Wittenmyer’s Notebook: Reason No. 1,027 that nobody’s beating Atlanta Braves this year

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This is how much more formidable the Atlanta Braves look this year than even during the 2021 championship season or last year’s 101-win season — albeit, how formidable they look everywhere but shortstop:

After losing Gold Glove shortstop Dansby Swanson to free agency and backfill veteran Orlando Arcia to an injury two weeks into the season, the Braves called up Vaughn Grissom from Triple-A to plug into the position for 19 games.

Grissom hit OK (.277) and fielded far worse than OK — with defensive metrics to match the eye test, suggesting he was among the worst-fielding shortstops during that time. That included six errors in his short stint.

Arcia was back over the weekend, just 3 1/2 weeks after a pitch broke a bone in his left wrist, without so much as a rehab assignment, to stabilize the position again.

“Knowing what you’re getting over there, it’s always nice,” third baseman Austin Riley told The Athletic. “Just happy to have him back. He’s one of those guys that’s impactful, and great to have around the clubhouse.”

So just how much did the Atlanta Braves suffer for that compromise at one of the premier positions on the field?

They went 13-6 with Grissom at short and padded their lead in the National League East by five games.

Helps when you score more runs than anyone else in the league and have the NL’s second-best team ERA.

If they stay healthy, it’s hard to imagine even the defending NL-champ Philadelphia Phillies or top-dollar New York Mets having enough to challenge the Atlanta Braves over the long season.

Pride of the Yankees

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New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman faced the New York media last week with a last-place record and a lengthy, star-studded list of players on the injured list, including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Rodón.

Compounding the Yankees early woes: Everybody else in the American League East looks even stronger than they did last year, every team carrying the early look of a contender — not the least of which is the world-beating first-place Tampa Bay Rays.

“Don’t count us out,” Cashman said. “This is a championship-caliber operation.”

Since then, the Yankees beat the Cleveland Guardians for the second straight game, followed that with a series loss to Rays on a rubber-match walkoff after three one-run games, then beat the Oakland Athletics the first two games of a series.

That’s a 5-2 week that also included Judge returning from the IL and center fielder Harrison Bader delivering a torrid first week off the IL.

They’re still in last place. And Rodón, the $162 million free agent addition, still hasn’t thrown a pitch — and likely won’t for another month or more — after getting an anti-inflammatory injection in his back Tuesday.

But they have Gerrit Cole, Judge and almost five months to get well.

“Don’t give up on us,” Cashman said.

Too Early NL Cy Young Watch

atlanta braves

Don’t look now, but the long-dormant Chicago Cubs’ pitching development system has turned out what looks like its best homegrown starting pitcher since at least Jeff Samardzija and maybe Carlos Zambrano.

Left-hander Justin Steele (5-0) leads NL pitchers in bWAR (1.8) and ERA (1.45) entering Wednesday’s start against the rival St. Louis Cardinals. And for anyone thinking small sample size, consider he’s been pitching like this since the middle of last season — currently riding a streak of 14 consecutive starts allowing two or fewer runs. That’s the longest active streak in MLB and ties Jake Arrieta (2015-16) for the longest in franchise history since at least 1912. Steele leads the majors with a 1.24 ERA during that run.

We’re talking at least All-Star hype at this point, right?

“Nah, I’m just taking it one day at a time. I’m just here working,” Steele said.

Short Hops

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Productive Kick in the Tiger Tail: The Detroit Tigers are 14-9 (through Monday) since $140 million shortstop Javy Báez was benched for forgetting the number of outs and getting doubled off second on April 13 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Báez is 25-for-76 (.329) with three homers, four doubles, five walks and an .888 OPS since returning to the lineup the next day.

Productive Sock Upside the Head: The Chicago White Sox are 5-3 (through Monday) since the game after star center fielder Luis Robert Jr. was benched for lollygagging down the line to first base during a 12-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Robert is 11-for-22 with two homers, two doubles, five walks and a 1.554 OPS in those eight games.

Oliver Twist to Public Flogging: St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol used a similar motivational tactic as the Báez and Robert situations — in fact, he did it first, just a few days into the season, when he publicly called out Tyler O’Neill for his effort on the bases after getting thrown out at the plate. How’d that work out for Marmol? It still hasn’t. Not only did O’Neill push back on the criticism, but he hit just .213 since then, before landing on the IL with a back issue Friday. The Cardinals won just eight of their next 29 and have the worst record in the NL. At least Marmol doesn’t have O’Neill to kick around for a while. He’s onto Willson Contreras this month.

Horseshoes and Marlins: With their 14-inning victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field Sunday, the Miami Marlins improved to 11-0 in one-run games this year, which matches the 1972 New York Mets for most consecutive wins in one-run games to open a MLB season. “When the game’s tight and the pressure is on, it shows that we stay poised and somehow just get the job done any way possible,” said Garrett Hampson, the 11th-inning pinch-runner who stayed poised enough to score on a 14th-inning balk that proved the difference Sunday. The Marlins are 7-19 (through Tuesday) in their 26 other MLB games this year.

Words of Wisdom: Renowned Chicago Cubs veteran pitcher and mentor Kyle Hendricks was there again for some of the organization’s young guys when, after getting hit hard in two Triple-A rehab starts, he went to Chicago to throw a bullpen for the big-league staff. “I told the boys down there, you go three innings, give up 10, apparently you get the call. That’s all you gotta do,” he said. They don’t call him The Professor for nothing.

Gordon Wittenmyer covers Major League Baseball for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @GDubCub.

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