ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — As good as All-Star pitcher Spencer Strider has been during a personal seven-game winning streak, the majors-leading Atlanta Braves have been even better as a team.
“We’ve just been playing great. It feels like every part is kind of clicking right now,” Strider said Saturday night after striking out 11 through 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 6-1 victory over the slumping Tampa Bay Rays.
“Even through the course of the game when somebody’s struggling or the offense is struggling or we fall behind, the other half of the team is going to come pick you up and figure it out,” Strider added. “That’s kind of what’s been happening. We’re playing pretty loose, and it feels good.”
Atlanta has won 20 of 22.
“Nobody rides the wave too high,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “The best thing I can say is they’re a bunch of boring pros because they come in and they do the same thing every day. They love to compete.
“They don’t get caught up in anything because they know how quick things can change. They focus on today. I think is the greatest attribute that these guys have.”
Strider (11-2) joined Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan and Arizona’s Zac Gallen as the only 11-game winners in the majors. Strider improved to 7-0 over his last eight starts and boosted his majors-leading strikeout total to 166.
Sean Murphy homered for the third straight game, a career best for Atlanta’s All-Star catcher. His three-run shot finished a four-run, fourth-inning against rookie Taj Bradley (5-5), who held the Braves hitless until Ronald Acuña Jr. opened the fourth with a double. He then scored on Matt Olson’s RBI single.
Murphy, whose two-run homer was the decisive blow in the Braves’ 2-1 victory Friday night in the series opener, hiked the lead to 4-0 and extended Atlanta’s streak of consecutive games with at least one home run to a franchise record-tying 25.
The Braves have homered in every outing since June 11, the longest active streak in the majors. They also had a 25-game streak in 1998 and lead the majors with 168 homers — the record for a team before the All-Star break.
In clinching the weekend series between the teams with the best two records in baseball, the Braves improved to 60-28. The Rays (57-35) have dropped a season-high seven straight games — their longest skid since June 2021 — but still have the top mark in the AL.
Strider, who will travel to Seattle for the All-Star Game on Tuesday night but will not pitch, allowed a leadoff single to Yandy Diaz and a one-out double to Luke Raley before striking out Randy Arozarena and Brandon Lowe to escape a first-inning jam.
“He got pretty nasty right there with Randy and Brandon at second and third with one out,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “After that, I didn’t feel there was too much of an opportunity at any point. He’s really good.”
The right-hander fanned seven in a row before hitting Wander Franco with a pitch with two outs in the third and finished with the 11th double-digit strikeout performance of his career. Diaz had two of Tampa Bay’s four hits off Strider, who walked one and threw 104 pitches over 6 1/3 innings.
The Braves lost a shutout bid in the eighth when reliever Ben Heller walked Franco, who eventually scored an unearned run on a throwing error.
A night after being limited to a first-inning run and six hits, the Rays finished with just four hits in Saturday’s loss. They’ve only scored eight runs in their last five games, the fewest they’ve had in any five-game stretch since August 2017.
“When you’re facing Charlie Morton and Spencer Strider, they’re really good pitchers,” Cash said. “We’re a good team. We can hit good pitching. We’re just not doing it right now.”
Rays: RHP Drew Rasmussen will undergo his third elbow surgery July 24. Manager Kevin Cash didn’t rule out Rasmssen being back mid-season next year. … OF Josh Lowe was placed on the family emergency list and INF Jonathan Aranda was recalled from Triple-A Durham. Aranda is hitting .342 over 71 games for Durham.
Braves All-Star Bryce Elder (7-1) and Rays RHP Zach Eflin (9-4) were set to start Sunday in the series finale. Like Strider, Elder will travel to Seattle for the All-Star Game but won’t pitch. ___