Photo via Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Labor Day, no matter when it is celebrated, is a day of rest for the countless hours of blood, sweat and tears laborers put toward their craft. More importantly, the day serves as a reward for the adversity workers face on a constant basis.
While the holiday generally applies to blue, white and pink-collar workers alike, it can also apply to MLB teams. While it is subjective to say one certain team has worked more than all others, it is best to give credit where credit is due. Sure, the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees, among others have had to overcome adversity, but it is time to look at the Atlanta Braves in a different light.
The Braves, despite losing in the 2019 National League Divisional Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, were relying on their balance of youth and experience to overcome the postseason hump in preparation for the 2020 season. To supplement the roster, the likes of Cole Hamels and Marcell Ozuna were brought in via free agency.
On paper, the team looked dominant and deep enough to give the Los Angeles Dodgers a potential run for their money.
However, the dominance was just not there to start off the season. Through Aug. 30, the team was 19-14. While definitely a solid record by no stretch of the means, it was not eye-popping. After all, the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies were battling injuries, Mike Foltynewicz (who pitched to a 2.85 ERA in 183.0 innings in 2018) was designated for assignment and Hamels landed on the 45-day Injured List (IL) before the season even began.
Despite the adversity, the team kept on working. The work, over the past week, has started to unveil the Atlanta Braves that could potentially fight for National League supremacy.
Over the past week, the Braves went 5-2 and padded their National League East division lead to three games entering Monday’s action. The pitching, despite allowing five runs a game (they gave up 35 total runs), saw the emergence of another young prospect, as 22-year-old Ian Anderson twirled six innings of two-run ball against the Boston Red Sox Sept 1. Offense is where the team shined, as Atlanta’s lineup scored 53 total runs and averaged 7.6 runs a game. To keep it short, Acuna Jr., Ozuna and Freddie Freeman, among others, bashed the ball. In particular, the trio hit 11 home runs combined during the week (Acuna Jr., Ozuna and Freeman hit four, five and two, respectively).
The production from the trio, in fact, was not just any run-of-the-mill production.
Instead, it unlocked milestones and even made history.
For Acuna Jr., his fourth home run of the week (Sept. 5 against Washington) gave the 22-year-old 18 career leadoff home runs, the most in Atlanta’s franchise history. Ozuna, meanwhile, collected the first three-homer game of his career Sept. 1 against the Red Sox and also became the first National League player ever to hit three home runs at Fenway Park. To cap it all off, Freeman hit the first two grand slams of his career Sept. 4 and 6 against Washington.
Sure, the pitching still needs to improve. Yes, the team has yet to put its full strength at opponents. Obviously, there are still several more weeks to play before the postseason can even be discussed.
However, the Braves, who now sit with a 24-16 record, have worked through the adversity and have started to excel at their craft.
Consider the blood, sweat and tears well earned.