Last Week in Atlanta – Week 7

Last week saw the Braves matchup against a couple of AL contenders with a combined record of 45-35. The AL as a whole is looking strong, with only five teams below .500 – so good performances here will be important for a Braves team that’s realistically looking to secure a first-round bye come October. So how did they do?

Overall Record: 29-17, 1st place in NL East

Record this week: 4-2

Best moment of the week:

On Sunday, at the fourth time of asking, the hyperactive Jared Shuster pitched a gem to claim his first major league win. He pitched six innings of one-hit, one-walk ball, only giving up a solo home run to Jarred Kelenic in the second inning. The main knock on him in the minors and in college before that has been command – but over his four starts, he has slowly brought down the walks and ratcheted up the strikeouts, culminating in this quality start. The Braves really need this version of him – with lengthy absences from Max Fried and Kyle Wright likely, they’ll be especially keen to pencil him in every five days.

Worst moment of the week:

This was more of a revelation than a discrete moment, but how is Michael Harris II doing so badly?! Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year was 1-for-22 over the course of the week and sits at a .171 batting average as of the end of the week. He has looked strong defensively (the comedy error from him and Kevin Pillar in last week’s Blue Jays game notwithstanding), but his bat is ice-cold. There is room for optimism, though – his strikeout rate is lower than last year (from 24.3% to 18.7%), and his walk rate is higher than last year (from 4.8% to 8.8%). It’s a small sample so far due to his injury early in the season, but if he keeps that up and gets his eye back in, he should get back to form.

Player of the week:

With the near-weekly caveat that, of course, this award could go to Ronald Acuña Jr. every week, who continues to look like an odds-on favourite for NL MVP – this week, the award goes to Matt Olson. Through the lens of traditional batting stats, his year looks like it’s been a bit shaky in places, as he leads the league in strikeouts with 65 alongside a slightly below-rate batting average of .244 – but his power has more than made up for it. He has the hardest-hit ball this year at 118.6mph, the second-highest average exit velocity behind Aaron Judge, and boasts an OPS+ of 145 (making him 45% better than the average MLB hitter). This week he carried on hitting, crunching four doubles, two home runs and driving in a team-leading six runs to lead the team in all three of those measures.

WTF moment of the week:

We return to Ronald Acuña Jr.’s adventures in Griddyland. Where last time he scored easily from third, giving him ample time to dance across home plate, this time he managed it while scoring from first on a Matt Olson double. To add to the drama, one of his many chains exploded as he was rounding third, and the game was briefly stopped to pick up diamonds from the basepath. Bet the MLB didn’t factor that into pace-of-play discussions.

View from the other side:

This week, we’ve got Karl Cobane contributing, who runs Texas Rangers Fans UK on both Twitter and Instagram. They’re well worth a follow – not just to keep an eye on the major league club, but he also does a great job of covering the Rangers’ exciting farm system.

The AL West-leading Rangers have had a flying start to the season, and after sweeping the reigning National League champions Phillies and winning a series at the World Series champions Astros, this was a good chance to see how good the Braves are compared to them.

With the series coming to the end of a 14-day run without a day off with the first 11 on the road, Texas made the decision to bring up Cody Bradford from AAA to make his MLB debut in the opening game. Cody has been untouchable in the minors this season, but the decision to bring him up was more to give the rotation a day off during a long stretch rather than him being promoted. Rangers starters have been going deep into games, and the 14-game stretch was beginning to show. Cody pitched better than his stat line shows, but the Braves really took advantage of the rookie. The game itself was closer than the 12-0 scoreline would suggest (12 hits to 10), but the Rangers – who have led the MLB with hits with runners in scoring position (RISP) – had a quiet day and couldn’t answer the questions the Braves pitchers asked of them.

Game Two brought another temporary starter in for the Rangers. Dane Dunning is actually the long reliever this year but is starting with Jacob deGrom out for a few weeks. This time, he pitched a quality start as the Rangers evened the series going 4-6 with RISP compared to 0-6 in game 1. The series came down to one of the best strike-throwing matchups in the league in Spencer Strider vs Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi won the initial matchup, but the Braves came back from 5-3 down in the eighth inning to win game three and the series 6-5. A close series ending with a one-run win was probably a fair result, all told. Acuña Jr. was the usual ridiculous Acuña Jr.we’ve come to expect – but wait until you see his kid brother Luisangel Acuña come up for the Rangers next season!

The Braves looked like the best team the Rangers have faced this season, and given we’ve played last season’s World Series teams as well as teams like the Orioles and Angels, we’ve seen good opposition. It would have been interesting to see the match-up again if Rangers had their deGrom/Eovaldi/Martin Perez lineup, which was scheduled – maybe we will have to see that later in the year in the World Series instead.

Optimism tracker:

Still 7/10. This was a solid week, but nothing really special – taking two out of three from each of the Mariners and Rangers was expected, and there are still questions around what to do about the starting pitching. If Jared Shuster goes out and has another good showing next week, maybe I’ll be a little more confident with only one spot left to fill in the rotation.

What’s on next week?

It’s a bumper week, with a three-game set against the Dodgers followed by four big games against the Phillies. With so much of the season still to go, we don’t know how tight the division will end up being. Only last year, the Braves won the division over the Mets on the virtue of their winning head-to-head record – so every game matters against divisional rivals. Two high strikeout guys face each other on Saturday, as Spencer Strider faces Taijuan Walker, who hasn’t had a great start to his Phillies career after coming over from the Mets this offseason.

UK friendly games:

Saturday 27 May vs Phillies (9:10pm)

Featured image of Jared Shuster by Grant McAuley on Twitter.

Charlie Deeks is the Atlanta Braves correspondent on Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @Omashaft!

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