Ozzie Albies might be the Braves’ secret weapon, which sounds absurd when revisiting his first half.
The second baseman was April’s MVP, setting a franchise record with 22 extra-base hits. He was the Braves’ mini-superman, packing punch exceeding his smaller frame. Before Ronald Acuna debuted, Albies was the 20-year-old star warranting all the buzz.
His 20-homer, 55-RBI first half earned him an All-Star nod. He was the Braves’ best player in spurts. But the switch-hitter’s offensive production regressed to the mean in the second half.
» Mark Bradley: What happens after Braves win N.L. East?
At least until Monday, when he doubled, tripled and scored a pair of runs in the Braves’ 4-1 win in San Francisco. He wreaked havoc on the base paths, almost a forgotten trait with his recent inabilities to reach base.
The double was more exciting than his triple. Albies hit what appeared to be a single before taking a long turn around first. Center fielder Gorkys Hernandez sailed a throw over first base, allowing Albies to take third.
Albies hit .247 with a .331 slugging percentage in 46 games since the All-Star break. He had two homers in his past 47 games. He has only 13 RBIs since the break.
“I just have to get back locked in,” Albies said. “Missing (pitches) sometimes. You have to understand the game too. It’s baseball. You’ll probably be a little tired without even knowing. I don’t feel it, but I probably am. Just trying to make some adjustments and get backed locked in. It’s getting back, and hopefully it stays too.”
The Braves have surged into first place without Albies at his best. If he rediscovers his early-season form, or garners anything resembling it, the Braves’ lineup becomes even more frightening.
“He’s one of our key pieces,” starter Sean Newcomb said. “He’s still been producing, it just hasn’t been Ozzie from the first half. But he’s still there.”
While one or two significant contributors struggle, another couple up their performance. That’s been the Braves’ mantra. Rarely has the team fired on all cylinders. As the standings reflect, it hasn’t had to.
But the postseason is another story, and with each day shed from the calendar, it grows more likely that this team will be playing next month. Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, the veterans of the bunch, will stabilize their performance.
Acuna will continue to torment opposing pitching. It’s what the others can provide that’ll determine how the Braves fare on offense. It can be argued that Albies has the highest ceiling of the remaining options.
“Just not trying to do too much,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said regarding Albies’ efforts to regain his first-half form. “Being in the playoff race for the first time, I think his wheels can turn a little bit faster. He’s a pretty talented kid, and I think he has an idea of what he wants to do. Just watching him go about his business, make adjustments, for a 21-year-old kid, it’s pretty impressive and fun to watch.”
Albies is rounding into shape, where the pop-ups become gappers, and the wiffs become hard contact, can swing a series. Manager Brian Snitker already considers him the best defensive second baseman in the National League, and as the saying goes, speed never slumps.
That’s not to say Albies is “back.” But Monday reminded the baseball world what he can do when he’s on. And if it that effort can be extrapolated over the next few weeks and into October, the Braves are going to be a difficult out.
“It’d be huge (to get Albies going again),” Snitker said. “He’s making some strides, too. … He’s working to adjust. We’re seeing some good things happening.”