CHICAGO — Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz didn’t know what awaited when he awoke and took that first bite back on June 1.
“You find yourself doing the same kinds of things [during a winning streak],” Kranitz said. “Whatever you do when you first wake up, you do it exactly the same. I try to eat the same stuff. You just do it. You don’t want anything to change. The bad thing is the first thing I ate that day was a donut, so, now I’m in trouble.”
Well, with the Braves’ 14-game winning streak over after a 1-0 loss to the Cubs on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, Kranitz can now start his days with something other than a donut. But more important, he and the rest of the reigning World Series champions can now look forward to what might follow this streak.
“I feel like we’re playing like we’re capable of playing right now,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ve just got to come out and keep doing what we’ve been doing. When we do that, we’re a pretty good club.”
Charlie Morton threw seven scoreless innings and the Braves’ powerful lineup barrelled a few balls. But with the wind blowing in at this historic ballpark, a few potential home runs became flyouts and AJ Minter had no margin for error after he walked Jonathan Villar to begin the eighth. Villar scored on Christopher Morel’s sacrifice fly, and the one run proved sufficient when Orlando Arcia ended the game with a bases-loaded groundout.
So, the Cubs ended their 10-game losing streak and the Braves bid adieu to their attempt to match a modern franchise record with a 15th straight win. But this kind of loss highlighted how many different variables can affect the bid to claim just one win, let alone 14 straight.
The Braves hit an MLB-best 35 homers during their winning streak, which ran from June 1-June 15. This was greater than the combined home run total by the Angels (12), Brewers (11), Guardians (seven) and Tigers (two).
Unfortunately, the long-ball approach doesn’t often work when the wind is blowing in at Wrigley. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna both hit long drives that would have likely been a home run on most days. The Braves accounted for seven of the eight balls put in play at 100 mph or higher. None of those hard-hit balls resulted in a hit. Willson Contreras’ sixth-inning single off the left-center-field wall accounted for the Cubs’ only 100 mph-plus exit velocity of the game.
“You’ve got to do a lot of things right consistently for a long time to [have that kind of streak]because a game like this can come around at any point,” Snitker said.
Well, if nothing else, Major League coach Eddie Perez can go back to wearing underwear. After the Braves suffered an ugly loss to the D-backs on May 31, they were 23-27 and 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets in the National League East.
Perez decided it was time to change things by essentially having one less thing to change as the team kept winning. Reliever Jackson Stephens became the clubhouse DJ and first-base coach Eric Young Sr. exchanged lineup cards with the umpires and opposing teams over the past two weeks. They both were given this role when the club won on June 1 and kept it.
“You just don’t want to mess with the mojo,” Braves first baseman Matt Olson said.
With the help of this long winning streak, the Braves are now nine games above .500 (37-28). They entered Friday just 4 1/2 games behind the Mets. The defending champs are in a better spot than they were last year when they were 30-35 and eight games back after 65 games. They claimed a fourth straight division title, despite not having a winning record before August.
“I think it would have been easy to say we basically played under .500 or around .500 ball for four months last year, so everything is going to work out,” Morton said. “But the guys stepped on the gas pedal a little bit there and really took control of the situation.”