Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

For Braves, this year becomes next year: Albies and Sims in, Phillips out


There’s a story in Greek mythology in which Icarus attempts to escape Crete by using wings made of feathers and wax. The problem was Icarus was like all punk millennials and he ignored his father’s warnings and flew too close to the sun. So of course the wings melted, he fell from the sky, plunged into the sea and didn’t come close to making the playoffs.

Icarus set the standard for future market corrections in sports. Consider the Braves. They flew too close to the sun, reaching .500 for about seven minutes this season, even if once more than expected after April. They couldn’t handle the elevation, mutated into some strange lifeform, and tumbled from the sky. They entered Tuesday with 11 losses in the last 14 games, including four straight to Philadelphia, which makes them clinically dead in seven states, and probably Crete.

So it was Tuesday that the Braves opened August looking similar to the way they looked last season, and the one before that. The rest of this 2017: devoid of meaning. They’re logically out of the playoff race. Bovada lists them at 200-1 to win the World Series for sheer amusement.

The Braves went into their series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a rookie pitcher (Lucas Sims) and a rookie second baseman (Ozzie Albies) both making their major league debuts. Welcome to 2018.

“We’re (in) a different climate than we were a few weeks ago,” manager Brian Snitker said. Give him credit for delivering that so delicately.

It’s about the kids now. It’s about experimenting with a lineup with Matt Adams, a defensive adventure, in left field, Danny Santana at third base and Johan Camargo at shortstop. Dansby Swanson took notes from Gwinnett.

As for what Snitker does when Matt Kemp returns from a hamstring injury, “We’ll deal with that when he gets here.”

But he’s done with the ridiculous experiment of playing Freddie Freeman at third base. Freeman was back at first against the Dodgers.

Then there’s Brandon Phillips. He’s not a part of the future. Maybe not even the near future.

Phillips wasn’t dealt at the trade deadline, presumably because nobody wanted him. To add insult to insult, Snitker told him the second base job is now in Albies' young hands.

Snitker said he asked Phillips if he was willing to play some third base in the future. Phillips didn’t give him an answer. Truth is, he’s an impending free agent isn't feeling the love. He has spent his entire career at second base (he played one game at third base in the minors in 2001).

“He’s thinking about it,” Snitker said.

Is he willing?

“I’m hoping,” he said. “We’ll address (the alternative) if he says he won’t. I don’t know, that’s another obstacle we’ll (deal with) when we get there.”

Is he still here?

“I hope so. We may need him.”

(Phillips did not comment before the game.)

If there’s even a hint this will get ugly, Phillips won’t be around much longer. The Braves will release him. The rest of the season will be difficult enough with kids floating in and out of the lineup. A soured veteran would only make things worse.

“We’re a different team than we were a few weeks ago,” Snitker said. “Ever-evolving, I guess.

“It’s just weird how things have a way of working out. We got Brandon and he’s been really, really good. But it’s time to see the kid. … In order to give him a taste of this game, this league, the speed, he needs to play.”

This season is now about next season. It’s about assessing young players like Albies, Sims and Camargo and maybe modest goals like avoiding a third-straight 90-loss season. The Braves started the night 48-56 (a 75-87 pace). The went 68-93 last season but that was after a 20-10 finishing kick.

Snitker said he’s “excited” to see what Albies can do. The fun-sized 20-year-old is equally thrilled. When he got the phone call that he was being called up, “I started jumping in the house, screaming.”

He was paying his rent at the time. Gwinnett teammate Ronald Acuna, considered the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, is his roommate.

“He was like, Oh you’re gonna leave me now?” Albies said, smiling. “I need a baby sitter for him.”

Albies was hitting .285 at Gwinnett this season. The Braves shouldn’t assume too much if he looks good the rest of the season because they made that mistake with Swanson and then drowned him in a marketing campaign.  Swanson hit .302 in 38 games last year but struggled this season (.213) before being sent down. (But for the record, jumping ship on Swanson would be a mistake.) But the next two months at least provides a peak into Albies potential.

“The kid’s been an All-Star and he’s done well every step of the way,” Snitker said of Albies. “He’s been a leader on all of the teams he’s been on. He’s always been mature for his age. He has skills, and skills play up here. He’s an exciting little player and it’s going to be fun to watch him play.”

The Braves hope Sims can provide some positive foreshadowing about the pitching. Mike Foltynewicz is the only comforting member of next year’s rotation. The Braves saw their starting pitching go from weak to embarrassing this season. Their bullpen: even worse.

That’s how they got here – to meaningless games in August. It’s too familiar.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.