Last Week in Atlanta – the mid-year review

After a brief hiatus for the All-Star break and this author’s lovely two week break to the States (taking in some baseball at the Federal Landmark!) we’re now into the second half of the season proper.

The Braves are in a commanding position – they have the best record in the league despite some injury issues and look set to bolster their few weak spots to make a run at the World Series once again.

Let’s take a look back at the year to date and take stock of a strong year so far. 

Overall Record: 61-31, 1st place in NL East

Best story of the season so far:

To win championships, teams need to perform well from top to bottom. Think of people like Eddie Rosario and Tyler Matzek in 2021 – two unheralded players who were lights out in the Braves’ playoff run to get the team over the line. This year, the Braves are performing like that – the stars are shining and some of the players we expected to perform as lower-end starters or roster depth have been excellent. Even though Bryce Elder and Orlando Arcia weren’t locks to start the season as starters, both made well-deserved All-Star berths for the first time in their careers. 

They’re not the only two to outperform expectations – both Jesse Chavez and Nick Anderson have performed strongly from the bullpen (though both unfortunately recently hit the injured list), and even the top end of the roster is better than expected, with Ronald Acuña Jr. on track for an all-time season and Sean Murphy and Matt Olson showing what happens when you leave the Oakland Coliseum’s unfriendly confines. 

Worst story of the season so far:

The Braves pitching has been hit hard by injuries so far this year. They’ve been missing their one-two punch of Max Fried and Kyle Wright at the top of the order for essentially the entire year to date and have dealt with injuries to key bullpen members over the course of the year.

Right now four of the nine opening day relievers are on the injured list in A.J. Minter, Jesse Chavez, Nick Anderson and Dylan Lee. The Braves (and basically every other team in contention) will look to add pieces to shore up their late innings work. 

Having said this, to put things in perspective – the Braves have somehow managed to get through these injuries with the lowest team ERA in the majors*. If everything starts coming together in September and October, the Braves could be in a position to be all but unbeatable in the playoffs. 

*Editor’s note: after this column was written, the Braves gave up 16 runs in one game to the Diamondbacks, which pushed them down to fifth in the league in team ERA. Classic!

Player of the season so far:

I’ve tried to spread this award around over the course of the year to-date, but there’s only one real choice. Ronald Acuña Jr. could have won this award every week (but that wouldn’t make for very interesting writing). Ronnie is on course for the first 40/40 (home runs/stolen bases) season since Alfonso Soriano in 2009, and only the fifth ever. Such is his dominance this year, he’s already got the 40 stolen bases he needs, and is over half way to 40 home runs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’ve never seen someone with his power and speed before – Ronnie’s on track for an absurd 75 stolen bases. In the history of the sport, players have managed 75 steals and double digit home runs only twelve times, with the high water mark being Rickey Henderson’s 28/87 year in 1986. We’re witnessing history here.

Optimism tracker:

10/10. It’s tough to want for more than what the Braves have got right now, and yet it’s also to see areas that they could improve. To be almost ten games ahead in the division and to have the best record in baseball is nothing to scoff at. It’ll be tough to continue on this level for the rest of the season – though really attention now has to turn to the playoffs. The playoff spot is all but secure, and the team needs to make sure they’re peaking right around October. 

What’s on this week?

The Braves have a rare five-game week, as they play a two game series in Fenway Park against the Red Sox on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then face a solid Milwaukee Brewers team back in Atlanta from Friday to Sunday. Saturday’s game is tentatively scheduled between two former Braves opening day starters – Julio Teheran (2014-19) and Michael Soroka (2020).

UK friendly games: 

Sunday 30 July v Brewers (6:35pm)

Featured image of Ronald Acuña Jr. by Front Office Sports on Twitter.

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

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