ATLANTA -- If this weekend is indicative of what Josh Donaldson might provide over the remainder of the season, the powerful Braves offense that has been wrecking pitching staffs might indeed end up being the National League’s best.
Following the leads of Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley, who have been clearing outfield fences with regularity over the past month, Donaldson joined the power barrage as he homered during each of the three games of a statement series that concluded with the Braves rolling to a 15-1 win over the division-rival Phillies Sunday afternoon at SunTrust Park.
“We know how good of a team they are, and they know how good we are,” Donaldson said. “Anytime we line up against each other we know it’s going to be a dogfight. Today was a rare exception. It was big for us to come back the first night and win, and it was also big for us to be able to come back today after they came back and beat us yesterday.”
The Braves won an eighth straight game by overcoming a five-run seventh-inning deficit Friday and then bid adieu to their season-long winning streak when Luke Jackson squandered a ninth-inning lead Saturday. But there was no carryover effect as the hosts tallied season highs in hits (19) and runs (15) in this rubber match.
With a pair of wins in this three-game set, the first-place Braves have moved 2 1/2 games in front of the Phillies in the National League East. They have tallied six runs per game while producing an NL-high 24 wins over the 34 games played since Ronald Acuña Jr. was moved back to the leadoff spot on May 10.
But this powerful offense has gone to a different level while belting 19 homers, producing a 1.073 OPS and averaging nine runs through the first seven games of this homestand against the Pirates and Phillies. To put this in perspective, 14 MLB teams entered Sunday having tallied fewer than 20 homers this month.
“Guys are starting to feel it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I kind of felt as the weather got warm we’d get going.”
How good has this Atlanta offense been? The Braves have gone 12-3 while their starting rotation has produced a 4.60 ERA through this month’s first 15 games.
Mike Foltynewicz has battled frustration, but he provided some signs of encouragement as he touched 99 mph with his fastball while limiting the Phillies to one run over six innings of this series finale.
Still, this weekend’s most encouraging development was produced by Donaldson, who entered this series slashing .236/.349/.416 and exited it with more respectable .252/.360/.471 slash line. The 2015 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner has now homered over three straight days for the first time since ‘17 and he has tallied four of this season’s 12 homers within the past six games.
“If he gets it going, he’s that type of guy that can carry you,” Snitker said.
Donaldson was one of the game’s most productive hitters against left-handers from 2015-18, but this two-run shot was the first homer he’s hit against a southpaw this year. It also extended his weekend success against offspeed pitches.
Per Statcast, Donaldson entered Friday hitting .187 (20-for-107) against offspeed and breaking pitches. The veteran third baseman took batting practice on the field against a breaking ball machine Saturday afternoon and then immediately began reaping the benefits.
Donaldson singled and doubled against Aaron Nola’s curveball before chasing the right-hander from Saturday’s game with a monstrous fifth-inning homer hit against the changeup. He then singled against Velasquez’s slider, homered against Cole Irvin’s changeup and then doubled against Eickhoff’s slider while notching his second straight three-hit game Sunday.
“[Hitting offspeed] is something I’ve been lacking all year,” Donaldson said. “Then taking a couple changeups and being able to hit them out of the ballpark, that’s more like what I do.”