The Braves will cross the May/June border as a legitimate playoff threat, which is better than most expected from a team that had 278 losses in the last three seasons and once again was expected to produce a bullpen prone to frequent moments of self-immolation (that projection turned out to be accurate).
But if they’re going continue on this path, it will be because of improbable, illogical moments like we witnessed Monday.
Charlie Culberson slapped a 1-2 pitch for a two-run homer in the ninth inning to rally the Braves to a 4-3 win over the New York Mets. The only unfortunate part of the day/night/morning for Culberson is he was robbed of an extended celebration because his heroics came in game one of a soul-stomping, miserable, rain-delayed doubleheader and the Braves lost game two (at close to 1:30 a.m.).
“At least they gave me a few extra hours to enjoy it with the rain delay,” Culberson said Tuesday.
No worries. This kind of thing has not been an isolated occurrence.
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Included in the Braves’ first 31 wins were 14 relative heroes. They have had 14 players collect game-winning RBIs, so help me Peter Bourjos. Johan Camargo’s walk-off homer in the ninth inning in Tuesday’s 7-6 come-from-behind win over the Mets was his second game-winning RBI of the season.
Game-winners by 14 different players is a remarkable statistic when you consider they had used only 17 position players until Dustin Peterson made his debut and became No. 18 just before 1:30 a.m. in the ninth inning of game two at 1:30 a.m.
If you can name more than seven of the 14, you might need a hobby.
Here’s one freebie: Bourjos, who’s with his fifth organization and is now back in the minors, had a game-winning, two-run hit in the 12th inning at Washington. Bourjos was only 3-for-25 before becoming a Gwinnett Striper, so to say that could go down as his 2018 highlight is an understatement.
The new Andy Warholism: Every Braves hitter has their 15 minutes, maybe seconds, of fame.
“It’s always a different person,” said Tyler Flowers, who, yes, has two game-winners. “(Preston) Tucker had a great start until (Ronald) Acuna got here. He’s always coming through with quality at-bats in the worst situations. Same with (Ryan) Flaherty and Culberson. But at the end of the year, when you look at playoff teams they’re more that way. Of course you have your horses but they can’t do it every single time. Freddie (Freeman) and Nick (Markakis) aren’t going to hit .500 with 180 RBIs.”
There was more than mild angst when Acuna, attempting to beat out a ground ball for a hit the other night against Philadelphia, had his left knee buckled, sending him to a hard landing. Manager Brian Snitker was among those who thought the rookie was done for the season. Fortunately, Acuna was diagnosed with only a mild sprain and he could be back in less than two weeks.
A major injury would’ve left a serious dent in the everyday lineup. But offensive depth and balance hasn’t been an issue to this point.
The Braves’ ultimate fate will be decided by their pitching. Their bullpen has been erratic. Relievers may eventually become worn down because the starters aren’t going deep enough into games. But every possible dramatic is being squeezed out of the every day lineup so it’s working.
Statistics can be misleading and often create a false narrative about an individual or a team. It’s why I generally stay away from Sabermetrics. Numbers can be illuminating but too often they’re not, or they don’t tell the whole story.
This viewpoint infuriates Sabermetric-devotees, who view any dissenting view of their cherished obscure numbers as the moronic ramblings of a senile old man stuck in the 1940s. To them, I reply: I was born in the 1950s. And get off my lawn.
That said, here are two other statistics that illustrate the balance in the offense:
• The Braves had eight players entering Tuesday in double-digits in extra base hits, from Ozzie Albies (31) to little old Preston Tucker (10; he had 13 all of last year with Houston). The Braves have three of the top extra-base-hitters in the National League East: Albies, Freddie Freeman (23) and Nick Markakis (22).
• The team has seven regular position players, including two catchers, with an OPS (on-base percent plus slugging percentage) of at least .768. Bill James, the geeky Edison of Sabermetrics, would classify two of the Braves’ hitters as “great” in OPS (Freeman .975 and Markakis .918), three as “very good” (Flowers .894, Albies .861, Kurt Suzuki .812) and two as “above average” (Acuna .779 Camargo .768).
At some point, they’ll need an every day third baseman. Jose Bautista wasn’t the answer. But Flaherty and Camargo have been good enough.
At some point, they’ll need an every day catcher. But Suzuki and Flowers are hitting a combined .274 with 10 homers and 30 RBI. No problem there.
The Braves lost Dansby Swanson for two weeks. But in the first game without him, they won 11-0 and went 8-6. Not bad.
“If I can somehow help produce some unexpected wins and others do the same, those add up at the end of the year,” Culberson said.
It has added up to an expected division leader.
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