Swanson, Braves offense explode in series-clinching win over Mets

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson talks about the Braves' offense following 14-1 win Sunday, July 26, 2020, over Mets in New York.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Before Sunday night’s series finale against the Mets, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson opined that Marcell Ozuna’s game-tying homer in the ninth inning Saturday awakened the team’s offense. The Braves had scored three runs in the following 10th inning, leading to their first victory.

Swanson backed up his own belief Sunday night. The Braves jumped on the Mets with a two-run first and five-run third, cruising to a 14-1 final that clinched their first series win of the season.

After having 11 total hits over the first two games, the Braves had 11 extra-base hits (17 hits overall) on Sunday. After striking out 27 times in the first two days, the Braves fanned only six times.

Their shortstop was at the center of it. Swanson tied a career best with five RBIs. He also had five in a 12-6 win over the Phillies last July.

“I think every day I’ve been trying to focus on becoming better, more consistent, being convicted in what I’m trying to do that day,” Swanson said. “It’s great having a great staff and other guys you can talk to, help you be accountable for your work. Really, I just put a lot of emphasis on my preparation each day. Then going out and playing and having fun.”

The Braves hit Mets newcomer Rick Porcello for seven runs (six earned) in only two innings. They struck twice in the first with RBIs from Matt Adams – whom the Mets let go before opening day – and Swanson.

Their first explosive inning came in the third. Ozzie Albies reached on an error by third baseman Jeff McNeil. Freddie Freeman walked, setting up Ozuna’s double that scored their third run. After Adams walked, Swanson doubled to score another pair.

Porcello’s day ended without recording an out in the frame. Corey Oswalt replaced him, promptly walking Austin Riley and serving up a two-RBI double to Ender Inciarte. The Braves were up 7-1.

Oswalt finished the inning without allowing further harm, but the Braves had already sank New York. Swanson tacked on an opposite-field two-run homer in the fourth to strengthen the lead. He finished a triple short of the cycle.

Swanson resembled his form of last season’s first half, when he was having a breaking out before a heel injury halted his progress. Despite a slow finish to the regular season, Swanson impressed in his first postseason appearance and seems to be building off that to start 2020.

“It’s reminded me last year, where he’s started out,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He swung it well in the camp we just had. He was swinging it really well coming into the season.”

Southpaw Sean Newcomb was effectively wild in his return to the rotation. He required 43 pitches through the first two innings, yet Newcomb managed to hold the Mets to one run over his 3-1/3 innings. He finished at 82 pitches, replaced by Jhoulys Chacin after allowing a Thomas Nido double.

“To Newk’s credit, he wasn’t on, but he didn’t let the game get out of hand either,” Snitker said. “He only walked two guys. He hit two. Deep counts, pitch count got up, but he limited damage. He made pitches when he had to. Hopefully it’s good to get that one by him and we win the game.

“I don’t know that he realizes what he has. That fastball, how good he can be. What he can do with the baseball is pretty good. I’m glad we got that by him. We’ll get back to work and run him back out there in five days.”

Notes from Sunday:

- Ozuna has fit perfectly in the clean-up spot. He blasted a long home run to left in the sixth inning, his second shot in as many nights and fourth extra-base hit this season. Ozuna has looked a lot like the player who tortured the Braves last October with St. Louis.

“He’s a great hitter,” Swanson said. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for his hitting ability, how he thinks through certain things. Sometimes, just playing against him, it almost seems unconventional, but he always finds a way to put the barrel on the ball. Great hand-eye coordination. He’s fun to have around because he also gives things in a different perspective. He’s really helpful for a lot of guys.”

- Right after Ozuna, Riley smacked a 458-foot homer to left, the longest home run by a Brave since 2015, per Statcast. Riley had mixed results in his first series, assembling some decent at-bats that yielded undesirable results. Perhaps that thunderous knock gets him going.

“That’s one of the farthest balls I’ve ever seen hit, seriously,” Swanson said. “Crazy.”

“My God, that’s a big, strong kid, I’ll tell you,” Snitker said. “He had some good (at-bats), he’d just missed a couple. I look at him from spring, just some of the takes, if he’s laying off some of those pitches, then he has an opportunity to do that kind of damage.”

If Ozuna and Riley can provide consistent power, the middle of the Braves’ lineup will be among baseball’s most potent. Riley’s development will go a long way in determining how dangerous the lineup will be.

- The Braves’ top two looked alive again. Albies had a homer and two doubles after collecting zero hits through the first two games. It was his third career game with three extra-base hits.

Ronald Acuna had his first extra-base hit with a fifth-inning double. He scored on Albies’ ensuing two-bagger. Before Acuna’s two hits Sunday, he was 1-for-12 with eight strikeouts on the season.

- On the same note, Freeman produced his first hit of the season with a double in the fourth. He scored three runs. Freeman walked five times in the series.

- When the Braves added Chacin before opening day, they did so hoping he’d be another pitcher capable of covering a bulk of innings. He came through Sunday, covering 3-2/3 frames following Newcomb. The Braves bullpen will be well rested entering a new series.

- Lefty Tyler Matzek made his first appearance since 2015 in the eighth inning. He faced four hitters in a scoreless frame. The Braves, needing lefty pitching and with extra room due to expanded rosters, put Matzek in their initial 30-man group.

“Awesome,” Snitker said. “I’m just so happy for him after the obstacles he’s overcome. He had a great spring, we liked him in the camp, and brought him to our side. It’s a good story. Stuff plays, big time.”

- Catcher William Contreras, who singled in his first plate appearance Saturday, had three hits in his first career start. The Braves lost Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud on opening day due to illness, but Alex Jackson and Contreras, especially, have done a nice job filling the vacancies.

“He’s done a good job,” Snitker said. “He’s looked good defensively, calling the game. He’s up there hacking. He’s going to put the ball in play. Very athletic. He doesn’t expend a lot of energy catching, which is a good thing for a catcher. It’s not hard for him to catch.”

- The Braves travel to St. Petersburg for a two-game series beginning Monday. The Rays, considered one of the American League’s top contenders, took two of three from the Blue Jays this weekend.

Mike Foltynewicz will oppose Tyler Glasnow in game one, which will be the Braves’ first of four consecutive games against the Rays. They’ll play two in Florida and two in Atlanta. Those will be their only meetings in the regular season.

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