ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Since the end of March, the Braves have painted what has become a masterful first half of their season. The finishing touch on this masterpiece is a series win over the Rays, who hold the second-best record in baseball.

The Braves on Saturday defeated Tampa Bay, 6-1, at Tropicana Field. Atlanta will go for the sweep on Sunday.

Five observations:

1. In 2003, the Braves went into the All-Star break with 61 victories, which set a franchise record that has held up since. But that club had 93 games before the hiatus.

Well, the 2023 Braves have reached 60 wins in 88 games, with one more to play before the break. They have the best record in the majors.

“I mean, there isn’t really much you can say,” A.J. Minter said. “Everything’s just going really good for us right now. With that being said, I mean, we’ve had a really good first half and it’s like, who cares? We’re in this to get in the postseason and do something special again. We gotta take care of business now. But we want to be good in September. Obviously, we’re doing really good right now, but we have to keep it going.”

That sums it up perfectly. The Braves are not eyeing first-half accomplishments. They are not Cinderella anymore.

They are a juggernaut. They expect this.

“It’s like I told (the players): I feel like once that All-Star break is over, the fur starts flying around here,” manager Brian Snitker said. “This thing gets real after the All-Star break. And that’s the fun of it. Hopefully we keep this thing rolling and put ourselves in position to win another division.”

2. After being swept by the Phillies at home, the Rays had lost five in a row. They were hoping to end the skid.

The issue: They ran into baseball’s hottest team.

The Braves have lost five times – five! – since the start of June. They’ve won three in a row after losing on Tuesday. They’ve won 18 of their last 20 games.

“We’ve just been playing great,” said Spencer Strider, who started Saturday’s game. “It feels like every part has been clicking now. Even throughout the course of a game, when somebody’s struggling or the offense is struggling or we fall behind, you know that the other half of the team is gonna come pick you up and figure it out, and that’s kind of what’s been happening.”

The Braves have held the Rays to two runs over 18 innings. One was unearned. Braves fans have taken over Tropicana Field, with their phone lights flashing as they chanted late in Saturday’s game.

The Rays, who had the best record in baseball until the Braves recently passed them, have lost seven in a row. The Braves, on the other hand, have won 11 straight series.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 8, 2023, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

3. Remember when Strider had two rough starts?

It feels like a long time ago.

Strider will head into the All-Star break with a 3.44 ERA. He leads MLB with 166 strikeouts, and he collected those in only 104 2/3 innings.

“He was going to struggle eventually, and the fact that it was only two starts is what I’m very impressed with more than anything,” Minter said. “Just for him not to let that bring him down, start searching and change things. And for him to be mature and just kind of just realize, ‘Hey, these are just two bad starts.’”

Added Strider: “I think I was searching. Consequently, I didn’t pitch very well. I had been aware of some things that could potentially be problematic leading up to those starts, and I didn’t go full in on fixing or addressing them.”

Strider allowed four earned runs over 26 innings to close the first half. He has 39 strikeouts in that span.

He held the Rays scoreless over 6 1/3 innings. He struck out 11 batters, including seven in a row at one point.

“I think I just had to look at the rest of the team and realize that I don’t need to be so perfect, and I can just relax and sort of focus on the simplest things possible and let the rest take care of itself,” Strider said. “I was fighting myself and I needed to be fighting the other team.”

4. Rays right-hander Taj Bradley spun three perfect innings to begin Saturday.

In the fourth, the Braves were, well, the Braves. They broke through when Matt Olson smoked a run-scoring single. Sean Murphy followed with a three-run homer.

The Braves led by four.

5. Minter departed the game in the eighth inning, a scary sight. He felt left pectoral tightness.

But he said he wasn’t concerned. It doesn’t appear serious.

Stat to know

2 - After Saturday, Murphy has 17 home runs and 55 RBIs. Only two catchers in Braves history have reached those totals over their first 67 games of a season: Murphy and Javy Lopez in 1998. (Lopez had 19 homers and 60 RBIs in that span.)


“Strider is one of the best arms in the game right now. When he’s feeling right and mixing pitches the way he did tonight, it’s gonna be good for us.” - Olson

Up next

Bryce Elder will start the first-half finale for the Braves, whose hitters will see Tampa Bay righty Zach Eflin. Sunday’s game begins at 1:40 p.m.

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