Braves break out big bats against Phillies, but hard to trust surge will last

Atlanta Braves outfielders from left; Eli White, Jarred Kelenic and Adam Duvall celebrate after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in a baseball game Sunday, July 7, 2024, in Atlanta. All three hit home runs. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves outfielders from left; Eli White, Jarred Kelenic and Adam Duvall celebrate after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in a baseball game Sunday, July 7, 2024, in Atlanta. All three hit home runs. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Braves opened this season with two victories in three games at Philadelphia. They scored 25 runs during the series while cranking out 17 extra-base hits. The Phillies must have left Truist Park on Sunday wondering what’s all the fuss about the home team’s offense. The Braves took two of three games from them again while scoring runs in bunches.

The Braves captured the series victory with a 6-0 victory on Sunday. They held the Phillies to nine runs over the three games. That’s no surprise. Foes usually don’t score much against the Braves. The Braves scored a total of 19 runs during the series with nine homers among 14 extra-base hits. That was unexpected because the Braves don’t often slug like they are built to do.

It’s hard to believe the offensive surge will last. The Braves have fooled us before. They score a bunch of runs for a few games before not scoring many runs for a lot of games. Did manager Brian Snitker see anything during the Phillies series to make him think it will be different this time?

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just one of them things. I wish I could explain it.”

I do, too. It’s hard to say why the lineup that churned out so many runs against the Phillies can’t do that or more than a few days at a time. One caveat is the Braves didn’t see the best of Philadelphia’s pitching staff. They faced Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (tied for 27th in fWAR among MLB starters before Sunday’s games) and Ranger Suarez (t12th). They didn’t face Christopher Sanchez (seventh) or Zach Wheeler (ninth).

But then the Braves have labored to score against lesser pitchers. It’s significant when they break out the big bats against anybody. To do it against the Phillies is especially meaningful. The Braves couldn’t afford to drop a game against the Phillies if they hope to catch them in the National League East. After the series win the Braves stood eight games behind with 74 to play, including seven against the Phillies.

“We were facing a really good team, and we were able to put together some really good at-bats,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “To take two out of three, that’s all you can ask for.”

It might have been a Braves sweep if not for three errors in one inning on Friday that turned a two-run deficit into five. At least they produced some offense late in that 8-6 loss. The Braves kept it going with five runs in the second inning of the series finale. That was more than enough with Reynaldo Lopez pitching six shutout innings with just two hits allowed. Three Braves relievers preserved the shutout.

The Braves (49-39) have won four of six games against the Phillies this season. The Phillies (58-32) can say the Braves didn’t get their best shot in the latest tussle. They played the series without two of their top three hitters, Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. Both players are expected to return from the injured list soon.

Now we’ll see if the Phillies series is the start of an offensive resurgence for the Braves. So far, each peak this season has been followed by a long period of lackluster production.

In April, the Braves scored plenty of runs in three-game sets against the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Mets, Marlins and Astros, and Rangers. Then their bats went quiet through mid-June.

The Braves seemed to break out of their offensive slump against the Rays before struggling to score against the Tigers in their next series (the Braves earned the sweep with excellent pitching). That trend continued until the Braves totaled 19 runs against the Phillies

After their offense set records in 2023, the Braves have stayed above water thanks to their pitching. That new reality was confirmed when MLB announced the All-Star teams on Sunday. The Braves sent six hitters to MLB’s showcase game in 2023. This time just one was selected, Marcell Ozuna, along with Lopez and left-hander Chris Sale.

Ozuna has been the best Braves hitter all season. Riley struggled to hit in the two weeks following a stint on the injured list. He’s hitting like an All-Star again since then: in the past 22 games he’s 26 of 76 (.342) with eight homers. Jarred Kelenic has provided some badly needed production from the outfield. He hit a three-run homer off Michael Mercado on Sunday.

That’s it for dependable Braves hitters. Others have occasionally shown signs they’ll get it going, but it doesn’t last.

The Braves showed offensive their potential in April. They did in two series victories against the Phillies, the NL’s best team. With the way the Braves are pitching, they just need to score an average number of runs to go on a tear.

Said Riley: “This team is really good. It’s just a matter of putting it all together. The pitching has been great. If one through nine can string together some good at-bats, I think we’ll be a really tough team to beat day in and day out. The talent is there, and we’ve done it before.”

The Braves did it again against the Phillies over the weekend. Now they just need it do it to other opponents more than every once in a while.