KANSAS CITY -- This recent stretch has not been a memorable one for the Braves’ three National League MVP Award candidates. But as Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. are attempting to get healthy for the postseason, Josh Donaldson and Dansby Swanson finally have some encouraging results to carry into the regular season’s final weekend.
Donaldson broke out of a funk with a career-high three doubles and Swanson halted a much more concerning skid as the Braves claimed a 10-2 win over the Royals on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium. Swanson highlighted his first career four-hit game with a decisive two-run single in the sixth.
“I think that’s very important, from the mental part of it and the confidence level,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Tonight was really a good step in the right direction.”
But there’s also a need to get Donaldson right and back to where he was this summer, when he re-established himself as one of the game’s most imposing hitters. The former American League MVP Award winner had hit .171 (7-for-41) with no extra-base hits over an 11-game stretch before tallying three doubles in this win, which prevented the Royals from sweeping a four-game season series against the Braves.
“Nobody wants to feel bad going into the postseason,” Donaldson said. “Once the [regular] season is over all the numbers are cleared, and it’s all about winning ballgames. I’ve seen some guys who have been cold going into the postseason have monster postseasons. But mentally, you always want to feel like you’re there.”
Donaldson’s RBI double in the two-run fifth inning came off the bat with a 112.6 mph exit velocity per Statcast. His two-bagger in the three-run sixth had a 103.7 mph exit velocity. His double in the four-run eighth had a 107.5 mph exit velocity.
Just seven of the 32 balls (21.9 percent) he put in play while producing a .442 OPS from Sept. 10 through Tuesday had a 100-plus mph exit velocity. Through Sept. 9, 38.6 percent of the balls he had put in play had a triple-digit exit velo. Nelson Cruz (41.8 percent) was the only player (min. 100 balls in play) with a higher percentage within this span.
“Tonight was the best I’ve swung the bat in probably the past five or six games,” Donaldson said.
Much needed boost
While it seemed to be only a matter of time before Donaldson got going again, there were growing concerns about Swanson, who entered the series finale having hit .141 with a .459 OPS over 93 plate appearances since returning from a month-long stint on the injured list.
His struggles reached the point where there was reason to wonder if the Braves might use Adeiny Hechavarria as their starting shortstop in the NLDS. That was likely not going to happen. But Swanson can now enter the final weekend without having to hear or read about that possibility.
Swanson hadn’t had a three-hit game since July 4, and his most recent multi-hit game had been tallied on Sept. 2.
“Obviously, it’s good timing,” Swanson said. “Just being able to see some balls fall and put some barrels on balls can boost where you’re at. There’s a lot of confidence to come from it. But somebody told me, ‘You can always do it once.’ I’ve just got to continue to work to where I need to be and continue to put my head down, and do what I do and try to help us win games.”
Darren O’Day strengthened his postseason roster bid when he struck out the only two Royals batters he faced while pitching on consecutive days for the first time since returning nearly three weeks ago from a 14-month stint on the injured list. Luke Jackson also kept himself in the mix as he struck out the only four batters he faced.
With Mike Soroka’s start pushed back to Sunday, the Braves started long reliever Josh Tomlin, who allowed one run over three innings. Before making his first start of the season, the likeable veteran enjoyed a comical pregame exchange with Donaldson. The veteran third baseman playfully said he had been traded to the Royals for the day to get his confidence back against Tomlin.
“I told him, I’m not going to be here forever,” Tomlin said. “We’re not going to play on the same team forever. I can’t coach you and get you [excited] for every game, and make you go out there and hit three doubles. So you need to figure out how to make that adjustment on your own.”