The Rockies have won six of seven, and they’re 28-14 since June 28, tops in the NL over that span. And they’ve done it without the benefit of many blowouts: Friday’s game snapped a franchise-long, 25-game streak in which the Rockies scored six runs or fewer.
Sean Newcomb struggled for his second straight start as Atlanta’s NL East lead dropped to one-half game over Philadelphia. Colorado began the night 1 1/2 games out of the West lead.
Ronald Acuna Jr. reached on an infield single in the first against Freeland and scored on a sacrifice fly, but that was all Atlanta could muster against him.
Freeland (11-7) gave up three hits and four walks and struck out four, improving to 5-1 with a 2.20 ERA over 12 starts since June 16. Freeland’s 2.96 season ERA leads all NL left-handers with enough qualifying innings.
Newcomb (10-6) struck out Freeland to escape a bases-loaded jam in the second, but he wasn’t as fortunate with bases full in the third as Desmond tripled into left-center to make it 3-1.
Desmond helped get the Rockies on the board again in the four-run sixth. He singled, stole second and scored on Chris Iannetta‘s single. Charlie Blackmon‘s two-run triple chased Newcomb, who gave up nine hits, seven runs and three walks in 5 1/3 innings.
Newcomb had gone 8-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 14 starts following an Atlanta loss, but he was coming off a no-decision last Sunday against Milwaukee in which he gave up five runs and a single-game career-high 12 hits in four innings.
The Braves have lost 21 of their last 28 games against the Rockies, including eight of the last 10 in Atlanta.
Dansby Swanson had an RBI double for Atlanta in the seventh. DJ LeMahieu added an RBI single and Desmond had a two-run single in the eighth.
LeMahieu drove in a run off Charlie Culberson, a utility man making his first career pitching appearance, in the ninth. The Braves added three runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Acuna was credited with a hit in his first at-bat even though shortstop Trevor Story fielded the hard grounder and threw wildly to first. Acuna has reached safely in eight straight plate appearances leading off a game, with three homers, two singles, one walk and a hit by pitch over that span.
Adam Duvall went 1 for 4 and stranded two runners in eighth. He’s hitting .120 in 25 at-bats since Atlanta acquired him in a trade with Cincinnati last month.
Rockies: Manager Bud Black said LHP Mike Dunn, on the disabled list with a shoulder inflammation, looked good in a simulated game and will begin a rehab assignment in the next couple of days. … RHP Scott Oberg was reinstated from the paternity list. LHP Harrison Musgrave was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque.
Braves: LHP Max Fried began a rehab assignment Friday for Triple-A Gwinnett, allowing three earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. He’s been out 11 games with a left groin strain.
Rockies: RHP Antonio Senzatela (4-3, 4.56 ERA) will be reinstated from the disabled list and make his seventh start. He is 1-3 with a 5.81 ERA in three starts and six relief appearances on the road.
Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (10-7, 2.86 ERA) will make his 24th start. The first-time All-Star is 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA in three starts this month.
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“We’ve been playing well, so it’s fun,” Duvall said. “It’s definitely a good change of scenery for me.”
Duvall gave the Braves’ lineup a new outlook. He would start in left field against southpaws, shifting Ronald Acuna to center and putting Ender Inciarte on the bench. The Braves have tested that strategy, but received little in return.
Inciarte is hitting .283 in the second half and .271 since the Duvall trade. The improved performance has been encouraging, though the Braves still are mostly platooning him, including Friday night when they opposed Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland.
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As for the midseason acquisition, little has been added thus far aside from theoretical power. Duvall is 2-for-21 as a Brave and hitless in his past 10 at-bats.
He’s still growing acclimated. In Duvall’s defense, he hasn’t had consistent at-bats to string together much success. He still provides value in the field and might have the third-best power on the club, so he can provide value through slumps. The stats aren’t there, but Duvall believes the production is on its way.
“For sure (I’m feeling energized), especially this time of year when you’re playing for something,” he said. “It gives you a little extra push in your step. … That’s what makes this time of the year fun. When both teams have something to go out there and try to win. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s a great atmosphere to be in. We’re all just trying to chase some wins.”
Duvall said he already has benefited from hitting coach Kevin Seitzer’s tutelage. As it has been explained to Duvall, it boils down to not pressing, relaxing in the box and letting ability take over.
In fact, he hadn’t seen many coaches with such keen eyes as Seitzer’s.
“We’ve been working on some things, and he’s been a lot of help so far,” Duvall said. “I’ve definitely enjoyed working with him. He’s a very humble guy. He talks a lot about things that a lot of hitting coaches don’t talk about. So that’s definitely a change as well.”
The first-place Braves have caught fire in the second half, and getting anything out of Duvall would be a welcome bonus. He hit 64 homers across the past two seasons, but that total has dwindled to 15 this season, none with the Braves.
The Braves weren’t as power-deprived as many assumed entering the season. They’ve more than held their own in that department. Now they’ll see if Duvall can fortify an unbeknown strength.
Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
August 17 at 11:17 AM
Expectations were high for Atlanta Braves left fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. The 20-year-old bashed his way through three levels of the minors in 2017, batting .325 with 21 home runs and 44 stolen bases combined between stops at Florida (Class-A Advanced), Mississippi (Double-A) and Gwinnett (Triple-A), improving his on-base plus slugging every step of the way. In 2018 he was at the top of MLB Pipeline’s Top 10 outfield prospects list with high marks for power, speed and overall hitting ability, traits serving him well at the major league level.
The young Venezuelan, who missed a month due to an ACL sprain in his left knee, is hitting .268 with 19 home runs and a .918 OPS. Only San Diego Padres third baseman Christian Villanueva has more home runs among rookies, and that’s despite 79 more plate appearances than Acuña in 2018.
