Opposite dugout: Offense has pushed Braves to top of NL East

braves-logo.jpgManager: Brian Snitker (3rd season)

Record: 43-30

Last 10 games: 7-3

Who to watch: 1B Freddie Freeman (.332/.420/.539 with 15 HR, 49 RBIs), RF Nick Markakis (.323, 44 RBIs), 2B Ozzie Albies (16 HR, 42 RBIs), LHP Sean Newcomb (8-2, 2.70 ERA), RHP Julio Teheran (5-4, 3.97 ERA), RHP Arodys Vizcaíno (1.82 ERA, 15 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (0-3 in 2015)

Pitching probables:

June 22: RHP Alex Cobb (2-9) vs. LHP Sean Newcomb (8-2), 7:35 p.m., MASN2
June 23 RHP Dylan Bundy (5-7) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (5-4), 4:10 p.m. MASN2
June 24: RHP David Hess (2-3) vs. TBA, 1:35 p.m. MASN2

Inside the Braves:

No one expected the Braves to be atop the National League East at this point in the season. No, that was supposed to be the Nationals’ domain, in a runaway. Atlanta was supposed to continue its patient rebuild, make some progress and circle next 2019 as the year it might start making waves in the NL East. Well, surprise! The Braves have avoided losing streaks and put together a balanced and productive attack. They rank fourth in the majors in runs (359) and hits (658), and fifth in average (.258) and slugging percentage (.429), which masks the lack of power bats. Still, the run support of 4.14 runs per game is fourth-most in the majors. Enough offense and enough pitching is a workable equation, and it should make for a fun summer at SunTrust Park.

There’s not a lot of mystery to the Braves offense: Guys are getting on base in front of first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Nick Markakis and being driven in. Freeman is slashing .332/.420/.539 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs, and Markakis is hitting .323/.387/.479 with 44 RBIs. The Orioles won’t see rookie phenom Ronald Acuña Jr. this trip, as the outfielder is still on the disabled list nursing a mild left knee sprain, but they’ll get a look at sophomore second baseman Ozzie Albies, who has surprised with 16 homers and 42 RBIs. Center fielder Ender Inciarte could be getting on base at better than a .309 clip, but when he reaches teams have to pay attention to him, as he’s swiped 20 bases.

Lefty Sean Newcomb starts Friday’s series opener and has become the Braves’ best pitcher. Only once in his last nine starts has he allowed more than three earned runs - five runs in 5 1/3 innings on June 10 against the Dodgers - and he’s worked at least six innings in 10 of 14 starts this year. Newcomb keeps the ball in the park; he’s yielded only five homers in 80 innings this season. Right-hander Julio Teheran gets Saturday’s outing, and is hoping to get his season back on track after a thumb injury sent him to the DL earlier this month. His first start back on June 17 against the Padres gave him his first win in five outings, six innings of no-hit ball with a season-high 11 strikeouts. The Braves have not announced a Sunday starter, but it could be righty Mike Foltynewicz, who would be coming off the DL after missing time with right triceps tightness. Before being sidelines, he had run off seven straight starts without allowing more than two earned runs.

Folks keep expecting the Braves to move one of their young power arms into the closer’s role, but it’s hard to supplant right-hander Arodys Vizcaíno, who has posted 15 saves in 17 tries, a 1.15 WHIP and a 1.82 ERA.

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