That was a satisfying win. Behind an excellent start from Ian Anderson, the Braves defeated the Yankees 4-1. Aqualung went 6 2/3 scoreless innings, surrendering only four hits. He looked like the Ian Anderson of 2020; all three of his pitches were working—he had good command of the mid-nineties fastball, which made the change and the curve that much more effective.
The Braves managed four runs on only four hits. For the first four innings, Corey Kluber looked like the Corey Kluber of 2014-2018, surrendering only a single to Albies in the second. But in the fifth, the Braves scored two runs on a single and four walks. The runs scored on a sac fly by Adrianza and a bases loaded walk by Ozuna. The single was by the Panda–a rocket off the wall in right that would have been a double for anyone else—but I’m not going to complain about the waistline of a guy whose .OPS is 1.325.
The Braves added another run in the 7th, without a single hard hit ball. Riley led off with a pop up behind first base that thanks to the swirling wind fell to the ground. Heredia reached on an error by LeMahieu, Adrianza sac bunted the runners, and Freeman was intentionally walked to load the bases. Marcell hit a broken bat grounder to second that I was sure would be an inning ending dp, but he hustled to first and beat the relay, allowing the run the score. The Mime, the defending NL RBI champ, “drove in” two runs on the night, even though he went 0 for 4.
Anderson loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the 7th, and Snit turned to AJ Minter to bail him out against the right handed hitting LeMahieu. I was thinking surely there is someone more reliable to preserve this lead—Melancon, O’Day, Greene, perhaps–but then I remembered who is actually in the pen this year. Given the choices, AJ was the man. Fortunately, he induced a grounder to third. Minter went on the pitch a scoreless 8th.
In the top of the ninth, Riley capped off his excellent night at the plate (2 for 2 with 2 walks and 3 runs scored) with his first home run of the season, a fly ball over the short fence in right. Believe it or not, that was actually his first extra base hit of the season. Even so, his OPS of .683 is now 100 points higher than each of Ozuna, d’Arnaud, Albies, and Swanson. Dansby is looking very much like the 2017 version of Swanson. He seems lost at the plate; he struck out 3 times, each one on a swinging third strike on a slider.
Riley on the other hand, has been looking like vintage Brett Butler, reaching base lately at an impressive clip thanks to many walks and a few singles. Austin’s OBP is .375 while his slugging percentage (even after the homer) is .308. Butler was a valuable offensive player even though his OBP was usually higher than his slugging. That’s not the type hitter Riley is, of course. They need him to start hitting the ball with more authority. Still, I do think the bases on balls are a good sign, in that he’s obviously not chasing too many out of the zone.
The victory made this road trip through the frozen north (to the friendly confines and to the house that Ruth built) a winning one. The Braves return home only a game and a half out of first place. It helps that the rest of the NL East has been decidedly mediocre; everyone is within a game and a half of each other.
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It’s a good thing we haven’t been up against the 1982 Braves. On this date in 1982, they won their 13th game in a row. If a team in our division had gotten off to that kind of start, we’d be seven and a half games out of first. But you know, even that wouldn’t be cause for undue concern. I loved that 1982 team, but the truth is they weren’t a dominant team. They were maddeningly streaky. Immediately after those 13 wins, they lost 5 straight. In late July and August, they lost 19 out of 21, but then turned it around and had a strong September. Why do I bring this up now? Consider this my weekly public service announcement: It’s a long season, we’re barely into it, and there are many twists and turns ahead.
I’m still optimistic. Although Sandoval, Adrianza, and Heredia won’t continue to OPS over 1.000, I’m pretty sure Ozuna, Albies, d’Arnaud, and Swanson won’t stay under .600. Anderson and Morton are looking good, Smyly is coming off the IL, and Fried will return to form. If Soroka’s shoulder is ok, this could still be an excellent rotation.
Back home against the Snakes on Friday.