Not much went wrong for the Atlanta Braves during a weekend of many "firsts" in the newly-minted Suntrust Park. The team swept the San Diego Padres over four games this weekend and are currently carrying a five-game win streak.
After a slow start to the season, the Braves are now back to an even record (6-6) and seemed to find a rhythm at the right time to help open up their new home stadium. Atlanta beat San Diego 5-2, 4-2, 9-2, and 5-4 respectively, capped off by the first walk-off win provided by Dansby Swanson's single on Monday night.
Atlanta struggled against the dominant starting pitchers of the New York Mets in the opening series of the season, but the club hasn't scored under four runs in a game since then. This trend was helped substantially in Suntrust Park when the Braves teed off against the Padres pitchers and hit six home runs in four games.
Outfielder Ender Inciarte provided two of those blasts, including the first home run ever hit in the new ballpark and first baseman Freddie Freeman hit two home runs on Monday night alone.
While Suntrust Park was expected to help left-handed batters thanks to shorter dimensions in the right-field area, the park may develop the reputation of a hitter-friendly park after just a single series. Not only did the Braves hit six home runs, but the Padres had five of their own throughout the weekend. Opponent and Atlanta pitchers alike may have to be wary off this element going forward when playing in the Cobb County ballpark.
Help From the Mound
It's not just the Braves' bats that have helped turned around a 1-6 start to the season. Since coming to Suntrust Park, Atlanta's starting rotation has delivered quality performances that made it easy on the rest of the roster to grab wins for the home crowd.
On the ballpark's opening night, Braves ace Julio Tehran (1-0) gave up his first two runs of the year, but still turned in a six-inning performance where he struck out five batters. He was followed the next day by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (1-1), who also pitched six innings and held San Diego to only two runs. While both were quality starts, they could not top veteran Bartolo Colon's (1-1) effort on Sunday. The 43-year-old pitched a one-hitter through seven innings and struck out six Padres en route to his first win of the season.
This is the production from the pitcher's mound that Braves management hoped for when they brought in Dickey and Colon this offseason to helped stabilize the starting rotation. Whether these two veterans and starter Jaime Garcia (0-1), who pitched Monday night, can continue quality performances like these could help Atlanta bring home more series wins as they did over the weekend.
The opening game of Suntrust Park on Friday April 14 seemed like a triumphant announcement for a Braves franchise hoping to work its way back into the spotlight of Major League Baseball. From Hank Aaron's first pitch to Inciarte's recording of the first regular-season hit in the ballpark, the opening ceremony balanced honoring the franchise's past with its hopes for the future.
Nothing could have finished Suntrust Park's first series more perfectly than the events of Monday night. Followed by Freeman's second home run to tie the game in the 8th inning, shortstop Dansby Swanson dropped a single into shallow left field with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th. It was the rookie's first career walk-off hit and it broke a slump of 1-for-16 he had through the rest of the series, while driving in his third RBI of the young season.
Of course, the Braves' long-term plan includes more than just the product on the field. By turning the undeveloped area in Cobb County into a 1.5-million-square-foot hub of activity, the Atlanta organization is attempting to set the culture in the MLB by creating an experience for fans that goes beyond baseball.
Along with Suntrust Park, the area called The Battery Atlanta features dozens of different stores, restaurants, lodging options, and even a live-music venue. The entire $1.2 billion project of the stadium and the Battery opened well over the weekend, with many Atlanta fans in the opened restaurants and stores before and after games. While the true success of the Braves' vision will not be judged until further in history, opening weekend was a success on and off the field for the short term.
The Braves will get little rest after their exciting opening home series in Atlanta. They will host division rivals Washington Nationals for a three-game home series beginning Tuesday.