Chipper on Freeman’s surge; Dansby’s misadventure

When Freddie Freeman went 3-for-4 with a double and a walk Monday on his 27th birthday, he extended his hitting streak to 18 games (longest active in the majors) and his on-base streak to 34, also the longest such active streak in the majors and longest for a Brave since Dan Uggla’s 34-gamer in 2011. But Freeman did more than that.

Freddie Freeman has hit been arguably baseball's best all-around hitter since mid-June, after a sluggish first two months. (AP photo)

Freddie Freeman has hit been arguably baseball’s best all-around hitter since mid-June, after a sluggish first two months. (AP photo)

In the bigger picture, he continued what has been one of the more resounding in-season turnaround in recent memory while finishing off one of the finer half-season runs I’ve ever seen. Despite enduring one of the least productive two-month runs he’s had to start the season, Freeman is well on his way to the finest season of his career.

In his past 81 games – that half-season I referenced – since June 12, he’s been arguably the best all-around hitter in baseball, blistering at a .336 clip (103-for-307) with 29 doubles, five triples, 20 home runs, 57 RBI and a .437 OBP and .658 slugging percentage, with 51 walks and 83 strikeouts.

The Braves are 37-44 in those games (he played all but one of the team’s 82 games in that period).

Before this torrid stretch, here’s what Freeman did in 61 games through June 12: .242 average (55-for-227) with 20 extra-base hits (nine homers), 18 RBIs, 29 walks, 68 strikeouts, .336 OBP, .414 slugging. Braves record: 18-43. As goes Freddie, so go the Braves, indeed.

Even after that sluggish first two months, Freeman now sits tied with Daniel Murphy for the NL lead in extra-base hits with 74, and has a good chance to join Chipper Jones as the only Atlanta Braves to have 80 extra-base hits in a season.

“Awesome,” the aforementioned Chipper said of his friend and protégé Freeman’s three-month surge. “But he’s always been that kind of Javy Lopez kind of streaky. I’d love to see him get a little more consistent, because he goes through such drastic peaks and valleys during the course of the season. He can show up one week and he can’t throw it up and hit it, and then a week later Nolan Ryan can’t get him out. But he’s still young, and for him to have started the year the way he did, to have 75-80 extra-base hits and doing the things he’s done since May, it’s been fun to watch.”

Freeman is now tied with MVP candidate Cory Seager for second in the NL in doubles (39), ranks fourth in OBP (.395) ahead of Kris Bryant (.393) and Murphy (.391), ranks fifth in the league slugging percentage (.554) ahead of Anthony Rizzo (.546), and sits fourth in OPS (.949) ahead of Rizzo (.933) and Nolan Arenado (.928).

In his past 47 games, FreddieFree has hit .349 with 31 extra-base hits (12 homers), 40 RBIs, 37 walks, 40 strikeouts, a .468 OBP and .674 slugging percentage. That’s a .349 average and 1.133 OPS, folks. For nearly one-third of a season.

“Well, he’s starting to learn some plate discipline from the standpoint of knowing when guys are trying to pitch around him, walking him,” said Chipper, who sat with Freeman at the first baseman’s locker stall on Saturday, the two kicking back, their conversation interrupted by frequent laughter. They talk hitting a lot, but they also talk everything else.

“He’s taking his walks,” said Chipper, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer who averaged 84 walks in his 18 full seasons and finished with more walks (1,512) than strikeouts (1,409). “I remain of the firm belief that if he ever strikes out less than 100 times in a year, which may not happen, but if he ever does, he might win the MVP. He might put up these kind of numbers on a little bit better ballclub, get him a couple of established guys in the one and two spots in front of him, that’s what you could be looking at.”

While Chipper never struck out 100 times in a season, Freeman has never struck out fewer than 121 times in his five full seasons (that doesn’t count his injury-shortened 2015 season). He already has a career-high 151 strikeouts this season, but that rate has slowed lately as his walks rate has risen.

Freeman has 80 walks, the second-most in his career and within reach of the career-high 90 walks he had in 2014.

Of course, the strikeouts that Freeman accumulates aren’t as important to the Braves as the hitting and slugging, especially when he hits like he has for the past three months.

After hitting almost all of his early season homers with bases empty, Freeman has hit more of his recent ones with runners on, a personal point of pride. He’s raised his average to .301 with 12 homers and a .540 slugging percentage in 226 at-bats with runners on, compared to .282 with 17 homers and a .565 slugging percentage in 308 at-bats with bases empty.

Freeman often laments the pitcher-friendly dimensions at Turner Field, for obvious reasons: He’s hitting .310 with 46 extra-base hits (17 homers) and a .619 slugging percentage in 73 road games, compared to .282 with 28 extra-base hits (12 homers) and a .489 slugging percentage in 69 home games.

• Dansby Swanson left the game Monday in the fourth inning, shortly after being hit in the groin area by an errant toss from catcher Tyler Flowers during a pitching change as Swanson stood between the mound and second base chatting with other infielders.

Seeing your top prospect leave a game with a bruised groin from an errant warmup toss is just not good. No two ways about it. Awkward for everyone involved, but particularly for the catcher.

Brian Snitker said after the game that he thought Swanson would be fine. Dansby and Tyler didn’t speak to reporters about the incident after the game, which says plenty about the above-mentioned awkwardness, as those are two of the most quotable guys on the team under normal circumstances.

The incident comes just as he’s begun to really assert himself at the plate, going 9-for-18 with a double, two homers and five RBIs in his past six games, with a .524 OBP and .889 slugging percentage in that span.

Swanson has hit .301 overall (22-for-73) with three doubles, two homers, nine RBIs in his first 21 major league games, and has a .346 OBP and .425 slugging percentage. From the No. 8 spot in the lineup, he’s hit .328 (19-for-58) with all of his extra-base hits and RBIs, and a .369 OBP and .483 slugging percentage.

 • Tonight’s matchup: Matt Wisler returns after missing one start with a sore side, and he’ll face righty Jake Esch in the Marlins rookie’s third major league game and start.

Wisler will look to pick up where he left off after going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA and .125 opponents’ average in first two starts following a stint in Triple-A. He had a career-best 10 strikeouts in six innings Aug. 31 against the Padres in the game where he felt some soreness in his side in the last inning or two.

Against Miami, Wisler is 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA and .365 opponents’ average in three games including two starts. He gave up 10 hits and three runs in six innings of a July 3 loss against them at Turner Field the last time he faced the Marlins.

Against Wisler, Christian Yelich is 6-for-7, Martin Prado is 3-for-6, J.T. Realmuto is 2-for-4 and Derek Dietrich is 1-for-4 with a homer.

Esch is making his third appearance and start, and right-handed hitters are 6-for-17 (.353) with a triple, a homer, a walk and an HBP against him for a .421 OBP and .647 slugging percentage. Lefties are .222/.364/.389 in 18 at-bats.

• Etc.

The Braves are 9-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 13 games against the Marlins this season, outscoring them 71-53. The teams have alternated wins and losses in past nine games, the Braves going 5-4 in that stretch and scoring 7, 3, 8, 9 and 12 runs (39 total) in their five wins and 3, 0, 5 and 2 runs (10 total) in their four losses.

• Bob Dylan’s live Hard Rain album was released 40 years ago today. Here’s a terrific version of “Shelter from the Storm.”

“SHELTER FROM THE STORM” by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved
Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Now there’s a wall between us, somethin’ there’s been lost
I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed
Just to think that it all began on a long-forgotten morn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, it’s doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

I’ve heard newborn babies wailin’ like a mournin’ dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love
Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

 


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