The Atlanta Braves have been one of the more intriguing teams in baseball this season, They’re 16-11, in second place in the National League East, and are off to a surprising start. And that hot start is sustainable.
Going into the regular season, the Braves were viewed as a rebuilding team that was still a couple of years away from being a playoff threat. They haven’t made the postseason since 2013 and have a roster whose core is relatively young. At the same time, that young talent is blossoming quickly and has a healthy mix of veterans to complement them.
Going into Monday night, the Braves were second in baseball in runs scored (151) and third in batting average (.268); they’re getting production from every member of their lineup. Second baseman Ozzie Albies is hitting .293 with nine home runs and 20 RBIs, shortstop Dansby Swanson is hitting .287, and manager Brian Snitker‘s veterans are answering the call. Nick Markakis has driven in 18 runs and is hitting .302. Ryan Flaherty is hitting .300, while Preston Tucker has driven in 18 runs. Ender Inciarte, while not stellar, is still hitting .276. Franchise cornerstone Freddie Freeman has been exceptional, hitting .314 with 19 RBIs. And catcher Kurt Suzuki has also driven in 12 runs and is hitting .290.
The Braves also quietly have one of baseball’s best starting rotations. Going into Monday night, they owned the ninth-best team ERA in baseball (3.64), which is better than the New York Mets, Washington Nationals, and Los Angeles Dodgers. Atlanta doesn’t have a bonafide ace in its rotation, but they pitch deep into games and find ways to get the job done. Righty Mike Foltynewicz is coming into his own and proving to be a reliable top-of-the-rotation arm. Currently owning a 2.53 ERA and striking out 39 batters in 32 innings pitched, he has been a potent force. Veteran righty Brandon McCarthy has been a bit of a surprise, in a good way. After suffering numerous injuries and struggling to be consistent on the hill in years past, the righty appears to be returning to his old ways. Currently owning a 3.09 ERA, McCarthy has been able to get in and out of trouble, while pitching deep into games. The team’s longest tenured starter, righty Julio Teheran, has recorded a 4.50 ERA in six starts — if he can rekindle his old ways, the Braves rotation will reach new heights. Lefty Sean Newcomb‘s growth could also propel the Braves in the foreseeable future.
The Braves are in a suddenly competitive division. The Mets are off to a hot start. Currently 17-9, they’ve shown that they are a real threat to win the NL East whether it be through their gritty lineup or top-flight rotation. The Philadelphia Phillies, much like the Braves, have gotten off to a surprising start as they’re currently 16-12. They have very good starting pitching and young talent ready to breakout. And while they’re 13-16, the Nationals will be getting Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton, and Daniel Murphy back off the disabled list soon, which will give them a much-needed jumpstart to potentially defend their NL East crown.
Winning the division may be a large and unreasonable expectation, but the Braves are certainly capable of playing at their current level going forward. Their lineup is firing on all cylinders, they’re getting valuable outings from their starters, and they have many players who haven’t reached their ceiling yet (Albies and Swanson, among others).
Now, while their starting pitching has been reliable 27 games into this season, the fact that the Braves don’t have a surefire ace will be a serious issue in potential postseason play, especially in a Wild Card game. Foltynewicz and Newcomb have never pitched in a postseason game, McCarthy has to prove he can be a force for an entire season, and the Braves would greatly benefit from Teheran working through his current woes. At the same time, it’s unlikely that those four scenarios will still be glaring question marks later in the year. But Atlanta could also look to make a trade for a starting pitcher. They have one of the game’s best farm systems and are certainly in playoff contention — which could motivate the Braves to pull the trigger on a deal.
Notable arms who could be potential trade targets include Texas Rangers lefty Cole Hamels, Tampa Bay Rays righty Chris Archer, and possibly Toronto Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman — if his struggles on the hill continue and management’s bizarre relationship with Stroman don’t fully heal.
Some would say the Braves’ rebuild is a year or two ahead of schedule, and those people may very well be accurate in saying so. But it doesn’t mean the Braves can’t compete now. Their lineup has both rising young stars and proven veteran commodities executing at a high level at the plate and in the field. Their rotation has a healthy mix of youth and veterans, too. The talent is there, the youth is exciting for its fanbase, and a potential playoff run is feasible.
Winning the World Series is a bit far-fetched, but there’s no reason to believe this Braves team can’t sustain their hot start over the next five months.
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