A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the next four series will define the Braves season. They were embarking on a stretch where they had to play on the road against their division rivals – the Phillies and Nationals – the pesky Reds, and a potent Minnesota squad at Target field that leads the majors in home runs.
They began the critical run 5.5 games ahead of the Phillies, who were a half a game better than the Nationals. After taking two out of three versus both of their divisional foes, they had an unfortunate split against the Reds and dropped the first game of their series in Minnesota. Mike Foltynewicz and the Braves’ bats came up huge last night, as they exploded for 12 runs, while Folty turned in perhaps the best outing of his season. A win in a rubber match this afternoon would provide the perfect exclamation point to a grueling stretch in which the Braves have successfully held off the charges of the rest of the NL East.
Max Fried toed the mound for Atlanta after a brilliant performance against the Reds for his 12th victory of the season. He was even more effective today, striking out a season-high ten batters in just 5 1/3 innings. The high-powered Minnesota offense was having fits with his curveball and only had three hits going into the fifth inning, while Fried had nine strikeouts.
In the sixth, The Twins’ bats finally woke up for three hits and a run off of Fried, leading to his departure with two men on. Unfortunately, Luke Jackson could not pick him up and allowed both inherited runners to score before recording the third out.
Fried’s final line: 5 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 10 K
The line does not do Fried’s performance justice. Given the opponent, it might be the best he has pitched all season, or at least in the last few months. That was the case with each starter in this series. Soroka pitched a gem in game one, followed my Foltynewicz’s triumphant return, and a season-high in strikeouts for Fried.
However, it is much easier to pitch when you have a lead, and the Braves offense provided that in a big way for the second game in a row.
Ozzie Albies started it off in the first with a mammoth shot, and Freddie Freeman followed him with his team-leading 29th home run of the year. It’s the twelfth time the Braves have gone back-to-back this season, which is a new franchise record.
Atlanta would add three more in the third, and it could have been a lot more had Tyler Flowers not hit into a triple play with the bases loaded – but it wouldn’t matter.
Acuña would tie Freddie Freeman for the team-lead in home runs in the eighth inning with a two-run shot to the opposite field. He’s becoming a legitimate threat to reach the 40/40 club in his first full season in the majors. The Braves added two more in the ninth, which the bullpen had to be thankful for because they made it much more eventful than it should have been.
Josh Tomlin gave up four runs in the final frame to cut Atlanta’s lead to four, but that is as close as Minnesota would get, as they fell 11-7. The win moved the Braves record over this pivotal stretch to 8-5, widening their lead to 6.5 games over the Nationals and 7.5 ahead of the Phillies. What could have been a costly stretch ended with Atlanta picking up even more ground in the division and marking two weeks off their calendar. Now, they play the Marlins seven times in their next 13 games.
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