I’ve never been too good with timing, so I’m aware that immediately following a 20-2 rout over the Mets, this particular post is perhaps a bit unnecessary at this point. But even with an 18-run victory last night and a respectable 5-5 record over their last 10 games, the Braves 2021 season has been a complete disaster. And unfortunately, wins like Wednesdays keep pulling us back in, fooling us into thinking that the team will turn it around. Isn’t it great being a fan?
However, despite Atlanta’s incredible inability to even play .500 ball this season, resulting in their current third-place standing in the NL East and below-15-percent odds at making the postseason, there is one thing that has created some enjoyment: their young starting pitching.
Prior to his self-inflicted injury and the disappointing outing that caused it (on May 16), Ynoa was among the 15-best starters in baseball in terms of run prevention. As he walked off the mound following six innings of solid work versus Philadelphia back on May 9, the then-22-year-old — he turned 23 on May 28 — sported a stingy 2.29 ERA in his first 39 ⅓ innings as a regular starter in the Braves rotation and was a winner of four-straight decisions.
Maybe it was because of his contributions on offense, which featured a .353 AVG with two homers and six RBI in 17 PA, or perhaps the team just loved playing behind him. But for some reason, Atlanta just simply played better overall when Ynoa was on the mound. His four consecutive wins mentioned above illustrate it, but the Braves not only won with him… they usually won handily, outscoring opponents 55-24 in games he started (up until the final one, in which he hurt himself).
Ynoa was an underdog even to be included in the starting staff entering the 2021 regular season. Not only did he make it, but he also put together an incredible stretch of dominance on the mound (and power at the plate). August can’t come soon enough…
At least in terms of his impact on the Braves, much of what I just wrote about Ynoa can also be said for Anderson (except for the offense part). Not only did the former third-overall pick post a 3.46 ERA during that same month-long span mentioned above for Ynoa, but Atlanta won five of Anderson’s first seven starts.
Given the incredible year he had in 2020 and a pair of good but not great outings in the middle of April, there was some concern that perhaps Anderson was headed for much more regression than anticipated in 2021. However, that hasn’t been the case. In fact, since Ynoa went down with his injury, Anderson has been the best starter in the rotation, narrowly logging more fWAR than Charlie Morton since we received the horrible news regarding Huascar back in mid-May. For a kid in his 20s to again put the staff on his back, even though he hasn’t quite dominated opposing batters as he did a year ago, it just shows that Anderson definitely has the talent to be a team ace.
Until his most recent outing, a June 15 start versus Boston in which it was clear something wasn’t right with him (ending with five earned runs in 2 ⅓ innings), the 25-year-old Davidson was on a helluva ride with the Braves as he was finally receiving consistent opportunities to showcase his talent in the majors. The dreadful performance against the Red Sox quickly made sense when it was reported that he’d sustained a forearm injury, an ailment we now know will keep him out until at least August.
However, during the three starts leading up to that unfortunate injury, Davidson was nearly unhittable. He posted a 1.53 ERA, with strong performances against the Mets, Nationals, and Phillies — although the Braves somehow lost all but one of those. Reaching the 6th inning in all of those outings, it was clear that Davidson had made some impressive strides, and if given a chance, could help lead the Braves to a playoff spot down the stretch. The young southpaw can still become a big part of Atlanta’s postseason push; it’ll just have to be during the final month or two of the regular season.
After a slow start in Triple-A Gwinnett, Muller started garnering attention when he put together a three-start stretch down in the minors in late May to early June in which he struck out 20 batters in 16 innings and held opponents to a .148 AVG, leading to a mid-June call-up to The Show. Of course, the Braves manager had to make the big lefty’s debut as difficult as possible as Brian Snitker called on Muller in the 5th inning of a one-run ball game against Boston. Still, as we know, more opportunities presented themselves later on.
Since that relief appearance versus the Red Sox, Muller has made two solid starts with Atlanta, combining nine total innings of two-hit ball, going with one run allowed and 12 strikeouts against both the Mets and Reds. That most recent outing versus the Reds featured a five-inning one-hitter in which Muller punched out nine and walked two. For a guy with some concerning control issues in the past, this kid is trending up, and even better… he’s healthy.
The contributions of this quartet of 25 and under has, in their own respective ways and at different junctures in the season, really been the only bright spots for the Braves so far in 2021. And though there’s plenty of season left, it’s not like we’re just getting started.
So there’s a way for the Braves to, in fact, turn this around, but it’s likely going to require more strong pitching from the young guns.