ATLANTA — Last weekend, the Atlanta Braves became the first 90-win team of Major League Baseball's 2023 season.
And there they have remained, a three-game losing streak — with a day off mixed in — cooling off a hot run for MLB's best team.
Willson Contreras, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Gorman and Masyn Winn went deep as the St. Louis Cardinals hit four home runs for the second straight game and beat the Braves 11-6 on Wednesday night to take the first two contests of their three-game series at Truist Park.
Gorman slugged his 27th homer of the season, doing so one day after hitting a pair of shots as the Cardinals (61-78) — the worst team in the National League Central Division —won 10-6 in the series opener against Atlanta (90-48), which has a 13 1/2-game lead over the second-place Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East and is chasing a sixth straight division title.
Cardinals right-hander Dakota Hudson (6-1), a 28-year-old former Sequatchie County High School standout from Dunlap, Tennessee, allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings to outpitch opposing starter and NL Cy Young Award hopeful Spencer Strider.
Strider (16-5), who had won his last four starts, lasted just 2 2/3 innings, giving up six runs on six hits, including a home run.
"It was an inability to make adjustments," he said. "I have to give us a chance to win."
The Braves, who entered the series against St. Louis coming off an 8-2 road trip, had won their last eight series dating to Aug. 4-6 against the Chicago Cubs. They'll try to avoid being swept Thursday.
Strider matched his shortest outing of the season. Against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 7, he also surrendered six runs in 2 2/3 innings.
"Things were not going well, and that's going to happen," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Wednesday's start. "He'll move on and improve from it. To feel this experience is good."
Matt Olson hit his MLB-leading 46th home run, and Austin Riley also homered for the Braves, who haven't lost four games in a row since mid-July, just after the All-Star break.
Gorman's three-run home run in the eighth inning off Dylan Lee provided the final margin.
The Braves closed a 7-2 deficit with three runs in the sixth. Olson led off with a home run and Michael Harris had a two-run double. With the tying runs on first and third, Ronald Acuña Jr. ended the threat by grounding into a double play.
Acuña, an NL MVP contender, snapped an 0-for-16 skid with a single in the ninth.
The Cardinals struck for four runs in the first inning. Goldschmidt gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead after just two batters with a 406-foot shot over the visitors' bullpen in left field, his 23rd homer of the season. Three batters later, Contreras knocked in Gorman from third with a grounder to second, and Alec Burleson followed with an RBI single that scored Nolan Arenado. Burleson was thrown out at second on the play by Acuña, but the Cardinals held a 4-0 lead and forced Strider to throw 26 pitches.
Contreras pushed the lead to 5-0 in the third with a ground-ball single past a diving Orlando Arcia that scored Gorman. Burleson picked up another RBI on a fielder's choice.
Contreras hit his 17th homer of the season in the seventh inning, and Winn hit his first of the year in the sixth.
"I was looking for something offspeed," Winn said. "I am happy it got out."
In Thursday night's series finale, the scheduled starting pitchers are Atlanta left-hander Max Fried (6-1, 2.52) and St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright (3-10, 8.10), a Georgia native who was managed by Snitker in the Braves' minor league system before he was traded to the Cardinals in 2003.
Snitker presented Wainwright, a three-time MLB All-Star who helped the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series, a framed photo of his 2002 Futures Game appearance as a top prospect. This is Wainwright's 18th MLB season, and he has announced it will also be his last.
"He's had an unbelievable career and he's a wonderful person," Snitker said. "He has done so much for the St. Louis community. I'm really proud of him."
In addition to Atlanta's substantial cushion in the NL East — its magic number for clinching the division title is 11, meaning any combination of that many wins by the Braves or losses by the Phillies will wrap it up — it still has a six-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the league and the top seed in the NL playoffs. The Braves won the first three matchups of a four-game series at Dodger Stadium before missing out on the sweep Sunday to start their current skid.
Said Snitker: "We're capable of turning this around and going on a nice run."
That's all for now
Snitker said right-handed pitcher Michael Soroka, who was placed on the 15-day injured list earlier Wednesday, is out for the season with forearm inflammation but will not require surgery.
The 26-year-old Soroka, who has already come back from two major leg injuries in his career, started Tuesday and lasted three innings.
"He came out of the game and told me his fingers were numb," Snitker said. "I admire him for everything he's been through, and this is another situation for him."
Atlanta reliever Collin McHugh was also placed on the 15-day IL, and the Braves recalled right-handers Darius Vines and Ben Heller from Triple-A Gwinnett.
Meanwhile, Braves right-hander Kyle Wright, out since May 3 with shoulder soreness, will make at least one more rehab start.