They’re at it again.
And the Atlanta Braves seem determined to make us all appreciate everything we missed due to the delayed start of the baseball season.
After shutting out the once-again hapless Mets on Sunday, the Braves had won five straight and risen to the top of their division.
Incredibly, they’ve turned cardboard cutouts into a homefield advantage, reeling off a perfect 5-0 start in their newly re-named ballpark.
There’s a lot to like about this ballclub, especially during a year which has provided very little that’s been likeable to any extent.
And much of the credit for the Braves being so enjoyable to follow goes to their unassuming, even-keeled manager, Brian Snitker
Since Snitker took over a 9-28 team at the edge of darkness in May 2016, Snitker’s Braves have developed a Valvano-esque mantra: “Never give up.”
No team can match the Braves’ 79 final-at-bat wins over that span. Almost a quarter of Snitker’s wins as manager have been delivered during the Braves final at-bat. The Braves have led the National League in last at-bat wins in three of the past four years. Last year, they also posted eight walk-off wins, and went 11-6 in extra innings.
The Braves are a team that’s tough to put away. They proved it again on Friday night. The final hero, Travis d’Arnaud, joined the Braves in the spring, so he hasn’t spent much time around Snitker. But he’s already formed an opinion.
“I don’t like comparing,” the former Met told Mark Bowman of MLB.com. “I’ve been on some great teams with some great managers. But I’ll tell you, he is always in a great mood. He uplifts you when you’re feeling down.”
There was a lot to feel down about on Friday night. Sean Newcomb turned in another tepid performance. He was relieved by Jhoulys Chacin, who was far worse. So bad, in fact, that after the game he was told that his services were no longer required.
This dysphoric duo managed to surrender 10 runs in the middle three innings. Once down 8-2, the Braves entered he bottom of the eighth trailing, 10-6.
Instead of packing it in, they erupted for five runs. The final three scored on d’Arnaud’s bases-loaded double, a hard line drive to right-center field, fielded just short of the warning track.
“We just never give up,” d’Arnaud told Bowman. “It all starts with Snit giving good energy the whole game. Regardless of if we’re down 8-2 or we’re up by a ton of runs, he’s always the same, and it keeps everybody in a great mood.”
This proves that not only is Snitker a fine manager and master motivator, he’s also a pretty fine actor. Here’s how Snitker described Friday night’s events to Bowman: “You go from sitting in a dentist’s chair waiting for them to hit a nerve, to being beside yourself.”
The entire team has adopted Snitker’s mindset. “I think a big thing for us during these unprecedented times is just the game is the game, and we’re going to compete to win,” Dansby Swanson told Bowman. “No matter if we’re down five runs or 10 runs, we’re going to compete until they tell us the game is over.”
As you might expect, the momentum generated by Friday’s win carried over through the weekend. Saturday, Touki Toussaint took advantage of his opportunity to start and produced four shutout innings. It wasn’t all smooth, but Toussaint was able to work his way out of trouble, which is a difficult lesson to learn.
Highlighting the 7-1 win was a two-run, first-inning homer by Marcell Ozuna, who’s been a nice addition, and Ronald Acuna, Jr.’s initial homer of the season. So excited was Acuna after a slow start that he jumped out of the dugout for a curtain call from the cardboard crowd.
“I missed that one. Good for him!” Snitker, ever the players’ manager, told Bowman.
Sunday, five Braves pitchers shut out the Mets, 4-0. Kyle Wright wasn’t in control, but, like Toussaint, worked out of trouble. The bullpen, with one notable exception, continues to turn in marvelous work, but it will be burned out in short order unless the starters behind Mike Soroka and Max Fried can last longer than four innings.
“They’ve been really good, and we’ve put a lot on them,” Snitker told Bowman. “It hasn’t been an easy ride. It’s been all hands on deck pretty much the whole time, and they have responded better than you could ever expect.”
Much like the whole team under Snitker’s leadership. With the loss of Soroka, they’ll get a real test of their mettle.