MIAMI – Their offense ranks among the majors’ best since Matt Kemp arrived Aug. 2, and the Braves haven’t lost since veteran pitcher Josh Collmenter made his Atlanta debut six days ago. These are not your April-May Braves, folks.
The Marlins felt the brunt of Atlanta’s recent trade acquisitions Thursday, when Kemp hit two home runs and Collmenter pitched seven sharp innings in a 6-3 win at Marlins Park that extended the Braves’ winning streak to six games, matching their season high.
“I wish we could be in a playoff race right now, it’d be way more fun doing those type of things and being in a race,” said Kemp, who has 33 home runs and has hit .368 with seven homers in his past 21 games. “But for us to finish strong and show everybody what this offense and this team is capable of going into the final weeks of the season is very important for next year.”
The six straight wins have come against the National League East’s top teams – two against the first-place Nationals, a three-game road sweep of the second-place Mets and Thursday’s opener of a four-game series against the Marlins.
The last-place Braves still have baseball’s second-worst record (62-91) but have won 18 of 30 games and are 53-63 under interim manager Brian Snitker.
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“You walk into this clubhouse and you wouldn’t be able to tell where they are in the standings,” Collmenter said. “Every day the guys come in and there’s a lot of energy, everybody’s loose, and it’s fun to see that…. For this team to be playing where they are now, it’s fun to watch and hopefully a sign of things to come.”
Freddie Freeman’s two-out, two-run single in the third inning pushed the lead to 3-0 and extended his hit streak to 26 games and on-base streak to 42 games. The on-base streak is the third-longest in Atlanta franchise history behind Gary Sheffield’s 52-game streak in 2002 and Dale Murphy’s 48-gamer in 1987.
Kemp followed two pitches later with a long homer to left field for a five-run margin.
“Ever since I’ve been here they’ve hit the ball,” Collmenter said. “The’ve been putting up good at-bats, driving the ball, putting up double-digit hits in a lot of games. There’s always guys on base, threatening, putting pressure on the other team. That’s all you want out of an offense right there.”
Collmenter, 30, spent much of the season in Arizona’s bullpen and only got stretched out to start again recently with four late-season starts for the Triple-A Cubs. The Braves needed an emergency starter and got him in a minor trade, and Collmenter held the Nationals to four hits, two runs and three walks with eight strikeouts in five innings to start the current win streak.
He was better Thursday against Miami, allowing five hits, two runs and two walks with four strikeouts in seven innings.
“He’s been through the wars and he’s not going to scare,” Snitker said. “He’s definitely helped us, because we needed a little stabilization with some of the holes in the rotation, and he’s been really good.”
The Braves have their second six-game winning streak in a span of 3 ½ weeks. They are 25-23 since Kemp joined the lineup, despite an ERA just a tick below 5.00 in that span. That’s a testament to dramatic offensive improvement.
They went from a .237 batting average and majors-worst 3.4 runs per game before the All-Star break to a .279 average and 4.7 runs since the break (before Thursday), the second-best average and fifth-best scoring in the majors since the break. They’ve scored 5.2 runs per game since Kemp arrived.
Kemp added a solo homer in the sixth for his 10th career multi-homer game, third this season and first as a Brave. He has 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 48 games since being traded to the Braves from San Diego for Hector Olivera
“He’s a really good player,” Snitker said.“He’s a big, strong man. He swings that bat, man, and it just goes. He’s got a great attitude about things and is competing. He doesn’t panic when he’s at the plate. I guess that’s why he drives in 100 runs all the time. It’s good to see.”
Ender Inciarte had a spectacular game-ending catch in Wednesday’s 4-3 win at New York to complete a sweep of the Mets, and led off Thursday’s game with a triple. Adonis Garcia followed with a run-scoring ground out and the Braves had a 1-0 lead against Jose Urena (4-8), who lasted three innings and gave up four hits and five runs.