ATLANTA – Braves assistant hitting coach Bobby Magallanes saw Dansby Swanson struggle to hide his frustration after going hitless and committing an error through the first six innings of Wednesday night’s game at Truist Park.
“I was just looking at Mags and shaking my head because I wasn’t a happy camper,” Swanson said. “He came up to me and said, ‘You’re going to win this one for us or you’re going to come up in a big time.'”
Magallanes’ message may have proven more prophetic than he envisioned. Swanson fueled Wednesday night’s comeback 4-3 win with a ninth-inning homer, then he hit two more homers – including a decisive one – in the Braves ’7-6 win over the Giants on Thursday afternoon at Truist Park.
What a difference half a day can make.
“I keep saying [Swanson] is the strongest mental player I think I’ve ever been around, ”Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s into the game with every pitch. All that kid wants to do is win. ”
This has been a great stretch for Swanson and the Braves, who have won 18 of their past 21 games to move within four games of the first-place Mets in the National League East. By taking three of four from the Giants, the defending World Series champs quieted those who attributed their recent success to a friendly portion of the schedule.
With Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley and Adam Duvall all resting on a hot summer day, Swanson set the tone for a makeshift lineup. The veteran shortstop hit his first career leadoff homer and then added a solo home run in the fourth inning, giving him a homer in three straight at-bats going back to Wednesday. His home run that night began the Braves ’three-run rally for a walk-off victory.
All that separated Swanson from a homer in three straight plate appearances was being hit by an Alex Wood pitch during a five-run second inning. Wood was chased from the game during a spell that provided some cushion for Braves starter Kyle Wright, who allowed four runs on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings.
“[Swanson] has been awesome, ”Wright said. “He’s been doing it all: hitting, playing defense and running the bases. He’s a big leader for us right in the middle of the field. ”
Acuña might be one of baseball’s most exciting players and Max Fried is again establishing himself as a top Cy Young Award nominee, but there’s no doubt that the Braves ’most valuable player has been Swanson. In fact, the shortstop veteran has positioned himself to draw National League MVP consideration.
Swanson is hitting .302 with 12 homers and an .868 OPS. The 28-year-old Atlanta native entered Thursday ranked fifth among NL players with a 3.1 fWAR (Fangraphs’ WAR model). He is enjoying this success while potentially navigating toward entering the free-agent market for the first time this winter.
“This is what you envisioned him doing when he came [to the Majors] at a young age, ”Snitker said.
Swanson was rushed to the Majors from the Double-A level for the final six weeks of the 2016 season, just a year after the D-backs had taken him with the first overall pick in the 2015 Draft. There were some growing pains. But the shortstop’s fortitude always created reason to think he might reach the level he is enjoying now.
Swanson ranks among the NL leaders in WAR despite hitting .143 with a .432 OPS through his first 14 games. He has hit .338 with a .966 OPS over the 57 games that have followed. Austin Riley (.821) is the only qualified Braves player to produce an .800 OPS within this span.
As the Braves have lost just three of 21 games this month, Swanson has hit .372 with a 1,083 OPS. He has also provided plus value with his glove and invaluable leadership in the clubhouse. He has been the Braves’ MVP – and if his success continues, some may consider him to be a contender in the NL MVP race.
“It’s not surprising to see what he’s been doing,” Wright said. “He’s very strong mentally and physically. He does all the things he needs to to put himself in position to succeed. He’s just reaping the benefits. ”