Sweet-swinging FreddieFree almost too good to be true

 

He has a gorgeous wife, the impossibly cute 7-month-old kid, the sweetest of swings, and by far the largest contract in Braves franchise history, one that will pay him between $20.5 million and $22 million annually from 2017 through 2021.

That sweet swing: Freddie Freeman connects on a two-run homer in the third inning Monday (AP photo)

What Freddie Freeman doesn’t have is many, if any, begrudgers. Because he’s just too nice a guy and too good a player and teammate for people to dislike. I mean, seriously, the guy might be the friendliest Braves superstar since Dale Murphy, and if he keeps doing what he’s been doing Freeman might have a good shot at becoming just the third Brave to win the National League MVP award since Murph and the first since Chipper in 1999.

It’s too early to predict he’ll win it this season – though Freeman’s current pace would make that a strong possibility – but if not this season then there should be plenty more opportunities for the first baseman who’s still just 27. By the way, Chipper won his MVP award in his age-27 season in 1999, and Murph won his back-to-back MVP awards in 1982-1983 at ages 26 and 27.

Terry Pendleton was the relative oldster of the bunch, winning his at age 30 in 1991, the Braves’ worst-to-first season.

Again, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. I’m not predicting Freeman wins the MVP award this year. Not yet, at least. But if he keeps doing what he’s done not just this season but since mid-June, he might just be the favorite to win.

Freeman had another stunning performance Monday night, going 4-for-4 with two doubles, two homers and three RBIs in a 5-4 win that gave the Braves a five-game winning streak and a four-game sweep of the Padres in the first series at SunTrust Park, which looks like it could be significantly more hitter-friendly than Turner Field, which was a decided pitcher’s park even if Freeman (and Chipper) made it seem otherwise at times.

Freeman’s four extra-base hits tied a franchise record and raised his average to .400 (18-for-45), tied for fourth in the majors, with a .481 OBP (sixth in the majors) and whopping .867 slugging percentage (second in the majors). He has four doubles and five home runs in 12 games after hitting over .500 for most of spring training.

“Hitting is really hard, and he makes it look easy,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Freeman’s Monday night display of power hitting to every part of SunTrust Park.

Padres catcher Austin Hedges said, “He’s a really good hitter, man. He puts good swings on balls. He’s tough to pitch to. You just tip your cap to him.”

Freeman ranks second in the majors in slugging percentage and OPS (1.347) behind Milwaukee’s hot-starting Eric Thames (1.000, 1.479), with Freeman and Thames the only big-leaguers OPS’ing over 1.218 through Sunday.

It’s worth noting again, before we dive a little deeper into some impressive stats, that Freeman is not just arguably one of the best five overall  hitters in baseball, he might be the nicest and easiest to pull for. This is a controversy-free guy who works hard, wants to play ever single day even if he’s got a nagging injury, never wants to go on the disabled list even when he should. He feels like he’s letting down his teammates and the organization if he doesn’t play and play at a high level, regardless of aches and pains.

There’s more: He doesn’t cuss because he knows his late mother wouldn’t like that — and he’s all about honoring his late mother, every day in several ways. He also brings family members from California across the country for games when they can plan family reunions on the road, and the Orange County native scrambles to come up with dozens of tickets for family and friends every time Braves are in Los Angeles or San Diego.

Freeman never has a cross word for a reporter or holds a grudge if someone writes something bad about, though granted there has been just about zero to criticize for some time now.

Which brings us to the longer-range stats. Going back to May 20, he has 33 home runs and four multi-homer games in his past 131 games.

And just consider these jaw-dropping stats for Freeman in his past 109 games going back to June 13: .346 average (141-for-407) with 73 extra-base hits including six triples and 30 home runs,. a 443 OBP, a .688 slugging percentage (1.131 OPS), 79 RBIs, and 86 runs. The Braves are 55-54 in those games and he has 23 go-ahead RBIs and 11 game-winning RBIs in that span.

For some context, consider what some other stars have done since June 13: National League MVP Kris Bryant has hit .288/.389/.550 (.939 OPS) with 54 extra-base hits (24 HR), 64 RBIs and 80 runs, and American League MVP Mike Trout has hit .321/.453/.565 (1.018 OPS) with 47 extra-base hits (19 HR), 66 RBIs and 86 runs.

Also since June 13, Rockies slugger Nolan Arenado has hit .302/.364/.571 (.934 OPS) with 59 extra-base hits (26 HR), 88 RBIs and 79 runs, and Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has hit .301/.399/.484 (.883 OPS) with 42 extra-base hits (15 HR), 62 RBIs and 80 runs.

And to think, just a year ago there were still some folks who insisted the Braves picked the wrong guy to give that huge contract to. No, they didn’t. They picked exactly the right guy in Freeman, who’ll be a bargain for the next six seasons if he keeps producing anywhere near his current level.

• Freddie Freeman remains an underrated star in the majors. “Green” remains one of R.E.M.’s most underrated albums. OK, it’s a stretch, but anyway, here’s a great tune from that album.

“TURN YOU INSIDE-OUT” by R.E.M.

R.E.M.

Divide your cultured pearls and paste
I’m looking for to lay to waste
Of all the things I cannot taste
And this not the racy raceThey spoke loud,
“I believe in what you do
I believe in watching you”
It’s what you do
“I believe in what you do
I believe in watching you”I could turn you inside-out
What I choose not to do
I could turn you inside-out
What I choose not to do

Given the choice
Given the heart
Given the tool
Given the word
Given the cheers

“I believe in what you do
I believe in watching you”
It’s what you do
“I believe in what you do
I believe in watching you”

I could I, I could turn you inside-out
What I choose not to do
I could turn you inside-out
What I choose not to do

Given the choice
Given the heart
Given the tool
Given the word
Given the cheers


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