PHOENIX – Could this help the Braves turn the corner?
Time will tell, but it’s a start.
They played what was probably their best game of this road trip as they beat the surging Diamondbacks, 5-2, on Saturday at Chase Field.
1. Ronald Acuña Jr. connected with the baseball – this was a crack of the bat unlike many others – then admired his work while holding the bat in one hand. The ball landed in the concourse (yes, the concourse) above the seats in left-center field.
It traveled an estimated 464 feet.
“It feels good,” Acuña said through interpreter Franco García about watching the homer. “It feels like something that you can sort of be proud of that you hit one far enough that you can sort of just sit back and watch it for a little bit.”
In recent days, the Braves have fought to break through. They have had balls stay in the park. They have fallen victim to a few unfortunate plays.
Acuña’s blast, a no-doubter, highlighted what could be a breakthrough for Atlanta.
“That was really a good step in the right direction there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said about the offensive performance.
2. When a team is struggling, encouraging signs are everything. The Braves had multiple.
In the third inning, Acuña Jr. doubled. During Matt Olson’s at-bat, Acuña noticed the third baseman was not particularly close to the bag, and despite the pitcher having the ball in his hand, the speedster stole third. He then scored on a sacrifice fly for the game’s first run.
“I’m always visualizing plays before they happen and I’m just trying to analyze and assess what’s going on, and I noticed that (the infielders) were really close to me and I thought with my speed, I would be able to take advantage of the situation,” Acuña said.
In the fourth inning, Marcell Ozuna plated another run with a single. The at-bat was impressive: He fell behind 0-2, then worked his way to a full count before driving in a run on the seventh pitch.
“That’s really good,” Snitker said. “Hopefully he just keeps following up what he did last month.”
Michael Harris II scorched a few balls, even if he only had one hit to show for it.
Overall, the Braves had the seven hardest-hit balls of the game, according to Statcast. Nine of the 12 hardest-hit balls belonged to Braves hitters.
And Eddie Rosario continued proving he may be heating up.
3. When the Braves left Atlanta for Oakland, Rosario was batting .237 with a .672 OPS. He had shown flashes, but hadn’t sustained anything.
Perhaps this road trip can be a turning point.
Rosario on Saturday went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. In the fifth inning, his RBI single gave the Braves a three-run lead.
Over the first two games here, he’s 5-for-8 with one triple, two home runs and three RBIs. On this trip, he’s 7-for-15.
“He’s had some really good at bats,” Snitker said. “He had a couple of really good at-bats against left-handers early in the trip. That could be huge if we could get him going, and if he could get on a run here, too.”
4. This has been a difficult road trip for the Braves. In fact, they’ve struggled to gain much momentum for a couple weeks.
They sent perhaps their most reliable starter to the mound for this one, and he didn’t disappoint.
Spencer Strider was charged with two earned runs over six innings. He allowed only three hits. He struck out seven batters and worked around four walks.
“You know you’re going to get quality, you know you’re going to get crispness and you know you’re going to get a competitor out there for the 100 pitches he’s going to get or whatever the leash is,” said Jesse Chavez, who eventually relieved Strider.
Before Evan Longoria’s fifth-inning solo homer, Strider had given up only one hit. He departed the game after allowing a leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh inning, which led to a crucial moment.
Arizona is adept at not striking out. (The D-backs are actually in the top third in the sport in strikeout rate.) Strider is a strikeout guy.
Strider was always going to stick to his strengths.
“If I get off my strengths trying to match what the other team’s weaknesses are, I’m actually doing them a favor,” Strider said.
5. Snitker called on Chavez to replace Strider, who had rolled to that point. Strider was at 99 pitches.
Chavez loaded the bases. Then he hit a batter to let in a run.
But the 39-year-old Chavez earned consecutive strikeouts to escape the jam.
“I told him, ‘You’re old, but I’m older, and it’s killing me when you do that,’” Snitker joked.
Before those strikeouts, the order had turned over. It seemed like the game could swing Arizona’s way.
But Chavez kept his composure
“Just knowing your strengths,” he said of the key in staying calm. “Knowing the preparation you put in before the game, conversations you had warming up, things like that. The history you have with certain teams. All that comes into play and you just got to keep your breath and keep your pulse down.”
Stat to know
2-for-18 - Before Saturday, the Braves were 2-for-their-last-18 with runners in scoring position on the road. Going into this contest, they were batting only .158 in these situations over their last 13 games, dating to May 20.
“It’s incredible, honestly. It feels like every time he goes out, he strikes out 10 or 11. I’m just really happy that we’re on the same team and I don’t have to face him.”- Acuña on being Strider’s teammate
“I said, you better not go get a beer or anything when he’s coming up because you might miss something really good. That’s amazing to me how that ball comes off his bat.”-Snitker on Acuña
On Sunday, Michael Soroka will make his second start back in the majors. The Braves’ lineup will face Arizona ace Zac Gallen. First pitch is at 4:10 p.m.