Braves’ Dansby Swanson distancing himself from slow start

Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson has been steady in the field all season, but he is starting to heat up at the plate. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)

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Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson has been steady in the field all season, but he is starting to heat up at the plate. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)

After a sluggish start, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson is suddenly one of the more productive players in the majors.

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Swanson, despite going 0-for-4 on Tuesday, is hitting .311/.373/.511 over the past 14 games. He has two homers, three doubles and six RBIs in that time (51 plate appearances). Swanson has achieved that success while playing his usual reliable defense, showing how valuable his all-around play is when he’s clicking.

Before his recent surge, Swanson’s contract year was off to a forgettable start. He hit .172 with five extra-base hits (no homers) across his first 17 games. He struck out 45% of the time. He’s since increased his season average to .233 (a .061 increase), and his OPS has jumped from .526 to .683. He has cut his strikeout rate to 33% in the past 14 games.

Swanson now ranks among MLB’s most valuable players in terms of WAR. His 1.2 fWAR is tied for 22nd among all major leaguers. The only primary shortstops ahead of him are Houston’s Jeremy Pena (1.4), Seattle’s J.P. Crawford (1.4) and Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco (1.6). Swanson’s fWAR edges starters Max Fried (1.1) and Kyle Wright (1.0) for best on the Braves.

There’s no understating this season’s importance for Swanson, a Cobb County native who surely would prefer to stay with the organization long term. Swanson’s production continuing its upward trend is good for everybody involved: He’ll help the Braves win and increase his own price tag. In the immediate future, the Braves (14-17) need all Swanson can provide as they try to overcome an uninspiring start.

Mets keep rolling

The Mets defeated the hapless Nationals 4-2 on Tuesday, becoming the first National League team to 21 victories (21-10). They entered Wednesday leading the second-place Braves by seven games and the Marlins and Phillies by 7 ½ games.

New York’s advantage is by far the largest in the majors. In the NL, the second-place Cardinals are three games behind the Brewers (20-11) in the Central. The entire West is within five games of the first-place Dodgers (20-8). Baseball’s second-largest divisional lead? Also New York. The Yankees (21-8) lead the Rays by four games.

While the 2021 Braves floundered for much of their season – they didn’t achieve a winning record until August, as most know by now – the 2022 Braves already have spent as many days seven games back in the division race. The 2021 Braves bottomed out in mid-June, when they spent three days at seven or eight games back. These Braves already have spent three days at seven back.

The Braves dropped to seven games behind the Mets after they were swept in a doubleheader May 3. One week later, they finished Tuesday in the same deficit. It’s too early to be overly concerned, but it’s also true that falling into this deep a hole could cost the Braves in September.

Kyle Wright still impressive, Max Fried stellar

Kyle Wright had his first poor start of 2022 on Tuesday, allowing six runs in 4 ⅔ innings, an outing that bumped his ERA from 1.74 to 3.03. Still, that he gutted through the evening and pitched into the fifth is a testament to Wright’s mental growth since last season. And his 41 strikeouts to 11 walks remains eye-popping. Wright is tied for 10th in MLB in strikeouts.

Max Fried takes over the team lead in ERA, and he’s been largely spectacular. Fried has a 2.68 ERA in six starts with 35 strikeouts to two walks. If Fried maintains that level, he should earn his first All-Star nod this summer.

Braves defeat Riley in arbitration

The Braves won their arbitration case against third baseman Austin Riley, a person familiar with the situation confirmed Wednesday. Riley will make $3.95 million this season. He filed at $4.2 million. As a Super-Two designated player, Riley will be arbitration eligible three more times. He’s a logical extension candidate in the nearer future.

Riley, 25, is coming off a breakout season in which he hit .303 with 33 homers, 33 doubles and 107 RBIs. Riley is hitting .237/.336/.482 with seven homers, seven doubles and 14 RBIs to begin the 2022 campaign (his underlying numbers suggest he’s outperformed those surface numbers). Like Fried, Riley is vying for his first All-Star honor.

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