Giants stay out of the way as Braves clinch NL East with ease

The SF Giants proved no match for the Atlanta Braves as they clinched the National League East crown

Atlanta Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (13) reacts as he rounds first base after hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves arrived at SunTrust Park on Friday with the expectation there would be a postgame party.

The San Francisco Giants appeared to do everything in their power to ensure the celebration would go on.

Braves players had ski goggles tucked away in lockers and clubhouse attendants had champagne on ice. All Atlanta needed to do was beat the Giants to clinch the National League East.

The Giants didn’t exactly make things challenging.

Braves center fielder Ronald Acuña, Jr. started the festivities in the first inning and didn’t ease up as Atlanta blanked San Francisco 6-0 to secure its second consecutive division title.

“I tell you what, this is a good team,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s why they’re celebrating right now. They have such a good lineup. Depth, speed, youth and experience. It’s just a great mix.”

The defeat marked the 80th of the year for the Giants, who are on their way to their third consecutive losing season. After keeping local champagne distributors in business during the first half of the decade, the Giants have spent the last few seasons watching opponents experience the cold, chilling satisfaction of victory.

Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz tossed eight shutout innings against an overmatched lineup as rookie right fielder Mike Yastrzemski was the only Giants player who caused any trouble. Yastrzemski went 3-for-3 against the Atlanta right-hander while the rest of the Giants’ lineup combined to finish 0-for-21.

It was only five years ago when the Giants were at the top of the baseball world, having won three World Series in five seasons. The franchise’s golden years exceeded the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic of their fans, but the barren seasons that have followed have tested the patience of their long-time supporters.

It didn’t take a blowout loss to see why the Giants are not able to contend with teams such as the Braves, but Friday’s game certainly didn’t inspire much hope.

Giants starter Tyler Beede had shown recent signs that he was turning a corner at the end of a challenging rookie season, but Beede surrendered six runs in six innings and had no answer for Acuña on Friday.

“I hate losing,” Beede said. “They’re a talented team. But in terms of doing what I can control, I love where I’m at. But I hate losing, so I’m not going to be happy with a start like this.”

The Braves superstar went 2-for-2 with a walk against Beede and made the most of his at-bats. Acuña lined a double into the left field corner in his second plate appearance and then broke the game open with a two-run blast into the right field seats in the bottom of the fifth.

“Acuña did a good job sitting back on a curveball and hitting it the other way,” Beede said.

Acuña, 21, is younger than each of the 40 players on the Giants’ 40-man roster, but he’s already among the most talented players in a league filled with young stars.

The Giants didn’t do much on the mound or at the plate, but two of their top defenders contributed outstanding defensive plays in Friday’s defeat.

In the top of the fifth, shortstop Brandon Crawford ranged 114 feet from a shifted position to nab a foul popup near the third base dugout and save Beede from having to throw another pitch to slugger Freddie Freeman.

“Going that far just shows how gifted he is,” Bochy said.

An inning later, center fielder Kevin Pillar raced into the left center field gap to make another full-extension diving grab to rob Braves left fielder Nick Markakis of extra bases.

As the Giants’ season comes to a close, it’s games against players such as Acuña and Atlanta’s 22-year-old second baseman, Ozzie Albies, that serve as a reminder of the talent that’s been missing from San Francisco’s farm system in recent seasons.

Under first-year president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and first-year farm director Kyle Haines, the Giants’ player development system has taken a significant step forward in 2019. But with much of their top prospects at the lowest levels of the minors, it could be years before the Giants resemble anything like the Braves.

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