As the summer portion of the Major League Baseball season winds to a close, many baseball fans in the South are anxious to see how the Atlanta Braves perform across the final part of the year before the playoffs begin.
However, while the Braves have been one of the stronger teams in baseball over the course of the season, a playoff berth is far from guaranteed. To understand why the Braves should be cautiously optimistic, the weights of the team’s strengths and weaknesses have to be assessed.
Atlanta’s greatest strength as a team lies in their high-octane offense. The Braves rank 6th among all Major League teams in the crucial statistic of OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) for the season according to ESPN, with four of the five teams ahead of them being American League teams with the distinctive advantage of the “designated hitter,” who bats in place of the pitcher.
All-Star center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is having no “sophomore slump” of any kind, as he has hit 28 home runs, according to Baseball-Reference. The team’s offense as a whole has remained intense even with the loss of key starters Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis. Swanson is expected to return by the time the postseason stretch begins.
Offense is one aspect of the game that Atlanta has virtually no concern in, as the team consistently produces runs and finishes strong in key moments late in the game.
Atlanta’s pitching is another matter entirely, though. While there have been bright spots, such as rookie starter Mike Soroka’s fantastic season, the starting pitching has been shaky occasionally. Soroka, fellow rookie Max Fried and resurgent veteran Julio Teheran have done very well on the mound, but the rest of the Braves’ frequently changing rotation has been disappointing, if not inconsistent.
The addition of Dallas Keuchel to the starting five has been helpful, but the team’s earned run average has still reached a whopping 4.95 in the second half, which puts Atlanta at 22nd in the Majors in team ERA, according to ESPN.
The bullpen has been worse, as it has blown 20 saves this year, according to Fox Sports. This blown save count does not even factor in the tied or close games in which the bullpen has kept the team from making any attempt at a victory. These two problems have resulted in numerous Atlanta losses, and have been a cause for concern all year.
The front office has attempted to fix the problems by upgrading the bullpen with notable arms such as Mark Melancon and Shane Greene, but the bullpen continues to lose games for Atlanta.
Stability is key for Atlanta’s impending run at the playoffs. It is likely that the team will face slumps from certain players, and drastic action to change short-term trends is usually a recipe for disaster for playoff teams. This applies to hitters but is even more important when it comes to pitching, especially the bullpen.
The coaching staff and front office have to trust the newly acquired bullpen. Players with solid speed and movement on pitches will sometimes have off nights or even weeks, but they were added to the Braves’ roster for a reason: they are good pitchers who have proven themselves with other clubs this season.
Amidst a club and fanbase that are prone to overreaction, the Braves must keep faith in the upgraded bullpen and maintain stability going into the final stretch of the season. With a consistent core of relief pitchers paired with the fairly solid starting rotation and star-studded batting lineup, the Braves can expect a playoff run and possibly a shot at a World Series appearance.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.