ATLANTA — What a difference a week makes. Eight days after calling a rare team meeting, Braves manager Brian Snitker finds his team surging through a winning streak that reached eight games with a 3-1 win over the Pirates on Thursday night at Truist Park.
Max Fried escaped multiple threats over six innings and Adam Duvall sparked the early offensive production that led the Braves to their longest winning streak since they won nine straight games from Aug. 13-22, 2021. The defending World Series champions were four games below .500 (23-27) when this eight-game streak began.
“You’re going to have to weather storms,” Snitker said. “You get stretches over the course of six months where there’s nothing you can do. You’ve got to wear it. And when you do, there’s usually something good on the other side of it.”
One year after winning the World Series despite not having a winning record until August, the Braves never panicked as they struggled through this season’s first two months. But with a strong Mets team sitting at the top of the National League East, Atlanta recognized that winning a fifth consecutive division title might depend on turning things around within this friendly portion of its schedule.
This winning streak has consisted of one win against the D-backs, four against the Rockies, two against the A’s and one against the Pirates. By winning these games they were “supposed to win,” the Braves have gained four games on the Mets and now sit just 6 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East.
“We definitely didn’t feel like we were playing up to the standards we hold for ourselves,” Duvall said. “For whatever reason, we couldn’t get on that roll. It’s good to sometimes bring everybody together and make sure we’re on the same page, just to refocus a little bit and make sure the No. 1 goal at the end of the day is to win the game.”
A couple of hours before this winning streak began with a June 1 win in Arizona, Snitker gathered his players in the clubhouse and stressed the need to regain focus. Less than 24 hours earlier, his team had made multiple baserunning blunders, thrown to wrong bases and squandered a comfortable lead against the D-backs.
“We were playing hard and doing all of that, the train just got off the tracks a little bit,” Snitker said.
An easy way for a team to right itself is via the kind of pitching the Braves have displayed while allowing two runs or fewer in six of their past eight games. The bullpen has continued to be a strength, and the rotation has been led by Fried and Kyle Wright, who have strengthened their respective All-Star resumes over the past week.
Fried limited the Pirates to one run over six innings, but he wasn’t close to being as dominant as he was on Friday, when he allowed just two hits over eight scoreless innings at Coors Field. But the lefty used his great pickoff move to get out of trouble in the first inning and limited damage while allowing at least two hits in four of the first five innings.
Fried has produced a 2.21 ERA in the 11 starts he has made since stumbling on Opening Day. As for Duvall, his struggles coming off a 38-homer season lasted much longer. The veteran outfielder entered June hitting .190 with a .526 OPS. He has hit .320 with three doubles, a triple, two homers and a 1.080 OPS in the seven games he has played this month.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good thing, but I’ve learned to deal with some rough patches,” Duvall said. “I feel like I’ve been in some spots that aren’t necessarily ideal.”
Where the Braves stood a little more than a week ago certainly wasn’t ideal. But things have looked much different now that a powerful and deep lineup has started to take shape.
Ronald Acuña Jr. (1.205), William Contreras (1.102), Duvall (1.080) and Austin Riley (1.054) have all produced a four-digit OPS this month with at least 20 at-bats.
With this stretch of success, the Braves have regained some of the confidence that helped them surge through a turnaround that pointed them toward a World Series title.
“It’s waiting for something to go right instead of waiting for something to go wrong,” Snitker said. “That’s the difference. You can never explain it in this thing, the how or why.”