• Exclusives

    Here’s What We Know: These Braves Are Good

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – It’s getting to the point where it feels almost otherworldly, like you couldn’t dare to script something like this on your laptop late at night four glasses into your libation of choice, because even the most forward-thinking and optimistic person would read it and simply laugh in your face.

    A 29-year-old journeyman infielder serving as the last man on the bench, playing 57.3 miles from where he graduated high school, belts a walkoff home run. It’s a pinch-hit blast, just the seventh longball in his 226th career game, and it landed into the left-field stands at 4:49 p.m. Eastern time to knock off a division rival.

    Six days later, at 4:24 p.m., the same person comes off the bench and slugs a walkoff homer, another pinch-hit game winner, toppling another division rival and keeping his team in first place.

    The Atlanta Braves have turned the late innings into a dimension difficult to describe, and increasingly difficult for opponents to survive. In this era of the quantifiable, this is hard to nail down numerically. Heart, character, guts and fortitude don’t lend themselves to neatly sortable columns in an Excel spreadsheet, and yet here we are, trying to grasp what this team has done through 59 games.

    Here’s an absolute truth: These Braves are a very good baseball team.

    Here’s another one: They continuously find a way to own the biggest moments in games, in the late innings where the at-bats and pitches and fielding decisions become massively more important.

    Here’s one more: Sitting in SunTrust Park on Sunday, in the moments before the Braves snatched a 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals on Charlie Culberson’s second walkoff homer in the past week, you almost could feel it among the 33,132 in attendance.

    This team was going to win this game. Simplistic. Direct. Blunt. But there is no denying: that feeling was there. It was palpable, and then once again, it happened.

    It’s the type of stuff, in the midst of a sun-splashed muggy Georgia afternoon in the infant days of June, that sparks the initial flickering of something that sounded so ridiculous just a few weeks ago – against the backdrop of three consecutive seasons of 90-plus losses – but now doesn’t feel so outlandish considering the body of work through the first 59 games.

    The Atlanta Braves, a contender for a National League playoff spot. Not in 2019. In 2018.

    Yes, this season.

    There are 103 games remaining, and here are these Braves, at 35-24 on the season and leading the NL East by 1 ½ games, owning a .593 winning percentage that projects to 96 wins over a 162-game season.

    Does it sound crazy, this talk of finishing 30 games above .500 and earning a playoff berth and perhaps turning SunTrust Park into a house of horrors for the best of the rest of the NL in the 10th and most important month of the season? Sure it does. But with each passing day, each game logged off the docket, each last-minute heart-stopping, hug-invoking, water-cooler emptying victory, that feeling of this not being sustainable erodes.

    That’s not to say begin budgeting for playoff tickets. We are not calculating magic numbers. We are not clearing out the first week of October from our calendars. Not yet … but isn’t it fun to think about those things?

    We are seeing a city and a fanbase becoming more energized with every thrilling victory. We are seeing a pitching staff that in the past week has began pushing deeper into games. We are seeing heroes step up nightly, be it MVP candidate Freddie Freeman, destined All-Star Nick Markakis, breathtaking Ozzie Albies or a myriad of other players who are delivering in the moments that matter most.

    Those are the traits of a special team, a special season. You can’t make sense of it. You can’t break it out onto a spreadsheet. But in this day and age of instant gratification, of split-second analysis and criticism, of balancing the data on the screen with the thoughts in the brain, this much we can say with absolute truth:

    The Atlanta Braves are good.

    Will they make the playoffs? Far too much time remains to say with any certainty what autumn will bring. But this much I know: This team is going to be fascinating to watch the next four months.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.