Hey Dusty, is it chemistry, or the pitching?

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One of the favorite go-to lines for certain baseball people is to gush
about team chemistry. Whenever a team is going well, we hear from
managers and writers and players about the great character guys are on
the team and this and that. And if a team isn’t playing up to the
potential that has been set for them, chemistry is blamed. The team
needs an attitude adjustment.

Does chemistry have an effect how teams play throughout a 162-game
season? Most likely. But it isn’t something any of us can quantify.
That’s what makes it occasionally maddening whenever someone uses the
chemistry card as a crutch to explain wins and losses. Not shockingly, Dusty Baker is our latest to do so. When talking about the team’s play so far in 2009 (26-21 through Friday), Dusty had this to say:

“We have more young talent, more exuberance, more
excitement. Guys take losses harder. We have some good character to
this ball club. That’s one thing we wanted to change. You scout ability
and you scout character as well when you’re trying to put the pieces of
the puzzle back together. We have a lot of homegrown talent. We
injected quality guys from the outside to go along with homegrown
talent. We brought in guys like (Laynce) Nix, (Arthur) Rhodes, (Ramon)
Hernandez, (Micah) Owings. The hard thing is: Who do you keep and who
do you delete? We’ve got guys here who get along well and like playing
together. Guys who are highly competitive against the competition and
highly competitive against each other without any envy or jealousy
involved. These are some of the quality you try to put together.”

To be fair, Dusty does throw out words like talent and ability, but the
basic gist of this statement is that the Reds are playing better
because the chemistry in the clubhouse is better. It’s also a shot at
guys like Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. who were traded away in the middle of last season.

Perhaps more guys getting along and enjoying playing with one another
has contributed to the Reds solid start. And maybe Dusty was asked
specifically about the team attitude. But let’s not get delusional.

Maybe Dusty could’ve mentioned that his team as a whole is pitching better than they were last year.

2008: 4.55 ERA (99 ERA+), 1.45 WHIP

2009: 3.96 ERA (115 ERA+), 1.34 WHIP

Or that Aaron Harang, his ace, has a 3.36 ERA compared to 4.78 in 2008. He could’ve given props to a bullpen that has the following ERA numbers:

Cordero: 1.71

Herrera: 2.04

Rhodes: 0.53

Weathers: 2.70

He could’ve also noted that Joey Votto is crushing the ball (1.091 OPS), and they got rid of Corey Patterson’s useless bat (.582 OPS, although Will Taveras hasn’t been a whole lot better at .660). And if Dunn was in the lineup instead of Chris Dickerson, they would not be worse off.

So it’s great that the Reds are fond of each other. But it’s even better that they’re pitching well.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.