Great news to those of us who cannot live on college football alone.
Baseball is back.
No, this isn’t a rerun of a column from spring training or Opening Day.
Rather, it’s almost Memorial Day, and baseball in our area matters again. Specifically, the Atlanta Braves matter again.
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Through the first 40 games, the Braves were 10 games over .500 and had the best record in the National League. Will that hold up for three more months? Probably not. But that’s somewhat irrelevant, at least for now.
What should hold up — and in fact might even strengthen — is this sentiment from Hall of Famer Tom Glavine:
“This team is fun to watch.”
Sure, they’re fun to watch because they’re winning. But they’re also fun to watch because they’re entertaining.
The young kids are fun to watch. Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna Jr., Mike Soroka, Sean Newcomb, and even Dansby Swanson — a grizzled veteran comparatively but still only 24 himself. It’s fun to watch them growing into legit big league stars right before our eyes.
Case in point, Wednesday night against the Chicago Cubs. In a 1-1 game, Albies tripled into the right-center field gap. About the only thing more exciting than watching Albies go first-to-third is watching him hit a triple.
Acuna followed with a rip past third base. Moments later, Acuna went first-to-third on Freddie Freeman’s dink of a double into left field. The Cubs were playing a defensive shift because apparently their metrics geniuses were so busy studying numbers that they overlooked the fact that Freeman is the best hitter in baseball against the shift. The throw to third allowed Freeman to advance to second.
Little things turn into big things. Acuna and Freeman both scored on walks. Suddenly, it was 4-1, Braves.
The Braves have had 11 players 25 years old or younger on their roster this season. That includes four of the five youngest in the big leagues — Acuna, Soroka, Luiz Gohara (all 20) and Albies (21).
Newcomb is still just 24 (he turns 25 next month) and had three consecutive scoreless starts going into Saturday night’s game against Miami. Now Gohara has started pitching well after a disappointing spring training.
At least three more kids could be on the roster by summer: third baseman Austin Riley and pitchers Kolby Allard and Kyle Wright.
Two others who aren’t exactly kids but are young in their careers are pitchers Shane Carle (26) and Dan Winkler (28), who have bailed out a previously shakey bullpen. This time last year, Carle had pitched one inning in the big leagues with Colorado and Winkler had pitched in five games due to Tommy John surgery and then a fractured elbow.
Carle and Winkler have combined for 43⅓ innings and allowed only four earned runs between them. They have been the Braves’ two most reliable relievers.
Even the senior statesmen are fun to watch.
Start with the catching tandem of Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki. Neither is bound for Cooperstown at the end of their careers. Neither is likely to make the National League All-Star team. But they just produce, day after day, whether it’s coming up with big hits or working with the young pitchers.
Then there’s Nick Markakis. Here’s a guy who had to labor through two rebuilding jobs, first in Baltimore, then in Atlanta. He played through three years of a neck injury -- the first two before surgery, the third one during rehab. During that time, he played in 471 of 486 games and kept producing.
Now, at age 34 and in the final year of his contract, Markakis is having his best season yet. His .944 on-base plus slugging percentage ranks third among all right fielders in baseball, behind only Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge. His defense is underrated. He’s never made an All-Star team, but it would be a crime if he doesn’t make it this year.
There may not be a more underappreciated player in all of baseball than Markakis.
How well this team will hold up over the summer remains to be seen. The starting pitchers need to go deeper into games to take pressure off the overworked bullpen. But that’s hard to do when they have high pitch counts and a management philosophy -- talking front office here, not manager Brian Snitker — of treating grown men like Little Leaguers. Their starters rank fifth in baseball in earned run average (3.41) but 21st in innings pitched (232).
But even if a market correction occurs and the Washington Nationals take over first place in the NL East, one thing seems certain. These Braves will be fun to watch until the very end.