Wiedmer: Taking series from Brewers shows Braves starting to have fun again

Not long after the Atlanta Braves split their four-game series with the National League East-leading New York Mets last week, Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud told MLB.com: "Our team chemistry is really high and we're all having fun. Good things are happening on the baseball field and we're communicating well. So yeah, good things are coming."

Those good things became a bit more tangible against the NL Midwest-leading Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend, especially in Sunday's 9-2 rout of the Brew Crew.

Having won eight of their last 10 entering the three-game series at Truist Park, Milwaukee limped out of the Big Peach losing two of three to the Braves. If it doesn't necessarily signal the defending world champions suddenly look like a team capable of repeating, it does at least hint of better days to come.

"I think it shows what we're capable of," said Atlanta skipper Brian Snitker during his postgame remarks. "And the team we are."

What they're capable of is basically seven months in the rearview mirror, the 2021 World Series title the only proof needed to underscore this team's potential for greatness at any time.

These Braves are not those Braves, of course. Freddie Freeman is no longer with the team. Neither is Jorge Soler, the World Series MVP now with the Miami Marlins. And pitcher Mike Soroka is still out of action, hopeful to make his first start in two years sometime around the All-Star Break.

Yet taking two out of three from molten-hot Milwaukee would seem to signal some sort of reliable reversal by the defending champs after what might best be termed a post-championship hangover to start 2022.

Merely start with winning pitcher Charlie Morton, who hadn't won a game in his previous four starts, including a 7.85 ERA in those efforts. Yet after the 38-year-old allowed just two hits and struck out five in five scoreless innings, he said of his performance: "Today I think I saw some things from the hitters that made me feel like I'm probably not that far off, especially pretty early. Whether it's a fastball right down the middle that they're not quite turning on or it's the four-seamer up that they're swinging under or it's the curveball that they're chasing. I think today, especially early, I saw my stuff playing where it should be playing in the (strike) zone."

However, it's not just Morton who appears to be rounding into shape after a slow start.

Shortstop Dansby Swanson was struggling to bat his weight of 190 for much of April, but after going 2 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base and three runs scored on Sunday, he's now hitting .340 with eight RBI and six extra-base hits in his last 16 games to raise his overall average to .242.

Beyond that, came a solo home run from Adam Duvall - a whopping 27 of the Braves' 34 homers to date have been solo round-trippers - and a three-run blast in the fifth from William Contreras that made it 9-0 before Milwaukee showed up on the scoreboard.

Said Duvall of that early cushion: "Any time you can bust out and get a good lead, that's when you can play aggressive, that's when you can kind of get after it a little bit. That was huge."

When you'e trying to get to, then permanently pass .500, every game is huge. In a NL East where four of the five teams are currently below .500, every win can dramatically improve your chances to win the division, especially if the Mets soon begin to falter.

Add to that Ronald Acuna's steady return from the pre-knee injury form that made him one of the top five or six outfielders in the National League, if not all of baseball, and you have the makings of a pennant contender.

With his infield single in the first, Acuna has reached base a NL-best 23 straight games dating back to June 25, a few days before he blew his knee out. That streak is second only to Boston's J.D. Martinez, who's currently reached base in 27 straight games. Acuña also doubled in the fifth and finished 2 for 4 with a stolen base against the Brewers.

"To have Ronald cycling around (at the plate) every couple of innings is good for us," said Snitker.

It's way too early to predict that the Braves are about to go on a lengthy run of excellence. After a Monday off-day, the Boston Red Sox visit Truist Park for a two-game series. The season is mostly still in front of Atlanta, more than 80 percent of the 162-game schedule still to go for a team that stands 14-16 at the moment.

"We're still trying to get our foothold," Snitker told the Associated Press. "You'd love to get everything going and get on a run, but I think the split in New York and winning a series against a first-place team shows we're headed in the right direction."

If the team chemistry remains high, and Swanson's batting average continues to improve, they just might be headed in the general direction of the playoffs, which would mean the entirety of Braves Country would be having fun.

photo Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.