Atlanta Braves: Charlie Culberson was an excellent acquisition

Charlie Culberson was traded to the Braves this past winter, and he's been one of the best pieces acquired by a team that looks to be done with their re-build.

(Photo Credit: Thomson200)

The first time Charlie Culberson caught my attention was during Vin Scully’s final game as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster. Imagine, coming to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, against a division rival, on the final day of one of the most legendary broadcasters in baseball. Watching that game I thought, who on earth is this rookie? But he wasn’t really a rookie, as Culberson had bounced around from San Francisco to Colorado for his first three seasons before he was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers in 2015. And now here he was, taking a crucial at-bat for the Dodgers against his former team with a chance to clinch the division, and on a day where Vin Scully would love to have something to smile about. Culberson delivered with a single swing, on a 0-1 pitch. 

You can barely hear the call over the roar of the crowd of Dodger Stadium, “The Dodgers will celebrate on schedule.” 

And then Scully lets the moment breath as Culberson tosses his helmet into the air and is swallowed by his teammates at home plate. It was his first home run of the year. 

In the past two seasons with the Dodgers, Culberson was mostly a utility guy. The Dodgers had plenty of offense and defense from their outfielders, so they didn’t really need him to be that everyday guy. But his numbers were there, especially in the postseason where his OPS was 1.235 in 11 at-bats. And while the Dodgers’ multi-player trade to bring Matt Kemp home seems to be working out okay for them so far, they may have been better off keeping Culberson in LA.  The Dodgers have struggled all season but down in Atlanta, they’re reaping all the benefits at the top of the NL East. 

A flair for dramatic

Culberson has now brought his late-game dramatics to the ATL. On Memorial Day, during a doubleheader against the division rival New York Mets, he once again came off the bench to pinch hit and buried Seth Lugo’s mistake into the left-field seats. Game over. Braves win. 

He did it again against the Nationals just this past Sunday, on a high fastball from Tanner Roark. 4-2 Braves win. For a man who has eight career home runs, four of those, are walk-offs. The two he has so far this year are the two I just mentioned.  Honestly, if all of his home runs this year ended up just being the occasional walk-off, I don’t think the Braves would mind. 

Dramatics aside, Culberson has been a fantastic piece in the lineup. He always seems to be able to get himself on base. He's currently putting up a slash line of .263/.314./438 with an OPS of .740. Even more impressive, his OPS with runners in scoring position is .929. So while he's not currently leading the team in WAR or OBP, he's doing the most damage when it counts. Runners on second and third? No problem. Culberson is batting .667. He thrives off the moment, and to have a guy like that on the bench and on the field is invaluable to a Braves team that has so far surprised everyone with just how ready they were to compete in the NL East. 

The best is still on the horizon

"...But it was neat because the fans were into it. I heard them chanting my name. I was like, this is a neat situation." was Culberson's reaction to his most recent game ending spectacle.  That's adorable. "Neat." It's humble and sweet and perhaps the biggest understatement of his own abilities. 

I'd love to see Culberson get as much playing time as possible, and yet, watching him appear just in time to save the day has been beautiful. There's no doubt that as the Nationals get healthy again and we move deeper into the season, Culberson will be a key factor in what may or may not push the Braves into their first postseason appearance since 2012. 

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