ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman's MVP-caliber success is not fully dependent on what Ozzie Albies does at the plate. But the value of his tremendous production will certainly be enhanced if Albies builds on what he's done the past couple games and once again becomes one of the game's most dangerous leadoff hitters.
Grand slams mean 40% off pizza
Provided a chance to recover from a rough trip out west and get healthy against a reeling team on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park, the Braves flexed their muscles and rolled to an 8-2 win over the Mets. Freeman began a six-run sixth with a home run, but the evening's most encouraging blast was supplied by Albies, who capped the big inning with his second grand slam of the season.
"[Albies] wasn't showing any lack of confidence or anything," Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. "You kind of felt like it was only a matter of time before he squared a few up. Hopefully, he's going to be blazing hot again for the rest of the season."
While the Braves have certainly missed Ronald Acuna Jr. over the past few weeks, their recent offensive decline has had more to do with the extended struggles of their two leadoff hitters -- Albies, who has hit .181 with a .227 on-base percentage over his past 19 games and Ender Inciarte, who finished Tuesday's two-hit performance hitting .183 with a .247 OBP over his past 21 games.
• Vote Braves for the All-Star Game
Now hitting near the bottom of the lineup, Inciarte supplied a couple confidence-building, run-producing flares to shallow left field to aid the Braves in winning the opener of a two-game set vs. the Mets, who have lost 14 of their past 17 games. But it was still more encouraging to see Albies contribute five productive plate appearances, primarily the one in the sixth, when he drilled a 1-1 fastball into the right-center-field seats. The slam was his 16th homer of the season. He also homered during Sunday's two-hit game at Dodger Stadium.
"I felt much better," Albies said. "I just had to slow the game down again."
While moving a game in front of the Nationals and regaining sole possession of first place in the National League East, the Braves saw Mike Foltynewicz hold the Mets hitless until the fifth and then make a precautionary exit at the end of the inning because of right triceps tightness. The Mets took advantage of Jesse Biddle's struggles against left-handed hitters and claimed a short-lived lead courtesy of Jay Bruce's two-run double in the sixth.
Freeman quickly erased the deficit when he drilled Zack Wheeler's first sixth-inning pitch into the right-field seats for his 13th homer of the season and fourth within a span of 21 at-bats going back to June 5. The first baseman leads the NL in batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.434), slugging percentage (.579), OPS (1.014), and Weighted Runs Created Plus (171).
"I wish we could all hit like Freddie," Flowers said.
If Freeman extends his success during what could be a very special season, Nick Markakis continues to be a consistent source of offense and Albies starts producing like he did during the early part of the season, the Braves could truly thrive.
When Albies produced an .898 OPS as he batted either first or second through May 19, the Braves averaged 5.3 runs per game. His OPS fell to .590 during a 21-game stretch leading up to Tuesday, and Atlanta tallied 4.4 runs per game over that span.
"He's made a big difference," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I thought Sunday was a really big day for him because he'd been struggling a little bit and working at it. He did a couple really good things on Sunday and kept it going today."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Momentum shifter: After Bruce's double gave the Mets a 2-1 lead and put runners on the corners with one out, the Braves called on Shane Carle to face Devin Mesoraco, who laced a sharp grounder that third baseman Johan Camargo turned into an unusual double play. Camargo snared the grounder on a short-hop and then alertly lunged to tag Asdrubal Cabrera, who was trying to get back to third base. Camargo then showed off his strong arm with a throw that beat Mesoraco to first base.
"That's not how you draw it up, but that's just a great baseball instinctive play," Snitker said. "That was big at that time of the game, because momentum had shifted to them really quick with the double."
Albies joins Boston's Xander Bogaerts, Cleveland's Michael Brantley and Houston's Josh Reddick as the only Major Leaguers with two grand slams this season. He's the first Brave with two slams in a season since Brian McCann in 2012 and the first Atlanta second baseman to tally a pair since Davey Johnson in 1973. He's also the first Major Leaguer 21 years old or younger to tally multiple slams in a season since Adrian Beltre in 2000.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Snitker walked away from Sunday's game encouraged by how the usually aggressive Albies had looked at a curveball in the dirt just before hitting his fourth-inning homer off Thomas Stripling. The second baseman showed more patience Tuesday as he swung at the first pitch in just one of his five plate appearances.
Albies entered Tuesday having swung at the first pitch 43.9 percent of the time -- the fifth-highest total among all players who have had at least 200 plate appearances.
"Ozzie has been making some adjustments and working his tail off," Snitker said. "The past two games, he's had some really good at-bats."
Mike Soroka will make his much-anticipated return when the Braves conclude a two-game set against the Mets on Wednesday at 12:10 p.m. ET. Soroka will be making his first start since he began feeling discomfort near his right lat muscle after his May 12 start in Miami. The 20-year-old right-hander ranks 26th on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects list. He allowed one earned run over six innings in his MLB debut against the Mets on May 1. New York will counter with Jacob deGrom, who has a 0.81 ERA over his past nine starts.