Felt like page was turned Tuesday by the Braves

Tuesday felt like a day when the page was turned for the Braves, not just literally with the

Ozzie Albies had a walk in three plate appearances in his major league debut Tuesday, and manager Brian Snitker said he would be the primary second baseman going forward. (AP file photo)

calendar turning to August, but figuratively with the return of Freddie Freeman to first base on a full-time basis – the third-base experiment is over, good riddance – plus the move of Matt Adams to left field in hopes he drives in plenty more than he lets in there, and most obviously with 20-year-old prospect Ozzie Albies replacing Brandon Phillips at second base.

Albies, who is about 5 feet 8 inches and 170 pounds of fast-twitch muscle fibers, shouldn’t be expected to do as well in his first two months in the majors as Phillips did over the past four months, but will face the unfair expectations of many that he do precisely that. By the way, Phillips was already a standout at Redan High in Stone Mountain when Albies was born in Curacao.

When I told Freeman that Albies was the first major leaguer born in 1997, Freddie smiled, thought about that for a second and said: “It’s not often that you make me feel old, but you just did.” As for Freeman, he was born in 1989, which is just one more thing that makes me feel old.

The Braves unceremoniously replaced a 36-year-old four-time former Gold Glove second baseman with the youngest player in the majors, and now everyone waits to see how this will end. They wonder whether Phillips will swallow pride and serve in a backup role the rest of the season at two or three positions – manager Brian Snitker asked him Tuesday to consider playing some third base, a position he played in one professional game 16 years ago in Double-A – or if he and/or the Braves will decide it best for Phillips to move on. Which isn’t fair, considering Phillips has hit .292 with 35 extra-base hits and a solid .771 OPS while playing serviceable and flashy (i.e. entertaining) defense. No one ever said pro sports is fair, though, particularly for a player nearing the end of a contract and/or a career.

"I talked to him, said in some point in time I kind of figured that this was going to happen, and we were going to bring Albies up because we look at him as potential long-term (Braves lineup regular),” Snitker said of his conversation Tuesday with Phillips, who declined through a team spokesman to discuss the situation publicly, but will surely be asked to again today or tomorrow, assuming he sticks around that long.

Snitker is a folksy baseball lifer who has a gentlemanly grandfather demeanor in casual conversation, and his Tuesday comments about Phillips, a player he’s appreciated and praised since the first day of spring training, served as a stark reminder that baseball is a business and sometimes business decisions are made above your pay grade and that personal feelings or “fairness,” as it were, usually aren’t overriding concerns.

“I think he could play third. He’s gifted enough, reactions are good, arm’s good, he’s quick. I don’t know, might be less wear and tear on him at third base than there is at second,” Snitker said of Phillips, later adding, “He’s been great. I told Brandon at one point, if Ozzie hadn’t of broke his arm last year we probably wouldn’t be sitting here having that conversation because there was a really good chance that we would’ve broke camp with Ozzie as our second baseman. But he was behind (after the injury). And then we got Sean (Rodriguez), and he got hurt.”

After Rodriguez required surgery for a shoulder injury following a Jan. 28 car crash, the Braves traded for Phillips, and the Reds agreed to pay $13 million of his $14 million salary this season in the final year of his contract because they had young players and were rebuilding and wanted to move on.

“It’s just weird how things have a way of working out,” Snitker said. “We got Brandon and he’s been really, really good. But it’s time to see the kid.”

Would the Braves have made this move if they had remained at .500 or above, which is where they were after sweeping the first three games following the All-Star break? Who knows, but I tend to think they would’ve waited at least a little longer to bring up Albies if they were still clicking offensively like they were then, with Phillips and the now-DL’d (again) Matt Kemp in the lineup and contributing, despite each dealing with nagging injuries.

But that hasn’t been the case. The Braves have lost 12 of 15 games since then and fallen out of realistic contention for any wild-card spot. Kemp had slumped for some time and is now nursing his third hamstring injury of the season. The Braves’ offense has been in a malaise, failing repeatedly in scoring opportunities lately and not getting much from anyone, with the exceptions of catcher Kurt Suzuki and rookie Johan Camargo, and even Camargo has slowed his roll.

So it was time. Time to turn the page. Time to bring up Albies and see what he can do not just in a full month of September when things can be a bit misleading with rosters expanded and out-of-contention teams trying out folks and all that, but with two full months beginning Aug. 1. And time to take a look at Lucas Sims to see if he can be counted on as a starting-rotation option for 2018.

Time to get Adams out of the infield, where his defensive shortcomings had become more noticeable in recent weeks, and get Freeman back to the position where we knew he’d be again by next season anyway. This opens third base and gives the Braves a chance to play Danny Santana and Sean Rodriguez – who was brought back too early in my opinion, but he’s back and needs to play – and Camargo when the Braves bring back Dansby Swanson later this season, if not in August then September.

