If nothing else, the 2022 Braves already have spent a day – just one, but still – above .500. That didn’t happen for the 2021 assemblage until August, just after they went out and bought a whole new outfield. Half the fun of last year’s triumph was the knowledge that, more than halfway through the regular season, those Braves had done nothing but maintain mediocrity.
Said Fried: “It’s important to know it’s a long season.” Nobody who witnessed any part of the 2021 playoffs will ever need reminding.
Snitker: “I kind of like what I’ve seen. When we’re hitting on all cylinders, I can see us being really, really good.”
Then, speaking 20 minutes after his team mustered one run against the team that began the day ranked next-to-last in the majors in ERA: “Our lineup’s fine. I like our lineup a lot.”
It wasn’t that the Braves mounted threat upon threat. This was among the least riveting games in the sport’s history. They were 0-for-1 with a runner in scoring position, that coming when backup catcher Manny Pina struck out in the fifth on Gray’s final pitch.
As of noon Wednesday, the Braves’ pitching had itself been substandard. (This staff ranked 28th in ERA.) Fried yielded singles to the first two Nationals. Then he struck out Nelson Cruz and induced an RBI groundout from Josh Bell. Fried was close to escaping the inning down 1-0, but Maikel Franco lined a first-pitch fastball into center field to make it 2-nil.
Mid-course corrections were made. The Nats’ next 13 at-bats would generate 12 outs. Only after Cruz’s sixth-inning grounder smacked off Fried’s leg did he wobble. He stayed in the game long enough to surrender two singles and feel his hamstring tighten. Then he left, one out short of what would have qualified as a quality start. HIs ERA is unsightly – 5.73 – but we’ve seen enough to know that’s a blip.
The Braves now face seven games on the West Coast. Their second stop will be Dodger Stadium, the new home of former-face-of-this-franchise Freddie Freeman. That should be, shall we say, intriguing. We also note that Matt Olson, Freeman’s replacement, went 0-for-4 on Wednesday but carries an OPS of 1.197. The MLB-leading OPS in 2021 was Bryce Harper’s 1.044.
This trip, Fried said, “is big for us. We can kind of leave everything in the past.” He also said he’d be ready for his next turn, which will come in L.A.
If a 3-4 start was the cost of saluting the most unlikely championship this franchise will ever win, that’s a cost the Braves gladly will pay. That was, as they say, one for the ages. This was one week in April.
Said Fried: “We’re trying to get our feet under us. But we’re confident things are going to start going our way.”