If you stopped watching, you’re missing Oz and Dansby

 

Hey you. Yeah, you, with the bowl of dip and the football point-spread sheet in front of you, and your Braves jersey moved to the back of the closet for the season.

Braves veteran Kurt Suzuki (left) and rookie Ozzie Albies celebrate after Suzuki drove in the winning run on a ninth-inning walk-off hit Thursday. Albies drove in the tying run earlier in the inning. (Getty Images)

If you watched the Braves for much of the season but lost interest or had your attention diverted by college football or other pursuits, I’d suggest you at least pay a bit of attention to the Bravos during this stretch drive. Because while they aren’t in the playoff race, they are showcasing the opening act of what could be one of the majors’ most exciting middle-infield productions for many years to come.

And you always want to be able to say you watched something grand when it was in its infancy, right?  Well, if you’re watching, you’re going to remember 10 years from now how second baseman Ozzie Albies was dashing around the bases on a nightly basis in August and September 2017, in his first two months in the big leagues, sliding head-first with his helmet flying off a spectacular hair flying.

And you’ll remember how Dansby Swanson, the erstwhile Golden Boy, responded to the most humbling experience of his athletic career – struggling for months and getting sent back to the minor leagues – by returning to the majors and getting his career right back on its upward arc.

Albies and Swanson are starting to make sweet music together defensively, and at the plate each is emerging as a key piece of the Braves’ lineup going forward, both hitting for higher average and getting on base at a high rate in recent weeks, both showing good plate discipline, good speed — OK, great speed in Albies’ case – and line-drive swings.

Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (2) forces out the Marlins’ Adeiny Hechavarria (3) on a ground ball fielder’s choice by Ichiro Suzuki in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in Miami. Suzuki was safe at first base. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Perhaps you read and heard all the hype about Swanson and Albies for two springs and got a little numb to it, particularly when Swanson struggled mightily for most of the first four months this season while Albies toiled at Triple-A and … well, I can see where the excitement level might’ve been difficult to sustain for even the most ardent fans.

But it’s happening now, folks.

Everything we said these two were capable of doing, they are starting to do together as they finish their first month playing together in the majors. These young dudes can play, and as they and other Braves showed in Thursday night’s walk-off win against the Marlins, it doesn’t matter when you’re a rookie trying to show you belong whether the team is in a tie for first place or 20 games out. You’re playing the same way regardless.

And that’s what Albies and Swanson are doing, as are other rookies trying to show they’re worthy of roster consideration or a rotation spot next spring. And that, for baseball fans, is reason enough to keep watching this team for the rest of September.

“It’s pretty cool,” veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki said of the rookie keystone tandem, Albies and Swanson. “That’s kind of the present and the future right there. Obviously everybody talked about them. Obviously Dansby’s first half didn’t go the way he wanted, but the kid’s a pro. He knows what he has to do. The guy’s been a winner his whole life. So he knows what it takes to make adjustments and get himself back in the groove.”

Swanson hit .213 with a .287 OBP and .312 slugging percentage (.599  OPS) in 95 games through July 26, the day he was told he was being optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. He had 35 walks and 84 strikeouts in 324 at-bats in that span.

Since returning from Triple-A on Aug. 9,  Swanson has hit .333 with a .427 OBP and .452 slugging percentage (.879 OPS) in 28 games and has 16 walks and 17 strikeouts in 93 at-bats in that period.

And after going 2-for-12 in his first four games back, Swanson has hit .377/.479/.519 (.998 OPS) in his past 24 games with seven doubles, two triples and 16 walks.

Albies has a .279/.336/.450 slash line in 35 games since he was called to the majors Aug. 1, his big-league arrival a little later than it would’ve been if he hadn’t broken his elbow in October and missed the Arizona Fall League and much of his regular offseason work. When he got here he was still just 20 and the youngest player in the majors, not to mention the smallest.

Upon arrival, Albies was still in the midst of making changes to his swing, particularly his left-handed swing, work that had begun under Gwinnett hitting coach John Moses and Braves special assistant and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said Albies still had plenty of work to do and that these were significant swing adjustments he was making, but added that the kid was hungry, teachable and receptive, and that he was coming in every day for early work in the cages.

The work is paying off: Albies hit just .179 with a .230 OBP, .339 slugging (.569 OPS) in his first 16 major league games through Aug. 18, but since then he’s been a dynamo, batting .356 with a .415 OBP and .534 slugging percentage (.949 OPS). He has five doubles and four triples, 15 runs and eight RBIs in that impressive 19-game stretch, and he showed his resiliency again Thursday when he made a costly error, then came back in the ninth and hit a game-tying RBI double, before Suzuki’s game-winning single.

“He’s playing his butt off,” Suzuki said of Albies, who has earned the respect of teammates with his energy, work ethic and irresistible, all-out style of play. “This game of baseball, mistakes are going to happen. For a guy like that, he’s a confident kid. He knows his talents and abilities and kind of knew, or hoped that he was going to help in a big spot. Because with his competitiveness, you knew he was going to do something special. That’s the type of player he is and it’s been fun to be able to play with him and see him really go out there and play.”

So pay attention, those of you who consider yourselves Braves fans but stopped watching a month ago. Believe me, the stuff that Albies and Swanson are doing in their first months together in the majors is more likely to be memorable years from now than the first few weeks of football season. And besides, no reason you can’t watch both. Your football team plays only once a week.

The Bravos’ kids are appearing nightly, or at least 6-7 times a week.

• I’ll close with this obvious one, but a great one nonethless from The Who.

The Who

“THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT” by The Who
I don’t mind other guys dancing with my girl
That’s fine, I know them all pretty well
But in time I know I must get out in the light
Better leave her behind with the kids are all right
The kids are all rightSometimes I feel I gotta get away
Bells chime, I know I gotta get away
And I know if I don’t I’ll go out of my mind
Better leave her behind with the kids are all right
The kids are all rightI know if I’d go thing’s be a lot better for her
I had things planned but her folks wouldn’t let herI don’t mind other guys dancing with my girl
That’s fine, I know them all pretty well
But I know sometimes I must get out in the light
And leave her behind with the kids are all right
The kids are all rightSometimes I feel I gotta get away
Bells chime, I know I gotta get away
And I know if I don’t I’ll go out of my mind
Better leave her behind with the kids are all right
The kids are all right
The kids are all right
The kids are all right

 


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