It took a while, but the Braves got them before the page turned on April 2022: they finally won a series by taking the finale of a set with the Chicago Cubs by a 5-1 tally. Kyle Wright smothered the offense, Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson homered early, and the Braves tacked on three runs in the eighth, two on an Adam Duvall homer, to put the game away.
In addition to Wright trying to keep his phenomenal season going, the big story tonight was the activation of Ronald Acuña Jr. from his rehab assignment. Acuña hit leadoff and played right field in this game, but didn’t have much of an impact on the final score, going 1-for-5 with a couple of steals and a couple of strikeouts. His first PA of the 2022 season was a groundout to third, and in apropos fashion for this season, his first hit was a seventh-inning, 80 mph, wounded duck flare into right field.
Acuña’s exploits, or lack thereof, aside, Kyle Wright continued his stretch of excellent work to begin the 2022 season, though this outing was less breezy than his first three. Wright struggled to command his fastball, but was still able to complete seven mostly-unscathed innings thanks to an excellent curveball-changeup combination, and the ability to bamboozle hitters with called strike curveballs in deep counts. He got out of the first (leadoff single, two-out four-pitch walk) thanks to a three-pitch strikeout and a four-pitch strikeout. The second started with two walks, but he stunned Patrick Wisdom with a 1-2 curve down the middle, and got a groundout afterwards that put runners on the corners. The Braves then goofed a successful pickoff by Wright, as a bad throw by Matt Olson allowed the runner to score from home; the picked off runner was retired and the inning ended, but the run counted.
After that, it was mostly lockdown time for Wright, but it didn’t come without its drama. Jason Heyward led off the fifth with a barreled single (!) on a sixth straight four-seamer from Wright; the screamer was only a single because of the guy now patrolling right field for the Braves and the respect Heyward paid to his arm. Wright later hit Nico Hoerner to put two men on, but got a break when Rafael Ortega (another former Brave) hit a liner right to Ozzie Albies, which led to Heyward being doubled off at the second base bag. Wright didn’t really experience any hiccups in the sixth and seventh, facing the Cubs’ lineup for a third time: he struck out two in the sixth, including a four-pitch putaway of Seiya Suzuki and a three-pitch obliteration of Jonathan Villar, and then got a 1-6-3 double play ball to erase a leadoff walk in the seventh. He ended his night doing something he already pulled off once: freezing Wisdom on a 1-2 curveball for a second time in the game. Wright finished with seven innings of one-run ball, with an 8/4 K/BB ratio, a hit-by-pitch, and three hits allowed. Not as awesome as his prior outings, but still a high quality effort.
Opposing Wright was erstwhile Brave Drew Smyly, and the Braves did to him what he did to the Braves a fair bit last year: add homers to the box score. Austin Riley got him for a first-pitch two-out solo shot in the first, and Dansby Swanson connected for an absolute moonshot blast (hit probability rounded to 1.000; 432 estimated feet) in the third.
Swanson’s blast made it a 2-1 game, and ultimately, that lead would hold. The Braves threatened against Smyly here and there, but he wriggled out of his other jams, including a two-on situation in the fourth. Smyly departed in the fifth after allowing a single to Travis Demeritte, walking Swanson, getting a groundout from Acuña, and then fooling Matt Olson with a 3-0 cutter that was hit weakly to first. Scott Effross came on in relief to face Riley with runners on second and third and two out, and retired him on a deep flyout to center.
Riley thwarted another rally in the seventh, as the Braves loaded the bases against Effross — yet another former Brave, Chris Martin, got Riley to ground out to end the inning. In the eighth, though, the Cubs called on Ethan Martin, and the Braves padded their lead. Marcell Ozuna singled to start the frame, Travis d’Arnaud creamed a one-out RBI double over Heyward’s head in center, and Adam Duvall joined Dansby Swanson in the one-homer club by smashing one to left center.
That was it, scoring-wise, and with the bullpen somewhat shorthanded due to having to cover an ineffective Charlie Morton yesterday, A.J. Minter and Will Smith made short work of the Cubs following Wright’s exit. Both lefty arms went three-up, three-down, and just like that, the Braves earned their first series win of the year. Every Brave but Ozzie Albies reached base once, and four had two hits apiece. The Braves will now head out to Texas to face the Rangers in a weekend set.