The Braves’ loss to the Phillies on Wednesday put them 2-1/2 games behind the first-place Mets, who hadn’t yet played when the Braves finished their game. It isn’t even August, but the standings are becoming more important each day.
This is when the out-of-town scoreboard at each ballpark becomes a fixture for eyes in both dugouts. Everyone watches the standings.
Before the Braves’ first game of this second half, manager Brian Snitker acknowledged he watches the scoreboard a bit. “I tell you I don’t, but I do,” he said with a smile. Then he added: “It’s hard not to.”
But he utilizes a certain mindset about managing during a tight race heading toward the finish line.
“Continue to take it just one day at a time,” Snitker said. “Don’t look too far ahead. You’ve got to take care of your own business. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned, is we control our destiny, and not to worry about what everybody else is doing because we have to stay focused on ourselves as a team.”
It sounds simple and cliché, but the results cannot be argued. Snitker has guided the Braves to four consecutive National League East titles and a World Series trophy. The Braves are in position for a fifth consecutive postseason appearance – whether that will come as the division champions will be determined over the final two-plus months.
In this final push toward the postseason, the Braves head out on two three-city road trips. One includes a handful of the 12 games left versus the Mets. There’s lots of intrigue surrounding the remaining part of the schedule as the Braves and the Mets battle for the division.
Leave the hype to fans and media, the Braves say. They treat every game the same.
“That’s what’s made us so successful for the last four seasons is we go out and play each day the way that we want to play,” Dansby Swanson said. “We focus on what it is that we need to do to be successful, and over the course of 162 it’s going to work out more often than it’s not. We’ve got a lot of guys in this room that believe in themselves, believe in one another, believe in what we’re about. That’s tough to beat.”
Over the past four seasons, the Braves have gained experience in postseason chases. They have experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the postseason. They have a young core that feels older than its age because of all this experience. They’re led by a manager whose calmness exudes confidence.
They’re ready for this final stretch but aren’t putting extra emphasis on it. They’ll treat it the same as anything else, a philosophy that has made them so successful.
“This clubhouse is full of a bunch of pros,” Smith said. “Everybody shows up every day and gets their work in. It’s a fun place to come to work at. Guys are always in the weight room doing it, guys are in the cage, guys are playing catch with a purpose.
“We just kind of can shuffle through all the B.S. and get done what we need to get done.”
Acuña gets a day off
Snitker on Wednesday gave Acuña a day off for the series finale in Philadelphia. The outfielder doesn’t have an injury and still was available off the bench, but didn’t play. Thursday’s off-day allows Acuña to get two days off.
“Just kind of wanted to give him a little mental break as much as anything,” Snitker said. “He’s been working hard in the cage, he’s been addressing things. Hasn’t been really working out for him consistently and just really wanted to give him a mental (break), more than anything.”
Over his past 32 games, Acuña is batting .212 with a .582 OPS. He had three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs, and struck out 34 times over 132 at-bats.
On June 10, the five-tool talent was batting .319 with a .934 OPS. He entered Wednesday batting .259 with a .756 OPS. He has eight homers, 23 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.
The Braves know Acuña can get hot quickly.
“It’d be great,” Snitker said. “Just keep waiting because I think at any point, he can get those couple of hits and feel good and get on a run. He really hasn’t done that. When he does, it’s going to be really good because he’s going to do it. He’s going to work through this.”
A new leadoff hitter for the day
Acuña’s day off also meant something else: Michael Harris led off for the first time in his career.
In 52 of his 53 games before Wednesday, Harris hit ninth. He batted eighth once.
Snitker has said he likes having Harris’ bat and speed to help be a catalyst for the top of the lineup. Wednesday brought a new opportunity for Harris.
Harris went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. He’s batting .286 with an .812 OPS.
Yates goes to Triple-A
As expected, the Braves on Wednesday officially transferred Kirby Yates’ rehab assignment to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Yates, who is working to return from the second Tommy John surgery of his career, is inching closer to joining the Braves.
He made one appearance with the Florida Complex League Braves and two with Double-A Mississippi. At Double-A, Yates tossed two scoreless innings with four strikeouts.