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On the morning of June 18 two years ago Adrian Clayborn Color Rush Jersey , the Atlanta Braves were 21-46. Now they’re atop the NL East.
Atlanta has turned its stocked farm system into a major league contender faster than expected, and after Sunday’s 4-1 win over San Diego, the Braves lead second-place Washington by 3 1/2 games. At 42-29, they’re even with Milwaukee for the National League’s best record and look poised to be a factor in what should be an entertaining race for that league’s five postseason spots.
After three straight seasons with at least 90 losses, Atlanta is making a jump similar to what Minnesota did a season ago, when the Twins improved from 59 wins to 85 and earned a wild card.
If you’re worried Atlanta is a fluke, there aren’t many obvious red flags. The Braves have a run differential of plus-67, the second-best mark in the NL. They’ve been fortunate at times (11-4 in one-run games) and unfortunate at times (1-6 in extra innings).
The Braves are second in the NL in OPS after finishing 11th a year ago. Their ERA has improved from 12th to fifth. They have an MVP candidate in slugger Freddie Freeman, and 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies has 16 home runs. Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is on the disabled list after a knee injury, but he’s been considered one of the game’s top prospects. Shortstop Dansby Swanson Paul Worrilow Color Rush Jersey , the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, has improved his OPS from .636 a season ago to .737.
That formula – Freeman surrounded by young standouts – could serve the Braves well for a while, and Atlanta has also received a lift from some older contributors. Nick Markakis is hitting .327, and Anibal Sanchez is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA for the Braves after signing a minor league contract before the season.
In November, Atlanta was hit with major penalties for circumventing international signing rules. That might hurt the Braves in the future, but it doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on their ability to compete in 2018.
Other developments from around the majors:
The Dodgers are 11-3 in June and have recovered from their poor start. They now trail Arizona by just 1 1/2 games atop the NL West.
Los Angeles can hope this season is following a similar trajectory to 2017, when the Dodgers went 21-7 in June on their way to 104 wins.
If you’re concerned about pace of play in baseball, you probably weren’t crazy about Joe Maddon’s maneuvering Wednesday. Maddon began the bottom of the eighth by bringing Steve Cishek in to pitch for the Cubs. After a single, Brian Duensing came on to pitch, but Cishek stayed in the game in left field. That enabled Cishek to go back to the mound one out later Richard Rodgers Color Rush Jersey , with Duensing taking over in left. Duensing eventually went back to pitch and finished out the inning.
It was a clever way for Maddon to keep both pitchers available throughout the inning, but Chicago still lost 1-0 to Milwaukee.
LINE OF THE WEEK
San Diego’s Freddy Galvis went 5 for 5, including a three-run homer, in a 9-3 win over Atlanta on Friday night. Galvis drove in four runs in the game.
Giants closer Hunter Strickland broke his pitching hand punching a door in frustration after blowing the save and taking the loss in a 5-4 defeat to the Miami Marlins on Monday night.
The right-hander had surgery Tuesday and expected to be out six to eight weeks, manager Bruce Bochy said. An X-ray after the game revealed the break of Strickland’s pinkie, similar to what sidelined lefty ace Madison Bumgarner to begin the season after he was hurt in his final spring training start.
”I’m thoroughly disappointed, trust me. I’m crushed because this guy had just grown as a pitcher and a player and a person,” Bochy said. ”But I know Hunter, he cares. He cares deeply. He let his emotions get away … he had a temporary snap.”
Strickland blew his fourth save in 17 chances and second straight, allowing more than two runs for only the fourth time in his career.
He posted an apology on Instagram and Twitter.
”Life has an interesting and sometimes disappointing way of opening up our eyes Joseph Noteboom Color Rush Jersey ,” Strickland wrote. ”Words cannot describe the amount of regret and sorrow I have for my actions. I have let down the ones that care and mean the most, as well as the ones that count on me day in and day out. To my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, and our fan base, I am truly sorry that one split second, stupid decision has caused so much harm and now set me back from being out there with my team to pursue our goal.”
Bochy said Strickland had shown maturity and made progress keeping his emotions in check since last year’s fight with Nationals star Bryce Harper.
”I think he did it when he came out of the game but we didn’t know about it,” Bochy said. ”I didn’t know about it until I got home.”
In late May last year, Strickland ignited an all-out brawl when he beaned Harper with a 98 mph fastball on his first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs Brian Allen Color Rush Jersey , none on and Washington ahead 2-0. Harper charged the mound and both men threw punches as benches and bullpens emptied.
”As he became our closer he really grew as a pitcher handling his emotions well in tight situations, which you have to. You have to be able to control your emotions,” Bochy said. ”I’ve talked about this so much, how important it is for players but particularly the closer’s got to have emotional control. We all get frustrated and that was a tough loss, a gut-wrenching loss which I’m sure he felt full responsibility for it and he just didn’t think before he acted.”
Sam Dyson and Tony Watson will be called upon for closing duties, with one getting most of the opportunities though Bochy didn’t reveal which one that would be. The manager doesn’t consider Mark Melancon – signed to a $62 million, four-year deal before last season to work the ninth – ready for the role after a series of injuries.
”Your closer is somebody who has to be resilient and I’m not sure that Mark’s at that stage right now,” Bochy said.
Right-hander Pierce Johnson was on his way from Triple-A Sacramento to take Strickland’s roster spot.