Sweeping a four-game series is awesome. Sweeping a four-game series that vaults your team into first place? Even more awesome. Doing it in a manner that grants a 1.5-game lead on the eve of a showdown with your divisional rivals? Well, you get the idea. The Braves prevailed in another tight-knit affair over the Pirates on Thursday afternoon, winning by a 6-5 score thanks to a rally in a five-run fifth, grabbing their first four-game sweep over Pittsburgh since 1991 and moving to 11 games over .500 on the year. The Braves are the second National League team to reach 40 wins.
In many ways, this game was like the other affairs with the Pirates — runs scored early and often, and the Braves fell behind but came charging back. Julio Teheran had a very Julio Teheran start: six frames, two runs (one earned), three hits, three walks, two strikeouts. He lowered his ERA by more than his FIP while his xFIP went up, so, yeah — a Julio Teheran start. Meanwhile, the Braves were a little baffled by Joe Musgrove at first, managing just one run through four frames, but ended up tormenting him the third time through the order and further driving down his already-uncomfortably low strand rate by stringing together a bunch of hits.
The game started off in somewhat ominious fashion for the Braves, as Julio Teheran issued a nine-pitch leadoff walk to Kevin Newman. However, Newman was thrown out trying to steal second, and Teheran was able to escape the inning with no damage despite also walking the next batter thanks to good framing and/or a bad call at home plate on a 3-2 pitch to Josh Bell. The Pirates took the lead in the third, as a leadoff single by Adam Frazier was cashed in on a bloop hit to left by Bryan Reynolds after Frazier was bunted over to second. But, the Braves got the run right back, as Ronald Acuña Jr. knocked a one-out double and scored on a Freddie Freeman single after Dansby Swanson walked. The Braves had a chance to take the lead, but Musgrove retired Josh Donaldson (with whom no further sparks flew) and Nick Markakis to end the inning.
The Pirates scored again due to ball-in-play shenanigans in the fourth, with Colin Moran lofting a ball that Matt Joyce failed to snag despite his convincing interpretive dance routine, titled “I dare you to give me an error even though I didn’t touch the ball at all.” Moran ended up on second base with one out, and ended up scoring when a two-out looper into center bounced off a diving Acuña’s glove. Teheran escaped the frame by getting Musgrove to line out to center. The Braves could not get the run right back, as back-to-back two-out singles by Joyce and Teheran went for naught when Musgrove struck Acuña out on a very questionable (i.e., bad) high strike three. Brian Snitker was ejected in between innings for arguing the (again, very bad) call.
The fifth was the Fun Inning (patent pending) for the Braves. Swanson led off with his second walk of the game and scored soon thereafter as Freeman tripled into the right-field corner. Donaldson lined a single to right, and just like that, the Braves went from trailing to leading in just four pitches. Markakis also singled, and then Ozzie Albies, last night’s walkoff hero, once again mashed a double into the right-center gap, scoring both runners and giving the Braves a 5-2 lead. That was it for Musgrove, who could not replicate last week’s success against the Braves. New reliever Geoff Hartlieb did not do him or his team any favors, either, as he allowed Albies to score on consecutive groundouts.
Teheran threw one more scoreless frame and then gave way to Touki Toussaint, who had a bit of a misadventure on the mound. Toussaint allowed four consecutive hits with one out, three of which were doubles. That seems bad, but the hit probabilities were, in order, 50 percent, 12 percent, 46 percent (the single), 46 percent. He departed with the ugly run-prevention damage to his line, but change this universe’s random seed and some of those balls nestle neatly into outfielders’ gloves and stem the rally. In any case, the Braves’ 6-2 lead had been trimmed to 6-4, and Walt Weiss, managing in place of the banished Snitker, summoned Anthony Swarzak from the bullpen. Swarzak elicited a first-pitch pop-out from Starling Marte, and then walked Josh Bell to set up a platoon-disadvantaged matchup with Moran. But, a six-pitch battle resulted in Moran waving ineffectually at a low Swarzak slider, and with the rally thwarted, on the game went.
The Braves managed nothing in the seventh or eighth against Dovydas Neverauskas, but the Pirates shared the same fate as Jerry Blevins threw a 1-2-3 frame that included a strikeout of a lefty (not weird) but also a strikeout of a righty (weird!). Luke Jackson came on for the ninth and had a bit of an adventure starring weak grounders, as usual. He got the first two outs via the groundball, including one requiring a fantastic charging play by Dansby Swanson, and then allowed a stupid roller double to Reynolds with a 24 percent hit probability. After a passed ball, Reynolds scored on an infield single on another low-hit probability grounder (35 percent) by Marte. But, Josh Bell, who ruined everything with his go-ahead homer last night against Jackson, could only fly out to left in this one, ending the game and granting unto Atlanta its seventh straight victory.
The Braves won a game without homering, which is a weird thought given that they hit 10 homers in the first two games of this series and then needed a game-tying blast to stay alive last night. Every Braves starter, including Julio Teheran, reached base at least once; Brian McCann was the only starter to go hitless but drew a walk.
The Phillies roll in for a big weekend showdown next. You’re watching the Braves smashing their opposition, so stick around.