If ever there was a night to showcase the rebuilt, modern-look (and Generation Z-laden) Braves, it was Monday in San Francisco.
Not every rebuild can be successful, but the fruits of this one are evident. Led by Mike Soroka, Ronald Acuna and Austin Riley, the Braves coasted to a 4-1 win over the Giants. It was their eighth win in 10 games since moving Acuna to the leadoff spot.
“It’s awesome,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s why you do this. Sitting there at the national anthem, looking down that line, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, these guys are young.’ A lot of young players here. But they’re young players with talent, and that plays here.”
Soroka has had nothing but good starts, but this was his best, carrying a perfect game into the sixth inning. His chase of perfection was shattered by Brandon Crawford’s homer to begin the frame. Crawford had the only two hits across Soroka’s eight innings.
The right-hander has allowed one or no runs in each of his seven starts. His ERA actually went up with Monday’s showing, upping from 0.98 to 1.01. Crawford’s home run snapped Soroka’s MLB-longest 61-1/3 homerless innings streak.
Even with his mastery, Soroka won’t get caught thinking about a potential All-Star appearance.
“I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other and make every start,” Soroka said. “Ever since being hurt, it’s been about days in between starts making sure I get everything I can to recover and get ready for that next one. The All-Star break is a long ways away, and there are a lot of starts to go until then, so I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing every start. If that happens, it’d be unbelievable, really. Just something not worth thinking about right now.”
Acuna declared leadoff his preferred lineup spot, and he’s hitting like it: He opened the night with a homer, his second consecutive leadoff shot. Monday marked his second career multi-homer game, his first since Aug. 14 against the Marlins.
There’s an undefinable spark created when Acuna leads off. Monday brought his 10th career leadoff homer, and he’s hit .400 (10-for-25) over his past six games, each from pole position.
“It changes the way you play for the rest of the game,” Acuna said, via team interpreter Franco Garcia, of starting the night with a home run. “Because the adrenaline kicks in. … I hope the energy I bring is contagious.”
Added Snitker: “Something about it. He really likes hitting there. I don’t know what it is, but he’s a different guy there. We tried the other (cleanup), and I think it probably would’ve worked, but there’s just something about that spot that he comes alive.”
As for Riley, he’s done nothing but hit in his first six major-league games, as evidenced by a .409 average. He blasted a ball to deep center, already giving him three homers. He did so a day after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, his first taste of a tough day in the bigs.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Riley said of the youngsters’ success. “Ronnie was joking with me after, he was like, ‘It’s your turn now.’ And I said I’d try (chuckles). But it’s awesome. Ronnie is a one-of-a-kind athlete and ballplayer. So is Mike. It’s just really fun to be a part of.”
As one final nod to the Braves’ rebuild, Sean Newcomb notched his first career save with a perfect ninth inning. Newcomb has looked revitalized since moving to the bullpen, attacking hitters with the consistency he hadn’t found as a starter.
The Braves start Julio Teheran in the second of the four-game series Tuesday. He opposes Giants right-hander Shaun Anderson. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
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