Braves still 6 games under .500, but with impressive tendencies

 

When the Braves came from behind to beat the Marlins on Brandon Phillips’ walk-off single in the 10th inning Saturday, then came from behind to beat them again Sunday on Phillips’ walk-off single in the ninth inning, it gave the Braves a majors-leading 11 wins in their last at-bat. For a still-rebuilding team with a modest 31 wins, that’s impressive.

Braves teammates shower Brandon Phillips after his game-ending single Sunday, his second walk-off hits to beat the Marlins in as many days. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

As was the fact that a rookie with very little experience, Johan Camargo, singled and scored the winning run after some aggressive baserunning in both games. And rookies Dansby Swanson and Rio Ruiz each had a hand in the weekend comeback wins.

The Braves, who’ve won back-to-back series at Washington and at home against the previously surging Marlins, have an interesting mix of rookies, a young but established player in Ender Inciarte, and veterans such as Phillips, Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis and catchers Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki.

Not to mention the addition of slugger Matt “Big City” Adams, who has done a remarkable job doing the seemingly impossible task of filling Freddie Freeman’s shoes since Freeman fractured his left wrist.

“It’s called instincts,” Phillips said when asked about Camargo going from first to third in a crucial situation Sunday, something Swanson has also done in similar situations. “The young guys, they come up here and trying to show everybody they can play this game. It’s called smart baseball. Dansby’s a very polished player. These guys up here are playing baseball, trying to get wins. It’s been a lot of fun lately. And I came through again. Thank you.”

Phillips is the best quote on the team, and he’s also playing like someone at least five years younger than his age – he’ll be 36 on June 28. It can’t be overstated how astute were the trades that general manager John Coppolella made to get Phillips days before spring training after the Braves learning of the severity of Sean Rodriguez’s shoulder injury, then to get Matt Adams within a couple of days of learning Freeman’s wrist was broken.

In neither case did the Braves give up any top prospects, and in Phillips’ case they got the Reds to pay $13 million of his $14 million salary, something that still has me scratching my head a bit. If the Braves trade him before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, well, it’ll be understandable but will also leave a void for the remainder of this season.

Ozzie Albies might step in and do some thrilling things, but Phillips’ personality and looseness in the clubhouse and on the field have made an impact on this team, along with his penchant for getting big hits.

“Just being here in Atlanta, Georgia, growing up in Stone Mountain — all my friends and my fans from Stone Mountain who I went to high school with, they didn’t really get to see me that much after I graduated since I played in Cincinnati all this time,” Phillips said Sunday, when he talked of how thrilled he was for his dad as well as his own kids to see him play Father’s Day weekend. “For me to see everybody on a regular basis, it’s a blessing, my dream come true for me to put a Braves jersey on. I’m finally doing that, I’m playing pretty good, hopeful that I can stay here a little bit longer than I expected.

“I’m just out there having a good time while it lasts.”

Suffice to say, this is a 31-37 team that others around baseball know isn’t just capable of winning any series, but has a pretty good chance to win any series, anywhere. Not saying they will – their record obviously says they don’t – but when they play their game, these Braves shown an inordinate ability, more than many teams with better records, of coming back from early deficits as well as beating up on some of the best pitchers.

“I’ve been talking about these guys for a long time,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “If you keep the game manageable, they have a knack of figuring out a way to win. If we can stay in the game I like our chances, even when we get down.”

With Sunday’s win, the Braves improved to 7-1 in games in which they were tied after eight innings. You can count Adams among those not surprised by that.

“Especially with this group of guys, it’s fun to go out there and play,” Adams said last week. “Like I said my first couple of days, seeing it from the other side, them never giving up till that last out’s recorded…. It’s just fun to be a part of it now and embrace everything, just play the game hard and play the game the right way.”

After his own walk-off hit May 23 against the Pirates in his first week with the Braves, Adams said, “Like I said the last couple of days, it’s just a fun group of guys to play with. They go about their business the right way and you saw that tonight. We fought till the end. It’s fun to be a part of. There’s not much else to say but it’s fun to be a part of. It was fun to watch from the other side, how they go about their business, how they keep fighting till the end. Now, being a part of it, it’s something special.”

• Saw James McMurtry on Saturday at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, and he was terrific as always. So I’ll close with this one from the man.

“LEVELLAND” by James McMurtry

James McMurtry

Flatter than a table top
Makes you wonder why they stopped here
Wagon must have lost a wheel
Or they lacked ambition oneIn the great migration west
Separated from the rest
Though they might have tried their best
They never caught the sunSo they sunk some roots down in this dirt
To keep from blowin’ off the earth
Built a town right here
When the dust had all but clearedThey called it Levelland
Levelland
LevellandGrand dad grew the dry land wheat
Stood on his own two feet
His mind got incomplete
And they put him in a homeDaddy’s cotton grows so high
Sucks the water table dry
His rolling sprinklers circle back
Bleeding it to the bone

And I won’t be here when it comes the day
It all dries up and blows away
I’d hang around just to see
But they never had much use for me

In Levelland
They don’t understand me
In Levelland

Well I watch those ships trails comin’ out that big blue sky
Coast to coasters, watch ’em go
And I don’t blame ’em one damn bit
If they never look down on this
Ain’t much down here they’d want to know

Just Levelland
You could wash your hands
In nothin’ but Levelland

Mama used to roll her hair
Back before the central air
We’d sit outside and watch the stars at night
She tell me to make a wish
I’d wish we both could fly
I don’t think she’s seen the sky
Since we got the satellite dish

I can hear the marching band
Doing the best they can to play
Smoke on the water
And joy to the world

I payed up all my debts
Got some change left over yet
I’m getting on a whisper jet
Going to fly as far as I can get

From Levelland
Done the best I can
In Levelland

 


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