Braves hit five homers vs. Cardinals, steer clear of being swept

AP photo by Hakim Wright Sr. / Atlanta Braves leadoff batter Ronald Acuña Jr. celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the bottom of the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

ATLANTA — Atlanta broke out the big bats to force surprising St. Louis to put away the brooms.

A sweep of the team with the best record in Major League Baseball just wasn't in the cards.

Ronald Acuña Jr. hit two of Atlanta's five home runs on Thursday night, Matt Olson increased his MLB-leading total to 47, and the Braves beat slumping pitcher Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals 8-5.

Atlanta (91-48) has a 14-game lead over the second-place Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East as it closes in on a sixth straight division title. The Braves' magic number is 10, meaning any combination of Atlanta wins or Philadelphia losses adding up to that figure will clinch.

Yet the Braves entered Thursday on a three-game losing streak, including back-to-back setbacks against the Cardinals — 10-6 and 11-6 — to start this three-game series at Truist Park. St. Louis (61-79) is last in the NL Central, 16 1/2 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.

The Braves' latest power surge helped them bounce back.

Acuña raised his season total to 34 homers with his third multihomer game this season and the 12th of his MLB career. Olson homered for his fourth straight game, and Michael Harris II and Travis d'Arnaud also went deep for Atlanta, which leads the majors with 265 home runs — 49 more than the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers.

Olson has three more home runs than second-place Shohei Ohtani of the American League's Los Angeles Angels. The New York Mets' Pete Alonso is second in the NL with 42 homers. Olson's 47 homers matches Eddie Mathews in 1953 and Hank Aaron in 1971 for second place on the Braves' single-season home runs list; Andruw Jones — whose number is set to be retired by Atlanta on Saturday night — hit 51 in 2005 to set the franchise mark.

"A great teammate, has all the intangibles," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Olson. "Everything is off the charts."

Atlanta's Max Fried (7-1) allowed three runs and six hits in six innings, improving to 5-0 in his last seven starts. He is 5-0 in his career against the Cardinals.

"I was a little surprised after the first two innings I got through six," Fried said. "It is never ideal when your offense gives you a 3-0 lead to give it right back."

Wainwright (3-11), pitching in his home state of Georgia for the final time against the team that drafted him in 2000, allowed six runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings, including four solo homers as he matched his career high for homers allowed. The 42-year-old right-hander, who plans to retire at the end of this season, his 18th in the majors, is stuck at 198 career wins.

He has lost seven straight starts and is 0-10 in 11 outings since winning against the host New York Mets on June 17.

"I treated it like every other start," Wainwright said. "We had a good game for a minute, just let it slip away at the end. I was a little rusty but got sharper and sharper until the very end."

Pierce Johnson and A.J. Minter each pitched a scoreless inning for the Braves, but closer Raisel Iglesias gave up two runs in the ninth. Atlanta's Eddie Rosario was 3-for-4 with three RBIs and made a sliding catch in left field that ended the game with two runners on.

Tommy Edman was 2-for -4 with two RBIs for the Cardinals, who with three more losses would assure their first losing season since 2007.

Olson broke a 3-3 tie in the fifth inning with a solo homer to center after Edman had made catches against the wall for the inning's first two outs. Acuña and Harris homered in the sixth, chasing Wainwright.

Acuña, who had his 60th multihit game this season, homered on the game's first pitch for his sixth leadoff homer this season.

Rosario's two-run single later in the inning opened a 3-0 lead, and with that, the Braves set a franchise record for first-inning runs in a season with 129, two more than in 1999. The 2000 Cardinals set the NL record of 147.

The Cardinals' Andrew Knizner was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the second, and Edman hit a two-run single. Nolan Gorman was initially ruled out by plate umpire Laz Díaz, but the call was reversed in a video review.

Acuña is now on pace for 40 home runs and 74 stolen bases, an unprecedented combination in MLB history.

"Everything is possible," Acuña said through a translator. "Now that it is in sight, it would be nice."

Said Snitker: "He has a shot. Nothing he's going to do is going to surprise me."

Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley was out due to illness. He was not at the park and missed the team photo ahead of the game.

"We'll see what he feels like tomorrow," Snitker said.

This is the first game Riley has not played this season and only his sixth missed game over the past three seasons.

The Braves will next host the Pittsburgh Pirates for a three-game set. Both teams are set to start right-handers on the mound Friday night as the Braves give the ball to Bryce Elder (11-4, 3.42 ERA) and the Pirates counter with Mitch Keller (11-8, 3.93).