The NL East race has been a marathon with the New York Mets leading the way. Despite coming off of a World Series win, the Atlanta Braves appeared to be flying under the radar a bit with the Mets looking like the front runner. Atlanta entered this weekend’s series with little margin for error, but made an emphatic statement with back-to-back wins over Jacob deGrom Friday and a 4-2 win over Max Scherzer Saturday.
Kyle Wright was tasked with matching zeroes with Scherzer Saturday and found himself in trouble right away. New York jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a ground out by Eduardo Escobar. Wright needed 30 pitches to get through the inning, but as he has done so many times this season, avoided further damage by getting Daniel Vogelbach to ground out to end the inning.
“Wasn’t ultimately really happy with how I pitched, but Kranny and Sal gave me some good reflections and said, hey man, you kept us in that game and without that, who knows what happens,” Wright said when asked about his performance. “For me, that was pretty gratifying just to know that I was able to settle in and find a way just to at least keep it in the best we could. Obviously, the guys kind of did the rest. The bullpen was great.”
The Braves tied the game in the fourth when Matt Olson singled home Austin Riley. Wright again found himself in trouble in the fifth. After retiring the first two hitters of the inning, Wright surrendered three straight singles to Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil. The last of which scored Alonso to put New York back in front 2-1. With runners at the corners, Wright again avoided major damage by getting the red hot Escobar to ground out to end the inning.
“He just fought through it. He got a lot of deep counts and ran his pitch count up,” Snitker said of Wright. “It was big in the fifth getting Escobar. That’s a big out right there for him. McNeil’s a tough ride for anybody, but just to put that inning down with one run was good.”
Up to this point, the Braves had gotten some good swings against Scherzer. They had some hard contact, but not really much to show for it. Ronald Acuña Jr. singled with one out in the fifth to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in Dansby Swanson. Swanson, who has put together a breakout season, came into the series slumping a bit in September. He hit a big home run off of deGrom Friday night and stepped to the plate in a similar situation.
Scherzer threw him four sliders and a change up in the first five pitches of the at-bat. With the count 3-2, Swanson finally got the fastball that he was looking for and he didn't miss it, driving it 432 feet into the stands in left center to put Atlanta in front 3-2. A lead they would not relinquish.
There is still work to do and games to be played, but Swanson’s home run could prove to be the biggest moment in a season that has had plenty.
“It’s who you want up there. I feel like we got a lot of guys you want up there, but Dansby, he’s just got a knack for that moment,” Wright said of Dansby’s homer. “It was a great at-bat, I think it was 3-2 and he puts a good swing on it. He’s always finds a way to get that hit when we need it.”
“He’s just got a penchant for it,” Snitker said. “Ever since he’s been here he’s always shined in that spot. He can keep the game slowed down, stay in the moment and give himself a chance.”
Swanson has overcome plenty of ups and downs in his career with the Braves, but has really come into his own over the last two seasons. He stepped into the leadership void that was left after Freddie Freeman’s departure and has carried the torch without missing a beat.
“He just keeps putting it all together,” Snitker said of Swanson. “The defense to me is off the charts. The awareness, just the leadership that he’s developed, how he’s come in as a hitter. He’s worked really hard the last few years and kind of figured out who he is as a hitter and now you believe in him. You look up there the last couple of years and those are really good offensive numbers for a shortstop. Then the plays he makes, the athleticism, the awareness, to me, it’s off the charts. I mean, this guy is a winning player. The only thing this kid cares about is winning the game.”
Now with the lead, Snitker turned to his bullpen to hold it. Dylan Lee was up first and turned in an impressive frame retiring the side on eight pitches. Atlanta tacked on an insurance run in the home half of the inning when Olson took Scherzer deep to make it 4-2. Jesse Chavez came on to pitch in the seventh and allowed a one-out single to Brandon Nimmo on a play that Orlando Arcia probably should have made. Chavez then retired Alonso and Lindor to end the inning.
“Jesse and Dylan Lee, they were the two most rested guys,” Snitker said. “Wanted to stay away from Minter today. Jesse just had a couple of days off, and he was really good as was Dylan. Those were big innings right there to get it to Iggy and Kenley.”
Raisel Iglasias looked dominant retiring the side in order in the eighth. Kenley Jansen came on for the ninth and sealed the win with an uneventful ninth.
At various points this season it looked like the division race was largely over or that Atlanta was just trying to hang on. The Braves trailed the Mets by 10.5 games on June 1. They have now won five of their last six against New York and control their own destiny with a one game lead in the division with four games left to play.
“You don’t envision things like that,” Snitker said when asked if he thought his team could overcome the 10 game deficit on June 1. “You are just too caught up in the moment and you’re worried about today and that game and you really can’t afford yourself to look ahead like that. I knew we were better than what we were on that date and that we weren’t playing baseball like we were capable of. There’s a lot of things I think that went into it and I think it was just a matter of time.”
Since June 1, the Braves have a 76-32 record. An unbelievable run when you consider that they were 23-27 up to that point.
“I think they’ve shown how mature they are and where they’ve come in these big games,” Snitker said. “They like it. They have played a lot of big games in the last few years. I think they were looking forward to this series and the series is not done. We still got work to do, but I think they like this atmosphere and this feel for games this time of year.”