DENVER — With a couple of pitching-dominated extra-inning victories at Coors Field, the Braves have created their first four-game winning streak of the season, evened their record for the first time in nearly two months and finally started to look like the reigning World Series champions.
“We know we can play this game against anybody,” Austin Riley said. “I think the biggest thing I’ve noticed the past couple days is guys are just playing their game. They’re not trying to do too much. I think that will go a long way toward showing what this team is.”
Marcell Ozuna and William Contreras delivered consecutive doubles and Adam Duvall homered to cap a three-run 11th inning that gave the Braves a 5-2 win over the Rockies at Coors Field on Saturday night. Atlanta has claimed two extra-inning victories over the past two days, or two more than they had before Friday’s 10-inning win.
After squandering Saturday’s one-run, 10th inning lead, the Braves created some comfort by putting up a crooked number on the board. The 11th inning eruption backed a strong effort by the Braves’ bullpen, which allowed one hit and no earned runs over seven innings.
The Braves have a .500 record (27-27) for the first time since April 16. Here are three takeaways from their latest win.
1. Another MVP push?
Riley began his latest multi-hit performance with a triple that came off his bat with a 113.1 mph exit velocity and dented the center field wall to the left of the 415 feet sign. The Braves third baseman then drilled a game-tying solo home run to begin the sixth inning against Rockies starter Kyle Freeland. His team-leading 14 homers put him on pace to hit 42 this year.
“He’s just doing what [we’ve] come to expect now,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s pretty special.”
Riley got off to a decent start, slowed down during the early part of May and has hit .389 with six homers and a 1.264 OPS over his past 13 games. There’s a chance he could top last year’s production, which included a .303 batting average, 33 homers and an .898 OPS. This year’s 14th homer came in his 208th at-bat. That’s 64 fewer at-bats than he needed to reach this total last year.
“I expect it from myself,” said Riley, when told of Snitker’s remark. “I work really hard, and I’m trying to master my craft with defense and my swing.”
2. Night Shift II:
As Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter and Luke Jackson shined during last year’s postseason, the Braves’ bullpen became known as The Night Shift. Well, Jackson is recovering from Tommy John surgery, Matzek is on the IL with a shoulder ailment and Smith has been shaky over the past few weeks.
But Minter has been one of the game’s top relievers and he was part of Saturday night’s impressive combined performance. Jesse Chavez, who the Braves received from the Cubs in exchange for Sean Newcomb, threw two scoreless innings, and Colin McHugh, Darren O’Day, Minter and Jackson Stephens combined to keep the Rockies silent after the fourth inning. The only run allowed came when Elias Díaz singled off Minter to begin the 10th with the automatic runner on second.
“Going into this year, we knew this bullpen was going to be special,” Minter said. “With guys being injured, a lot of guys have stepped up to the plate.”
3. Survive and advance:
There wasn’t anything picturesque about Spencer Strider’s first Coors Field experience. But as he allowed just one run, despite issuing five walks against five strikeouts over four innings, the rookie flamethrower made another solid impression. The Rockies loaded the bases in both the third and fourth innings. But their only run against Strider came courtesy of a wild pitch with two outs in the fourth.
Strider was making just his second career start. But to show how much trust he has already gained, he remained in the game. After the wild pitch, he used the next pitch to end his outing with a Charlie Blackmon groundout. One inning earlier, Dansby Swanson made a great play to kill the Rockies’ first bases-loaded threat.
As Strider threw a career-high 86 pitches (45 strikes), he was still building the endurance and strength that wasn’t needed when he was making one and two-inning relief appearances just a couple weeks ago. He may continue to battle inconsistent command as he continues to stretch out over the next couple starts. But he put more of the blame on himself for shying away from his fastball and attempting to get too many chase swings with his slider.
“You can’t make the game too complicated, that’s rule number one ” Strider explained. “I think there were times tonight where we got a little too complicated. But that’s a learning curve. You’ve got to let the game tell you when it’s time to change.”
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