Following a four-day hiatus, the Atlanta Braves returned to action on Friday evening and the Washington Nationals were in the opposite dugout. Though Atlanta entered as significant underdogs (at least according to Las Vegas) in the opener, the Braves began the second “half” of the season on a positive note with an 8- victory.
Before the first pitch, it was noteworthy to see Ronald Acuña in the lead-off spot and that decision immediately paid dividends. The rookie outfielder singled, stole second base and came across for Atlanta’s first run after a double from Ozzie Albies. The speedy infielder then stole third base and was plated by a Freddie Freeman groundout, setting the tone for what would be an enjoyable evening.
Unfortunately, one of the few negatives on Friday was news that Albies was forced to the exits early with hamstring tightness. On the bright side, the early diagnosis indicated that it was for precautionary reasons, allowing Braves Country to breathe to some extent.
Elsewhere on the field, though, the Nationals were able to tie the game at 2-2, with a run manufactured against Anibal Sanchez in the first inning and a solo home run from old friend Matt Adams in the third. Fortunately for Atlanta, that was as close as things were for the rest of the evening, with Johan Camargo bringing Kurt Suzuki to the plate with an RBI double in the top of the fourth inning.
The Braves then broke things open in the fifth inning, scoring three runs to create a working margin. After a double from Acuña and a bunt single from Charlie Culberson (replacing Albies), Freeman doubled to score two runs and he later scored on a sacrifice fly from the bat of Nick Markakis.
From there, things were fairly comfortable for the Braves, as a home run from Washington’s Trae Turner was quickly answered by one from Culberson in the sixth. Acuña then continued his ridiculous evening with a solo shot in the eighth to give the visitors a five-run lead and that, as they say, was that.
Jessie Biddle did allow a two-run shot to promising young outfielder Juan Soto, but the Braves still led by an 8-5 margin with only six outs to secure. Biddle then managed to escape without further damage in the eighth before handing the ball to A.J. Minter for the final three outs of the evening.
On the mound, Anibal Sanchez wasn’t dominant by any stretch of the imagination, but he battled enough to allow the offensive success to translate. The veteran navigated six innings, allowing three runs on six hits, and Sanchez struck out eight batters against a quality Washington offensively.
Atlanta’s lineup was filled with players who enjoyed big-time success, headlined by Acuña. Prior to Friday, the youngster had only a single appearance in the lead-off spot but he seems to be taking kindly to his new home, producing a 3-for-4 performance that included a home run, a double, a walk and a stolen base.
In support, Freeman (2-for-5, 3 RBI) was tremendous, Culberson (2-for-4 with a home run) provided real value in a reserve role and Camargo produced multiple hits from the No. 6 spot in the lineup. At the end of the evening, it was tough to ignore the synergy in the “new” batting order playing up in a big way and, more importantly, the Braves picked up their 53rd win of the season in the process.
Atlanta and Washington will do battle again on Saturday evening, with Sean Newcomb facing off with Gio Gonzalez. Stay tuned.