Bill Shanks

Albies and Swanson becoming a dependable duo

Philadelphia Phillies' Aaron Altherr (23) is forced out at second base by Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies on Monday in Atlanta.
Philadelphia Phillies' Aaron Altherr (23) is forced out at second base by Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies on Monday in Atlanta. AP

There are many things that are critical parts of a rebuild. The Braves have one star already in Freddie Freeman, with another one possibly on the way in Ronald Acuna. Having a star or two always helps.

Good starting pitchers are important, and although most of them aren’t in Atlanta yet, they are on the way. When they arrive, we might feel the rebuild has gotten to the next level.

What about a good double-play combination – a second baseman and a shortstop who could be the glue to an infield for years to come? That might help, as well.

The Braves might have one in the making, with Ozzie Albies at second and Dansby Swanson at shortstop. Both are off to solid starts this season, and with both being very young it makes you think the Braves have possibly found a duo to lead them into the next decade up the diamond.

Think about this. Since the Braves came to Atlanta in 1966, they have had only two double-play combinations that played for more than three years together as the main starters. Glenn Hubbard and Rafael Ramirez were together for six seasons from 1981 through 1986 and then Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser were together for five years from 1993 through 1997.

So, a long-term combination that could solidify the infield might be a big piece of the puzzle. Stability in the middle could be very important.

Albies is becoming a star right before our eyes. He’s still just 21, but the diminutive second baseman seems to make things happen every time he comes to the plate. Plus, Albies’ defense has been outstanding, and a Gold Glove may be in his future.

The Braves desperately needed Swanson to get on track after he hit just .232 last season. Swanson is off to a great start, hitting .357 entering Monday’s game with the Phillies. And his defense, suspect at times last season, has been solid at shortstop.

These two became good friends in 2016, after Swanson was acquired from Arizona and Albies had just finished his first full season in Low-A Rome. Both played shortstop then, but everyone knew one would have to move to second base.

Maybe it’s because Albies is so similar to Houston’s Jose Altuve in stature, but he was the one to make the move. But now, Albies is starting to hit like Altuve, with five home runs in the first 14 games. If Albies can really become another Altuve-type player, the Braves may have a MVP candidate.

These two even play better together. Since Albies came up last August, he’s started 60 games with Swanson in the middle infield. Albies has hit .313 with a .369 on base percentage, while Swanson has hit .290 with a .367 OBP in those games.

Swanson was hitting .213 for the season before Albies was promoted, so having his buddy in Atlanta with him has helped get Swanson turned around.

Double play duos can have chemistry together, knowing where each other will be on the field, especially around the bag when double plays are turned. You can bet Hubbard and Ramirez would say they had it, and Lemke and Blauser helped the Braves win a World Series title with it.

The pieces of the Braves’ rebuild are starting to fall into place. Now that Albies is becoming an integral part of the Atlanta lineup, and with Swanson playing like he did when he first came up in 2016, this could be quite a combo moving forward.

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