Ender Inciarte, center, celebrates his game-winning squeeze bunt against the Mets with Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Photo: Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Photo: Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Hey, NL East, Braves might have something for you

The Braves now have introduced themselves to all in the NL East save the Florida Marlins – which is to say they have met everyone who is anyone. Let this be the last time we speak of the Marlins.

So far, so encouraging. Just keep this up for four more months, stay relevant into September, and we’ll call it a worthwhile 2018. 

Thanks to Saturday’s walk-off bunt ... wait a moment. Let’s pause just a beat here to repeat that almost whimsical phrase. Walk-off bunt. Saying that just makes one’s mouth happy, like it’s part of a Dr. Seuss riff. It is the punch line to the Braves first month.

Anyway, thanks to Saturday’s walk-off bunt, the Braves won a shortened first series against the first-place Mets. The New Yorkers got lucky Sunday. It rained.

The Braves are 4-2 against the Phillies, a team that mauled them a year ago, winning 13 of 19 times. (First six meetings last year it was the Phils with the 5-1 advantage).

Plus, they’re a break-even 3-3 against Washington, the ponderous favorite to win this division. The Nats are not all there just yet, beat up and out of sync. But that’s their problem. Nobody weeps for Washington, a town where there are far larger dysfunctions in play.

Last season, when the Mets and Phillies were battling for the bottom of the division, the Braves won 39 percent of their games against those two, and the Nationals (22-35). Now, so early, they are at 60 percent (9-6). That’s better, I believe.

The team that has scored the most runs in the National League, the one with the best run-differential in the league, happens to also be the one that opened Monday two games back of the Mets and a half-game shy of the Phillies. The Braves are hitting their way past a bullpen that seems intent upon layering on the base on balls the way Houdini once did chains – just something to make the escape that much more difficult.  

Two signs that the Braves’ beginning is something to be taken seriously by a division in which they were picked to finish third, if extraordinarily fortunate:

Freddie Freeman’s wrist didn’t break this time when hit by a pitch. Unlike a season ago, this time the little bones held and the big first baseman reported to work the next day. Proving both that the Fates just may be grinning at the Braves and that Freeman is one of those special players who wants to write his own name into the lineup card in indelible ink. He desires to be as much a given in any game as spitting.    

Secondly, the fact that there is so little hue and cry to see Ronald Acuna make the drive in from Gwinnett is in some ways a very good thing.   

You will not need to look in the standings to see how the Braves are managing in the East. Just listen. How loud the public demand to see Acuna with the big club will be inversely proportionate to how the Braves are performing. Anything above a curious murmur is not necessarily a good sign.

For now, this is not some team in need of an Acuna jolt. It doesn’t require some shiny object to keep the populace distracted from the other ills on the field. Not yet, anyway. Maybe once he’s hitting above .250 in Triple A, the priorities will have shifted. Anyway, the pressure is off this 20-year-old to come in and be a complete difference maker. It seems the Braves may have some of those already on the roster.

The Braves haven’t played all the way back to respectability in these first 20 games. No one does that. But they haven’t played their way out off that modest plateau yet, either – and that was every bit a possibility.  

In the East, the Braves have come forth early and declared, in the immortal words of Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction”: “I’m not going to be ignored.”    

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About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.

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