Acuña’s MLB resume also includes being the youngest player ever to hit a home run in five straight games. He’s the youngest player to hit a home run twice on back-to-back days. He’s the youngest to lead off a game with a home run in three straight games. On Monday against the Miami Marlins in front of the hometown crowd, Acuña did something that only three other players have done since Woodrow Wilson was president: lead off both games of a doubleheader with a home run. And on Tuesday he joined Willie Mays (1954) as the only players in baseball history to hit a home run in their first official at-bat in five straight games.
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Wow, this is something else,’” Braves Manager Brian Snitker told Mark Bowman of MLB.com on Tuesday night, a night Acuña also recorded his first multihomer game. “You’re experiencing it and enjoying a young kid with a lot of talent having fun playing baseball.”
Acuña is having even more fun since being moved to the top of the order in the team’s first game after the all-star break. The phenom is batting .367 with a 1.248 OPS from the leadoff spot, creating runs at a league-high rate that is more than twice the league average after accounting for league and park effects (228 wRC+).
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No wonder the Braves have the second-best record in the NL since moving Acuña to the top spot. Atlanta is 16-10 in that span, boosting its playoff chances from 37 to 65 percent. The Braves division title hopes more than doubled from 23 to 47 percent.
He’s mashing pitches of all types, too. Acuña is batting .275 with a .911 OPS against fastballs (four-seam, sinkers and cutters), .375 with a 1.111 OPS against change-ups, striking out just once every nine at-bats ending on the pitch, and .444 with a 1.204 OPS against curveballs. However, he does struggle to make contact against sliders and sinkers on the inner half of the plate, pushing an overall strikeout rate past the league average (28 vs. 22 percent).
Ronald Acuña’s miss rate against sliders and sinkers in 2018 (TruMedia)
Despite that, Acuña’s season puts him in favorable company for the future. Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, the 2015 Rookie of the Year, hit .279 with a .857 OPS at age 20. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton and reigning NL home run king hit .259 with a 31 percent strikeout rate in 2010, creating runs at a rate that was 18 percent higher than the league average at 20 years old. Acuña is better than both on all counts, and is behind only Mike Trout, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsy and Frank Robinson for most runs created above an average player as a 20-year-old rookie.
There’s only one person standing in the way of Acuña and this year’s NL Rookie of the Year award: 19-year-old Washington Nationals’ outfielder Juan Soto.
Soto, like Acuña, is also on a historic run. He’s hitting .293 with 15 home runs and could join Mel Ott and Tony Conigliaro (1964) as the only teenagers to have a slugging percentage over .500. Soto could also be the only teenager to ever maintain an on-base percentage of .400 or higher.
Those two traits likely keep Soto as the favorite, but if Acuña continues to fuel the Braves’ playoff run we could see a changing of the guard in the near future.
The promising 25-year-old left-handers face each other Friday night at SunTrust Park with both teams in the hunt for National League division titles.
The Rockies (65-56) scored three times in the ninth inning for a 5-3 victory in the opener of the four-game series Thursday night, snapping a five-game winning streak by the NL East-leading Braves (68-52) and staying hot on the tail of Arizona in the NL West.
Newcomb (10-5, 3.40 ERA) and the Braves won 4-0 in the deciding contest of a three-game series in Colorado four months ago as the Massachusetts native struck out nine and walking none while giving up five hits in six innings.
Freeland (10-7, 3.02) gave up sixth-inning homers to Nick Markakis and Dansby Swanson while taking the loss, being charged with three runs on seven hits over his six innings.
Newcomb is 8-1 after an Atlanta loss.
Freeland, though, comes into the rematch off two strong seven-inning outings in his hometown of Denver, while Newcomb struggled mightily in his most recent start.
Pitching for the first time in Atlanta since missing a no-hitter by a strike two weeks earlier, Newcomb allowed 12 hits and five runs in four innings against Milwaukee in a fortunate no-decision last Sunday.
In contrast, Freeland followed a two-hit scoreless outing over seven innings in an Aug. 6 victory over Pittsburgh with 10 strikeouts, two runs allowed and six hits given up in a no-decision against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday.
The Rockies saved Freeland a tough-luck loss against the Dodgers when Ryan McMahon homered with two on in the ninth inning for the 3-2 victory.
“I have that sense every single game we play with this offense,” Freeland said after the dramatic comeback. “Look at us one through nine. We can do a ton of damage, and it showed right there in the ninth inning. We did not give up at all, Mac got a good pitch to put a good swing on, and he did all the damage.”
Newcomb certainly would have deserved a loss against the Brewers, but the Braves also showed they can’t be counted out by rallying for an 8-7 victory after being put in an early hole.
Newcomb needed 96 pitches in his four shaky innings and was fortunate to give up only five runs.
“One of those games,” Newcomb said afterward. “You peek at the (radar) gun every once in a while and you see it’s a little lower than you expected and you’re like, ‘OK, I just didn’t have it.'”
Braves manager Brian Snitker agreed with that, saying, “He didn’t have a feel for anything. It just wasn’t clicking.”
Although Newcomb and Freeland are in their second seasons, Friday will be the fourth time they have faced each other.
Neither got a decision in two meetings a season ago. Newcomb, who allowed three homers in a start at Colorado, posted a 5.91 ERA in 10 2/3 innings and Freeland was just a little better at 5.25 over 12 innings.
Markakis is 5-for-9 with two homers against Freeland, while Nolan Arenado is 5-for-9 with a home run facing Newcomb.
Andy started off the segment talking about the Atlanta Braves. He mentioned how Brian Snitker changed his thoughts on how the Braves should handle his future as the Braves’ manager. Bunker liked Snit’s response to Acuna being hit by a pitch because he actually showed some emotion on the field. He thinks that connection/emotion that Snitker showed should warrant an extension.