Top of the Order: The Braves’ Ghost Bench

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Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

Matt Olson’s streak of consecutive games played is expected to hit 500 on Saturday against the Padres, but he’s far from the only iron man in Atlanta this season. Third baseman Austin Riley, center fielder Michael Harris II, right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr., and designated hitter Marcell Ozuna have started every Braves game at their respective positions, and Orlando Arcia has started 36 of 37 games at shortstop. Second baseman Ozzie Albies would’ve been in the Never Takes A Day Off club, too, if he hadn’t missed eight games with a broken toe — yes, only eight games.

All told, except for catcher and left field (where Jarred Kelenic and Adam Duvall platoon), the remaining seven positions have had 259 starting opportunities (seven positions times 37 games), with only nine of them going to backups: six for Luis Guillorme (five at second and one at shortstop) and three for David Fletcher at second base. But that lack of playing time hasn’t stopped the Braves from shuffling players into and out of the two bench spots not occupied by one of the two left fielders and backup catcher Chadwick Tromp. (Starting catcher Sean Murphy has not played since Opening Day, when he strained his oblique; while Travis d’Arnaud, an All-Star catcher in his own right, has started 24 games behind the dish.)

Atlanta signed Guillorme to a $1.1 million contract in the offseason, a move that seemed to assure him a spot for the entirety of the season, even though he didn’t fit the roster perfectly. (Guillorme doesn’t have the speed to be a pinch-running threat, for example.) With all those bulletproof starters, the Braves didn’t really need him to do much of anything; he’d be there in case of an emergency because he could play any of the four infield positions. However, it turns out the Braves really didn’t need him, as Guillorme is now a member of the Angels. Outfielder Forrest Wall, who occupied the last bench spot on Opening Day (along with Guillorme, Duvall, and d’Arnaud), is now back in Triple-A.

In all, the two bench spots that don’t belong to a catcher or a left fielder have been occupied by five players this season: Wall, Guillorme, Fletcher, Luke Williams, and Zack Short, who was acquired from the Red Sox ahead of the Guillorme trade. Currently, the two rotating members of the ghost bench are Short and Williams. Those five have combined for just 34 plate appearances across 21 games, with Atlanta sticking to its brand of having its everyday players be exactly that.

Of course, after I filed this column, the Braves lifted Riley from last night’s 4-3 loss to the Mets with what Atlanta announced was “left side tightness.” As of now, it’s unclear whether Riley will be in the lineup tonight against the Cubs, but the Braves said his exit was precautionary, so the discomfort — for now it feels too early to call it an injury — doesn’t seem to be serious.

During this era of load management, teams stress the importance of having a deep bench, but that just doesn’t seem to be necessary for the Braves. Indeed, one of the main reasons the Braves have been so good these last few years is their most talented position players have also been their most durable.

Christian Scott Looks Legit

Christian Scott has acclimated himself quite nicely to the big leagues in his first two starts with the Mets. In his debut on May 4, he pitched six innings of one-run ball against the Rays. He followed that up with eight strikeouts in Saturday’s quality start against the aforementioned tough and durable Braves lineup. The Mets lost both starts, though, providing Scott with one run of support in each game.

Scott, who entered the season ranked no. 98 on our Top 100 Prospects list, was heralded coming up through the minors for having a fastball that — as Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin wrote — “jumps on hitters,” though that’s been his least impressive pitch thus far. He has demonstrated the promise of the pitch getting opponents to whiff on 37% of their swings against it, but it has been inconsistent, as batters have also piled up nine hits off the heater, including a home run. That actually portends well for Scott since it shows that he can get by on more than just his signature pitch. He also has two devastating breaking balls that, along with his fastball, could make him a capable member of the next great Mets rotation.

Weekend Wrap Up

Let’s run through some things that stood out to me this weekend:

Tyler Glasnow and Michael King had a pitcher’s duel for the ages on Friday. Each starter threw seven innings: Glasnow allowed just one run on one hit (a solo homer to Luis Campusano) and struck out 10; King didn’t give up a run and struck out 11, surrendering just two hits. The homer kept the game at 1-0 until the top of the eighth, when Yuki Matsui coughed up the lead on a Freddie Freeman sac fly. Ultimately, Luis Arraez delivered the victory with a walk-off hit in his first home game with the Padres; he’s helped to lengthen the lineup in a big way, mostly as San Diego’s DH.

Jo Adell kept his hot streak going over the weekend. His Saturday homer was his third in four games, and his wRC+ is now 134. With Mike Trout on the shelf and Taylor Ward scuffling, Adell is the only Angel I’d be particularly afraid to pitch to right now, and yet he remains in the seventh spot in the lineup. That rigidity for the sake of comfort feels unwise.

• We’ll have more on Paul Skenes’ debut later on today, but my general take on his outing is that he looked good! Surprising for the top pitching prospect in the sport, I know. The command definitely came and went, but the stuff looked like it can get anybody out, and I think his splinker will prove to be his best pitch, especially at neutralizing lefties. Skenes allowed three runs over four-plus innings, though two of those runs came in after he was removed with runners on first and third and nobody out in the fifth. He finished with six hits, including a home run to Nico Hoerner, two walks, and seven strikeouts.

As hyped and box-score-filling as Skenes’ outing was, it was far from the most interesting thing about that game. Once Skenes departed, the Pirates issued six (!!!) bases-loaded walks in the fifth inning, with a long rain delay in the middle of all the chaos. Despite that ignominious relief-pitching performance, the Pirates still won, 10-9, thanks to five homers.

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Bum Ho Lee
17 days ago

These recaps are great after a weekend away. Small note: the homer on Friday night’s Pads/Dodgers game was Campy (who had the only 2 Padres hits before arraez), not Higgy.

17 days ago
Reply to  Bum Ho Lee

Was definitely Campusano who hit the solo shot.