WASHINGTON — The hottest team in the major leagues can shrug off the loss of its durable, two-time All-Star second baseman to a fractured left foot, knowing it has been through worse and come out stronger.
“I don’t know that you can throw anything at them,” manager Brian Snitker says of his Atlanta Braves, “that they haven’t already withstood or experienced.”
The team with the longest winning streak in baseball – now 13 games – can look back on a listless start to the season knowing a similarly desultory start to 2021 ended with a champagne shower in Houston and the club’s first World Series title since 1995.
“The first handful of weeks,” says catcher Travis d’Arnaud, “we weren’t playing the way we thought we should be. For it to come together now is great to see. We figured at some point it would come.”
This Braves rampage, which hit 13 with a 10-4 victory over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, doesn’t mean they’ll replicate last year’s autumn surge to win 88 games, capture the National League East and startle the opposition to win another World Series.
The New York Mets remain formidable, and five games up in the East, awaiting the return of former Cy Young Award winners Max Scherzer and Jacob de Grom, and hoping to stop the Braves’ streak of East titles at four.
What it could mean is that the very worst of the Braves’ World Series hangover has subsided – and they are as potent as they believed.
Tuesday night, the Braves hit back-to-back homers – twice – marking the third consecutive game they pulled off the feat. Their fifth and final home run of the night was struck by rookie Michael Harris II, who had zero career homers when he arrived in DC
Tuesday, for the second consecutive game, Harris drove a pitch the opposite way for a home run, the team’s 10th in two games. It was an appropriate capper to extend the winning streak to 13, the club’s longest since 2013.
The Braves are now 36-27, barely two weeks after a May 31 walk-off loss at Arizona dropped them to 23-27 and 10 ½ games behind the Mets.
So, what happened?
Harris, for one.
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Atlanta’s very own
The team’s top prospect debuted on May 28 and was handed the keys to center field, the greater significance perhaps that slugger Marcell Ozuna’s metal glove could be retired in left.
Harris’ offense hasn’t hurt, either: In 17 games, he’s now slashing .317/.338/.540.
“To see that bat speed and strength,” Snitker said after two nights of seeing balls struck by Harris to the opposite field go out, “is impressive. He’s done a fine job of competing here.”
Harris has impressed with his range in center, does not hesitate at taking charge over more experienced players at his flanks and enjoys the bounty of hitting in the nine hole, one spot above perennial MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. It’s all enough to make Harris stop for a moment and ponder that last October, he was watching the team’s NLCS conquest of the Dodgers from the Truist Park seats.
Harris grew up in Stockbridge, about 20 miles south of Atlanta. You could say he was prepared for this moment.
“It’s kind of crazy because even when I’m on the field, I’ve thought about last year, I was in the stands, watching the playoff games against the Dodgers,” says Harris, who turned 21 in March. “Just being here this early in the season, after the team won the World Series last year, it’s really surreal and it’s big for me.
“Being from Atlanta, it’s good for me to put on for my city.”
Meanwhile, it’s been six weeks since Acuña made his season debut after a nine-month absence due to a torn ACL. Until he appeared on the victory stage after Game 6 of the World Series, it was easy to forget the Braves proceeded to win a championship after his knee injury ended an MVP-caliber season in July.
A flurry of outfield trades followed, Joc Pederson donned a set of pearls, and you know the rest.
Yet the post-Acuña lessons of 2021 took on greater resonance Monday night, when Ozzie Albies swung awkwardly at an inside pitch and suffered a foot fracture, sidelining him for at least two months.
It was a stunner, in the sense that Albies played at least 156 games each of the past three full seasons, part of an infield that takes fewer days off than an HVAC repairman in summer.
And no big deal, in that this group somehow got better after losing Acuña, shrugged and won a World Series.
Orlando Arcia was the second baseman Tuesday—and most days, going forward—and he merely homered, singled, and hit a sacrifice fly.
No big deal.
“This guy was a dude for a while,” Snitker says, recalling Arcia’s playoff exploits in Milwaukee.
Good vibes only
Impressive as it is, this winning streak can only fold into the context of this season. It’s great that they’ve outscored opponents 93-39 since the calendar flipped to June. Less impressive that the wallopings came at the expense of the sub-.500 Diamondbacks, Rockies, A’s, Pirates and Nationals, who fed two rookies making their major league debut to the ravenous Braves on Tuesday.
The result was predictable. Less certain – and ultimately more important – will be the outcome in 15 games remaining against the Mets, including nine in August.
The Braves aren’t about to fear what’s lurking.
“The first handful of weeks we weren’t playing the way we thought we should be,” says d’Arnaud. “For it to come together now is great to see. We figured at some point it would come. No one is stressed out.
“That’s the biggest thing we learned last year – anything can happen at any point in the season. Just keep riding it out.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Atlanta Braves riding 2022 MLB-best 13-game winning streak