Dan's Dugout: Atlanta Wonders Why Wizard Went South • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Atlanta Wonders Why Wizard Went South

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Has The Wizard lost his magic?

Ozzie Albies, just 21, was a 2018 All-Star before slumping

Ozzie Albies was so good during the first half of this season that he made the National League All-Star team. Only a frenzy of ballot-stuffing by Cubs fans kept the 21-year-old Atlanta second baseman out of the starting lineup, where Javy Baez got the nod instead.

Often compared to Jose Altuve because he provided power out of proportion to his diminutive stature, Albies spent April, May, and Jnne leading the league in extra-base hits.

Coupled with Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, the other Atlanta position players who went to Washington for the All-Star Game, he helped the upstart Braves score the most runs in the NL and lead the division during most of the first half.

But that was then and this is now.

The kid from Curacao has nose-dived like a defective Atlas rocket.

At the All-Star break, he had an .834 OPS with 20 home runs, 55 RBI, 74 runs and nine stolen bases. Since then, he has a .571 OPS with one home run, seven RBI, 12 runs and three steals.

Ozzie Albies is in his first full season. Credit: Dan Schlossberg

After batting first or second most of the season, Albies traded spots with erstwhile leadoff man Ender Inciarte, another player whose slumps perplexed Braves manager Brian Snitker.

Before Sunday, Snitker had Rookie of the Year favorite Ronald Acuna, Jr. thriving from the top spot, followed by the speedy Inciarte, traditionally a better hitter over the second half.

To get more oomph into the order, Snitker has sat Inciarte against lefties, moving Acuna to center and inserting Adam Duvall in left. But Duvall’s righthanded bat has been silent, with his average down to .198 after Sunday’s 4-0 win in Miami.

Meanwhile, the manager and his hitting coach, Kevin Seitzer, need to get Albies going again.

The fleet second baseman needs to show more patience at the plate, surprise opposing defenders with occasional bunts, and return to his old minor-league form: less home runs but more contact.

Ozzie Albies has helped rookie slugger Ronald Acuna, Jr.
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Anytime Albies hits the ball, good things can happen. But Braves coaches believe he’s better off hitting line-drives rather than swinging for the fences.

Atlanta still leads the NL East by three games over Philadelphia but had trouble even splitting a weekend series with the last-place Marlins. The Braves finished on a wrong end of a shutout Friday night and would have been blanked again Saturday if not for a Dansby Swanson home run in the ninth inning.

When he was going well, Albies played big brother to Acuna, the 20-year-old wunderkind who struggled at the plate before righting himself after his elevation to the leadoff spot.

Now, it may be Acuna’s turn to help Albies – at least on the playing field.

Exactly how a righthanded slugger can help a switch-hitting speed merchant has yet to be determined but the Braves need both to produce if they’re serious about winning the division crown in the NL East. They face Philadelphia, their primary competitor, seven times in the last 11 games – finishing the season at Citizens Bank Park.

Atlanta also must survive imminent series against the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. Both are at Sun Trust Park, which helps, but the Colorado Rockies swept a four-game set there two weeks ago.

Top priority for the team is recapturing the lost magic of The Wizard of Ozzie.

Atlanta has led the NL East most of this season

Benched Sunday in favor of utilityman Charlie Culberson, Albies has gone 7-for-43 over his past 11 games. He did show unusual patience, however, when he drew a rare walk as a pinch-hitter and scored during Atlanta’s three-run rally in the top of the eighth.

If he recaptures his stroke at the plate, Albies will give the Atlanta lineup a powerful top four that could propel the team right into the playoffs. Who else has a Rookie of the Year contender followed by three consecutive All-Stars?

The key is Albies, a 5’8″, 155-pound package of potential signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013.

Should the Wizard wave his magic wand again, the final five weeks of the 2018 Braves season should be fun to watch.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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