ATLANTA -- As Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. talked about what life would be like at the Major League level, their aspirations and expectations were filled with confidence. But it might have been unrealistic for them to envision the experience being this good, this soon."It doesn't feel like you're
ATLANTA -- As Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. talked about what life would be like at the Major League level, their aspirations and expectations were filled with confidence. But it might have been unrealistic for them to envision the experience being this good, this soon.
"It doesn't feel like you're watching kids play," Braves veteran pitcher Brandon McCarthy said. "They're just very, very talented. Ozzie's aggressiveness is incredible."
Along with being the two youngest position players currently at the Major League level, Albies and Acuna already stand as one of the game's most exciting combos. They added to the splendor of this year's success and created more excitement while highlighting the Braves' three-run eighth inning in Wednesday night's 4-1 win over the Cubs at SunTrust Park.
"It's something we've been dreaming about, so we're going to make it happen now," said Albies, who tripled to begin the eighth and then trotted toward the plate when Acuna followed with a go-ahead single to left field off Cubs right-hander C.J. Edwards
Albies, who doubled and scored in the first inning, has tallied a Major League-leading 30 extra-base hits. The 21-year-old second baseman's total is the most by a Braves player through team's first 42 games since 1959, when Hank Aaron tallied 32 through this span.
"I saw Ozzie was about 5-foot-6," McCarthy said of his first impression."Naturally, you think big people are going to do it and with small people, something is wrong. Now that I see Ozzie play and you pay attention where you're not really paying attention during Spring (Training), you realize this is a horribly complete baseball player who can do a lot of things well."
McCarthy rebounded from two frustration-filled starts to limit the Cubs to one run over six innings and Arodys Vizcaino bounced back from a blown save to complete another strong night by the bullpen. But as the Braves maintained the National League's best record with their sixth win in their past eight games, the focus was once again on Albies and Acuna.
Acuna delivered a go-ahead two-out homer off Edwards during the eighth inning of Tuesday's series opener and then watched Vizcaino allow the Cubs to tally a pair of runs in the decisive ninth. Provided another opportunity to come through in the clutch, the 20-year-old outfielder foiled Edwards again with the game-winning single that came off his bat with a 108.6-mph exit velocity.
"[Acuna] has been very clutch," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He is just a young kid who is really confident in his abilities and in his ability to play the game. I don't see situations bother him. It's been a really good week for him. He got a lot of really great on-the-job training this week and I think it is going to help his development as a young Major League player."
Through the first 20 games of his career, Acuna has batted .275 with four homers and a .848 OPS. His two-hit game on Wednesday halted the mini-slump he had experienced while going 5-for-30 with 14 strikeouts over his previous eight games.
Going through just the fourth month of his career, Albies has earned some early-season MVP consideration as he has hit .283 with a National League-high 13 homers and a .918 OPS. He has provided a consistent spark at the top of the lineup for a team that has scored at least 14 more runs than any other NL team this season.
"It doesn't really impress me because I know that that is just the talent that he has," Acuna said through an interpreter. "That's how good he is and I have known that for so long. I am happy when he has those moments."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
No pain for Shane: Shane Carle surrendered a leadoff double to Addison Russell and then resumed his dominance over the remainder of a scoreless seventh that concluded with an Albert Almora Jr. strikeout. Carle, who has a 0.72 ERA through 25 innings, exited after Kristopher Bryant capped his three-hit night with a leadoff single in the eighth. Bryant was left stranded when A.J. Minter entered to complete a scoreless frame.
"[Carle] has been just money all year," Snitker said. "He keeps taking the ball and getting those big outs in the stressful situations and doing a great jobs for us. It's great to see."
One of the primary reasons the Braves have produced an MLB-best 40 runs in the first inning comes from the fact Albies leads baseball in first-inning runs (14), hits (19), home runs (6) and extra-base hits (11). Freddie Freeman (13) is the only other Atlanta player with as many as eight total hits in the opening frame.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Tyler Flowers' long second-inning drive, which Statcast™ projected would have traveled 407 feet, led to thievery as Almora climbed the center-field wall and snared the potential homer above the 400 sign. Batted balls hit with Flowers' combination of 106-mph exit velocity and 22-degree launch angle have gone for home runs roughly seven out of 10 times since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015.
"I wasn't sure if it was going to go out or not when I hit it," Flowers said. "But I definitely did not think it was going to be caught. I thought it was more of a line drive type of hit more than a fly ball where an outfielder typically has time to get back there. I heard he was playing pretty deep. That worked out well for him there. Maybe tomorrow, I'll put a little jam job in front of him and get him back."
HE SAID IT
"I can breathe a little bit and not be the anchor on the team right now, holding everything down. That starts to add up after a few starts in a row. I was starting to get pretty frustrated. It was good to get that out of the way." -- McCarthy, who had allowed at least 11 hits in both of his first two starts this month
"I definitely had a desire and a want to go back out there today, especially after what happened." -- Vizcaino, after working a perfect ninth inning about 24 hours after his second blown save
Mike Soroka will make his fourth career start when the Braves and Cubs conclude a four-game series on Thursday night at SunTrust Park. The 20-year-old right-hander struggled as he lasted just four innings in his only previous start at home. But after that May 4 outing against the Cubs, he rebounded with Saturday's strong effort against the Marlins, who tallied four unearned runs with two outs in the fifth. Chicago will counter with Atlanta resident Jonathan Lester, with first pitch at 7:35 p.m. ET.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.