Home News Ronald Acuña Jr., Marcell Ozuna homer in Braves’ seventh straight win

Ronald Acuña Jr., Marcell Ozuna homer in Braves’ seventh straight win

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ATLANTA — Exactly when a team gets rolling doesn’t necessarily matter. The Braves notched 101 wins in 2022 despite slumbering through the first two months of the season. They won the ‘21 World Series despite not having a winning record before August arrived.  

This year’s team got off to a good start, stumbled over May’s final few weeks and now finds itself rolling through the early part of June for a second straight year. The timing of this current hot streak is coincidental.

What matters most to the Braves is that for the first time this year it feels like they are clicking on all cylinders.  Yes, they’re still missing their ace, Max Fried. But there’s been a lot to like during a winning streak that extended to seven with a 6-4 victory over the Nationals on Saturday afternoon at Truist Park.  

“It takes about 40 games to let things settle in,” manager Brian Snitker said. “This time of year, you should have a pretty good idea of who you are.”

The Braves are who we thought they were, despite the fact that Fried and Kyle Wright have combined to complete just 44 2/3 innings this year.  They have remained strong World Series contenders with the assistance of Ronald Acuña Jr.‘s MVP bid, Marcell Ozuna’s rejuvenation and a suddenly reliable bullpen. 

Each of these elements played an instrumental role in this latest win. Acuña and Ozuna both homered during a four-run second against MacKenzie Gore. Once Jared Shuster began to falter in the sixth, the bullpen limited the Nationals to one run over four innings.  

As a result, the Braves are 7-1 this month and own a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League East race. They’re in better shape than they were last year, when they were still four games back of the Mets despite beginning June with 14 straight wins.

The one constant throughout this season has been Acuña, who sandwiched a pair of doubles around his second-inning homer. The Braves’ right fielder ranks second among qualified NL players with a .975 OPS. His 13 homers and 28 stolen bases put him on pace to produce what would be the first 30-homer, 60-stolen-base season in AL/NL history. 

“I would say I have played my best baseball throughout my big league career,” Acuña said. 

Jesse Chavez could say the same, especially after he added to his successful season with two perfect innings on Saturday. Chavez entered with two on and none out in the sixth and ensured no more runs would be charged to Shuster. The 39-year-old reliever has a 1.55 ERA over 29 innings.

“I told Charlie [Morton], ‘I don’t know which of you 39-year-olds amaze me the most,’” Snitker said.

The biggest difference for the Braves over the past week has been the reliability of the bullpen, or at least the resurgence of both A.J. Minter and Joe Jiménez, who now can be utilized confidently in high-leverage spots again.

Jiménez underwent back surgery during the offseason, and he just never seemed to be quite right as he posted a 4.42 ERA over 20 appearances through the end of May. But since being given a week to rest, the right-hander has worked three scoreless and hitless innings and recorded four strikeouts over two appearances.

After Jiménez kept the Nationals scoreless in the eighth, Minter allowed a homer to Stone Garrett to begin the ninth. But he retired the next three batters to notch the save. The left-hander entered this game having made six straight scoreless appearances. He had posted a 10.93 ERA over his 15 appearances prior to that successful stretch.

“Sometimes, it takes a little time coming out of the gates to get going,” Chavez said. 

This would certainly apply to Ozuna, who hit .085 with two homers and a .397 OPS over 67 plate appearances through the end of April. But he has since hit .313 with 11 homers and a 1.021 OPS.  That mark ranks second among MLB players with at least 120 plate appearances during that span.  

“To have a bat like [Ozuna’s] in the middle of the lineup is really good,” Snitker said. “Then, what Ronald is doing is really crazy.”

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