Braves battle to take share of East for first time in ’22

OAKLAND — Three months after an ugly performance persuaded manager Brian Snitker to call a rare team meeting, the Braves have erased a 10 1/2-game division deficit and moved into a tie with the Mets atop the National League East standings for the first time this season.

Given how exciting this division race could continue to be, it may have been fitting for the Braves to move into a first-place tie with a wacky, action-packed 10-9 victory claimed over the A’s on Tuesday night at the Oakland Coliseum. Atlanta scored nine runs through the first five innings, but needed one more to overcome Kyle Wright’s worst start of the year.

“These guys just keep fighting,” Snitker said. “They don’t panic, they never have. It would have been kind of easy in that game to kind of ‘woe is me’ it. But they kept fighting the fight.”

Snitker was particularly talking about this series opener, during which the Braves squandered two four-run leads within the first five innings and then won thanks to Austin Riley’s go-ahead sacrifice fly in the sixth. But he also could have been referencing the fight his team has showed while erasing a double-digit division deficit over the past few months.

Once Kenley Jansen halted his recent woes with a perfect ninth, the Braves moved into the first-place tie with the Mets, who had held sole possession of first place in the NL East going all the way back to Opening Day.

“It’s a testament to that group in there,” Snitker said. “It’s all about them and how they just keep everything even keel and do their job.”

Catching the Mets with 26 games remaining certainly isn’t cause to celebrate just yet. But the Braves have reason to be pleased with how far they have come since they fell 10 1/2 games behind the Mets with an ugly 8-7 road loss to the D-backs on May 31. Snitker called a team meeting the next morning and the team has responded by since going 62-24.

The Mets have gone 51-34 within this same span dating back to June 1, which equates to a 97-win pace over a 162-game season. But while bidding for a fifth straight division crown, the Braves still have erased a double-digit deficit during this time frame. Atlanta has also erased a 6 1/2-game deficit faced after losing four of five games in New York from Aug. 4-7.

“I’ve been able to feel it all year, and I could feel it from the second I got traded over,” Matt Olson said. “You could see the way the squad battled last year. You could tell we’re a team that’s confident in our ability and is able to grind out wins.”

As the Braves were winning a World Series despite not having a winning record before August last year, Olson was watching his hometown team from afar. The March trade that brought him from Oakland to Atlanta continued to benefit the defending champions when their new first baseman drilled a three-run homer to open a 6-1 lead in the third inning.

Olson’s home run highlighted his first game back in the only home ballpark in the Majors he knew before this year. He needs just two more home runs to notch his third career 30-homer season.

“I struggled pretty bad, but those guys picked me up,” Wright said. “The offense was great. The defense was great and the bullpen was incredible. I think that game right there was a testament to the team as a whole and how we do a good job picking each other up.”

Wright had a chance to move closer to a 20-win season, but his MLB-leading wins total remained at 17 after he allowed a season-high eight runs over just four innings. The biggest four outs of the night were recorded by Jesse Chavez, who has played for three teams this year, including the Braves twice.

While Chavez was spending the first few weeks of August with the Angels, the Braves were getting great contributions from Vaughn Grissom, who began the season with High-A Rome and didn’t debut until Aug. 10. The 21-year-old second baseman’s career-high four hits helped the Braves outlast the A’s and increase the excitement surrounding what should be a great division race.

“You love that time of year when you wake up, get a cup of coffee and you can’t wait to get to the ballpark because you want to play the next game,” Snitker said.