Speaking of September, if the Braves decide to bring up uber-prospect Ronald Acuna in September, they might have the two youngest players in the majors. Acuna also born in 1997, too, but barely – his birthday is Dec. 18, making him little over 11 months younger than Albies (Jan. 7, 1997).

Albies carpooled to the game Tuesday with Camargo after leaving behind Albies’ Triple-A Gwinnett roommate Acuna, who got over the shock just fine with another three-hit night Tuesday at Gwinnett. Albies joked in the afternoon at SunTrust Park that he’d need to hire a babysitter for Acuna now that Albies was in the big leagues. Those crazy kids.

Lucas Sims pitched six solid innings in his major league debut Tuesday, a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers. (AP photo)

So now the page has been turned, and there are still 57 games left this season. The Braves’ 3-2 loss Tuesday dropped them to nine games under .500 at 48-57, tied for the most games they’ve been under .500 this season. The only other time was when they were 11-20 after losing both games of a two-game series against a Houston team that looked like baseball’s biggest juggernaut at the time.

The Astros still have the biggest division lead – 15 games – and the second-best record in the majors at 69-37, but the Dodgers have emerged as The Team to Beat in the view of most who’ve seen all the good teams play this season. The Dodgers are flat-out loaded, and their consecutive losses July 20-21 against the Braves become all the more perplexing by the day.

Those were the only two losses for L.A. since July 4. They had an 11-game winning streak before those two defeats at Dodger Stadium, and they have an nine-game winning streak since. Right now, the Braves can only look at them and hope that’s where they get someday when this painful rebuilding process is finally over.

The Braves seemed to exhaust themselves getting back to .500, which they did by going 16-8 on a one-month stretch from June 17 through July 16. They had an unimpressive 4.47 ERA in that 24-game span with 209 strikeouts and 89 walks in 219 1/3 innings, but Braves hitters excelled in that period, or at least in getting enough timely hits. Atlanta hit .261 with 27 homers and a .734 OPS in that 24-game stretch while averaging 5.1 runs per game.

Also, the Braves made just 10 errors in those 24 games, including three in one loss against the Giants.

But in the 15 games that have followed since they reached .500, the Braves have gone 3-12 while posting an unsightly 5.50 ERA and allowing 26 homers, an .857 opponents’ OPS and 61 walks with 127 strikeouts in 131 innings. All bad. And at the same time, Atlanta’s offense has slipped significantly, the Braves hitting just .236 with 18 homers and a .693 OPS while averaging 3.9 runs per game and scoring three runs or fewer in 10 of 15 games.

Even the defense declined of late as the Braves made 13 errors in the past 15 games including four multi-error games.

Meanwhile, the runaway train that is the Dodgers is 40-6 with a 2.94 ERA, .219 opponents’ batting average and .636 opponents’ OPS in its past 46 games, with 426 strikeouts and 110 walks in 413 1/3 innings. Only twice in that stretch have L.A. pitchers allowed more than seven earned runs – 12 in a June 15 loss at Cleveland and 10 in a July 21 loss to the Braves in L.A. Tuesday marked the 25th time in the 40-6 run tear that the Dodgers allowed two or fewer earned runs.

Their hitters, meanwhile, have a .273 batting average, 86 home runs and .868 OPS over 46 games while averaging 5.5 runs in that torrid stretch.

The Dodgers are 75-31 and Tuesday they notched their 75th win earlier than all but two teams in major league history – the 2001 Mariners, who did it on July 28, and the 1998 Yankees, who got their 75th win on July 30.

Here's one from the vastly underrated Jesse Malin off his "New York Before the War" album

"ADDICTED" by Jesse Malin

Jesse Malin

I've been running from the outskirts

Got some money on the wrong horse

I just had no where else to go

Now they're closing down the book store

And they're putting up a condo

We're gonna watch this whole thing blow

And I've lived here all my life

I'm addicted to the sadness

And the sound of jubilation

We never got to say goodbye

Well they wanted his apartment

And they tried to steal his paintings

They were counting up the days until he died

And the band played on and on

And the band played on and on

And the band played all the sadness of my youth

I'm addicted to hand jive

I've been living on the down stroke

Almost gone and almost grown

I've been feeling like a bastard

In the beauty of the moment

So alive and so alone

And the band played on and on

And the band played on and on

And the band played all the sadness of my youth

I'm addicted to the glory

Of a broken heart

Now they got you in the camera

And you're feeling like a target

Another picture in a million dollar phone

I'm addicted to the moment

I will not be reconstructed

I'm gonna watch this whole thing blow

And the band played on and on

And the band played on and on

And the band played all the sadness of my youth

And the band played on and on

And the band played all the sadness of my youth

And I've lived here all my life

About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.