Braves’ offensive turnaround has been startling

MIAMI – Before the All-Star break the Braves ranked last in the majors in batting average (.237), last in OPS (.649), last in runs per game (3.45) and 28th in on-base percentage (.300).

Since the All-Star break the Braves lead the majors in on-base percentage (.347), are tied with Colorado for highest average (.279), have the third-best OPS (.775) and sixth-most runs per game (4.73).

Matt Kemp celebrates with teammates after Braves' sixth straight win Thursday at Miami. He hit two homers in the game. (AP photo)

Matt Kemp celebrates with teammates after Braves’ sixth straight win Thursday at Miami. He hit two homers in the game. (AP photo)

It’s been such a startling turnaround that hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, interim manager Brian Snitker – whose team is 18-12 in its past 30 games — and a lot of hot-hitting Braves probably wish the season weren’t about to end. Just three more games in Miami Friday through Sunday and a six-game homestand before those hot bats go into storage.

“I know,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, the hottest hitter of them all, with a career-best 26-game hitting streak through Thursday and 42-game on-base streak in which he’s batted .379 (58-for-153) with 16 doubles, 13 homers, 42 RBIs, a .495 OBP and .739 slugging percentage. “First couple of weeks of the season none of us were hitting; obviously our record shows that (18-46 through June 14, 44-45 since).

“We had the toughest schedule there was, it seemed like every day we were coming out facing (Jon) Lester or (Jake) Arrietta or someone like that. But it just took us a couple of months. Unfortunately, most fans don’t want to hear that, I know.”

Since being traded to the Braves and debuting for them a week ago, veteran pitcher Josh Collmenter has marveled at how energetic and upbeat the Braves clubhouse has been. For a team that had the sport’s worst record for much of the season, he and anyone else would’ve reasonably assumed the Braves would be riding out the season, counting down the days.

Instead, he found a team that’s been rejuvenated under Snitker and repeatedly shown a penchant for coming back from early deficits to pull out wins, even if they were, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from playoff contention by the end of a five-win April.

“You walk into this clubhouse and you wouldn’t be able to tell where they are in the standings,” Collmenter said after pitching seven strong innings Thursday for his second in in as many starts during the Braves’ six-game win streak. “Every day the guys come in and there’s a lot of energy, everybody’s loose, and it’s fun to see that…. For this team to be playing where they are now, it’s fun to watch and hopefully a sign of things to come.”

That “things to come” part is what Braves veterans say is the key. Guys like Freeman and Matt Kemp aren’t playing for contracts; they’ve got huge contracts already, with Kemp signed for three more years and Freeman for another five, and each of them making more than $20 million annually over the remaining portions of those deals.

This is about laying the groundwork for what they and the rest of the returning Braves – they don’t have any pending free agents among their key lineup regulars – believe will be a much brighter future beginning in 2017.

“We wanted to finish strong going into next year, because we’ve got a lot of good things happening around the field and in this clubhouse,” Freeman said. “It’s important to win, it’s big going into the offseason.”

Since Kemp joined the Braves Aug. 2, they are 25-23 in 48 games – he’s played in all of them, started 47 – and have hit .281 with 48 homers, including Kemp’s two homers in Wednesday’s 6-3 win at Miami. Kemp has hit .295 with 10 homers for the Braves and has 33 homers and 104 RBIs this season.

“It’s been good,” he said of his first seven weeks with the Braves. “Honestly, I wish we could be in a playoff race right now, it’d be way more fun doing those type of things and being in a race. But for us to finish strong and show everybody what this offense and what this team is capable of going into the final weeks of the season is very important for next year.”

Freeman said, “Yeah, it’s a little too late (to impact the standings), but it’s big for us going into this offseason. Ender (Inciarte) and Adonis (Garcia) at the top, and the lineup got lengthened with Matt coming in, It’s been huge. There’s a lot of good things happening around here, a lot of things to be excited about going forward.”

• Here’s a great one from Whiskeytown’s classic “Strangers Almanac” album.

“SIXTEEN DAYS” by Whiskeytown

Whiskeytown

Whiskeytown

I got sixteen days
one for every time I’ve gone away
one for every time I should have stayed
you should have worn my wedding ring
I got sixteen days
fifteen of those are nights
can’t sleep when the bed sheet fights
its way back to your side

the ghost has got me running
the ghost has got me running
away from you, away from you, away from you.

the ghost has got me running
the ghost has got me running
away from you, away from you, away from you.

I got sixteen days
got a bible and a rosary
god, I wish that you were close to me
guess I owe you an apology

I got sixteen days
fifteen of those are nights
can’t sleep when the bed sheet fights
it’s way back to your side

the ghost has got me running
yeah, the ghost has got me running
away from you, away from you, away from you.

the ghost has got me running
yeah, the ghost has got me running
away from you, away from you, away…

old tin cups, little paper dolls
all wrapped up, in ribbons, bowed with hearts
old tin cups, and little paper dolls
all wrapped up, in the ribbons of your heart

the ghost has got me running
yeah, the ghost has got me running
away from you, away from you, away from you.

the ghost has got me running
yeah, the ghost has got me running
away from you, away from you, away from you.

sixteen days
I got sixteen days
it’s like before I hang

 


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