Dansby nearly hits for cycle as Braves’ resurgent offense keeps rolling

Plenty of folks already were dismissing the idea of Dansby Swanson as a franchise cornerstone after the shortstop struggled in his first full season in 2017. But in the early part of a new season, the Cobb County native is beginning to show again why he was the first overall selection of the 2015 draft and one of baseball’s top prospects when the Braves traded for him in December 2015.

Swanson had three hits and three RBIs and came within a few feet of hitting for the cycle Friday in the Braves’ 8-3 win against the Rockies on Friday in a series opener played in sub-freezing temperatures at Coors Field. The Braves scored four runs in the first inning, including a two-run, two-out triple from Swanson, who’s hitting .370 with a .926 OPS in his first six games.

The Braves are 5-2 and lead the majors with 56 runs, a modern-era franchise record through seven games.

“Any time you come on the road and can make a statement like that early, I think it’s a big deal,” Swanson said of the first-inning burst. “It put us in a good position to kind of keep rolling, and obviously gave Mac (starter Brandon McCarthy) a little bit of room to work with. He was great, especially with those conditions. And I thought we did a really good job of playing a clean game defensively. If you look at the plays we made, we caught it and threw it like we’re supposed to. That obviously makes a difference in all games, but especially in games like that where you don’t give people extra chances.”

Swanson had a third-inning single and a fifth-inning RBI double before making his first out on a seventh-inning fly ball that was caught on the right-field warning track. He flied out again in his final at-bat in the ninth inning.

“I was just hoping it was blowing,” he said of the seventh-inning near-homer. “I was just hoping. But you never know, especially in that cold.”

After a 61-minute snow delay at the start, Curacao native Ozzie Albies, who’d never seen snow before, got the Braves going with a first-inning homer. He also doubled and scored on a Freddie Freeman single in the sixth inning.

“I saw snow and I was excited, acting like a little kid out there,” Albies said. “I put the barrel on the ball and watched it fly, it was awesome.”

Albies added, “We’re just trying to get on base and score a lot of runs. We’re playing hard to get to the playoffs this year. We’re playing hard, everybody is trying to do their job so we can win ballgames.”

He feels good for his friend and double-play combo partner Swanson after seeing him struggle last season and get sent down to Triple-A briefly in late July, right before Albies was promoted to the majors.

“He’s swinging the bat really good right now,” Albies said. “I told him, let’s keep it this way and just keep fighting every night.”

The multi-hit game was the fourth for Swanson in six games and his second three-hit game. Last season he had only four multi-hit games in his first 50 games through the end of May and was hitting .185 with a .559 OPS at that point. He didn’t have a three-hit game until June 7.

Swanson finished the season with a .232 batting average that ranked 135th of 144 major league qualifiers and a .636 OPS that ranked 140th.

“I think he came in with a little chip on his shoulder maybe,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I think he’s going to prove to everybody he’s a little better than what they saw last year. He worked hard in the spring, he’s kind of a driven, focused guy.”

He’s been a big part of the Braves’ resurgent offense. Their 56 runs are the most by any major league team through seven games since the Yankees scored 61 in their first seven in 2003.

“I think one through nine (in the lineup) we did another tremendous job,” Swanson said. “It’s fun to be a part of and it’s fun to see, and fun to see how we prepare to get to that point. It’s exciting moving forward. We talked before about hitting is contagious and everyone’s kind of feeding off each other and we’re going with that momentum.”

Of his own fast start, he said, “I think it’s important, for sure. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. But at the same time, you guys know me well enough, I’m just going to put my head down and continue to work and go about the same process that we talked about before. Obviously the results definitely help and they help moving forward, but at the same time that’s not something I’m focusing on. I’m just going to continue doing what I do and work on what I believe in.”