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The Atlanta Braves are in first place, folks

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The standings on May 3 don’t mean much of anything, but it certainly is something to look at them and see that the Atlanta Braves are in first place in the National League East. The only teams with better records than Atlanta: the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros and Diamondbacks. The Braves offense leads the National League in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Their starting pitching, which began the season poorly, has been fantastic over the past three weeks or so. The Braves are not in first place by default. They have earned their place at the top of the standings.

The last time the Braves were in first place beyond the second week of the season was back in 2014. That also happened to be the last time the Braves were actually trying to win as opposed to tearing down and rebuilding. They found themselves in first that year, off and on, until July 20, after which they went on a skid, finishing the season 25-39, in second place, but 17 games behind the Washington Nationals. The Braves would go 207-278 over the next three seasons, trading off veterans — and acquiring some other, lesser veterans for payroll purposes —  and going all-in with a youth movement. In the meantime they experienced the worst front office scandal since integration, resulting in the firing of their previous general manager and the forced surrender of multiple prospects. They’d also move into a new ballpark, abandoning the city of Atlanta for the suburbs to no small amount of controversy. It’s been a rough few years.

While most people expected the Braves to improve this year, it was expected to be incremental improvement due to the maturation of some younger players and some better health. That maturation has come more quickly than expected, with young players Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña playing fantastically in the early going and some slightly older building blocks like Dansby Swanson transforming from liability to asset. Beyond that team health has been good and, let’s not delude ourselves, they’ve had a lot of good luck in the form of some guys playing well over their head in the early going (I’m looking at you Nick Markakis and Ryan Flaherty). Of course, all winning teams experience some good luck from time to time, so that good luck should not be discounted. The wins are in the bank.

I don’t think that the Braves will hold on to first place all season. The Nationals are too good, the Phillies are pretty darn good themselves and even if the Mets are dealing with injuries and their general Metsiness, they’re a more talented team. That’s before you get to the part about the Braves pitching not being good enough and, over the course of a 162 games and hot, hot weather, young players often wilt. It was supposed to be a year of moving forward and the Braves have moved forward, but I certainly expect them to move backward a bit after this early season surprise.

But it’s certainly neat in the meantime, ain’t it?

 

Giants beat Mariners again in road game playing at home

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SAN FRANCISCO — The nomadic Seattle Mariners are taking their bats from the Bay Area to Southern California for three more “home games” on the road.

Wilmer Flores hit a go-ahead, two-run triple in the seventh inning of the San Francisco Giants‘ 6-4 win Thursday that sent Seattle to a second home defeat played in San Francisco’s ballpark because of dangerous air quality in Western Washington.

The series was moved because of smoke from all the West Coast wildfires. Now, the Mariners are altering their air travel reservations once more and headed to San Diego for a weekend series at Petco Park.

“It’s disappointing, but its the world we’re living in in 2020,” Mariners starter Nick Margevicius said. “There’s a lot of things we can’t control, a lot of things in the season, a lot of things in the world right now.”

Darin Ruf homered in the second inning to back Giants starter Tyler Anderson, who hurt his own cause when he was ejected in the bottom of the third by plate umpire Edwin Moscoso for emphatically expressing his displeasure with a walk to Kyle Lewis.

“Tyler knows that that just can’t happen,” mangaer Gabe Kapler said. “It puts us in a really tough spot.”

Wandy Peralta followed Anderson and threw 49 pitches over a career-high three innings, and Rico Garcia (1-1) worked one inning for his first major league win. Sam Selman finished for his first career save, stranding two runners when Lewis lined out and Kyle Seager flied out.

“Peralta came up huge for us,” Kapler said. “As tough as that was it was equally rewarding and in some ways inspiring to see him come out and give us the length that he did and battle. It gave us a chance to climb back into the game. I thought our guys continued to be resilient.”

JP Crawford hit a two-run single in the second following RBI singles by Tim Lopes and Phillip Ervin, but Seattle’s bullpen couldn’t hold a three-run lead.

Margevicius was staked to an early lead but Kendall Graveman (0-3) couldn’t hold it. The Mariners capitalized in the second after Anderson hit Seager in the backside.

Seattle has fared better against San Diego this season after losing all four to San Francisco. Manager Scott Servais had prepared himself for the possibility his club might have to stay on the road a little longer.

“I think with our players and everybody else it was going to be a two-day trip. That’s what we were led to believe that everything was going to clear up in Seattle,” Servais said. “We can’t control the weather it’s bigger than all of us and with what’s going on there with the smoke. Certainly understand why we have to go but I don’t think anybody was really prepared for it.”

Brandon Crawford contributed a sacrifice fly and Evan Longoria and Alex Dickerson RBI singles for the Giants.

Austin Slater returned at designated hitter for San Francisco and went 0 for 2 with a walk as he works back from a painful right elbow. Luis Basabe singled in the sixth for his first career hit and also stole his first base.

“I didn’t think about it,” said Basabe, who will gift the special souvenir ball to his mother. “I was just happy to get the opportunity.”

Justin Smoak made his Giants home debut as a pinch hitter in the sixth facing his former club after he signed a minor league deal earlier this month following his release by the Brewers.

Anderson, who was trying to win consecutive starts for the first time this season, received his second career ejection. The other was Aug. 13, 2016, while with Colorado.