The Braves are almost through their stretch of 22 games in 20 days, one that instead of upending their season, has vaulted them into first place.
It began Aug. 7 in Washington, when the Braves lost starter Max Fried to a groin strain. The team has since persevered, largely because of its trade deadline acquisitions.
Jonny Venters and Brad Brach fortified a bullpen missing a couple of key components in Shane Carle and Arodys Vizcaino, both of whom should soon rejoin the club. The relievers haven’t been overworked in the past few weeks despite some circumstances, including Fried and Anibal Sanchez’s second-inning exits in Washington, presenting volatile situations.
Kevin Gausman has eaten innings, pitching eight, six and eight innings in his three starts during the stretch. Both his eight-inning outings loomed large in giving most in the bullpen a day off. He’s looked closer to a frontline arm than he has the teetering pitcher he was in Baltimore.
“Gaus has been everything we’d hoped he’d be,” manager Brian Snitker said. He starts Sunday as the Braves attempt to split the four-game Miami series.
Brach has pitched in nine games during the 20-day gauntlet, allowing one earned run across 8-1/3 innings. Venters has appeared in seven of the games without surrendering a run.
Both reliever acquisitions, at the cost of two international signing slots, have given the Braves 15 innings while permitting one run during their toughest stretch of the season.
“Huge,” Snitker said. “Brad’s done a really good job. Jonny’s been great. Exactly what we expected there, too. They’ve all been a big part, especially at a time when we had some key guys go down.”
And so with Monday’s off day two days away, the Braves used their rest-lacking run to erase a 1.5-game deficit in the National League East and turn it into a three-game lead. The Braves and Phillies have both lost the past two nights, keeping the status quo.
The Braves are 12-9 thus far in that span without overworking their relievers or suffering a devastating injury. Their depth will be bolstered by the coming Sept. 1 roster expansion, and they could have a buffer as the schedule grows more difficult starting with this week.
Tampa Bay, Chicago (for one game), Pittsburgh and Boston make up the next homestand before the Braves take their final western trip to Phoenix and San Francisco. Barring disaster in the upcoming two days, they’ll have done so after already surviving a brutal slate without a break.
Of course, they’ll only have two more off days after Monday to spare them a tough September set. But the Braves have been experts at navigating difficult schedules or circumstances. If they do it one more time, it’s hard to envision them sitting out October.
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