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Matt Olson hits grand slam in win over Rockies

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ATLANTA — The Braves produced a lot of first-inning success with Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson and Austin Riley filling the first three spots of their lineup. But the recent decision to flip-flop Ozzie Albies with Olson in the order may have actually enhanced this team’s ability to deliver early knockdowns.  

Olson certainly looked comfortable in his new spot as he drilled a first-inning grand slam that propelled the Braves to a 10-2 win over the Rockies on Saturday afternoon at Truist Park. Atlanta has won five straight and has tallied at least three runs within the first two innings in each of the first three games of this four-game set against Colorado.  

“This is the best lineup I’ve ever been a part of,” Olson said. “One through nine, there really aren’t any soft spots. Being on the other side of lineups like that, you never feel comfortable in the field, and you sure don’t as a pitcher.”

Olson, 29, secured his sixth career 20-homer season when he drilled Rockies starter Connor Seabold’s 3-0 fastball over the left-center-field wall. The opposite-field grand slam pushed the Braves’ MLB-best first-inning run total to 66. The Dodgers (59) and Astros (52) were the only other teams to enter Saturday with at least 50 first-inning runs.  

As for the division-rival Marlins (21) and Mets (19), they entered Saturday having combined for just 40 first-inning runs.  

“It’s always good to be the team that scores first,” Olson said. “It feels like we’ve been doing it at a pretty good clip this year. It kind of sets the tone for the game.” 

The Braves are now a National League-best 23-8 when they score in the first. So, this week’s early eruptions have been nothing new for a team that has benefited from Acuña producing an MLB-best 1.217 OPS in the first inning, and Olson hitting an MLB-leading nine homers in the opening frame.

But these recent sudden outbursts have shown Braves manager Brian Snitker may have made the right decision by moving Albies up to the second spot and dropping Olson to the fifth before Thursday’s series opener against left-hander Kyle Freeland. 

Batting Albies second against left-handed pitchers has always been a good option for Albies, who ranks fourth in the Majors with a 1.170 OPS against southpaws. Yet the switch-hitting second baseman struggled mightily against right-handers until recently. 

Albies entered Friday hitting .290 with a .959 OPS, 6.8 percent strikeout rate and 13.5 percent walk rate over 74 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers going back to May 23. So, having him fill the second spot against right-handers the past two days was a calculated move.

Olson hit .224 with a .828 OPS, 25.6 percent strikeout rate and a 14.8 percent walk rate over 78 plate appearances against righties within this same span. His high swing-and-miss rate in the lineup’s second spot lessened the value of the high on-base percentage Acuña was producing out of the leadoff spot.

“[Albies’] at-bats, both ways, were really, really good,” Snitker said. “You like the guy who can run up there with the guys behind him. He can score from first on a double, steal bases and maybe see some more fastballs with Ronald on base in front of him. For Matt, [a] change of scenery was a big thing, and he’s a run producer as he’s shown.”

The Braves have an MLB-high seven different players with at least 10 home runs. Three of the team’s first five batters, including both Albies and Olson, have hit at least 15 homers. This power has helped Atlanta score a first-inning run an MLB-high 31 times this year. The 16 times they have tallied a multirun total in the first is tied with the Dodgers for the most in the Majors.

“When we have that first-inning offense … all of the sudden, they turn around and are facing that second group again,” Snitker said. 

Seabold certainly didn’t enjoy seeing the top of the lineup again in the second inning, in which Albies starred with his 16th homer of the season. But it’s not like the rest of the lineup was friendly to him or mostly anyone who has toed the rubber for the Rockies this week.

Eddie Rosario homered for a third straight game when he went back-to-back in the third inning with Orlando Arcia, who finished a triple shy of the cycle. The Braves can create damage throughout their lineup, but their first-inning destruction has truly set the tone regularly. 

“That top half of your lineup can just be relentless,” Snitker said.

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