Braves 'lucky' to have Murphy as power surge continues

Atlanta's catcher rakes in doubleheader, has 1st career 6-RBI day in Game 1

May 2nd, 2023

ATLANTA -- finished April as an early favorite to win the National League MVP Award. But if extends his impressive and unexpected power surge, Acuña won’t be the only Brave drawing legit consideration for this honor.

“He’s a terrific player, a terrific guy and a great teammate,” Braves starting pitcher  said. “I couldn’t ask for more from him in any capacity. I’m just really grateful he’s on our team.”

There was much praise for Murphy after he hit a pair of homers and collected a career-high six RBIs while helping the Braves claim a 9-8 win over the Mets in the first game of Monday’s doubleheader at Citi Field. The veteran catcher added two more hits as Atlanta suffered a 5-3 loss in the second game.

“I’m doing the same things I’ve always done,” Murphy said. “I’m trying to stay consistent with the same things every day. Hopefully, incremental improvements will show.”

This has been quite a trip for the Braves, who claimed a rain-shortened, five-inning win on Friday and then remained idle as rain postponed both Saturday and Sunday’s games. It didn’t look like the time off was going to be a problem, when Atlanta tallied six runs through the first two innings of this twin bill. But both games were nail-biters.  

By claiming a pair of wins in this three-game set, the first-place Braves improved to 19-10, putting them three games ahead of the Mets (16-13). This is the first time Atlanta has won at least 19 of its first 29 games since 2003.

Who has been the Braves’ most valuable player?

It’s certainly easy to say Acuña, who ranked second among all MLB players with a 1.6 fWAR before he finished Monday’s first game a triple shy of the cycle. He highlighted his three-hit game with a Statcast-projected 448-foot home run that landed in the third deck. He unfortunately left the nightcap after being hit in the left shoulder with the game’s third pitch.

But there might at least be some who argue Murphy has been as valuable, as he has handled nearly all of the catching duties since Travis d’Arnaud suffered the fourth concussion of his career on April 8. Along with proving to be a defensively sound catcher, Murphy has exceeded any expectations offensively since being acquired from the A’s in December.

“He’s a threat every time he goes up there,” manager Brian Snitker said.

Murphy entered Monday with a 1.2 fWAR, which ranked as the ninth-best mark among all MLB players. More surprising was the fact he entered the day ranked seventh with 159 weighted runs created plus (WRC+), a statistic that accounts for ballpark factors.

With the A’s pitcher-friendly stadium no longer his home ballpark, there was some expectation Murphy’s power numbers would improve this year. But few could have predicted he would have eight homers by the end of the day on May 1. He hit 17 homers in 2021 and then set a career high with 18 last year.

Still, while the power potential was there, few could have predicted Murphy would be tied with Matt Olson for the team lead in homers more than a month into the season. Some certainly weren’t expecting this as Murphy opened the season 3-for-20 with just one extra-base hit. He did produce, drawing eight walks within that short span.  

But those who were upset about losing William Contreras via that same three-team trade in December have been silenced as Murphy has since gone 21-for-65 with six doubles and eight homers. This power surge began with the walk-off homer he hit to complete a 10-inning win over the Reds on April 10.

Murphy extended this power surge with the three-run homers he hit in the first and seventh innings of Game 1 on Monday. The veteran catcher singled twice in the nightcap and drew a seventh-inning walk that put him in position to score from first on Eddie Rosario’s go-ahead triple.

With his productive doubleheader, Murphy now leads all MLB catchers in homers and OPS (1.060). It’s safe to say Braves fans have accepted the fact that their team upgraded when they acquired him at the cost of losing Contreras, who has one homer and a .779 OPS through his first 22 games with the Brewers.

“[Murphy] is a great dude,” Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton said. “Man, he hits the ball hard. He’s fun to throw to and be around. We’re lucky to have him.”