street. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With the Oakland A’s going through a dismal season, what must it feel like to see the mighty Braves win every night for the past month, post the best record in baseball, and get huge contributions from players they’ve traded to Atlanta in the past two years? The last two, Matt Olson and Shaun Murphy?
They’ve had time to accept and move on from trading Olson before the 2021 season, but the pain of trading Murphy in December is fresh, and certainly made worse by the fact that the former Gold Glove catcher has taken his previously solid offensive performance to a whole different level in his first half-season with the Braves. Quite simply, Murphy exceeded any and all expectations.
MLB leads in nearly every major offensive category, and after his home run hit three home runs in the fourth inning Saturday night in a 6-1 win over Tampa Bay, he had one homer and 11 backups shy of his career best last season with Oakland. He has 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 67 games – 45 percent of his games were played a year earlier with Oakland when he finished with 18 homers and 66 RBIs.
Oh, and he’ll start in the National League’s All-Star Game Tuesday in Seattle, another measure of how great Murphy’s first season was with his new team.
As if more was needed, beyond the Braves’ 60-28 record, his artillery defense, and Murphy’s .306 batting average and .999 OPS, which ranks third in the major leagues—one place behind teammate Ronald Acuña Jr. 1,001 – among batters who appear 250 or more plates. Murphy’s 3.7 fWAR is tied for fifth in the majors heading into Saturday behind four players — Acuña, Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Wander Franco — who each have significantly more starts in games and appearances on the plate than Murphy did in 2023, which is notable since WAR Cumulative Scale.
Tied for most wins in the majors, said Braves pitcher Spencer Strider, who struck out with 11 strikeouts in 6 1/3 scoreless innings while holding the Rays to four hits and one walk and improved to 11-2. “You get to the point where I just expect him to hit the ball hard. And the confidence he gives you in the running game and the competition — I mean, we’re very lucky behind the plate this year between him and Trav (catcher Travis D’Arno). And yeah, I mean, the abuse from him was unreal. “.
“It is what it is,” Murphy said with typical modesty. “I just try to do the same things every day. I don’t look at the results and take a lot into account. I worry more about winning games. But when I can help out on the offensive side, I’ll accept that.”
The Braves won 27 of 31 games and moved to a season-high 32 games over . 500 while becoming the 11th team since 2000 to have 60 wins going into the break. They also hosted the 25th consecutive game, matching a modern era franchise record.
The only negative Saturday: reliever AJ Minter came out in the eighth inning with tightness in his left breast after striking out Yandy Diaz and throwing two pitches to Franco. But Minter told his teammates “I’ll be fine” as he left the field, and said afterwards that he was sure it was nothing major, just a tightness he knew better than trying to break through the field. He said no tests were scheduled or expected to be needed, and he hoped she would be feeling well by Sunday.
The All-Star break starting Monday comes at a good time for Minter, even if he and some other Braves have said in recent days that they didn’t have to take a four-day break, given the role they’ve been in. .
“We just played great,” said Stryder. “It feels like every part is clicking now. Even over the course of a game, when someone’s struggling or when the offense is struggling or we’re falling behind, it’s nice to know the other half of the team is coming to get you and figure it out, and that’s kind of what’s been going on. We We play loose, and it feels good.”
When they acquired Murphy as the centerpiece of a three-team deal in December that sent catcher William Contreras to Milwaukee and projected prospects Kyle Mueller and Freddie Tarnock to Oakland (among six players parted ways with Atlanta in the deal), the Braves would have been content this season if Murphy performed. As he did last season. 250 with a . 759 OPS in 148 games in 2022.
But he far exceeded that level of performance in his first season with the Braves, who signed the 28-year-old Murphy to a six-year, $73 million extension within two weeks of the deal. His time behind the plate has been reduced by design, with d’Arno’s 2022 All-Stars receiving a greater share of duties than a traditional second catcher.
Murphy’s performance improved dramatically at the plate and the elite stayed behind. The Braves think getting more rest than he did a year ago may have helped him so far, especially given the hotter weather he’s been holding this season compared to his four seasons with Oakland.
“I think it’s a good thing we’re not wearing him down,” Snicker said. “He can catch two out of three and that’s great. Keep him strong. I think he might have been good for his production here, and as I say, as Travis does, we get a lot of productivity out of that position, that’s for sure.”
Through the Braves’ first 88 games, Murphy has started 58 games at catcher and four at designated hitter, after starting 130 games at catcher and 30 as a designated hitter a year earlier with Oakland. The Braves don’t need him in DH when he’s not catching, at least not with Marcel Ozuna’s remarkable offensive improvement since May 1st.
Murphy’s workload included a stretch from April 9 to May 9 when he started 24 of 29 games at catcher while D’Arnaud was recovering from a concussion. Murphy was the DH in three of the five games he caught Chadwick Tromp in this stretch. Throughout this month, he showed little, if any, fatigue.
Since D’Arno’s return, the Braves have been catching Murphy in two out of every three games, except for five games spanning June 18–24 when Murphy was sidelined with a strained hamstring and D’Arno was caught every day.
D’Arnaud, who will attend Sunday’s series finale in Tampa Bay, has higher average (.276) and OPS (.832) in 35 games than he did a year ago when he hit .261 with a .771 OPS in 63 games before. The end of the first half was an All-Star for the first time. He finished last season with 18 homers, 60 RBIs, and 791 OPS in 426 PS and has seven homers and 22 RBI in 142 plate appearances this season despite being famously on the injured list.
Asked how Darnaud would deal with his limited role, Snicker said: “I think he’s got the chance to continue playing for a long time, in my view, doing that. And it’s very good; we split it really well. We knew coming to Merv would probably get for the most part, and it’s great that a man like Travis can support him—or share the duties, I think—and as we’ve seen when one or the other is commissioned, then the other man can carry the torch for a long time.”
Charlie Morton pitched 6 1/3 innings of four-hit ball, one run in Friday’s 2-1 win over Tampa Bay, and improved to 4-0 with a 2.28 ERA in his past five starts. Murphy powered all of Atlanta’s offense with a two-run homer in that game, and also threw out two would-be base stealers.
“It’s fantastic,” Morton said of Murphy’s work. “And like I said before, we have the luxury of having two very good (hunters) who are very fun to work with, and they’re just good people. I look forward to seeing them every day. Going to work with Murph is great. And the way he swings the bat, and just everything. Just It’s all about him. Just a great guy.”
Under the leadership of catching coach Sal Fasano, the Braves have a game-prep component with daily meetings that include the starting pitcher, both catchers, Fasano, and former Braves coach/catcher Eddie Perez, along with at least one of the team’s analytics experts. During games, it is common to see pitchers talking not only with pitching coach Rick Kranitz in the dugout, but with Fasano and one or both of them, exchanging notes and ideas either of them might have during the game.
Murphy said his connection with Darno — the veteran catcher was the first Brave he called after the December trade — and Fasano helped greatly in his transition to a new team and league.
“I can’t say enough good things about these guys,” said Murphy. “They are the reason for my success, they make my life easy as far as spotting pitchers and making matches easier, working with the crew. So those two guys, I rely on them and their experience. So, a lot of credit to those guys.”
(Photo by Matt Olson and Sean Murphy: Nathan Ray Sibeck/USA Today)
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