It feels good to be home.
At least, that’s what the Atlanta Braves can say after a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs to open up their 2019 season at home. After getting swept by the Philadelphia Phillies on the road, the Braves looked like a totally different club reuniting with the home crowd at SunTrust Park.
It’s been an exciting week for Atlanta. They opened the month by destroying the Cubs 8-0 on Monday. Both clubs had a rare day off in between games 1 and 2 of the series on Tuesday. Yet, the rest day wasn’t so quiet for the Braves. In surprising fashion, Atlanta announced that they signed their rising star, Ronald Acuna, Jr. to an 8-year, $100 million dollar contract extension.
The reigning National League Rookie of the Year wasn’t eligible for free agency until 2024. Arbitration was still multiple seasons away. But Legacy Media and company decided to bypass those negotiations a few years and lock a promising 21-year-old into a lengthy, and potentially valuable, contract.
As a follow-up to the signing, the Braves continued their dominance over the Cubs. Atlanta outscored Chicago 23-8 in the series after a 9-4 route on Thursday night.
Ozzie Albies finished the stand with eight hits while helping his season batting average climb to .478, a mark bested only by the Phillies’ Bryce Harper. Nick Markakis went 5-for-5 at the plate in the series finale, including a double and 5 RBI. It was the veteran’s first 5-hit game since 2011, which ironically came against the Braves when Markakis was a Baltimore Oriole.
Max Fried put a proverbial nail in Chicago’s coffin. The 25-year-old threw six scoreless innings, while surrendering just one hit. The lefty utilized four pitches, but the velocity difference from curveball to fastball was stark. He froze catcher Wilson Contreras in the second inning with a 97-mph steamer on the corner. He was also recorded throwing a multitude of 75-mph hooks. The signature hammer-curve for Fried worked wonders, as it drew much attention from batters. Fried was able to get strikeouts on both fastballs and changeups.
A healthy fifth inning from the Braves offense, followed by a brief timeout from the groundskeepers, gave Fried an extended timeout to begin the sixth. Yet, the California kid continued to battle despite giving up his first hit. If Fried’s showcase was any indication of what to expect in the 2019 season, the Braves might easily solve one of their lingering questions involving the rotation.
The opening series was rough. While it It may have been hard for Braves fans to watch two division stars transition to one makeshift-monster of a rival, they should still find solace in the fact that the defending NL East Champions prove they have a few weapons of their own who can showcase a bludgeoning in front of their home crowd.