One thing that’s critical in a winning streak? Having your team play well enough, or get lucky enough, to cover up tactical mistakes or misfortunes on balls in play. That phenomenon was on full display on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta, as the Braves rallied from a 4-2 deficit to hang an eight-spot on the Pirates in the seventh, handing them their tenth straight victory via a 10-4 eventual rout.
Like many games, this one had various phases. The first phase was... pretty much the first inning. Charlie Morton got the start looking to right the ship, and did not do so to start the game, as he allowed first-inning solo homers to both Bryan Reynolds and Daniel Vogelbach. However, the Braves answered right back against Zach Thompson, with Ronald Acuña Jr. connecting for a leadoff homer, and Austin Riley smacking a solo of his own later in the frame. After one inning, it was a 2-2 tie, and it looked like a slugfest was in the cards.
But it wasn’t. At least, not right away. Across the second, third, and fourth innings, Morton and Thompson combined for just five baserunners, one of which was erased on a double play, and another of which reached on an error. As sudden as all those homers were in the first, the offensive outage descended just as quickly.
Things unraveled for Morton in the fifth, though. He had been racking up the strikeouts all game, with eight in four innings. But, strikeouts or not, the third time through the order loomed. (To be fair, Morton’s struggles this season have not been exclusive to being left out there too long — his peripherals have been fairly bad in general. And his issues today weren’t the typical third time through the order flogging.) The frame started with a 1-2 hit-by-pitch of eighth-place hitter Tyler Heineman, who legitimately could’ve been ruled out on his check-swing against the pitch, but wasn’t. Morton struck out the next two batters, but Heineman stole second in the process. With two out, Morton tried to sneak a first-pitch, down-the-pipe fastball by Reynolds, but it didn’t quite work: Reynolds hit a 50-50 liner to left that found grass and scored the go-ahead run. Hayes followed with a low liner to center of his own, and now the Braves were down by two. Morton got out of it with a strikeout, but the Braves trailed by two for the second time in the game.
In the fifth, which was Thomson’s final frame, the Braves had a decent chance to tie it up due to Heineman boxing a strike three pitch, and then airmailing the throw to first. However, Thomson got Acuña to strike out and Dansby Swanson to pop out in the first pitch. He finished his day with a 4/1 K/BB ratio, two homers allowed, and no other runs in five innings of work.
For whatever reason, Morton went back out for the sixth after coughing up the lead, and fired a perfect frame. His day finished with 12 strikeouts to one walk and one hit-by-pitch. It was the most strikeouts he had collected in a start since July 2, 2019, and xFIP-wise, was his best start of the year.
Duane Underwood Jr. replaced Thomson for the sixth, and shut down the Braves in order. The streak looked to be in a spot of jeopardy. Jesse Chavez relieved Morton for the seventh and threw a perfect frame for his own, and then the fun started.
Underwood’s second inning of work started with a leadoff, first-pitch double by Marcell Ozuna. William Contreras walked on four straight balls. Adam Duvall followed with a bouncer to first — the initial ruling on the field was a 3-4-1 double play, but replay showed that Duvall clearly and easily beat the return throw to first. That brought up Michael Harris II, who got a small measure of revenge for the Pirates’ 50-50 RBI doubles, by hitting a hard 50-50ish grounder that snuck through to make it a 4-3 game.
That was it for Underwood — he departed, and in came Chris Stratton, who’s had a decent year. Chris Stratton did not, however, have a decent day. Not at all. Coming in to face Acuña with the tying and go-ahead runs on base and one out isn’t a great situation for anyone, but Stratton made it worse by plunking Acuña on 2-2. That set up Swanson with one of the weirdest plays of the year, a 65.6 mph three-run dunker of a single. I don’t know how many three-run singles exist in baseball history, which is a query someone should do, but what a way to turn a one-run deficit into a two-run lead.
That ball in play is like bottled-up revenge for the Braves’ first two months of the season, and also for the 2022 Mets existing.
The Braves weren’t done yet. Riley singled, and after a wild pitch and an intentional walk, Ozzie Albies made the game a laugher.
The rest of the game was relatively uneventful. The Pirates lifted Stratton, who failed to retire a batter and tossed the game away for Pittsburgh, for Yerry de los Santos, who got the remaining needed outs. Jesse Chavez came back out, having the weird luxury of throwing an inning down by one followed by one where his team was now up by six. David Bednar retired the Braves in order in the bottom of the eighth, and Jesus Cruz allowed just a walk in the ninth to seal Atlanta’s 10th win in a row.
The 10-game winning streak is the Braves’ longest since 2013, when they reeled off 14 in a row. They will go for number 11 and a four-game sweep on Sunday afternoon, with Kyle Wright set to take the hill.