DENVER – If the Braves are successful in their bid to win a fifth consecutive National League East title, they will likely recognize this road trip as the stretch where they turned things around.
Ronald Acuña Jr. matched his career high with four hits, Matt Olson hit a three-run homer and Charlie Morton again impressed with his grit while helping the Braves complete a four-game sweep with an 8-7 win over the Rockies at Coors Field on Sunday afternoon. The defending World Series champs head home with a season-best five-game winning streak and their first winning record (28-27) since they were 2-1 on April 9.
“Any sweep you get is a good one,” Olson said. “To come here and have the guys throw the way they did this entire series and have it be a four-game sweep is nice.”
The Braves claimed a home series against the Marlins and then lost the first two games of this seven-game road trip in Arizona. They suffered their ugliest loss of the season on Tuesday, when they made multiple baserunning blunders, threw to the wrong bases, blew a late lead and fell 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets.
But instead of floundering, they constructed this five-game winning streak and kept themselves within 8 1/2 games of the Mets (37-19). Through 55 games last year, the Braves were 26-29 and four games out of first place in the NL East race.
“We played two of our lesser games [in Arizona], ”Manager Brian Snitker said. “The guys refocused and played like they can.”
Here are five reasons to be encouraged as the Braves head home:
1. Upcoming schedule
The Braves’ next 12 games are against the A’s, Pirates, Nationals and Cubs. Each of these clubs has a losing record and Pittsburgh is the only member of this group not at least 10 games under .500.
Meanwhile the Mets will spend their next four series playing the Padres, Angels, Brewers and Marlins. San Diego and Milwaukee both stand at least 10 games over .500.
2. Getting healthy
With Acuña strong enough to play right field each of the final three games of this series, the Braves were reminded of how much stronger their outfield defense is when he isn’t on the bench or serving as the DH. This was the first time he played the outfield three straight days since returning from a torn right ACL on April 28.
Acuña began Sunday’s four-hit game with three singles and capped it with a 441-foot homer in the eighth off Robert Stephenson. The 24-year-old outfielder has a multihit performance in three of his past four games, and he has hit .357 with two homers and a .984 OPS over his past 19 games.
“I think it’s good because we saw I can play three games out in the outfield,” Acuña said. “And we saw it’s getting better and we saw what I was capable of doing.”
3. Olson is heating up
Olson entered May 24 hitting .244 with a .787 OPS. The lefty slugger has since batted .288 with three homers and a .958 OPS. He homered during a four-hit game in Arizona and drilled the go-ahead three-run homer in the second inning of Sunday’s win.
Long after hitting the 441-foot shot, the longest of his seven homers this year, Olson ended the game by diving to touch first base just before Sam Hilliard got to the bag. A replay review confirmed the call to provide a fitting end to this thrilling series, which included two extra-inning games.
“I wasn’t sure if he was going to beat Kenley [Jansen] to the bag, ”Olson explained. “So I thought I had a better chance of getting there myself. I’m glad I didn’t take any knees or anything. That could have been real bad. ”
Olson appears to be settling in just in time to welcome the A’s to Atlanta on Tuesday. The 28-year-old first baseman played his entire career within Oakland’s organization before being acquired by the Braves in March.
As for Morton, he hasn’t gotten back to being his dominant self. But he bounced back from Sunday’s 41-pitch, three-run first inning and later retired seven of the eight batters faced after his right thumb was jammed by Randal Grichuk’s comebacker in the third. His ability to get through five aided a bullpen that had covered seven innings on Saturday.
“The guys are in a good spot,” Morton said. “We’re just trying to get on a roll here and sustain one.”
5. Rejuvenated slugger?
When Adam Duvall created some insurance with his two-run homer in the 11th inning of Saturday night’s win, there was hope this might be the end of his early-season struggles. The veteran outfielder, who belted 38 homers last year, responded with a triple and a double on Sunday. He’s hitting just .199 with a .566 OPS, but his new season may have started within the past 48 hours.