Outfielder Preston Tucker cracked a smile when asked about the Braves holding the best record in the National League entering Monday.
“I saw that on Twitter,” he said. “With the talent we have on this club, if everyone’s playing to their potential, we’re going to win a lot of games. So far, we’re in first place for a reason.”
The Braves (24-15) moved a half-game ahead of Arizona (24-16) after the Diamondbacks lost to the Nationals Sunday night. The Braves are 5-1 on the current road trip entering Monday’s makeup game at the Cubs.
“We’ll take it,” utilityman Charlie Culberson said. “It’s a fun team. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed putting this uniform on and watching these guys play.”
The rotation has been rejuvenated with Julio Teheran rediscovering his form and Sean Newcomb pitching like a front of the rotation arm.
The lineup is among the most dynamic in the senior circuit. Youngsters Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna are stealing the headlines. Freddie Freeman remains one of the most potent bats in baseball. Ender Inciarte is regaining his expected form of late.
“It’s always interesting to see how things will shake out during the season, but in spring training, one thing I noticed is this lineup can really hit,” Tucker said. “The pitching’s been lights out as well.
The combined effort has made for a NL-best plus-56 run differential, two better than the Cubs entering Monday.
They’re nine games over .500 for the first time since July 29, 2014.
“It doesn’t surprise us,” said reliever Shane Carle, one of the biggest surprises of the year. “We’ve been playing really good and just need to keep getting after it. Everyone’s confident, especially when pitchers go deep in the game and the bullpen takes over. Just a lot of confidence that we can get runs late and take wins even when we’re not ahead near the end of the ball game.”
Success on the road and in the NL East is largely the reason. The Braves are 17-8 in the division after taking three of four from the Marlins over the weekend. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 road games, outscoring opponents 67-22 over that stretch.
That’s having played 24 contests away from SunTrust Park, tied with the Giants for most road games in the NL.
The national media has taken note of the Braves’ success, as have their opponents.
“A hungry team, that’s what I see,” said Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, who saw the Braves during a two-game split in Chicago last month. “They’re young but they’re not just coasting, they’re playing with a purpose. I think Freddie’s doing a great job pumping up the other guys. I’m excited for them.”
It’s reasonable to question the sustainability. Some players are exceeding expectations, and it’s hard to imagine a bottom-feeder for a near half-decade jumping into contention so quickly.
But there’s precedent. The Brewers leaped from 73 to 86 wins last season. The Twins went from a league-worst 59 wins to 85 and a wild card berth.
The Braves are bidding for a similar fate, and Tucker believes the blend of youth and veterans is the key.
“We have guys who’ve been playing for 10 years on this team and are playing their best baseball,” he said. “Then we have these young guys with a ton of talent who are really finding their groove. Once they’re getting in there consistently, they’re being more adapted to playing every day up here, their numbers are going to keep getting better. It’s a combination of veteran leadership, playing well and seeing young talent reach their potential.”
Among the veteran leaders is catcher Tyler Flowers, who’s coming off arguably the best season of his career.
Flowers wasn’t aware of the team’s record, and he didn’t hesitate to point out that it’s still just May.
“At this point it really doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s just the day-to-day grind right now, preparing and doing your best. That’s what our focus has been throughout the season. If we continue to do it that way we should be successful.”
He’s right: The Braves could lose Monday in Chicago, with the Diamondbacks defeating the Brewers, and they’re right back behind again.
But considering the last few years, the Braves aren’t complaining. Flowers said he feels their success is sustainable because of the mix Tucker mentioned. And unlike years past, Freeman isn’t tasked with carrying the load.
“Contributions from everyone, it’s not just one or two guys doing the heavy lifting,” Flowers said. “Makes you think that it’s sustainable. Everyone’s just going about their business and it’s resulting in more wins.”