The Braves made an art out of the walk-off homer on this homestand.
They hit three in all, including bookenders from Charlie Culberson, who hit one Monday vs. the Mets and then another in Sunday's 4-2 victory over the Nationals to give Atlanta a lead of 1 1/2 games in the National League East.
It's simply stunning that he's now hit eight home runs in his career and four of them have been of the game-winning variety. In fact, he's the first Braves player since the team moved to Atlanta to hit two pinch-hit game-enders in a season.
"The feeling never gets old," Culberson said.
The feeling may not be old, but the scenario is new for this group of Braves. We're one-third of the way through the MLB season and Atlanta's first set of June gave them 13 series wins on the season, or just five fewer than they had all of the 2017 season.
The Braves hit the road for their West Coast swing through San Diego and Los Angeles feeling the good vibes of a 5-3 stand at SunTrust Park, and they do so also riding the highs of one of their most dominant pitching performances since 2000.
Mike Foltynewicz's gem against Washington takes center stage as we dive into the week that was for the Braves, and look ahead to their road trip and the MLB Draft.
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1. Mike Foltynewicz is having a moment that has him trending toward elite
It could have come off as hyperbole, but Tyler Flowers is typically not one to mince words. So when he recently told MLB Network Radio that Foltynewicz has the best stuff of anyone he's ever caught -- last year's American League Cy Young runner-up Chris Sale among them -- it's an eye-opener.
Flowers went on to say he believes the right-hander will also end up being one of the top five pitchers in the game.
Not a believer? Foltynewicz of late is more than backing up his catcher's words with a dominant run capped by his two-hit, 11-strikeout shutout of a gem against the Nationals on Friday.
In fact, since May 10, no one with a minimum of 30 innings pitched has a lower ERA than Foltynewicz's 0.56 ore a better batting average against (.153). The only players with better FIPs than the 26-year-old's 2.43 are the Indians' Trevor Bauer (2.08) and Astros' Justin Verlander (2.11), ad only Sale (47) and Bauer (43) have more strikeouts in that span that Foltynewicz's 37.
This has been peak Mike Foltynewicz, and it's an absolute spectacle. He's simply having himself a moment, one that raises the question of whether he's really closing in on that elite status that Flowers was forecasting.
His start against the Nationals -- the franchise's first with two hits or less allowed and double-digit strikeouts since Greg Maddux in 2001 and Maddux's outing is the only Braves start since 2000 with a higher Game Score (96) than Foltynewicz's at 93 -- was a masterclass in feasting on an opponents' weakness and taking away one of their biggest strengths.
Washington's minus-8.8 slider runs above average (wSL) is 20th in the majors. So Foltynewicz threw sliders 28.3 percent of the time, or nearly twice as much as he threw vs. the Red Sox (3.3 wSL, sixth in MLB) in his previous start. That only aided a curveball that he threw 10.4 percent of the time, his lowest since April 28's 12.1 percent, in silencing a team that has been better than anyone against the pitch (11.1).
Oh, and a guy who gets criticized for relying on his fastball too much tossed it just 59.4 percent of the time in throwing 77 strikes in 107 pitches with his breaking pitches so dominant. That fastball count was the fewest he's thrown that pitch in seven starts.
While he's faced a Marlins offense that's 29th in WAR (1.8) and the Phillies' 20th-ranked offense (5.3) during his recent run, Foltynewicz has also seen teams ranked first (Cubs at 14.6), fifth (Red Sox at 10.4) and 12th (7.2) and they've slashed .152/.243/.250 against him.
That Foltynewicz's last two starts have come with his facing Sale in Boston and the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg only underscores just how positive this run has been.
For those who have long lauded the potential in Foltynewicz's right arm, these past five starts have to feel like vindication. And they may just be the beginnings of his hitting that lofty ceiling his catcher believes is there.
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2. And now, the Braves have a chance to exhale ... a little
The Braves get a bit of a breather after a 20-game run that, along with D.C., included the holders of MLB's best record (Red Sox), the NL Central's second-place team in the Cubs and the Phillies, who have been no fewer than two games back since April 19.
Granted, the Nationals were down four players in their regular lineup and the Braves avoided seeing Max Scherzer (at least on the mound) over these four games in taking three out of four. But it was a statement of sorts and sets up what could be one of the most intriguing NL East races in years.
The division hasn't been decided by fewer than seven games since 2012, when the Nationals won by four games over the Braves, and the gap has been a traditional series' length of games once in the last 10 years (2008). But with just nine more games to play in the rivalry, including the final three on Sept. 14-16, and the Nationals still trying to get healthy with Adam Eaton (ankle surgery), Daniel Murphy (knee), Ryan Zimmerman (strained oblique) and Matt Wieters (oblique) all on the disabled list, there's a chance things could get very interesting over the next few months. And let’s not forget the Braves played this series without Ronald Acuña Jr. in their lineup.
But for now, the Braves can rest assured that they have the edge in the series at 6-4 before they meet again after the All-Star Break, and they have an opportunity to try and build on their division lead.
Atlanta's next 20 games include just six against teams that are higher than fourth in their division standings -- the third-place Dodgers and Cardinals -- and they face fifth-place teams in 13 of those games. Granted, Los Angeles is heating up at 7-3 over their last 10, but the opportunity is there to create some breathing room as the schedule lightens up a bit after facing a run of elite teams and pitchers.
"I was talking to my parents about that last night," said shortstop Dansby Swanson. "I feels like every time you go out there you're facing somebody's ace or somebody that's been throwing the ball well. If we continue to fight and put together consistent at-bats we'll be in a good position."
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3. Where do Braves go with first-round pick?
The Braves have the eighth overall pick in the first round of Monday's MLB Draft, and it's going to be new territory for Alex Anthopoulos in the general manager's seat. Twice in his six years at the helm of the Blue Jays he had selections in the top 10, picking 10th in 2013 and ninth in 2015 -- but he's never had a slot as high as Atlanta has.
So where will he and the Braves turn?
Most mock drafts have them linked to Nolan Gorman, a third baseman out of Phoenix's O'Connor High School. The winner of the Under Armour All-American home run derby in Wrigley Field and the MLB All-Star High School derby in Miami, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound lefty hit .421/.641/.894 with 10 home runs this past season. He's been given 70-grade power by some scouts.
There has been talk that the Braves could instead go with right-handed pitcher Carter Stewart from Melbourne, Fla.'s Eau Gallie High School. The 6-6, 200 pounder has been penciled in around the 15th pick (Rangers), and it would also be intriguing should the Braves go with a prospect they could potentially sign under slot value ($4,980,700 is assigned for the eighth pick).
Two years ago the Braves did exactly that in taking high school arm Ian Anderson and signing him for $4 million, which was $2.5 million under the slot value. Doing so helped the Braves get Joey Wentz at No. 40 and Kyle Muller at 44.
Does Anthopoulos go that route, or with the Braves trending upward do they take full advantage of what they're hoping is the last top-10 pick they have for a while and grab the best available player?
Whatever direction he goes, give Anthopoulos this: he's has had an eye for pitching in the draft. In Toronto he took Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard in 2010 and Marcus Stroman in 2012.