Last Week in Atlanta – Week 8

Another week, another couple of split series. Stiff opposition from the Dodgers and Phillies headlined what was an up-and-down week.

Overall Record: 32-21, 1st place in NL East

Record this week: 3-4

Best moment of the week:

Are the bats beginning to come alive again?

Despite the injuries to two of the team’s premier pitchers in Max Fried and Kyle Wright, the rotation has stepped up and leads the National League in Average Game Score, indicating that the starters have been doing a great job – and the pitching staff as a whole even leads the NL in ERA+ and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), two measures that isolate the success of pitchers and control for factors in the ballpark and team defence respectively.

Unfortunately, in a change from previous seasons, the bats have seemed flat. Austin Riley and Michael Harris II in particular, have been slumping – though that shows signs of coming to an end. Riley has collected the most hits over the past week for Atlanta, batting .357 on the week – and Michael Harris II had his best three-game stretch of the year by OPS from Friday to Sunday. These efforts now mean that the Braves also lead the National League in offensive WAR and adjusted OPS+, two measures that focus specifically on the value the bats bring to the team. If the Braves stay on this pace, there’s no reason not to think the team record will improve even further.

Worst moment of the week:

Thankfully, this week was bereft of any really terrible moments – so on this occasion, the nadir was the 2-1 loss to the Phillies on Saturday. The bats were almost entirely quieted by eight shutout innings from Zack Wheeler (with the exception of Sean Murphy, who grabbed himself a double and home run to cement his position as one of the best hitters in the league), and former Braves closer Craig Kimbrel notched his 400th save against the team he spent so long dominating for from 2010-2014. Hopefully, this was a blip for the Braves’ offence, who otherwise had a strong week. They will look to pour on the hits against lesser opposition next week.

Player of the week:

He finally did it. Despite one of the most inept starts to any season in living memory, one Marcell Ozuna has finally remembered how to hit (both baseballs and catchers). In his first 15 games, his numbers were similar to those put up by Eddie Rosario at the beginning of last year, and it turned out he literally couldn’t see – so Ozuna really had some making up to do. And that he did – over the last 30 games, he’s hitting .270/.341/.550 with nine home runs – and over just the past week, that jumps up to .343/.393/.769 – a monstrous rate. He’s been improving for a couple of weeks now, but his three home runs on the week tipped him over the edge for me this time.

WTF moment of the week:

Luckily, this segment was worded such that it can be any play that made me say WTF, whether it was positive or negative. As a fully paid-up member of the Defence is King club, this was a positive WTF – a brilliant piece of defence and my favourite play of the week. Orlando Arcia gets an excellent jump, making the backhand transfer to Ozzie Albies way before the bag before he makes a perfect off-balance throw to an outstretched Matt Olson to just beat out the runner. It’s beautiful.

View from the other side:

This week I’m excited to have Leon from the Dodging Sleep podcast give his review on last week’s 2021 NLCS rematch against the Dodgers. Leon can be found at @DodgersInTheUK on Twitter, and you can find the Dodging Sleep podcast on your platform of choice here!

The Dodgers rolled into Atlanta off the back of a tough series against the Cardinals. Having recently lost both Julio Urias and Dustin May to injury, the Dodgers turned to Rookies Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller to face Charlie Morton and Spencer Strider before Tony Gonsolin faced off against Bryce Elder in game three.

After a tough first inning in Game One, Gavin Stone settled well and kept the game close as the Dodgers bats came to life in the middle innings against Morton. The bullpen managed to hold firm and gave the Dodgers an 8-6 win.

Game Two saw Bobby Miller make his MLB debut against Spencer Strider. The Dodgers provided Miller with a 1 run lead going into the bottom of the first. The Braves tied it up quickly before the Dodgers took advantage of an Olson error and scored three unearned runs in the second off Strider, who otherwise looked pretty solid – striking out 11 across six innings. Bobby Miller settled in well, striking out five across five innings of work. Once again, the bullpen slammed the door on the Braves and secured an 8-1 win with J.D. Martinez hitting his third home run of the series in the ninth.

We’ll spend a little less time talking about Game Three, which the Braves walked us off to stir bad memories of the 2021 NLCS for Dodger fans. All in all, it was a good series for the boys in blue against one of the best teams in baseball – especially with two rookies starting on the mound. There’s a pretty good chance that these teams will meet again in the postseason, so taking a series on the road is a big positive for the Dodgers. Hopefully, we’ll see you in October!

p.s. stop hitting our catcher!

(tell him to move back!)

Optimism tracker:

7/10. Going 1-2 and 2-2 against the Dodgers and Phillies, respectively, is fine – and there are real reasons for optimism given the return of the slumping bats and the even more long-awaited return of the Maple Maddux Michael Soroka against the A’s next week after three years (!!) on the sideline with two consecutive Achilles tears. To say he’s shown perseverance to get to this point doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

What’s on next week?

The Braves are on a west-coast road trip this week, as they have what should be an easy three-game series against the Oakland Athletics starting Monday, a travel day to the desert on Thursday and a final three games against the Diamondbacks from Friday to Sunday. The Braves should expect to win both series at minimum, and ideally win five of six to build on their lead in the pennant race. The matchup of the week is Michael Soroka’s second start against Zac Gallen on Sunday – two pitchers who have finished top-six in Cy Young voting in the past.

UK friendly games:

Wednesday 31 May @ Athletics (8:37pm), Sunday 4 June @ Diamondbacks (9:10pm)

Featured image of Marcell Ozuna and Will Smith from @DodgerBlue on Twitter.

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

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