Braves hand their fans another reason to fret

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Some days, the Braves inspire confidence and hope.

Others, like Monday, they bring to mind the apocalyptic comedy, “Dr. Strangelove.”

Frankly, such extremes are getting a little tiresome.

As in that classic movie, we just saw a main Braves character whose hand seemingly has a schizophrenic mind of its own. Two Braves actually. Such is the latest disturbing trait of this team — hands cradling the fate of a franchise that are obviously possessed.

First it was the right hand of starter Huascar Ynoa. Following a deviant poor performance against Milwaukee it must have hurled itself against an unyielding bench. Had to be the hand, because surely Ynoa never would consciously bash the fine, delicate instrument of his craft into the furniture. It had, after all, treated him so well and promised him a rewarding, comfortable life.

Do anything else to let out the anger if you’re a pitcher. Kick a trashcan into a fire extinguisher, setting it off and making a mess of the clubhouse (the Braves’ Sean Newcomb did that in 2019, and still Atlanta United didn’t offer a tryout). Flip off somebody with either one of two un-casted hands. Write your congressman. Just don’t mess with the pitching hand. That’s makes as much sense as Warren Buffett having a bad day and then taking a vow of poverty.

Never doubt the Braves bench strength, for Monday it was reported that it had cracked Ynoa’s hand. The surprise of the early season who had led the Braves staff in wins and ERA, will miss multiple months. Most injuries you just process as the cost of doing a tough, physical business. But one like this makes a person start to wonder if maybe the Braves have offended the Fates this season.

Then, just hours later, it was the left hand of Max Fried that acted out. Monday was a tone-setting kind of day, the Braves and Mets finally meeting for the first time in 2021. It is believed the Mets might actually be serious about the NL East this time. No, really.

Coasting along Monday, Fried, the Braves last ace standing, had to suddenly depart in the seventh inning as his hand began to spasm. Trying to throw a curveball with a claw is never recommended. The same hand that had been prone to blisters was now betraying him in a whole new way.

Thus was a scoreless game left to the Braves bullpen, and that has been like the recipe for a really bad meatloaf lately. Braves lose, fall three games under .500 and three games back of the Mets.

Worse yet, the unholy combination of too much velocity and too little control was on awful display. Braves reliever Jacob Webb struck the Mets Kevin Pillar in the face with a fastball, delaying the game as the ground crew cleaned up a bloody scene and players had time to think about the unspoken danger of every at-bat.

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

Some days are harder than others to maintain the mantra that the season is young, and the Braves have ample time to heal themselves and their record. Some days, against the code of patience that rules this game, a gnawing pessimism takes hold.

Monday was one of those days.

It was the kind of day you get a little tired of waiting around for the Braves to hit enough home runs to win in the end. You start to long for a little small ball, for a little station-to-station. Dansby Swanson had a sac fly Sunday against Milwaukee, and you wanted to stop the game to ceremonially mark the moment.

It was the kind of day you take stock of the formula the Braves have used to win the last three NL East titles. Not surprisingly, it was by playing well within the division (24-16 last year, 46-30 in 2019, 49-27 in ’18). With Monday’s loss to the Mets, they fell to 10-10 thus far in the East. They are just another face in the crowd at this point, their specialness wearing a disguise of cut-offs and a tank top.

It was the kind of day you wonder how long it will be until the even-tempered manager Brian Snitker snaps when asked again about why he’s not pitching the same one or two reliable relievers until their arms turn to custard.

It was the kind of day to realize that it’s not only the Braves just trying to tread water, that everybody is dealing with a plague of injuries. The Mets are reeling, too — they even lost a front-line starter in the midst of Monday’s game (pitcher Taijuan Walker), before Pillar was beaned. For all the talk about how formidable the Braves could be if healthy, think about the prospect of playing the Mets in a possibly pivotal final series of the season if they, too, are close to whole. That would mean facing, above all, Jacob deGrom. That’s a vaguely uneasy feeling.

That’s just how it felt then.

Tomorrow, it might feel all different. It’s the jarring back-and-forth we just may be subject to all this Braves season.

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