Dan's Dugout: Braves Battering NL Rivals • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Braves Battering NL Rivals


ATLANTA – Slowly but surely, the Braves are becoming a force in the National League again.

The team of Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones, and Tom Glavine even has an outside chance to reach the 2017 postseason.

Say what?

If history serves as an accurate barometer, the Braves are closer to first place in the NL East now than they were in 1991, the year they became the first worst-to-first team in league history.

And they’re hotter than the weather in Georgia.

The Braves are rising in the NL East Credit: Dan Schlossberg

The Braves are rising in the NL East
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

In fact, the Braves have scored more runs this month than any team in the major leagues. More than the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Dodgers, or the Nationals – the team they need to dethrone in their own division.

Freddie Freeman, the best player on the team, is healing so well from his broken hand that he’ll be ready to play against the Nats in a series that starts just before the July 11 All-Star Game.

The heavy-hitting first baseman has also agreed to shift across the diamond to third base, a position he last played in high school, so that fellow lefthanded slugger Matt Adams can remain in the lineup.

Adams arrived in exchange for a 19-year-old prospect two days after the Freeman injury. To say St. Louis was robbed is putting it mildly.

Freddie Freeman is moving to third base

Freddie Freeman is moving to third base

If the Braves had any pitching at all, they’d be knocking on the capital steps right now.

Erstwhile ace Julio Teheran, an All-Star last year, has had trouble winning home games at the new Sun Trust Park, where the ball flies, and ex-Met Bartolo Colon has been battered almost every time out.

On the other hand, trade acquisitions R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia have had their moments and hard-throwing Mike Foltyniewicz has been better than advertised. But rookie Sean Newcomb, a big lefthander plucked from the Angels in the Andrelton Simmons swap, looks like the real deal.

Statue of Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox guards first base gate at Sun Trust Park Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Statue of Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox guards first base gate at Sun Trust Park
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Sinkerballer Jim Johnson, owner of two 50-save seasons, anchors an unpredictable bullpen that also includes former closer Arodys Vizcaino and erratic fireballer Jose Ramirez.

Don’t believe the rumors that another fire sale is in the offing. No way will be the Braves break up the game’s most productive lineup.

Even guys like Johann Camargo, a utilityman filling in for injured third baseman Adonis Garcia, and Tyler Flowers, a catcher who can’t throw out runners, are playing way over their heads.

And Adams has provided enormous lefthanded power, hitting almost as mny home runs as Freeman did before the All-Star first baseman was hit on the wrist in a game against Toronto.

The Braves have an outfield anchored by centerfielder and leadoff man Ender Inciarte, red-hot after a ridiculously cold start, and veterans Matt Kemp in left and Nick Markakis in right. All arrived in deals engineered by the young and innovative general manager John Coppolella. (Inciarte in the Shelby Miller deal that also brought blue-chip rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson).

Ex-Oriole Nick Markakis, an Atlanta native, has really helped the Braves

Ex-Oriole Nick Markakis, an Atlanta native, has really helped the Braves

An under-the-radar swap this spring brought Atlanta native Brandon Phillips, whose bat still sings, to play second base and add righthanded pop to the top of the lineup between Inciarte and Freeman. With Kemp batting fourth, there’s plenty of punch to pulverize opposing pitchers.

Markakis, who rarely strike out, has done a fine job filling in for Freeman in the three hole but will revert to the fifth spot when the veteran returns.

That will give manager Brian Snitker an ideal left-right-left lineup, with Inciarte, Phillips, Freeman, Kemp, and Markakis filling the first five slots, followed by Flowers, Adams, Swanson, and the pitcher. No team in the league, not even the Nationals, has such balance in the batting order.

Blessed with the best farm system in baseball, the Braves can be expected to add arms before the July 31 trade deadline. They have a plethora of prospects to use as trade bait.

In 1991, the Braves arrived at the All-Star break in third place, nine-and-a-half games from the division lead, but staged a blistering second half fueled by pitching. They could do the same this year with booming bats as their primary weapon.

The new Launching Pad: Atlanta's Sun Trust Park

The new Launching Pad: Atlanta’s Sun Trust Park

Snitker, an organization man who has been with the Braves for 40 years, admitted as much last December when Latino Sports posed the worst-to-first question at the baseball winter meetings in National Harbor, Md. Nobody else thought to ask but, hey, the team had finished two games over .500 after Kemp arrived in a midseason deal with San Diego and went 20-10 down the stretch.

Colon and Dickey were signed as free agents as placeholders and innings eaters while Atlanta developed a slew of promising pitching prospects. The latter still has something left, it seems, while the rotund Colon may get one more chance to save his roster spot after posting an earned run average that matches his girth.

With Sun Trust Park proving to be the latest version of The Launching Pad, as Fulton County Stadium was known before pitcher-friendly Turner Field replaced it, the Braves just might be the Cinderella team of the season.

After all, there’s a long way to go and the Braves have lots of home games left.

Elsewhere in baseball:

Asdrubel Cabrera, asked by the Mets to move from short to second, demanded a trade instead and the floundering Flushing denizens are looking for takers . . .

Asdrubel Cabrera is unhappy with Mets Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Asdrubel Cabrera is unhappy with Mets
Credit: George Napolitano

Houston utilityman Marwin Gonzalez is the only player in modern baseball history to homer in four straight starts while playing a different position each time . . .

Has anyone noticed that journeyman outfielder Cameron Maybin, now with the Angels, is leading the American League in stolen bases? . . .

The Achilles heel of the surprising Milwaukee Brewers may be their propensity to strike out too frequently . . .

Dodger southpaw Alex Wood, off to the best start of his brief career, is a big reason his club is the favorite to win the NL West in a three-way race with the Rockies and Diamondbacks.

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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