Alex Anthopoulos is a bold, unexpected and dang good hire for the Braves

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The news late last night that the Braves are hiring Alex Anthopoulos — now confirmed; he’ll be introduced at a press conference in Atlanta later today — came as quite a surprise. Now that I’ve had a couple of hours to think about it, it’s striking me more as a coup.

The Braves are in deep with the league over rules violations in connection with the signing of international players. They are still likely facing big penalties for that and, for the time being, remain in limbo. While there were some noises coming out of Atlanta about who, possibly, might take over as the next general manager, they were decidedly muted. The big potential move — luring Dayton Moore back to Atlanta from Kansas City — was blocked by Royals owner David Glass who would not grant the Braves permission to interview him. The remaining names bandied about as a replacement GM were less-than-inspiring. Dan Jennings? Ugh. It appeared as if Atlanta was going to enter this week’s General Manager Meetings with placeholder GM John Hart at the helm. Given that he was likely to be pushed aside eventually, the Braves offseason looked pretty bleak.

Anthopoulos, however, is a top notch hire that a team in turmoil should not, all things being equal, have been able to make. He’s young — 40 — but experienced, having served as the Blue Jays’ GM for seven years after being hired in his early 30s. He’s a forward-thinking guy who values cutting edge analytics but his background is scouting and he expanded Toronto’s scouting roster during his tenure. He always seemed open to anything when he was their GM, having improved the Jays via the draft, via free agency and via some pretty audacious trades. He’d still have that job if it was not for what appeared to be philosophical differences with Jays president Mark Shapiro, who seemed to have been brought in to impose austerity measures by club ownership. Anthopoulos was offered a five-year contract extension, rejected it and resigned on the very same day he was named Executive of the Year by his peers.

His tenure with the Blue Jays was not perfect, of course. Like all executives there was good and bad. The good: trading for Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, which helped the Jays reach the playoffs. He unloaded Vernon Wells’ seemingly un-unloadable contract. He signed Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The not-so-good: trading Roy Halladay away for what turned out to be an underwhelming haul (though it was thought to be better at the time). Dealing Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud for R.A. Dickey was not so hot either. Stuff happens.

The Braves are definitely a team that could do well with his vision, however, even if it sometimes leads to a misfire. The club has been run, basically, by the same men for several decades. Bobby Cox, John Scheurholz and John Hart haven’t been the only men to sit in the GM chair in Atlanta over the past 30 years or so, but either they or guys they picked to be there (i.e. Frank Wren, John Coppolella) were, and they’ve all had tremendous input into what the GM has done or hasn’t done at any given time. Two of them are living, breathing Hall of Famers and team legends, after all, so you could never ignore their presence, even if you wanted to.

Anthopoulos, however, appears as though he’ll have final say. Hart will remain president of baseball operations in title at least until his contract is up at the end of the year. In reality, though, Anthopoulos will be in charge, answering only to team CEO Terry McGuirk and no baseball operations people. He was unlikely to take the job if he didn’t have final say. He’ll be the first young executive with final say over the team’s direction since . . . heck, since Ted Turner bought the team when he was in his late 30s.

It’s still a bad time for the Braves. They’re likely to face stiff sanctions once MLB is done with its investigation, losing draft picks and possibly even a prospect or two who is already in their system. They’ll be dealing with these bad times, however, with a smart, able, and well-respected guy at the top of the org chart. Someone who, for the first time in decades, is not beholden to the old men who, however much success they had in Atlanta, were not the men who should’ve been leading the club into the future.

 

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Atlanta Braves beat the New York Mets 5-3, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closed out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before 15-game winner Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).