Inside the winning streak that has turned around Braves’ season

Atlanta's Austin Riley (right) celebrates his two-run home run with Michael Harris during the eighth inning against the Nationals on Wednesday night. The Braves won 8-2, their 14th consecutive victory. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta's Austin Riley (right) celebrates his two-run home run with Michael Harris during the eighth inning against the Nationals on Wednesday night. The Braves won 8-2, their 14th consecutive victory. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — To Austin Riley, the Braves are bonding as they always have. They eat breakfast together on the road. They hang out in the clubhouse after games. They genuinely pull for one another and want their teammates to succeed.

Except there is something obvious to note.

“Things are always better,” Riley said, “when you’re winning.”

ExploreBraves’ bullpen has remained brilliant despite injuries

Whether it be a World Series hangover or normal sleepwalking to begin a season – call it what you want – the Braves stumbled through almost two months of the season. As they scuffled, failing to gain or sustain momentum, the Mets blew through their schedule en route to a massive lead in the National League East.

Now the Braves have won 14 games in a row. They are a win away from tying the 2000 team for the franchise’s longest win streak in the post-1900 era. They trailed the Mets by 10.5 games in the NL East standings at the beginning of the month, but they’re now only four games back of New York.

The Braves have completely turned around their season, which still has not hit its halfway point. And all along, they felt it was simply a matter of time. No one could have expected this incredible streak, but the Braves knew they were too talented to continue playing poorly.

“I just think we’ve done it enough and been through it enough,” Ian Anderson said. “The season’s so long. Sometimes you can just chalk it up to, ‘Maybe it’s not our time right now’ or ‘baseball happens.’ I think that kind of gives us the peace of mind to be able to go out there the next day, flush it.”

ExploreGame-by-game look at Braves’ 14-game winning streak

This streak, a complete flip of fortune in two weeks, has everyone wondering what’s in the water. It’s more fitting to discuss what’s in the bats, gloves and arms. In this sport, as manager Brian Snitker always says, occurrences like this streak often are not easily explainable.

Before his club’s June 1 game in Arizona, Snitker called a team meeting. His team had not played well the previous two nights. The Braves had looked unfocused. They made too many mistakes on the bases and on defense.

The Braves have not lost since.

It is difficult – probably impossible – to discern the efficacy of team meetings. Eventually, action needs to come from hearing words, which doesn’t always occur.

“I’ve been on plenty of teams where there were team meetings, and we still went on to lose another five or six in a row,” Charlie Morton said. “Then I’ve been on teams when there’s been no team meetings, and we went on a winning streak. I’ve been on teams where there was no verbal recognition of what was happening and it’s gone both ways. I think trying to explain something like that is difficult.”

“We knew we weren't playing that well, but to hear it from (Brian Snitker), to kind of kick things into gear, was pretty important. It's more about the timing. When he speaks, you know it's the right time because he doesn't speak often. We've just kind of taken it and ran with it."

- pitcher Ian Anderson

But the Braves needed this reminder of who they are and who they want to be throughout this season.

“Just a wake-up call,” Anderson said. “We knew we weren’t playing that well, but to hear it from Snit, to kind of kick things into gear, was pretty important. It’s more about the timing. When he speaks, you know it’s the right time because he doesn’t speak often. We’ve just kind of taken it and ran with it.”

Almost all of the Braves’ hitters are hot now. Their pitching, which for the most part has been fantastic this season, has remained stellar throughout this run. Their rotation has been steady, their bullpen among MLB’s best.

Since their win streak began, the Braves’ .292 team batting average ranks third in baseball, and their .925 team OPS is second. They have hit the most home runs in that span (35) and have scored the most runs (101). During this run, the Braves have scored at least eight runs in a game seven times.

In that time, the Braves’ 2.72 team ERA ranks fifth in baseball. Their pitchers lead the majors with 146 strikeouts in that span. Teams are batting .208 versus Braves pitching this month, the third-lowest batting average against a pitching staff in the sport. More specifically, the Braves’ bullpen leads all of baseball with a 1.34 ERA during this winning streak.

After a recent start, Anderson said the Braves want opponents to know they must be on their A-game when playing Atlanta. He felt others believed they had a chance to win versus the Braves early in the season.

Now the Braves are asserting themselves. Anderson said players can sometimes notice when opponents are intimidated through certain body-language cues. In June, the Braves have outscored opponents by 60 runs over their 14-game winning streak.

“When you’re coming off of what we came off last year and returning a lot of the same guys, you want to play like that, and I think we’re starting to play like that,” Anderson said. “The confidence in the locker room is going up. I think the confidence in our offense right now is super high. We’re just back to playing good, solid, fundamental (baseball). Good defense, pitching good. (We’re doing) what got us to where we got last year.”

Added Michael Harris: “We’re just out here having fun, doing our jobs, having fun doing it.”

At 37-27, the Braves have played only 64 of 162 games. They must still play tough teams like the Dodgers, Mets and Astros. The rest of the season will not be easy. They know they could just as easily hit a rough patch soon. That’s baseball.

But some pundits and outsiders declared the Braves dead early in the season. Even if they were coming off a World Series, even if they had the talent and depth, even if they had the experience, some believed them to go quietly this season.

In two weeks, they have sent a message: Narratives can quickly flip in this sport.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Riley said. “There’s a lot of baseball left. We’re not even to the halfway point. You can panic as much as you want at the beginning. But right now, we’re clicking on all cylinders, and we got a chance to catch back up to this thing, and we fully expect to.”