The Braves came into the week looking to best two red hot teams in the Phillies and the Reds. After one game that went to extras and four more decided by one or two runs, where do the Braves stand now?
Overall Record: 50-27, 1st place in NL East
Record this week: 4-1
Best moment of the week:
In a first for this column, our guest columnist will also be covering our best moment of the week. The series with the Reds was an absolute belter from start to finish, so our inimitable Cincinnati Reds correspondent Gavin Tramps joins us to provide a rundown of the series from the Reds point of view.
It’s official; the Reds are no longer the hottest team in baseball. After 12 straight wins – the most for the franchise in over 60 years – the Reds were finally beaten.
It is difficult to believe there has been a more exciting three-game series in MLB this year than the Braves against the Reds, with the trio of edge-of-the-seat games all being decided by just a single run.
Tim of @UKRedsMLB suggested that Game One of the series was the best game he had ever watched.
Falling behind 0-5 in the first inning of Game One could have signalled a blowout, but a 117 mph drive off the bat of Elly De La Cruz ignited the Reds. Rake Fraley as Jake is affectionately known, immediately put a two-run homer in the seats.
De La Cruz, whose at-bats are rapidly becoming must-watch moments, seven-ironed a 38-degree moonshot into the crowd to bring the Reds within one. The legend that is Joey Votto wasted no time in driving the tying run over the centre field wall. From 0-5 to 5-5; man, you have to love this team.
Matt Olson untied the game with a two-run homer, but with two on in the fifth, ELDC hit a broken-bat single to bring the Reds one run closer.
Three things of note happened in 2002. The Reds drafted Chris Gruler with the first round pick of the draft. He never made the majors. Fortunately, with their second round pick, they drafted an 18-year-old left-handed hitter from Canada called Joey Votto. Also that year, Elly De La Cruz was born in the Dominican Republic. Amazingly, 21 years later, the duo combined for a passage of play that would have made Hollywood script writers dismiss it for unbelievability.
Votto, who had only played three of the Reds previous 122 games, crushed a three-run homer to send the home fans wild. This sort of thing doesn’t happen if you’re a Reds fan.
Next – and I know I am in the minority here – but I think hitting for the cycle is as pointless as the Home Run Derby, the Pitcher Win stat, Hall of Fame voting, and the balk rule. But everyone in the stadium was on their feet when EDLC came to the plate, a triple shy of the cycle – and he only went and did it.
Ian Gibaut, the pitcher who threw the strikeout to secure Great Britain’s historic WBC win over Colombia, enjoyed another hitless outing – but Acuna, Riley and Olson hit solo homers off Lucas Sims to assure this game of its epic status. The Braves are relentless.
In Game Two, the Braves were gifted an early 3-0 lead which they extended to 6-2. Despite two solo homers off closer Raisel Iglesias, the Reds went down 6-7. The ride was over. The streak was broken. It was fun while it lasted.
Somewhat predictably, the Braves took a 3-0 lead in Game Three and even left the bases loaded in the third inning. No sooner had the Reds drawn level with some smart small-ball play than the Braves reestablished their three-run margin.
Second baseman Matt McLain, whose .325/.380/.541 rookie season is being overshadowed by his middle infield partner, hit his second homer in two days to keep the Reds in contention. The youngster then came within inches of tying the game in the eighth inning when, with two men on, his line drive hit the wall just shy of a home run. Two runs scored instead of three and the Reds still trailed by one.
The final throw of the dice came with two runners in scoring position at the bottom of the ninth, but the Braves executed a perfect double-play to give Iglesias his second save in two days.
I will probably never witness another Reds’ 12-game winning streak in my life. It was a blast, but let’s be honest; allowing 53 runs in 12 games suggests more luck than dominance.
The upshot was that I attended the London Series in my cherished Joey Votto jersey with Cincinnati leading the division with an exciting, young roster. It’s not often you can wear a Reds jersey with pride.
I generally have opinions on most baseball matters, but I honestly have no idea what the Front Office will do at the trade deadline. With Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Ben Lively on the IL, and Brandon Williamson, Luke Weaver, and Graham Ashcraft combining for a 6.83 ERA over 166 innings, it is clear that pitching is the issue.
Worst moment of the week:
It’s fair to say that Raisel Iglesias had an up and down week. He pitched in four games this week, notching a win and three saves – much to the delight of his owners in fantasy leagues – but never looked fully comfortable on the mound. He gave up a run in his first save opportunity against the Phillies, two solo home runs in his second against the Reds and then put runners on the corners in the third, only to be bailed out by an excellent 5-4-3 double play. Every pitcher goes through shaky moments – we’ve been very lucky that Raisel’s haven’t cost us this week.
Player of the week:
After being moved from the second spot in the lineup down to five, Matt Olson has caught fire. Not content with being the second most handsome man in baseball (the hundreds of photos in my camera roll of Dansby Swanson from this weekend’s London Series betrays my #1 choice), he crunched three home runs this week to move into a tie with Shohei Ohtani for the league lead and is on pace for 52 this season. He’s also now in the top five for RBI, runs, walks and extra base hits over the season. He also tallied his 200th career home run this week.
It’s also worth noting that perennial player of the week Ronald Acuña Jr. is now up to 17 homers and 35 stolen bases. He has a good chance to become the newest member of the 40/40 club with a bit of added power in the second half – i’ll be keeping an eye on it.
WTF moment of the week:
This week, nothing made me say WTF more than Elly De La Cruz. The (self-proclaimed) fastest man in the world has been transcendent in his brief time in the bigs so far, with the culmination coming with a cycle in the first game of the series against the Braves – the first for a Red since 1989. It’s so rare to see someone with his size, speed and hitting talent break through like this – sometimes, even if you’re rooting for the other side, you just have to sit and watch.
9/10 – this team is now atop the power rankings and the bookie’s favourite to take the World Series – and who can be surprised?! Everything is coming together. To snap two winning streaks by the Reds and Phillies and come out the week 4-1 while still looking like they have another gear is something to behold. Let’s hope the upcoming All-Star break doesn’t slow their momentum.
What’s on next week?
The Braves are sticking in Atlanta this week, as they play their lone series this year against the Twins from Monday to Wednesday, take the day off on Thursday and play three important games against the red-hot second-place Marlins to close out the week. The final game of that series sees Spencer Strider – who has been struggling a little recently – facing last year’s Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara, who has been struggling a lot recently.
UK friendly games:
Wednesday 28 June v Twins (5:20pm), Saturday 1 July v Marlins, (9:10pm), Sunday 2 July v Marlins (6:35pm)
Charlie Deeks is the Atlanta Braves correspondent on Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @Omashaft!