The future of the National League was on display Thursday, and it has a decidedly suburban flavor.
The suburb in question is in Cobb County, Georgia, about 12 miles from downtown Atlanta, where SunTrust Park is located. But it was in Cincinnati that tenderfoots Ozzie Albies, 21, and Ronald Acuna, 20, gave us a taste what Braves opponents are going to have to contend with for years to come.
Let the record show that Acuna's first career homer came off of Cincinnati's Homer Bailey and it made him the youngest Brave to hit a home run since Andruw Jones in 1996. The ball soared into the second deck at Great American Ballpark, where a very excited young Braves fan caught the ball in a 7-4 Atlanta victory.
I'm not a cynical person, so I assumed that guy was indeed overcome with enthusiasm and not rushing out to put the ball on eBay. Indeed, it seems that my faith was warranted and he was simply happy to be in the right place at the right time.
Overjoyed to have caught Ronald Acuña JR's First Major League Home Run, but even more happy to have been able to hand deliver the baseball to him postgame! All the best in your career, and Go @Braves!@MLB @MLBNetwork @Cut4 pic.twitter.com/vZks7S3e7O— Ñ (@JoeWeb10) April 26, 2018
I did the report on this in game... he got some "cool personal items" and got to hand deliver the ball to Acuña after the game. Cool experience for him! https://t.co/8tggiJLY7J— Kelsey Wingert (@KelsWingert) April 27, 2018
Acuna also doubled and singled, giving him a cool .444/.444/.889 batting line for his first two big league games. Seems as if those extra couple of weeks of seasoning at Gwinnett really paid off and it totally had nothing to do with Acuna's service-time clock.
Meanwhile, Albies kept doing what he's been doing since Opening Day: mashing. Albies hit his eighth homer, moving him into a tie with Bryce Harper and Charlie Blackmon for the National League lead. He also doubled for the 10th time this season, one behind teammate Freddie Freeman for the big league lead. Freeman, by the way, doubled three times Thursday, the first time he's ever done that in a game.
Albies now has 19 extra-base hits with a few days still left in April. That's two more than any other big league player. And it puts him on a historic pace.
Wow. Acuna and Albies are the two youngest players in the major leagues. In fact, when they both homered against the Reds, they became the youngest players to homer in the same game since another Atlanta pair.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and @albiesozzie97 are the youngest teammates to homer in the same game since 1978 when Glenn Hubbard and Bob Horner also did it for the @Braves ... against the #Reds. pic.twitter.com/MHj5tCavBX— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) April 26, 2018
Believe me, I would like to now go on to wax poetic about those late-'70s Braves teams, beamed all over the land when TBS was WTBS and a superstation. Horner, Hubbard, a young Dale Murphy, Brian Asselstine. Memories!
Alas, our time here is limited. Time, however, is very much on the side of Acuna, Albies and Dansby Swanson and the coming wave of Atlanta prospects. The time is a good one to be a Braves fan.
Good day for a walk-off. There were three walk-off wins Thursday. That's according to ESPN Stats & Information. They are always telling us stuff like that and it's why we love them. Those folks have a knack for answering questions before we've even asked them. The last time there were four walk-off games in the same day was Aug. 23, 2017. ESPN Stats & Info told us that, too.
FACT: Krakens can walkoff. pic.twitter.com/174EdFEhT7— New York Yankees (@Yankees) April 26, 2018
That was Gary Sanchez's first career walk-off homer, giving the Yankees a 4-3 win. You know who told me that? OK -- I'll leave it alone. But not because I'd be overdoing it, but because that wasn't the most interesting factoid to emerge in that game.
Minnesota's Kyle Gibson no-hit the Yankees into the sixth inning, the second-longest bid of his career. He didn't complete it, of course, and for that I take full responsibility. As soon as I noticed Gibson was working on a no-no, I turned the game on and immediately Brett Gardner laced a two-out single. The average time it takes a no-hitter to vanish after I've started to watch a game is 18.4 seconds.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the last individual pitcher to no-hit the Yankees was Hoyt Wilhelm in 1958. 1958! Every team has been no-hit by an individual (i.e., not including lame combined no-nos) since then. The Giants have been victims of one-man no-hitters 11 times since Wilhelm's gem.
It's fun to be a pirate. It’s also fun to be a Pirate when the Pirates win because they do that dance-party thing. People like it. That dance-off was precipitated by Corey Dickerson's first career walk-off homer, the only run against the Tigers.
Dickerson is on pace to lead the Pirates with a 6.5 WAR this season, which ranks him 42nd in the majors at the moment. He's hitting .314/.348/.500, but that dinger was just his second this season. He hit 27 and 24 the past two years, respectively, so the Bucs can expect more of those. His nice WAR total to date is driven largely by the fact that he leads all of baseball in defensive runs saved.
Maybe none of this will last, but let's flash back to the winter. Dickerson signed a one-year, $5.95 million deal with the Rays in January to avoid arbitration. Just over a month later, the penny-pinching Rays designated him for assignment. A trade then was arranged to send Dickerson to Pittsburgh for Daniel Hudson, prospect Tristan Gray and about a million dollars.
Hudson already has left Tampa Bay, having been waived during the spring, and was just called up by the Dodgers, who claimed him. Gray, 22, is a former 13th-round draft pick currently playing in Single-A. The million bucks that the Rays received from Pittsburgh might or might not have gone toward the signing of veteran Carlos Gomez to a one-year, $4 million contract during spring training. Gomez is hitting .176.
No matter how you look at it, the Rays' decision to have Dickerson designated for assignment remains one of the more perplexing moves of the winter.
The return of Kang. In other Pirates news, the team announced Thursday that South Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang finally saw his visa issues resolved and will rejoin the organization.
Kang has been on Pittsburgh's reserved list since March 2017, so long ago that I assumed he was never coming back to the States. It's also long enough that maybe we should remind ourselves of what he did for the Pirates before all of this happened.
Kang hit .273/.355/.483 over two seasons with the Bucs, with 36 home runs. He played about three-quarters of his defensive innings at third base, with the rest coming at shortstop, and posted positive runs saved totals in the aggregate. Despite a solid overall start, Pittsburgh ranks in the bottom 10 in WAR at both third base and shortstop so far this season.
The Pirates are well-heeled at the hot corner with offseason pickup Colin Moran, with occasional help from veteran David Freese. However, Pittsburgh could use a boost at the shortstop position held down for so long by Jordy Mercer, who has been referred to as "steady" for so long it might end up on his tombstone. Could Kang wedge his way into the mix at that position? With prospect Kevin Newman struggling in Triple-A, it might be the best hope for the Pirates to upgrade the spot.
Pittsburgh is 14-11 after Dickerson's heroics but, still, you figure if they are going to hang in what is shaping up as a brutal NL Central race, the Pirates are going to need to squeeze a number of marginal wins from wherever they can find them. Kang might aid that quest.