ATLANTA (AP) Ronald Acuña Jr. has every intention of taking the Washington Nationals seriously.
The Atlanta Braves' three-time All-Star says he gets just as excited playing a last-place team as he does against a contender.
“You never know, one of these games could cost you a playoff run,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “So it's important to win these games and win as many as you can early.”
Acuña and Marcell Ozuna each hit a two-run homer in the second inning off MacKenzie Gore and the Braves won their seventh consecutive game, 6-4 over Washington on Saturday.
After reeling off five straight comeback victories, the Braves avoided any suspense by taking an early lead in this one to improve to a National League-best 40-24 as they seek a sixth straight division title.
“I always say they're so consistent in their work,” manager Brian Snitker said. “They don't let last night affect what they're going to do today. They hang together very well as a team and individually.”
Gore (3-5) made 39 pitches in the second as Atlanta went up 5-1. Ozuna's 13th homer of the season sailed 426 feet to left and Acuña's 13th homer went 413 feet to right-center. It marked the first time in his last 11 homers that Acuña didn't reach 420 feet.
“Bad inning. I made some bad pitches,” Gore said. “I got in some good counts and threw some bad pitches. I've got to do a better job of keeping the ball in the ballpark. I didn't do that today. Just not very good.”
Acuña added an RBI double in the seventh to pad the lead at 6-3 and led off the first with a double, scoring on Austin Riley’s sacrifice fly to make it 1-all. The 2018 NL Rookie of the Year went 3 for 4 and is batting .333 with a .975 OPS. It marked his fifth career game with at least three extra-base hits and first since last Aug. 15 against the New York Mets.
“I would say I’ve probably played my best baseball that I have throughout my big league career,” said Acuña, who leads the NL in stolen bases (28) and ranks second in batting average. “Sure, I think I could be playing better, but that’s not my primary focus. The most important thing for me is to stay healthy.”
Gore was charged with four hits and five runs in five innings and hasn’t won since April 26 at the Mets, a stretch of eight starts. The lefty has given up six homers in his last four outings. His ERA rose 38 points to 4.04.
Rookie Jared Shuster (3-2), pitching on nine days of rest, allowed eight hits and three runs in his seventh career start. The lefty was 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA over his previous three starts but was chased on consecutive singles to begin the sixth.
Jesse Chavez ended the threat by striking out two and retiring pinch-hitter Dominic Smith on a groundout. The 39-year-old then faced the minimum in the seventh.
After Joe Jiménez pitched a perfect eighth, A.J. Minter earned his ninth save in 12 chances, but he gave up a leadoff homer to Stone Garrett to make it 6-4 before retiring the next three batters.
Washington went up 1-0 in the first when Lane Thomas led off with a triple and scored on Luis García's sacrifice fly. Center fielder Michael Harris II made a tough running catch as he banged into the wall.
Thomas hit a two-run double in the fifth to trim the lead to 5-3.
Atlanta leads the NL with an 11-5 record against lefties this year and improved to 17-5 against the NL East.
“I think our chemistry is just extremely incredible,” Acuña said. “It’s really, really good. I would honestly say anyone who’s a baseball player would love to be a part of it. It’s more a credit to the fight of the team. We never give up. We never stop battling until the final out.”
The Nationals have dropped a season-high six in a row, their longest skid since losing six straight last Aug. 3-8.
Washington DH Joey Meneses went 2 for 4 and has reached safely in a career-high 17 straight games. He's hitting .348 during the streak.
Braves RHP Bryce Elder (4-0, 2.26 ERA that leads the NL) faces Nationals RHP Trevor Williams (2-4, 4.15) as the teams conclude a three-game series on Sunday.
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