It was a situation that was playing out like so many already had in this forgettable season of Atlanta Braves baseball.
In the bottom of the second inning of Monday afternoon’s game against the San Francisco Giants, the Braves had quickly gotten runners on second and third with nobody out. Down 1-0, it seemed likely that the Braves would at least tie the game before the inning was over, but we’d seen this go wrong before.
Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija would battle back, with an intentional walk sprinkled in, to get two outs in the inning. The situation was looking bleak, even with the bases loaded, because the Braves have been one of the two worst teams in Major League Baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position this month.
Then Mallex Smith stepped into the batter’s box. With a 1-0 count, Smith rode a pitch to left-center field, clearing the bases. That hit would end up being the difference in a 5-3 victory for the Braves.
Atlanta’s center fielder has been getting better and better since he was called up on April 10, and he has quickly become one of the most exciting parts of the ballclub. Armed with blazing speed and a great glove, Smith’s bat is also becoming a weapon for the Braves, and it’s making a big difference.
In April, Smith batted just .188 as he adjusted to big-league baseball, a problem many up-and-comers have. But in May, Smith has batted .275, raising his batting average nearly 100 points. He’s slugging 201 points higher – .493 in May, compared to .292 in April – and Smith has hit three of the Braves’ league-worst 21 home runs, all in May.
Smith’s development has been exciting to watch but is far from over, so if you’re a Braves fan looking for a reason to watch this summer’s team a little more carefully and don’t want to wait for the likes of Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies to grace the big-league club with their talent, Mallex stands ready to show you a glimpse of the future.
Photo: AP/Michael PerezFollow @Sean_Breslin