The 200th home run of the Braves' season came from an unlikely of sources.
Rafael Ortega, had never been a power threat. While he homered 21 times this year in the HR-happy International League, he hit all of 47 in 10 years in the minors before this season with the Stripers, and before he took the plate in the sixth inning Sunday, he had just one in 113 MLB games.
But the outfielder, called up just five games ago, belted a grand slam off the Dodgers' Dustin May that propelled the Braves to a 5-3 win and a series victory, Atlanta's first over Los Angeles at home in six years.
On a confidence building three-game set, injury testing the Braves' outfield depth and a big weekend for a key member of the bullpen as we dive into this week's Three Cuts.
Jason GetzJason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
1. Braves make a statement in potential postseason preview
Swept by the Dodgers back in May and knocked out of the Division Series by Los Angeles in four games last season, the Braves broke through with a statement kind of performance. With the belief that the road to the World Series in the National League is going to have to go through L.A., this could well pay dividends in October.
If it was, in fact, a postseason preview, it's key that Saturday's win came against NL Cy Young front-runner Hyun-Jin Ryu as the four earned runs and two home runs -- coming in back-to-back fashion from Josh Donaldson and Adam Duvall -- he allowed were more than Ryu had yielded in his previous six outings combined. It also bodes well for the rotation in October that Max Fried rebounded from allowing a three-run home run to Cody Bellinger in the first inning and has a 2.01 ERA in his last four outings and the way the bullpen put together 8 1/3 scoreless innings in the two wins.
Even in the one Braves' loss on Friday, Mike Soroka pitched 6 2/3 strong innings with three earned runs.
Some of the focus on Sunday's series finale will largely center around Ronald Acuña Jr.'s third-inning at-bat after Max Fried's leadoff double. Bat in hand, Acuña lingered watching his smash off the right-field wall, a hit that could have given Atlanta runners at second and third with no outs. Acuña was caught stealing and two batters later, Atlanta came up empty in the inning.
Two innings later, after manager Brian Snitker took Acuña down the dugout steps to talk, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year was pulled from the game, with Rafael Ortega taking Acuña's place in center field and Adam Duvall entering in left.
"He didn't run," Brian Snitker said. "You'v got to run. It's not going to be acceptable here. As a teammate you're responsible for 24 other guys."
Acuña summed it up saying, "There's no excuse for it. I just kind of took it and said 'Of course.' He's the manager, I'm the player and I'll respect his decisions."
It will be a continued talking point coming out of this series, and one that -- like Andruw Jones before him, that Acuña should learn from -- but even with their most exciting player out, the Braves still managed to rally past the defending NL champs.
That will go a long way if these teams end up clashing again in the postseason.
Dale ZanineDale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
2. Rash of injuries testing Braves' depth in outfield
Depth was lauded as one of the Braves' biggest weapons, and injuries are truly testing it in the outfield.
With Ender Inciarte going on the 10-day injured list with a hamstring strain Saturday -- keeping him out 4-6 weeks -- he joins Nick Markakis and Austin Riley, who is expected back by the end of the month, as missing options in the outfield. While Adam Duvall returned after an hours-long demotion to Triple-A, it leaves the Braves extremely thin in its outfield, potentially well into late September.
Matt Joyce and Charlie Culberson remain options (and, no, promoting prized prospects Cristian Pache or Drew Waters after mere weeks at Triple-A isn't a logical solution), and Ortega, Sunday's hero, was just called up last Tuesday.
It's a situation that puts the Braves in a precarious spot with the postseason looming, especially if Inciarte -- who is determined to return before the playoffs -- can't make it back.
Acuña has slid back to center field with Inciarte out, and while they have two other players on the 40-man who have manned the position before -- Ortega (12 games after Sunday's appearance in four stints in the majors) and Joyce (eight in 12 years) -- they're missing another player with consistent experience at the position.
Acuña, who entered Sunday with four defensive runs saved in center in 627 2/3 inning -- and after a circus catch Friday and nearly made a spectacular rob of Cody Bellinger on his 42nd home run Sunday -- has shown growth at the position and is getting tutelage from Inciarte, but the consensus is right field is his optimum position.
For the immediate future, the Braves will ride Acuña/Duvall and a platoon in right field, but do the Braves go outside the organization? Gold Glove finalist Billy Hamilton was waived by the Royals and could provide a late-inning defensive replacement and speed on the base paths, but his bat (67 career wRC+) has always been an issue.
Adam HagyAdam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
3. New-look bullpen bounces back in a big way
Maligned after new acquisitions helped produce a .397 wOBA (28th) and a 5.24 FIP (21st) since the July 31 trade deadline, the Braves' bullpen stepped up in a big way in the two series wins over the Dodgers.
Anthony Swarzak, Chris Martin, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon combined for four scoreless innings Sunday with one hit allowed and Saturday, Sean Newcomb, Greene and Melancon put together 3 1/3 scoreless, with Melancon earning a pair of saves. The lone blip was Luke Jackson giving up a homer to Max Muncy on Saturday.
It's hard to argue, though, that Greene didn't have the biggest weekend of the bunch.
Tagged for five earned runs in his first three games after the trade over from the Tigers and seven runs through six appearances, Greene's ERA jumped from 1.18 before the deal to 14.54 after it.
The closer role, for now, has become Melancon's, and Greene may nor may not have an opportunity to take it back, but his weekend was a certainly a positive one in terms of reestablishing a key piece leading to the ninth.