Braves feeling confident again

Associated PressAtlanta Braves' Austin Riley (27) celebrates with teammate Ozzie Albies after a two-run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates' in the third inning of a baseball game Sunday in Atlanta.

This weekend was just what the doctor ordered for the three-time National League East Division champions. The magical weekend started on Friday with a 20-run spot for the Atlanta Braves. It started a three-game stretch in which the Braves outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 33-3. For a series, albeit against the lowly Pirates, the Braves looked once again like the team that came within a whisker of a World Series berth in 2020.

It only took last year's National League Championship Series participants about 30% of the season to regain their mojo. But better late than never as they say.

The very power and moxie that helped the Braves to go toe-to-toe with the eventual World Series champions Los Angeles Dodgers was on display this weekend.

The Braves scored 37 runs, belted 13 home runs, had terrific starting pitching and won three of the four games.

What's encouraging is that certain players are starting to hit consistently and drive in runs with regularity. 

Take third baseman Austin Riley for example. The youngster who was a strikeout machine his first seasons is still a strikeout machine but is delivering some much-needed power in the lineup. Riley single handily buried the Pirates on Sunday with a pair of home runs and five RBIs in a 7-1 victory. That followed two hits on Saturday and three hits on Friday, including two home runs in a 20-1 thrashing.

Riley leads the team with a .320 average and already has nine home runs. 

Another encouraging sign is the resurgence of second baseman Ozzie Albies. He has upped his average to .238 and is tied with Riley with nine dingers. He tallied two hits and three runs on Sunday, which followed a two-homer day on Saturday. That came on the heels of a two-hit, three-RBI day on Friday.

Will the Braves continue to thrash opponents like they did to the Pirates this weekend? One can only hope. But it likely can't be counted on consistently. So, the Braves need to continue with their strong starting pitching.

Max Fried was awesome on Sunday, limiting the Pirates to just one run and four hits in seven innings. That followed Bryce Wilson, who tossed 6.2 innings of five-hit, one-run ball on Saturday. And that performance came on the heels of a six-inning, scoreless gem by Ian Anderson, who's compiled a 4-1 record and 2.82 ERA.

The Braves have won four of their last five, which includes a walk-off home run by Ronald Acuna Jr. against the New York Mets on Wednesday. Nothing like dominant starting pitching and an offensive power surge to get a team feeling confident again.

Clint Thompson is a special contributor to the Valdosta Daily Times.

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