ATLANTA (AP) — Having become the first team to clinch a playoff berth, the Atlanta Braves looked ahead toward larger aims.
“I wanted to congratulate the guys, but our No. 1 goal coming out of spring training is to win the division,” manager Brian Snitker said after the Braves rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 on Sunday.
Matt Olson went 2 for 3 with three RBIs.
“It’s exciting to be a part of this team. It is going to be a fun end of the season,” rookie starter Allan Winans said.
Atlanta leads the second-place Phillies by 15 games in the NL East heading into a a four-game series starting Monday in Philadelphia. If the Braves win three of the four, they would assure their sixth straight division title.
“It will be a tough four games in three days,” Snitker said. “Their lineup is every bit as tough as ours.”
By clinching after 142 games, the Braves tied the 1975 Cincinnati Reds for the sixth-fewest games to clinch a postseason berth in a 162-game season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1998 Yankees set the record by clinching after 135 games.
Atlanta (93-49) reached the postseason for the sixth straight year, the second-longest streak in franchise history. The Braves won 11 straight NL East titles from 1995-2005.
Ronald Acuña Jr. had a key two-out single to spark the seventh-inning rally and had two RBIs.
Brad Hand (4-1) won in relief of Winans, who allowed two runs and six hits while striking out eight in 6 1/3 innings. AJ Minter struck out the side in the eighth and Raisel Iglesias pitched a scoreless ninth for his 29th save in 31 chances.
“He's been awesome,” Snitker said of Winans, who has gone back and forth between Triple-A Gwinnett. “I loved his demeanor. He slows the game down and has a lot of confidence in himself.”
Colin Selby (2-1) gave up four runs in just one-third of an inning. Pirates rookie Luis Ortiz allowed one run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings against the major leagues' highest-scoring offense.
“He was very good,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “He attacked the zone. He went after the best lineup in baseball. Defensively, we played well behind him. We had an inning or two with some hard contact, made some plays. But overall I thought he threw the ball really well.”
Bryan Reynolds and Jake Suwinski had RBI doubles in the sixth, and Olson's run-scoring groundout cut the deficit in the sixth.
With the Braves trailing 2-1 in the seventh and chants of ‘M-V-P’ being heard across Truist Park, Acuña hit a two-run single over Suwinski that short-hopped the center-field wall. Olson followed with a two-run single.
“What Acuña is doing, what Olson is doing,” Winans said. “It's just incredible.”
STAYING IN THE YARD
Entering the game, the Braves and Pirates had the two longest streaks of games with a home run. The Braves had homered in 20 straight and the Pirates seven, but neither team managed to go deep.
“That's a big step for our offense,” Snitker said. “We don't live and die by the home run.”
Pirates: LHP Patrick Corbin (9-13, 5.23) will pitch the first game of a four-game series at home against Washington on Monday.
Braves: RHP Charlie Morton (14-11, 3.32) will face Phillies RHP Tajuan Walker (15-5, 4.15) in the opener of Monday's doubleheader. Phillies LHP Christopher Sanchez (2-3, 3.26) will pitch Game 2.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB
Bill Trocchi, The Associated Press