Bill Shanks

First-place Braves are becoming relevant again

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) follows through on a two-run home run in the first inning of Friday’s game against the San Francisco Giants in Atlanta.
Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) follows through on a two-run home run in the first inning of Friday’s game against the San Francisco Giants in Atlanta. AP

It seemed almost too perfect to be true. Perhaps, in the end, it was – at least for now.

The traffic around SunTrust Park was a little different Friday night. It was crowded, but not for an opening night or a July 4 game. The fans weren’t there to see fireworks or pick up a bobblehead or to even enjoy the latest promotion of Star Wars night.

As Ernie Johnson Sr., the former Braves announcer, used to say, “There’s no better promotion in the world than winning baseball.”

And the Braves, for a change, are winning. A lot. That’s why everyone was there.

The environment, almost playoff-like, was electric at the Braves’ second-year home, as it had never hosted the home team in first place. But after a 10-game road trip that saw the hometown boys win seven and outscore the opponents 61-34, it didn’t take them long to wow the tomahawk choppers.

This brand of Braves baseball started in the first inning, as Ozzie Albies, everyone’s new favorite player, singled to center, but an error by the center fielder got Albies to second. Ronald Acuna Jr. then just missed a home run, but his deep center drive had Albies tagging up and diving into third.

That’s what this team does – it causes havoc by its speed. It is disruptive. Opponents know this Atlanta team will take an extra base if a ball is bobbled or if an extra step is taken to catch a ball.

Albies was in scoring position with one out. Then, Freddie Freeman parked one over the outfield fence for a two-run home run. And arms were raised by the fans who had to think, “Man, this team is really good.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this easy. Many hoped the Braves would be better, but with what had happened in the last week, and then with a great start to the night with a packed house, it seemed like a dream.

Then something happened to make us stop thinking about ordering our World Series tickets and to remind us it’s still early May. The Giants bounced back in the second inning and scored six runs. It was the worst inning of the year for a Braves starting pitcher, and it quickly silenced the huge crowd.

So, Mike Foltynewicz proved the Atlanta starters were human after all. He had a bad night. Twitter blew up, with many wanting him immediately shifted to the bullpen. Yes, the fans are now getting testy when something goes wrong. That’s what happens when a team starts to win. Fans get greedy.

They even booed Foltynewicz loudly when he failed to bunt a runner over on two occasions. It was like we were in New York for a moment.

The Braves wouldn’t win this game. They awoke Saturday morning still leading the NL East by 1.5 games over the Mets. It’s been a long time since the Braves have lost and still been in first.

It was the largest crowd ever at SunTrust Park, proving that the Braves are relevant again. They may have all gotten a bobblehead, but they came to watch baseball. They came to watch a winner.

The young talent that has been accumulated has blossomed. Gone are the days when this team has fill-ins. While the players are still developing, forget that rebuild talk for now. They want to win. Their play in the last week has shown that.

The Braves are fun to watch. They are not going to win every game or every series. Friday night proved that. This run the Braves have been on may not even continue. However, it won’t change what we have figured out in 30 games. There is a lot of talent now on Braves team, and as the pieces continues to fall into place, we know we’re in for a very fun summer.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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