ATLANTA (AP) — At the midpoint of the season, manager Brian Snitker says the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves have made an impressive recovery from a slow start.
Perhaps the most impressive resurgence belongs to Dansby Swanson.
Swanson hit a three-run double in a five-run second inning and the Braves held off the St. Louis Cardinals 6-3 early Tuesday in a game delayed more than 2 1/2 hours by rain.
"Unbelievable," said Snitker of Swanson's continued hot hitting.
"It's solid now," the manager added. "It's not a small sample size any longer."
St. Louis loaded the bases for a couple of big hitters in the ninth, but Will Smith struck out Nolan Arenado and retired Albert Pujols on a grounder back to the mound for his fifth save.
Swanson's bases-loaded double was the big hit against Dakota Hudson (6-5) in the second. Swanson also doubled and scored in the first.
Swanson was hitting only .236 on May 23. Since then, he has the most hits in the majors while raising his batting average to .304. His 37 hits in June were the most by a Braves shortstop in a month since Omar Infante's 43 in August 2010.
"He deserves all his success, and he's going to keep doing it just because of the way he works," said Braves right-hander Kyle Wright, who allowed no earned runs in four innings.
The surge has come as Swanson is approaching possible free agency while being represented by the same Excel Sports Management, including agent Casey Close, used by former Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Freeman signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after he was unable to reach agreement on a deal with Atlanta.
Swanson, 28, hit only .248 but set career highs with 27 homers and 88 RBIs while helping Atlanta win the World Series last season.
The Braves (47-34) went 21-6 in June after finishing May at 23-27.
"We've come a long way from two months ago, obviously," Snitker said.
Matt Olson had two RBI singles for Atlanta, driving in Swanson both times.
There was a delay of 2 hours, 37 minutes, before the matchup of second-place teams resumed in the fifth inning at 11:29 p.m. local time.
The Braves remained 3 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Mets in the NL East. The Cardinals fell three games behind division-leading Milwaukee in the NL Central.
Atlanta right-hander Jesse Chavez (2-1) gave up homers to rookies Juan Yepez and Conner Capel in the sixth. Capel's homer to center field was the first of his career.
Hudson allowed six runs on nine hits and three walks in four innings.
St. Louis right-hander Johan Oviedo left the game after a line drive hit by Michael Harris II struck Oviedo's right hand in the sixth. The Cardinals said X-rays were negative.
After scoring one run in the first when Olson's single drove in Swanson, the Braves sent nine batters to the plate in the second. Ronald Acuña Jr. drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk after Hudson hit Harris with a pitch.
With three runners on the move on a full-count pitch, Swanson's double to left-center made it 5-0.
Olson's second run-scoring single pushed it to 6-0.
Marmol: Bullpen has 'done a nice job of keeping us in ballgames'
Eddie Rosario, who had laser surgery to correct blurred vision and a swollen right retina, came off the injured list and had one hit while starting in left field for Atlanta.
BLESSING IN DISGUISE
The long delay cost Wright an opportunity for his 10th win. Wright allowed one unearned run and three hits in four innings. The Braves led 6-1 before the delay.
"It's a blessing in disguise, if you will, to have a little lighter workload and have less recovery time," Wright said.
Cardinals catcher Austin Romine was held without a hit after being promoted from Triple-A Memphis.
Romine, an 11-year veteran, began the season with the Angels before getting released and signing a minor league deal with the Cardinals on June 17. He replaced Iván Herrera, who had only two hits in 18 at-bats and was optioned to Memphis.
Cardinals: LHP Génesis Cabrera (undisclosed), placed on the injured list June 25, is expected to throw in the bullpen Tuesday. When asked if Cabrera will need a rehab assignment, manager Oliver Marmol said: "We'll see what tomorrow looks like." ... Marmol said C Yadier Molina (right knee inflammation) is "working hard and feeling better." ... LHP Steven Matz (left shoulder impingement) will make his next rehab start with Triple-A Memphis on Thursday.
Braves: OF Adam Duvall, hit by a pitch on his left hand Saturday in Cincinnati, was held out. "Still going to be a couple days before he can swing," Snitker said. ... RHP Mike Soroka threw live batting practice Saturday at the Braves' complex in North Port, Florida. Soroka, trying to return from his second Achilles tendon surgery, is moving closer to starting a minor league rehabilitation stint with the goal of returning in August.
Braves RHP Ian Anderson (6-5, 5.31 ERA), who has allowed a combined 11 runs in losing his last two starts, will face Cardinals rookie RHP Andre Pallante (2-3, 2.10) on Tuesday night. Anderson will be making his first career start against St. Louis.