When the Atlanta Braves lost three of four to the Dodgers last week, I was very close to saying, “That’s all, folks.” (And I’m normally pretty cautious about such proclamations, having been wrong so often.) The Braves had gone 0-8 on the West Coast and had come home to lose four of seven. They’d gone 3-12 at a time when you don’t need to be going 3-12.
They were one game above .500. They were six games behind Washington in the National League East. They’d fallen to fourth in the wild-card pecking order. They had nothing going for them, and they were about to face the Oakland A’s, holders of the best record in baseball. But look now.
They swept the A’s. They’ve twice steamrolled the Pirates, who entered the week tied with the Braves in the wild-card standings, winning by the aggregate score of 18-6. (As we know, whole weeks have passed without this team scoring 18 runs.) They’ve drawn even with the Giants for the second wild-card spot.
The team that was all but done has roused itself. Some will point to Freddie Freeman’s pregame message — “We’ve got to go; the time is now” — before Game 1 against Oakland. Some will point to his three-run homer later that night. Some will point to Phil Gosselin’s insertion into the starting lineup. Some will point to Jason Heyward batting leadoff again. Some, rightly, will point to the nature of the sport itself: Just because a baseball team loses eight in a row doesn’t mean it will lose the next eight or the next 80.
Me, I’d point to Justin Upton. He’s 8-for-19 with three home runs and eight RBI’s over these five games. The first home came in the first inning of Game 1 against Oakland and set the tone. The next put the Braves ahead to stay against Jon Lester in Game 3. The next, a three-run shot, broke open Tuesday’s game.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but this is why the Braves traded for Justin Upton. He’s a major talent. He’s capable of carrying a team. He did it in April 2013, a month that essentially won the NL East for the Braves. He’s doing it now. When he gets going, he’s really something.