Good news has been hard to come by, or at least not long to be enjoyed, for Atlanta Braves fans over the last couple of weeks. Too many offensively challenged nights. Too many pitching woes, including the extended injuries to star starters Max Fried and Kyle Wright. Too few series victories against quality teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Then came Sunday evening in the Big Peach, the Philadelphia Phillies - last October’s party poopers for the Braves’ back-to-back World Series dreams _ in town for the final contest of a four-game series.
It wasn’t just that ESPN was in the house.
Or that the flame-throwing Spencer “The Stache” Strider was on the mound for the home team. Or even that Atlanta needed this one to keep from falling below .500 at home following its 29th game at Truist Park this season.
This was a chance to show the nation that these Braves really are still capable of big things on a big stage. That they really have the ability to be more than the .500 ballclub they’ve been the past 20 games as America’s Pastime barrels into summer, the season now nearly one-third done.
And, boy, did they deliver. Ronald Acuna Jr., arguably the best player in baseball these days not named Shohei Ohtani, collected four hits, drove in three runs and smacked a triple. Matt Olson smashed two home runs and Austin Riley also homered.. Strider became the fastest pitcher to record 100 strikeouts in a single season in the modern era with 100 Ks so far this year in just 61 innings. The old record was Jacob deGrom’s, which was accomplished in 61 and ? innings in 2021
“It’s incredible,” said Acuna through a translator while speaking of Strider. “Every time he goes out to pitch it seems like he’s going to strike everybody out.”.
Against the Phillies, it seemed like Acuna and the rest of the Braves bats might never get three outs in the first. Atlanta sent 11 men to the plate and scored seven runs. They finished with 20 hits, a season high.
Said Strider afterward: “Getting a lead first is big, especially when you get that big of a lead. When we’re putting up runs, my job isn’t to be perfect. My job is to get outs.”
In running his record to 5-2 on the season, Strider has had his share of near-perfect moments, including the gem he threw at the Miami Marlins on April 24, when he struck out 13 and surrendered but two hits over eight innings in an 11-0 win.
But he’s also given up four runs on three occasions, including last Tuesday’s 8-1 loss to the Dodgers, when he K’d 11, but also allowed four runs in five innings. Though he’s really good most nights out, there’s still at least a little bit of feast or famine with him, as might be expected of a 24-year-old.
Yet great as all this positive news was for Braves Country heading into the start of a six-game road trip that begins tonight in Oakland with three to follow at Arizona, the best news may have come from Atlanta skipper Brian Snitker following the game.
It seems that Mike Soroka, regarded by many as the best pitcher on the Braves staff before injuries began to sideline him on August 3, 2020, when he tore his right Achilles tendon against the New York Mets, will pitch this evening against the A’s.
“To get back is really a feather in that kid’s cap,” said Snitker of the 25-year-old Canadian.
It certainly is. Achilles injuries are among the most feared in athletics and Soroka has endured two of them in the last three years, as well as a hamstring injury earlier this spring. His outing tonight is almost certain to last no more than five innings, maybe as few as three or four.
However, to show how much he appears to be rounding into form, Soroka. allowed a combined four hits and two runs over 10? innings in his last two starts for the Gwinnett Stripers.
Yet regardless of whether he wins or loses or gets no decision tonight, if Soroka can come out of it healthy, then begin to stack a few more healthy outings on top of it, by the time the playoffs roll around, the Braves might have quite a quartet of starters in Fried, Soroka, Strider and Wright.
One of the better all-around Braves efforts of the season completed Sunday night, Acuna Jr., who knows a thing or two about returning from serious injuries, said of Soroka, "Super happy, super excited for him, super proud of him. I'm just hoping for (his) continued good health."
That good health, if it holds, just could be the difference in the Braves seriously contending for another world championship or merely pretending to chase October glory.