MILWAUKEE — After four straight losing seasons, the Atlanta Braves are on the rise again.
Their changing fortunes were affirmed Sunday with two players elected to the All-Star Game’s starting lineup for the first time since 2003, in first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Nick Markakis.
“It means the world really,” Freeman said after the Braves’ 10-2 loss in Milwaukee on Sunday. “Obviously you don’t play this for the recognition. … But when you kind of sit back and look at it and see how many people, actually voted for you it’s pretty remarkable.”
Freeman, 28, will be making his third All-Star Game appearance in his eighth season as Atlanta’s starting first baseman.
Freeman’s performance has been consistent with his past seasons, hitting .315 with 16 home runs. It will be his first fan-elected start after leading the entire National League in voting.
“Must have been three years we only had one [player] going,” Freeman said. “It’s kind of how it’s been going around here, but this is a big deal to have Nick Markakis go to the All-Star Game, you almost get a little emotional. He deserves it many more time before this. Guy who has 2,000 hits, the ultimate pro. … It’s going to be awesome to see that.”
Markakis, 34, is in his last season of a four-year deal the right fielder signed as a free agent after nine years in Baltimore. Markakis leads the league in hits and is currently hitting for a career-best .323 batting average and slugging for a career-best .494.
“It’s time for it,” said Braves infielder Ryan Flaherty, who was also Markakis’ teammate in Baltimore. “He never self-promotes himself and it’s just nice to see the fans recognize it and much deserving.”
Markakis led all NL outfielders in voting in order to make his first All-Star appearance in 13 years in the major leagues.
“It’s about the fans,” Markakis said. “I appreciate all the votes and everything the Braves put into it. It’s a long process. I just went out there and did my job, played baseball and, you know, everything else took care of itself.”
“Whether it came my first year or this late in my career, it’s going to be an exciting time. It’s something I never experienced. You know I got Freddie to lean shoulder on there. I’ll just have fun with it. … Just being out there with the best baseball players in the world. You’re going to be playing with guys you go out there trying to beat on a daily basis. So it’s going to be nice to socialize with those guys, be around them and just hang out for a couple of days.”
Foltynewicz and Albies were chosen by player ballots. Foltynewicz, 26, has been a breakout star this season, posting a 6-5 record a 2.37 ERA in 17 starts, with 114 strikeouts in 95 innings pitched.
Albies, a switch-hitter from Curacao standing 5-foot-8, surprised the league by hitting 14 home runs in the season’s first two months. He now has 18 and also leads the NL with 29 doubles and 69 runs scored. The 21-year-old could become the youngest Brave to play in an All-Star Game since Hank Aaron (21 years, 157 days) in 1955. Albies fell short in the final stretch of fan balloting, and was overtaken by Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez.
The Braves have been one of the surprise contenders in the major leagues this year, just a season removed from finishing 72-90 in 2017. ESPN.com projected them to finish with a 79-83 record this season with a fourth-place finish in NL East, while FanGraphs projected them to go 75-87 (finishing third).
Atlanta has proven to be a legitimate contender with a 50-39 record and having held on to the top spot in the NL East for close to two months. Before a recent slump narrowed the NL East race, the Braves had the best record in the National League and a 3.5-game divisional lead.