Braves avoid potential embarrassing sweep to Orioles

These Orioles were closer to the rendition fans expected at SunTrust Park this weekend.

The Braves defeated Baltimore 7-3 Sunday, avoiding a sweep at the hands of arguably the worst team in the majors. It snapped the Braves’ seven-game losing streak to the Orioles in interleague play and marked their first win in the rarely played series since June 15, 2012.

The first two Braves reached base with Ender Inciarte drawing a walk and Ozzie Albies singling off David Hess. Freddie Freeman singled both home for an early lead.

Nick Markakis doubled Albies home for the Braves’ third run. It opened a three-run third frame, capped by Charlie Culberson’s two-run double.

“Just keeps getting big hits,” manager Brian Snitker said of Culberson, who’s hit .308 since May. “He’s in the middle of a lot of what we’re doing and showing his versatility, athleticism. Good for him. He’s getting an opportunity and he’s taking full advantage of it.”

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Markakis collected his National League-leading 98th and 99th hits in his 76th game. This season will likely be the quickest he’s gotten to 100 hits, with his previous best requiring 81 games.

Freeman’s 96 hits are second in the senior circuit. He and Markakis are the only pair of teammates in the NL to start every game for their club. Both lead first basemen and outfielders in All-Star voting, respectively.

Dansby Swanson launched his first pinch-hit homer in the eighth to give the Braves a pair of insurance runs. Snitker said they’d planned to use Swanson as a defensive sub, so they figured they’d give him an at-bat.

“Only like my third time ever trying to do that, so go up there and be ready,” Swanson said of his pinch-hitting mindset. “Just trying to attack. You have to take it to the game and let the game come to you sometimes in that situation. It’s definitely different. You have to find a rhythm and routine to do it. … But whatever they end up calling me to do, that’s what I try to do.”

Swanson had hit .122 (6-for-49) with one walk over his past 11 games, and has produced a .195 average since returning from a wrist injury on May 19.

Brandon McCarthy was up and down again in his first start since June 15. The veteran right-hander went five innings, allowing three earned runs on two homers. McCarthy’s allowed seven homers in June and eight total across his last five starts.

He’d allowed seven homers in his first nine starts, with five homerless outings.

“Not feeling great; a little rusty, just trying to get through it,” McCarthy said. “But I’m at least happy from that aspect that we got through it, it was good enough. … A lot of it is just getting start to start, feeling good. There’s nothing specific standing out, you just want to keep making progress.”

Trey Mancini planted McCarthy’s first mistake into the left-field seats in the second inning. Mark Trumbo sent one deep to center to pull the Orioles within two runs in the fifth.

Baltimore entered the series with a 21-52 record, worst in the majors. They staged a ninth-inning comeback Friday only to blow it in the bottom of the frame, ultimately winning in 15 innings. They protected what was once a six-run lead and won 7-5 Saturday.

The Braves’ bullpen was solid for the second game in a row. Luke Jackson, Sam Freeman and Peter Moylan held the Orioles scoreless on Saturday. Shane Carle, Jesse Biddle, Dan Winkler and A.J. Minter held the Orioles to one hit over the game’s final four innings.

It was an encouraging two days for a unit that botched Friday’s finish.

“This series was a long one, especially the first game,” Markakis said. “I think we might’ve used everyone in the bullpen. But everyone’s been solid. They’ve been solid all year long. The toughest thing in baseball is to be on the same page, pitch and hit at the same time. ... It’s been up and down. That’s how it’s going to be over the course of a season. We’ll strive to get on a better page from here on out.”

In snapping their three-game losing streak, the Braves moved to 18-8 in day games and 22-15 at home. This was just their second series loss at home, the other coming when the Giants swept the Braves in early May.

The Braves open a three-game set with the Reds, who’ve won seven in a row after sweeping the Cubs, on Monday.

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