Braves lead baseball in bottom-of-the-order production

PITTSBURGH — When a pitcher looks at an opposing lineup, Tyler Matzek says, he is searching for where he can get outs.

At the top of their lineup, the Braves feature Ronald Acuña, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley and Matt Olson. That provides this natural conclusion: The easiest outs might not be among those guys.

“You have to throw good pitches, you have to throw strikes and get guys out at that seven, eight and nine spot – because if you don’t, you’re going to have guys on base with those thumpers coming up,” Matzek said, using Atlanta’s lineup as an example.

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Here’s the issue for opponents: The Braves have received incredible production from the bottom of their lineup this season.

“I feel like all of our guys can do anything at any given moment,” said Michael Harris, who has almost exclusively hit in those bottom three spots this season. “I feel like we don’t really have a weakness in our lineup. You can put us anywhere, and I feel like anybody would produce in any spot.”

In particular, the Braves’ Nos. 8 and 9 spots – held by everyone from Harris to Vaughn Grissom to Orlando Arcia to Robbie Grossman and more – have been the best in baseball this season.

Entering Monday’s series opener in Pittsburgh, Atlanta’s nine-hole hitters have combined to post a .280 batting average with an .816 OPS. They have hit 21 homers and driven in 77 runs. The Braves’ ninth spot ranks first in the sport in all of those categories.

From the eighth spot, the Braves have notched an MLB-best .772 OPS. The Braves’ eight-hole hitters have combined for 24 home runs (first in baseball) and 57 RBIs (fifth).

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“When you don’t have any holes in your entire lineup, it’s very hard to pitch against that, because you’re not sitting there going, ‘I can go after this guy, I need to stay away from this guy,’” Matzek said. “You have to go after every single guy because if somebody gets on for the next guy, it’s a homer away from two or three runs being on the board.”

Harris has exceeded expectations since the Braves called him up. For most of his time up here, he has hit in the ninth spot. But Grossman, who hit a huge homer in the Mets series, has occupied it, too. Grissom has already hit well, and Arcia had big hits for the club before his injury.

The Braves have talented hitters throughout their roster. Their bottom-of-the-lineup bats are probably aided by the top of the lineup, which contains four hitters who are among the best in the game.

“I guess normally in the bottom of the order, pitchers take advantage of that and try to throw more strikes,” Harris said. “I feel like that’s better for us because the more strikes we get, the more chances we have to put the ball in play at a good rate. … I feel like once we flip the lineup over, it only gets better.”

“I feel like the seven, eight, nine spots, we got talented guys down there,” Matzek said. “And I think that they’re getting very good pitches to hit – pitchers have to go after them because you have those guys up there. It helps that the guys who are down there have pretty good eyes, they have a good understanding of the game, and they understand that they have to get thrown to, they have to get pitched to. So they just sit there and wait until they get their pitch to hit, and they go ahead and do what they’re supposed to do.”

And when the lineup turns over, Acuña steps into the batter’s box, followed by Swanson. Then Riley. And Olson. And in Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras, the Braves possess a catching duo that hits as well as any in the game.

Atlanta has star power in its lineup. That would naturally lead a pitcher to look toward the bottom of the order for a break.

But there are none in this lineup, which has received more production from its bottom pieces than any in baseball.

“It’s been great,” manager Brian Snitker said. “The top is not always going to fire on all cylinders, so it’s nice when you get a long lineup and guys contributing. It just sure helps the whole thing out if the big guys up top aren’t so pressed to carry the load.”

Mike Soroka’s next rehab start

Mike Soroka will make his third rehab start on Saturday, when he pitches for Triple-A Gwinnett for the second time. This will be six days after his second rehab outing.

The minor-league affiliates have Mondays off, which is why Soroka is on a six-day schedule now. If he continues pitching every sixth day, his next start after Saturday would come on Sept. 2.

In Sunday’s rehab start for Gwinnett, Soroka allowed two earned runs over 3 ⅓ innings. He gave up six hits and walked a batter.

Ozzie Albies makes the trip

At breakfast at the team hotel on Monday, Snitker saw Ozzie Albies.

“I did a double take,” Snitker joked. “Thought somebody was invading our space there.”

Albies, who has been out since the middle of June because of a fractured foot, is on the road trip to Pittsburgh and St. Louis. He has spent tons of hours rehabbing at Truist Park, so this is a nice change of scenery to keep things fresh.

He has been ramping up his progression of baseball activities. He has been doing defensive work and is running the bases. He is also hitting in the cage.

“Ozzie’s a boost just having him here on the sidelines, just having him with us,” Snitker said. “He’s an infectious guy, always has been. I always say: If you play the game like Ozzie, you’ll play it right. It’s just good having him around and seeing him.”

Ehire Adrianza is back

After dealing with a viral infection, Ehire Adrianza is off the injured list.

He played three rehab games for Triple-A Gwinnett as he worked his way back from an illness.

“He just had something that had to run its course, so it was good to get him back out there for nine innings a few times just to make sure everything physically is OK,” Snitker said. “He passed the test, so that’s good.”

The Braves originally placed him on the injured list on Aug. 12. They did not designate an injury, which usually means it is COVID-related – either a positive test or symptoms. The Braves eventually placed him on the 10-day injured list as he fought the viral infection.

Eddie Rosario at DH

Eddie Rosario was the Braves’ designated hitter in Monday’s lineup.

Rosario has been battling hamstring soreness after tweaking the hamstring at the beginning of the Braves’ last homestand.

The Braves hope Rosario can soon resume his outfield duties, but being the DH allows him to manage the hamstring soreness more.