'Security blanket' Markakis leads Braves' win

Freeman hits second in order; five pitchers combine on shutout

August 16th, 2020

gave the Braves a jolt before they left Atlanta and he helped create an encouraging conclusion to a rough road trip with the latest of his timely hits. Not bad for a guy who just three weeks ago changed his mind and decided to play this season.

“Just having him here makes me feel a little better and a little more at ease,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’ll do anything. He’s just good to have around. He’s kind of like my security blanket.”

Snitker was feeling a little more comfortable after Markakis drove in three runs in a 4-0 win over the Marlins on Sunday afternoon at Marlins Park. The Braves ended their 4-5 road trip with a pair of wins that separated them from the frustration of a four-game losing streak and pulled them into a first-place tie with the Marlins atop the National League East.

“We were a little rough there for a short period of time,” Snitker said. “This was good. To play two ballgames like we did, yesterday and today, they were more indicative of what we’re capable of from both sides of the ball.”

Here are three takeaways from a win that concluded what was a trying road trip:

Like riding a bike
Markakis elected not to play this season on July 6 and then began working out again with the Braves on July 29. Snitker was never concerned about the three weeks of inactivity. He has said multiple times that the veteran outfielder will still be be able to hit when he’s in his 50s.

Snitker’s assessment has seemed valid as Markakis has hit .323 (10-for-31) with a .912 OPS over the 11 games he has played since being activated on Aug. 5. His walk-off homer against the Blue Jays on Aug. 6 capped a 7-2 homestand, and his two key hits in Sunday's finale against the Marlins once again energized the Braves.

's sixth-inning leadoff double put him in position to score on Markakis’ one-out single off Nick Vincent. Swanson’s seventh-inning single prompted the Marlins to call upon lefty specialist Brian Moran to face with two outs and a pair on. Once Moran walked Freeman, he had to stay in to face right-handed slugger , who drew a bases-loaded walk.

This set the stage for Markakis, who laced Moran’s first-pitch curveball into right field for a two-run double.

“It’s good to be back, especially with this group of guys,” Markakis said. “They have provided me with some of my good memories in baseball. To do it with these guys and go out and compete every day, it’s definitely fun.”

Lineup construction
Leadoff hitter and , who have filled Atlanta’s top two lineup spots most of the past two years, are both on the injured list with wrist ailments. Catcher , who has been one of the team’s top offensive performers, was given a chance to rest on Sunday.

When it came time for Snitker to fill out his lineup card, he opted to put Freeman in the second spot. Though Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts are superstars who have regularly batted second over the past couple years, Snitker had been hesitant to put Freeman there.

But he sees the potential value as long as the NL continues to use the designated hitter.

“It works in a DH lineup,” Snitker said. “It doesn’t work when you’re two hitters away from the pitcher in a [traditional] National League lineup. It’s something I may explore again even tomorrow, because Freddie came up in some big spots today. There’s a reason some of those guys hit second in the American League. With this DH thing going forward, it might not be a bad thing.”

So this might not have been the last time Freeman hits second, even after both Acuña and Albies return. The first baseman’s only previous start as Atlanta’s No. 2 hitter came during a 5-4 loss in Milwaukee on April 6, 2011. That was just the seventh start of his career.

Much-needed stability
Acuña hit three home runs during last Sunday's doubleheader sweep in Philadelphia and then incurred the wrist injury that will sideline him until at least Friday. But putting the 22-year-old outfielder on the IL with Albies was not as frustrating as the results the Braves were getting from their fractured rotation, which currently consists of just three members.

While Markakis delivered the big hits, much of the credit for Sunday’s win should be given to , who threw four scoreless innings in his first start of the season and second over the past two years. The lefty’s only other appearance for the Braves had come on Monday, when he allowed three homers while throwing 43 pitches in relief of , who recorded four outs and was then demoted to the team’s alternate training site.

“We’re kind of getting to the point where any time we can get a start of four innings or more, that’s a really good thing,” Snitker said.

This marked just the 14th time in 23 games the Braves have received at least four innings from a starting pitcher. They had to go with a bullpen game three times over the past seven games, and the starters not named or have combined to produce a 7.67 ERA.

But a little more than one-third of the way through the season, Atlanta is still where it wants to be, atop the division standings.

“The road is a little more strenuous than what it was before with what we go through,” Snitker said. “This was a long, long road trip, and we ended it on a good note.”