The last time the Braves had as many as four players make the All-Star team – 2012 – it was not assigned the kind of meaning given to the 2018 haul.
Six years later, three of the Braves class of ’12 are no longer in uniform (Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla and Michael Bourn). The other, closer Craig Kimbrel, was dealt away when the Braves concluded that it would be awhile before they would have any more important games to close. If there was a larger significance to their place in the Midsummer Classic, it was lost on us all.
Ah, as for the foursome that was announced Sunday night – a telling mix of old and young, of players inhabiting both sides of a ballplayer’s prime – it represents an entire team that has been defiantly good.
The one member of the Braves’ All Star troupe who is right around the peak of his baseball life will inform you that four players in this All-Star game is a big breakthrough. For all the Braves. Take that, world.
“We’ve forced our team onto the national stage,” Freddie Freeman said Tuesday, back at home after a long tour of difficult ballparks.
“Obviously, no one picked us this year, but we played ourselves right into (contention). The national media and the fans took notice and that’s why they voted for us.”
Not surprising that Freeman would take an individual honor and transform it into a reflection of a (possibly) overreaching team. And it’s good to hear the one player who has been most worn down by the Braves rebuild sound so upbeat and proud about the direction it’s currently going.
It’s not false modesty, either. The make-up of this All-Star contingent is encouraging. There’s the young energy that never slumps (Ozzie Albies), the veteran who has nearly patented the quality at-bat (Nick Markakis), the kind of MVP performer every winning team requires (Freeman) and a glimpse of starting stuff that plays well in the postseason, if harnessed (Mike Foltynewicz).
Just the kind of mix that hints of better days.
The proof of a first half that you literally have to rate as Four-Star.
Having Freeman simply healthy enough to attend an All-Star game is in itself a heartening development.
How the Braves’ All-Stars interact between themselves is indicative of how this whole team has meshed through the first half. Some of the highest praise you’ll hear about the four All-Stars comes from their own ranks.
This is how it works on a functional team that feels pretty good about itself.
Foltynewicz on his three everyday All-Stars: “I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those guys. Not only offensively but defensively – (Markakis) is killing it on the offensive side, but he’s also got two Gold Gloves for a reason. He’s helping me out there.
“And with Ozzie at second and Freddie at first, man, he’s been picking it for me, helping me out. I can’t strike everybody out. The defense is definitely helping me. These All-Stars are a huge part of this team.”
Markakis on Albies: “He’s young. He’s exciting. He does it all. He runs, he plays defense, he can hit, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He has an idea and a plan and doesn’t stray too far from it. He’s a hard worker. Everybody here works hard, and it’s good to see the young guys, as young as they are, come up and they’re willing to do what it takes to get better.”
Freeman on younger guy who plays to his immediate right, and the older guy who plays behind him in right field: “The young guy does something every night that kind of puts you in awe.
“And Nick is very quiet and the ultimate pro. What a lot of us say is he’s a boring professional. He isn’t going to capture the headlines, but he’s a guy you want on your team every single night.”
Blend it all together, and just maybe there is enough to make this thing interesting all the way to the end.
The 2012 Four-Star team did make it to a wild-card game. With the way this season has mutated into something meaningful, that’s kind of a low bar for this bunch.