For much of a six-game road trip, the Atlanta Braves scuffled on offense. That trend continued on Sunday afternoon, but thanks to the heroics of Alex Wood, the team avoided a winless week with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The aforementioned Wood navigated 7.1 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing only five hits without issuing a single walk. Wood needed only 94 pitches to make his way into the 8th inning, but his performance was not without fireworks, as the left-hander generated eight strikeouts while flashing a dominant arsenal.
As you have likely noticed by the final score, the bullpen wasn't quite as dominant on this day. Jim Johnson did finish off the eighth inning in scoreless fashion, but Jason Grilli ran into trouble in the ninth, including the fact that he allowed a run-scoring double to Jordy Mercer with two outs in the inning. That double saw Eury Perez and Cameron Maybin collide in left-center field, and Perez was forced to leave the game (under his own power) with one out remaining. Fortunately, Grilli was able to strike out Gregory Polanco to cap his 21st save of the season and preserve Wood's lights-out performance.
The offensive side of the game was, again, a challenge for the Braves, but the biggest swing of the game turned out to be a 7th-inning home run by Jace Peterson. That gave Atlanta a 2-run cushion that the team would need later in the day, but aside from a 2-hit day from Chris Johnson (!) and an RBI single from Nick Markakis in the fifth inning, the game was short on noteworthy action.
While the offensive issues continue to be troubling, this was a game highlighted by Alex Wood, and it is highly encouraging to see a performance like this in "streak-stopping" fashion. Some have criticized Wood for his early-season performance in 2015, but following this strong outing, he boasts a 3.17 ERA for the year, and aside from Shelby Miller, Wood has been (easily) the most effective starter over the balance of the season.
The Braves will enjoy a restful off day on Monday before welcoming the NL East-leading Washington Nationals to Turner Field beginning on Tuesday. Stay tuned.