dodgers lost two of three in Atlanta last weekend, one of the two series losses L.A. has incurred since the All-Star break heading into its rubber match with the Yankees Sunday night.
Swanson will be activated within the next couple days and Austin Riley could come off the injured list within the next week. The Braves also remain hopeful Brian McCann could return during the first week of September. But Markakis will likely miss at least three more weeks and Ender Inciarte may miss the rest of the regular season.
Each of these key position players has suffered an injury within the past 29 games, but the Braves have maintained their 6-game division lead with the help of some recent scrap-heap pickups and their willingness to make significant financial commitments to both Donaldson and Keuchel.
“It’s pretty special,” Donaldson said. “I feel like we’ve been playing really good baseball. The guys that have come in here have done everything our team has needed. When you’ve had injuries like we’ve had, it can be difficult. We’re doing a great job of ‘Next man up’ right now and really having success.”
Of course, it’s much easier to overcome this injury rash when you possess three MVP candidates. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman have held this status most of the season. Donaldson’s case has been significantly strengthened as he has hit a National League-high 23 homers and produced a 1.067 OPS over 63 games dating back to June 14.
Donaldson gave Keuchel an early lead with his second-inning homer off Steven Matz and then added to it with a seventh-inning solo shot off Paul Sewald, so there were likely plenty of fans at Citi Field who considered him an MVP candidate. The Braves’ third baseman has nine homers and a 1.367 OPS in 73 plate appearances against the Mets this year.
“I’ve had some success against them,” Donaldson said. “I have a lot of respect for their pitching staff. I feel like what they do a great job of is they come after you. They come after you in the strike zone and they have really good stuff. They know they have really good stuff. So they’re going to challenge you. As a hitter, I always look forward to those types of challenges.”
On the flip side, Keuchel has certainly appreciated the opportunity to get to know Donaldson as a friend instead of a foe. The Braves’ left-hander preserved his early one-run advantage and routinely induced ground balls while limiting the Mets to four hits over seven scoreless. He’s allowed one run over his past 19 innings.
Four years ago, Donaldson was the American League MVP and Keuchel was the AL Cy Young Award winner. Now they are serving as a formidable duo in Atlanta. The veteran third baseman has hit .400 (18-45) with six homers during the 13 games started by the lefty this season.
“It’s nice to get a few home runs from anybody, but JD especially,” Keuchel said. “He’s here for a reason and that’s to back up Freddie [Freeman]. If you walk Freddie, you’ve got to face JD and that’s not an easy task.”