Another Wednesday, another Braves win. You’re welcome.
I don’t think the other six days of the week appreciate your old buddy Humpday. Our Braves are now 5-1 on Wednesdays, for a cool .833 winning percentage. The run differential on Wednesdays is 33-16, or plus 17.
I keep reading a lot of whining and crying on this blog about what a disappointment the 2021 Braves are, that the roster construction sucks, that certain coaches should be fired, that perhaps we need to be sellers at the deadline. From my Wednesday perspective, I take pity on you. The answer is obvious; all you other days of the week just need to start acting like Wednesday.
The best thing about this most recent Wednesday—a 5-3 win over the Natspos—is the return of Mighty Max, Pontifex Maximus, Varsity Fried. After several dismal starts to open the season, followed by a couple of weeks to rest a strained hamstring, Fried took the mound to much anticipation. For my money, the starting rotation is key to the rest of the season. Most of the hitters have had disappointing starts on offense, but they will mostly come around. And for all the cringe worthy performances by the bullpen, it’s a problem that may be fixable a la 2019. But if Fried doesn’t come back to resemble his 2019-2020 self, the rotation will take a big hit, and rather than being a strength it could be one more weak link.
So Max did not disappoint. He went five very strong innings, surrendering only one run on four hits, with six K’s and a single walk. To my untrained eye, he looked like last year’s Varsity (not a good look for a fried apple pie, but just what we need from Max). According to Paul Byrd, his delivery was more like last year—and he had video to prove it. One start and five innings is a small sample size—but hey, SSS has been our theme on this blog lately. I’ll take it.
Offensively, the big blow was by our big bear, a grand slam in the third. Ozuna is one of several regulars who came into this game with a lower batting average than that of the pitching staff (whose BA coming in was .220!). But the Mime has been striking the ball with more authority in recent days; he’s not going to approach last season’s numbers, but his OPS will continue to climb in the next weeks.
The other offensive bright spot was William Contreras, who singled and scored in the third and stroked his first ML homer in the fourth. He’s batting .400 with a 1.200 OPS. SSS, but I like what I see so far. The only damper to my Contreras enthusiasm is that Chip keeps reminding us of his recent conversation with big bro Wilson, who told Chip positive things about little bro and his readiness for the big leagues. Wilson is a Cub so that’s enough validation for Chip.
Freeman is now 1 for 20 something in the last week. What’s wrong with Freddie, everyone keeps asking? Is it his elbow, his wrist, is it psychological? He’s had a bad week, but just last Wednesday (magical day!) he was 4 for 4 before being struck out by Anthony Rizzo. His OPS was over .900 a week ago. SSS. Patience, friends.
The Braves only had five hits on the night, two by Ozuna and two by Contreras. After building a 5-0 lead, they went into hibernation mode. With this bullpen, hibernation mode is a real problem. The one area in which I’m having trouble following my own mantra of “Patience” is the bullpen. It really is bad, or at least it’s nowhere near as strong as last year’s edition.
The one sour note to this victory was that the pen almost blew it in the 8th. Josh Tomlin came on to preserve a 5-1 lead, and left a third of an inning later with the score 5-3 and the tying runs in scoring position. I appreciate all that Tomlin has done for this team, but he’s not an 8th inning leverage guy. One of the positive things he’s done is to get AJ Minter fixed last year. Minter came on to get out of the 8th inning jam with no further damage. Fresh Prince pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve the win.
For all the problems so far, the division is still wide open—everybody’s got problems. All five teams are separated by just two games.
Thursday is an afternoon game on youtube, in which the Hammers go for the sweep against the gNats. Drew Smyly is on the hill. I know that doesn’t inspire hope. My suggestion: pretend that it’s Wednesday.