WASHINGTON — There is hot, like the weather in the nation’s capital Monday before the skies briefly opened. Then there is what the Braves are. The reigning World Series champions aren’t just the hottest team in baseball this June, they are as hot as any team has been all season.
Atlanta stayed scorching Monday night, running away with its 12th straight victory, despite losing All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies to a fractured left foot in a 9-5 romp over the Nationals at Nationals Park. The Majors’ longest win streak this season is also the Braves’ third-longest streak of the Wild Card Era (since 1995), challenging the club’s streak of 14 straight wins in 2013 and a 15-gamer in ’00.
And the way they’re playing, they look capable of rolling right past both of those runs.
“That’s the standard here in general,” said Dansby Swanson, who hit one of Atlanta’s five homers as part of a four-RBI night. “Every night we show up to the ballpark, we expect to win. That’s what’s made this place great for such a long time. We have the players that have the same buy-in and attitude. With that kind of mentality and that type of culture, good things happen.”
After a slow start, the Braves are clicking on all cylinders. They are getting production from up and down their order, from Ronald Acuña Jr. and Swanson at the top to suddenly red-hot Adam Duvall and rookie Michael Harris II at the bottom, not to mention two impact catchers. The Braves have the National League’s lowest staff ERA this month, they have arguably the game’s best bullpen and they lead the NL in team homers.
The Braves have outscored their opponents by 48 runs (83-35) and have a 2.68 team ERA during this streak, which is now stretching into its third week. The one homer Dylan Lee allowed to Lane Thomas on Monday was little match for the five Atlanta muscled, a season high.
All told, the Braves have made up 5 1/2 games in the NL East standings during the streak, slicing the Mets’ division lead to five with 100 games to play.
“It’s not just one thing,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We started playing really good baseball all around. Our starting pitching [has been good], the bullpen has been unbelievable and guys started to hit. We’ve been playing good defence. I mean, it’s just been a total team thing, you know? Just playing good, solid baseball, you know, day in and day out.”
That’s the mentality the Braves took into Monday, when again, much of the production came from the bottom half of their deep lineup. Travis d’Arnaud, Marcell Ozuna, Duvall, Swanson and Harris II all went deep, with Ozuna and Duvall going back-to-back off Erasmo Ramírez in the third. Duvall’s homer was his third in four at-bats dating back to Sunday, while d’Arnaud punctuated his lineup return after ceding two games to William Contreras behind the plate. Swanson crushed his 423-foot two-run shot in the sixth and Harris’ first career homer put the game on ice in the eighth.
“Everybody’s feeling good, feeling free,” said Harris II, who received a rare road curtain call from the large contingent of Braves fans that waited out the 93-minute rain delay to witness the top prospect’s milestone homer. “We’re going out there having fun, playing every day and just winning.”
The outburst was characteristic of this relentless Braves team. They’ve gotten an MLB-leading 29 home runs from the bottom-third of their lineup, as well as what’s turning into a career year from Swanson as they’ve charged back up the NL East standings. The steps he’s taken in this platform season are even more vital knowing Atlanta might be without Albies for at least several weeks, after the All-Star second baseman fractured his left foot during a swing in the fifth.
Swanson is enjoying his finest all-around season, hitting .292 with eight homers and an .816 OPS, after growing into a power threat in 2021. He leads NL shortstops in Wins Above Replacement (bWAR) and is a free agent at season’s end .
“It’s just continued growth, confidence and keeping things simple,” Swanson said. “Just continuing to focus on being on time. You can’t hit if you’re not on time. So keeping things simple and preparing each day to be successful.”
Said Snitker: “I don’t think any situation is too big for him. He’s probably the guy I’d want up any time there is a big spot. I love when he’s up there because he has a way of slowing things down, and you know it never gets too big for him.”