ATLANTA -- Josh Donaldson is well aware of how many fans viewed his $23 million contract through the first two months of this season. At the same time, he is appreciative of how beloved he has become during a power barrage that has positioned this year’s Braves to possibly become
ATLANTA -- Josh Donaldson is well aware of how many fans viewed his $23 million contract through the first two months of this season. At the same time, he is appreciative of how beloved he has become during a power barrage that has positioned this year’s Braves to possibly become just the fourth team in MLB history to have three different players produce a 40-homer season.
“It’s kind of been full circle, right?” Donaldson said. “At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t playing well. But I had confidence in myself and I had confidence in my team that I was going to turn around. Obviously, the fan base has been remarkable all year long showing up and supporting us. We’re winning a lot of games, so it’s fun to be a part of.”
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Though the Braves have not yet earned the right to pop champagne, there was certainly a raucous, celebratory feel in the air as they took another step closer toward clinching the National League East when they held on to claim a 4-3 win over the Nationals on Friday night at SunTrust Park. The victory marked Atlanta's eighth straight win and its 12th straight at home, tying the franchise record in the modern era.
By taking the first two games of this four-game series, the Braves have moved nine games ahead of the Nationals in the division race. They have won eight of the past 11 games played against Washington and their magic number stands at 13 with 20 games remaining.
Dallas Keuchel threw six scoreless innings, Ozzie Albies damaged Patrick Corbin with a solo homer and Shane Greene completed his 13th straight scoreless appearance with a perfect ninth. But fittingly, the decisive seventh-inning homer was hit by Donaldson, who has been the Bringer of Joy to Atlanta fans during what has been a memorable summer.
“I’ve said many times, he’s a big-time player,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He loves to be in those situations. He likes situations where they’ve got to go at him. He’s a good hitter. He hits everything.”
When Donaldson drilled Wander Suero’s 1-2 curveball into the left-field seats to give the Braves a 4-0 lead, the early-season struggles Donaldson experienced against breaking balls and offspeed pitches seemed like a distant memory. The 33-year-old third baseman has mirrored his 2015 American League Most Valuable Player Award-winning season while producing a 1.058 OPS and tallying 26 of his 35 home runs over a 73-game span dating back to June 14.
To put Donaldson’s power barrage in perspective, Mike Trout and Eugenio Suárez lead the Majors with 27 homers going back to that date. The Braves rank second in the NL with 121 homers within this span and now stand just 14 homers shy of the franchise record that was set when the 2003 club hit 235.
“I hadn’t played in this ballpark, so I didn’t know how the ball would carry, but I knew we had the capability to do that,” Donaldson said.
Freddie Freeman leads the Braves with 38 homers and Ronald Acuña Jr. ranks second with 37. Donaldson’s two-run shot on Friday made the Braves just the 16th team in MLB history to have three players with at least 35 homers.
But with three weeks worth of games remaining, there’s certainly a possibility each member of this trio could reach the 40-homer mark. The only teams that have had three players hit at least 40 homers are the 1973 Braves (Hank Aaron, Davey Johnson and Darrell Evans) ‘96 Rockies (Andres Galarraga, Ellis Burks and Vinny Castilla) and the ‘97 Rockies (Galarraga, Castilla and Larry Walker).
“The depth of our lineup and that added power legitimizes us,” Snitker said. “Tonight, again, it was big.”
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.