Acuña’s night off created the lineup opening. Marcell Ozuna went to left field. Travis Demeritte took Acuña’s spot in right. Demeritte tied the score with a third-inning homer that followed Arcia’s single. Arcia completed the rally with his home run off Ryan Brasier, who had allowed one run over his previous eight appearances.
As Arcia rounded the bases, the Braves started partying like they have so many times over the years after electrifying victories. We’ll see if that moment is the start of them playing like the contending teams of the past four seasons.
“You never know,” Snitker said. “We get two or three (good) starts after this, and it sure can.”
The Padres (20-12) are in town this weekend. They just lost two of three games at Chicago but have the top of their rotation lined up to face the Braves: Yu Darvish, Sean Manaea and Joe Musgrove. The Braves will counter with Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Kyle Wright.
The Braves can count on good starts by Fried and Wright. My belief that old-pro Morton will figure things out might waver if he follows his most effective start of the season with a fifth clunker out of seven. The same goes for the Braves if they don’t go on a run over the next three weeks.
The Mets show no signs of slowing. There are three wild-card berths in the NL now. There are five teams ahead of the Braves in the pecking order, including the Padres. It’s much too early to focus on that now. It won’t take long for the situation to become more urgent if the Braves keep puttering around the break-even mark.
The games are coming fast. The Braves will have played more than one-fifth of their scheduled games at the end of the weekend. Nearly a third of the games will be in the books at the end of this month. At that point, the Braves will have played about half of their games before the trade deadline.
So far, the Braves have been a bit below average at the plate, a bit above average pitching and subpar on defense (mostly in the outfield). The Braves haven’t been that bad. They just haven’t been very good. They are still waiting for all the elements to coalesce for a sustained stretch of winning.
Three lineup regulars have been excellent: Matt Olson, Austin Riley and Travis d’Arnaud. Acuña is just getting started. Ozzie Albies is capable of more, but it’s a good sign he hasn’t piled up many strikeouts. Dansby Swanson is striking out way too often without much power to show for it. Ozuna and Adam Duvall are dragging down the lineup by not producing much offense at all.
Arcia, Demeritte and Contreras have provided enough punch as fill-ins to keep the offense from bottoming out. That’s reminiscent of how some unlikely players boosted the Braves during their run to the World Series championship. They don’t want to rely on that happening again, but it’s kind of working for now.
The starting pitchers have followed a similar boom-or-bust pattern as the hitters. Fried and Anderson haven’t had bad results since opening day. Wright’s one bad outing was his last one, against Boston on Tuesday. But the Braves are waiting on Morton to find his usual form. They’ve already cycled through three No. 5 starters.
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos anticipated inconsistency for the rotation. His Plan B of building a deeper bullpen after striking out on adding a quality starter is working. Signing closer Kenley Jansen in March seemed like overkill because the Braves already had good arms in the back of the bullpen. But Jansen is a big reason why the relief corps has picked up the starters.
There could be a problem for Anthopoulos to solve in the outfield. The lack of depth there became really apparent when Acuña sat out.
Duvall and Ozuna are scuffling at the plate. Ozuna and Demeritte aren’t good in the field. The Braves tried infielder Arcia in the outfield, and the results weren’t good. Outfielder Eddie Rosario (eye) isn’t expected back by the end of June – and maybe later.
We’ll know by then if the Braves are legitimate contenders. They haven’t looked like it so far because of their inconsistency. But they’ve provided some evidence that they can be one of the NL’s top teams.
The Braves have played series against the top four in the NL. They split four-game sets against the Padres and Mets. They lost two of three at Los Angeles but won two of three here against the Brewers. The Braves have held their own against the toughest opponents. The 8-10 record against teams with losing records has held them back.
Maybe the walk-off win Wednesday will be the thing that starts their climb up the standings.