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Normals New and Otherwise

In the late innings of Sunday’s game, Gary and Keith warned us that this snoozy matinee against the Braves wasn’t over — and was a lot closer than it felt.

They were right about the peril and the presumption. The Braves were within bloop-and-a-blast range of a tie in those late innings and came within a measly single of a tie and a long double of a walkoff win in the ninth, and yet I was sprawled on my couch giving this one the quality of attention usually reserved for midsummer laughers.

The game certainly had its pleasures. The biggest was the return of Jacob deGrom [1], who’s still missing some of his velocity (in which malady he at least has company) but threw with no hint of discomfort or distress. And happiest of all, he took the mound confident that young Jaxon deGrom was at home watching him pitch (or, OK, occasionally looking in the direction of the bright blur of the set) and doing just fine.

Pitchers are creatures of routine, from their between-games preparation to the divots they carve out on the clay of the mound. So are new parents — about-to-be parents know their lives are on the verge of an enormous change, but they’re stuck waiting for it to happen, which means lots of not particularly productive worrying about it. In the vast majority of cases, within 72 hours or so those new parents have handled everything a baby needs multiple times, going from novice to reasonably proficient over the course of a long weekend. Which is when they realize they just have to repeat those last 72 hours, oh, hundreds of times. Been there!

But that didn’t happen for the deGroms. Jaxon would stop breathing while he slept [2] — the frightening opposite of routine. Fortunately, deGrom’s sister-in-law is a respiratory therapist; she noticed what was happening immediately and knew what to do. Jaxon spent a few days in the NICU, which is where my son also began his life. We were pretty sure Joshua would be fine, and he was, but the NICU’s still an anxious place even if your time there is largely precautionary. You can’t adjust to the new life that you’d braced for, and you can see for yourself that there’s the possibility of something very different.

Jaxon’s home and Jacob’s on the mound; our best to the deGroms as Mets fans but more importantly as fellow people. It was a relief — on multiple levels — to be able to watch deGrom looking like his usual hirsute/skinny self, and to see him able to pitch well even with a somewhat rusty arsenal.

The Braves’ new normal isn’t one their fans will enjoy, though. This is a bad, bad baseball team. Our collective nonchalance was unwise, perhaps, but not uninformed [3]: to pose a threat, the Braves were going to have to string singles together, since they were devoid of extra-base power. Rarely has a team collected 12 hits while still seeming utterly punchless.

It won’t be like this forever, of course: pitchers like young Aaron Blair [4], making his big-league debut after throwing seven no-hit innings for Gwinnett, may well be part of an eventual return to competitiveness and then to more than that. Blair — who looks like someone inflated Christian Yelich [5] — was understandably unnerved in the first but righted himself after that, riding a solid change-up through five innings and change. Good for him — but he better brace for a year of taking his lumps.

The Braves are terrible, but so, by all appearances, are the Reds, Brewers, Rockies and Padres, with the Marlins and Phillies not looking a lot better. (Which isn’t to say the Marlins won’t bite us in the ass an annoying number of times — I half-suspect it’s why the franchise exists.) The Nationals are in first place because they’re really good, but it doesn’t hurt that so far they’ve played the Braves, Marlins, Phillies and Twins. They now at least have to face the Cardinals, Royals and Cubs, while we play 10 of our next 13 against the Reds, Braves and Padres.

That guarantees nothing for either team, of course — just one of the reasons baseball is so great. But we should get used to thinking about strength of schedule in a way that we haven’t always done. At least for 2016, it’s a new National League normal.