I have a confession to make. My emotional state is entirely too dependent about how and what the Braves are doing. On days after they win, I generally get a head start on a pretty good mood, while losses give me just a little bit of a hole to climb out of. There are literally hundreds of things that are more important in my life and in the world, and I’m not at all proud of the fact that how and what the Braves are doing has an impact on my emotional state. In fact, I used to feel pretty guilty about it. But I’m 62 years old now, and I’ve been a Braves fan since 1965. I’ve finally realized it’s not going to change.
So here’s the good news for today. The Braves won Thursday’s game in Denver, giving them a split of the four game series with the playoff-bound Rockies, and a respectable 3-4 record on a difficult road trip against two teams that have been playing well. Ender was the offensive star, with two dingers, two walks, and two stolen bases. (According to people who research such things, he’s only the second major league player to do that in a game. Howard Johnson was the other; it seems strange to me that no one else has ever done it. The young Barry Bonds? Dale Murphy? Willie Mays? Mickey Mantle?) Freddie also hit a monster shot, and Flowers hit his tenth homer, giving the Braves’ catching duo 22 on the season with a combined OPS well over .800. (How many of you predicted that before this season?). After those four solo home runs, the Braves scored 6 in the 7th, effectively putting the game out of reach. Lucas Sims pitched well enough to get a win in dreaded Coors Field, going five innings and somehow only giving up 2 runs, in spite of 5 hits and 3 walks. (To be fair to Sims, Danny Santana was playing left field, and he let a couple of fly balls fall that I am convinced either of our two Matts would have caught. Why is Santana playing?)
On the other hand, no reason to get excited. Overall the Braves are on a pace to win 73-74 games. That is pretty much where most objective observers predicted where they would be before this season started. It was just about four weeks ago that the Braves had beaten the Dodgers a couple of times, after recently sweeping the Diamondbacks, bringing their record to within one game of .500. Folks were seriously discussing whether the Braves should make a trade or two to make a run at the wild card berth. You remember what happened, though—the Braves played six games against the juggernaut that is the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies.
As much as I like the Braves to win, I’m actually relieved that the focus is back on the future. For better or worse, the Braves have staked everything on a farm system that is supposed to produce results in the next 2 or 3 years. I for one am glad to see Albies and Swanson playing every day, and Sims and Newcomb in the rotation. For this game at least, the kids are alright: Ozzie and Dansby each hit triples, and Swanson drove in two and walked twice.
Now, there are many here among us who feel the rebuild is but a joke. But you and I have been though that, and this is not our fate. I try not to get unduly enthusiastic about these Braves prospects, but I can’t help it–on paper it is an impressive group. You may have seen that Fangraphs has 10 Braves prospects among their just released top 100.
Of course, none of us along the line know what any of these are worth. Of those ten, four are teenage pitchers (Allard, Soroka, Anderson, and Wentz), another is just 20 (Gohara), and the highest rated pitcher (Wright) has pitched 11 innings as a professional. I love them all. And don’t forget Bryse Wilson, who’s been great this year, and Max Fried, who may yet become what he could be, and Touki, with his phenomenal stuff—I could go on. But let us not talk falsely now; we all know that most of them won’t make it. Still, there is a chance we could end up in two or three years with a handful of top shelf ML starting pitchers. That’s enough to put a spring in my step!
But what is most responsible for the happy tune that I’m whistling this morning? Ronald Acuna! Another homer last night. His OPS at Gwinnett is over 1.000—it’s increased at every level this year, from A, to AA, and to AAA. If he continues to improve at that rate, he will be Mike Trout next year. I know, I know—that’s not likely to happen either, but for now I’m going to enjoy the possibility.
The Braves return home for a weekend series with Cincinnati. The Reds are having a woeful season—not much better than the Phillies. Uh oh–Better watch out!