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Easy outs at bottom of the order? Not in this Braves lineup

Easy outs at bottom of the order? Not in this Braves lineup thumbnail

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PITTSBURGH — Facing Ronald Acuña Jr., Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley to begin a game can be intimidating for any pitcher. But the numbers show it’s quite dangerous to also face anybody the Braves have placed in the final three spots of their lineup this year.  

Max Fried strengthened his Cy Young Award resume and the bottom of the Braves’ lineup once again delivered in a 6-1 win over the Pirates on Tuesday night at PNC Park. Atlanta tallied one hit through the first four innings, then began a five-run fifth with six straight hits.  

“Just looking at it numbers-wise, it’s a pretty crazy lineup,” said Braves left fielder Robbie Grossman, who has enhanced Atlanta’s bottom-of-the-lineup success since being acquired from the Tigers on Aug. 2.

With Fried allowing just one run on three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts through eight innings, the Braves (77-48) moved within two games of the first-place Mets (79-46) in the National League East. Atlanta has won 13 of its past 15 games with the help of a strong rotation and a productive lineup.  

Just how deep is the lineup? 

Well, the Braves lead the Majors with 78 RBIs from the ninth spot in the order. The Dodgers entered Tuesday ranked second with 65, while the Giants were third with 56. Atlanta is on pace to receive 101 RBIs from the ninth spot. The 1996 Rangers (100 RBIs) are the only team that has tallied a triple-digit total from the order’s final spot.

Looking at the seventh, eighth and ninth spots of the lineup, the Braves lead the Majors in home runs (66), runs (203) and RBIs (196) from those batting order positions. The Dodgers rank second in each category. But they had 20 fewer homers, five fewer runs scored and 24 fewer RBIs from these spots of their order when Atlanta wrapped up its latest victory. 

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“I guess what constitutes a deep lineup is when guys perform, and we’re getting some good production from the bottom, out of the bottom third,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Regardless of who has been in there, it’s been pretty good.”

Pirates starting pitcher JT Brubaker quickly learned about the depth of Atlanta’s lineup. After Travis d’Arnaud began the fifth with a game-tying homer, Michael Harris II sandwiched a double between a pair of singles tallied by William Contreras and Vaughn Grissom. Grossman and Acuña capped the string of six straight hits with consecutive singles. 

Within a span of six plate appearances, the Braves went from being on the wrong side of a one-hit bid to owning a 4-1 lead. Just one of those six plate appearances was made by a player who occupied one of the first four spots within the Braves’ lineup.

“Every single guy that goes up there is a threat to take you deep or get a base hit or get on base and steal a base,” Fried said. “It makes your margin for error a lot less. It puts a lot of pressure on you.”

Swanson, an All-Star this season, began the year batting ninth. Harris, a top NL Rookie of the Year candidate, has filled that spot regularly since his debut on May 28. As Grossman has recently sat at the bottom of the order, he has distanced himself from the frustration he felt before being acquired by the Braves.  

Grissom tallied a career-high three hits on Tuesday and is now hitting .420 with a 1.123 OPS through the first 14 games of his career. Harris has hit .301 with a .929 OPS in August, and Grossman has collected some timely hits while constructing a .714 OPS since arriving in Atlanta.

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The bottom of the lineup has allowed the Braves to keep winning while Swanson (.659 OPS) and Riley (.654 OPS) have weakened their NL MVP resumes this month. 

“[Grissom] and Mike have been playing their butts off since I’ve gotten here,” Grossman said. “It’s been fun to watch them play. I’m just lucky to be a part of it.”

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