Memorial Day arrives with the Braves clinging to a half-game lead in the NL East, the very definition of surmountable. But any fraction of a claim on first place at this checkpoint in a season is worth a huzzah, and perhaps even a dilly dilly or two.
Lest you take even this modest accomplishment for granted, consider the bleakness of Memorial Days of yore.
In 2015, with the tear-down commencing, the Braves were 3 1/2 games back on Memorial Day. The next year, they were 14-35 and already 15 back. Last season, first place was 8 1/2 games beyond their reach with so much more hot, humid and essentially inconsequential baseball to be played.
Recent summers to a Braves fan held all the allure of any Alabama beach going clothing optional. The only sane approach was to just look away.
Short-term hope, the first victim of the rebuild, has been reacquired.
Apparently, it was the player to be named later.
This summer holds baseball meaning beyond just the contractual obligation to play ‘em all. Watching the Major League standings is once again as important to the Braves follower as tracking the Dow is to the wonks of Wall Street.
Just like Sunday, when the Braves put a candied cherry on a road trip that was largely a serving of kale, beating Chris Sale and Boston.
So, then, what of Philadelphia, who just the day before had leapfrogged into first? The Phillies complied with a loss to Toronto, and fell fractionally aft of the Braves.
Being part of baseball’s bigger picture, even at this young date, is nothing to take casually. It’s just the kind of front-of-the-field position that Freddie Freeman has longed for ever since they began sandblasting the roster all around him.
The six-game road trip that concluded Sunday was a reality check for the young Braves. It was the beginning of a stretch of 14 games in which they will meet above-.500 competition. That the Braves lost four of those games would have seemed so much more worrisome had they not closed out with such a commanding performance Sunday.
The reality is that the Braves will not stay competitive just on their youthful charm and good looks. They have the makings of a great story this season, but it is not one that will be written without significant dramatic tension along the way.
Reality is the uptick in strikeouts from a still-learning lineup evident in the past week. Reality is running up against other teams that see themselves as athletic and special, too. Reality is the ugly twist of a phenom’s leg, running through the bag (yes, Ronald Acuna is made of mortal stuff). Bottom-line reality came in the form of finishing a three-game series against a team that operates on more than twice the payroll as itself.
Just as the Braves reality is that, based on bounce-back games like Sunday, do not assume they will simply fade away over the season’s long course. They are one of those over-.500 teams, too. And they have gone 21-14 against teams with winning records thus far. They are the part of somebody else’s tough stretch also.
They return to SunTrust Monday. It’s Memorial Day. The Braves matter, times two (it’s a doubleheader). What more could anyone ask at this stage?