Ian Anderson and the Braves can clinch a playoff spot tonight  

Thursday, September 30, 2021

-Clint Manry

Just one more win. That’s all the Braves need to clinch a fourth-straight NL East title. With a series finale versus the Phillies coming up tonight at 7:20 PM (ET), Atlanta can punch its ticket to an NLDS matchup. All they have to do is win just one more.

Charlie Morton and Max Fried took care of business in the series first two games, going the distance with back-to-back seven-inning outings that featured a combined 16 strikeouts. Now, coming off the second-best start of his 2021 season (per Game Score) versus the D’Backs, it’s Ian Anderson’s turn to shut down the Phillies.

The 23-year-old Anderson has pitched well against Philly so far this season, going seven innings himself in his most recent outing versus the team (back on June 10). In four total starts against the NL East rival in 2021, Anderson owns a 3.09 ERA to go with 24 strikeouts in 23.1 innings. Phils batters are hitting just .224 against the Braves righty this season, and their .671 OPS doesn’t exactly scare anyone either. Can Anderson keep up the good work?

As many of us are aware, Thursday’s matchup is no doubt the biggest game of the Braves season thus far. With the NL Central already decided by the Brewers’ clinching this past Sunday, Atlanta’s postseason opponent is set. In the West, the Giants and Dodgers are battling it out for first, though both are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. The East is currently the only NL division still waiting for a postseason representative. But that can change tonight at Truist!

The Braves are lucky to still be on top of division

Sunday, September 5, 2021

-Clint Manry

The Braves dropped another game on Saturday, it’s second-straight loss and fifth consecutive one-run contest. Somehow, one of MLB’s worst teams, the Colorado Rockies, are up 2-1 in a series they have no business leading or winning. For the Braves, the division lead had already dwindled significantly. This time last week, as Atlanta wrapped up a series with San Francisco by handing the MLB-best Giants its worst loss of the 2021 campaign, the Braves led the NL East by 4.5 games. Three days later, following three games in LA with the Dodgers, that advantage fell to 4.0. And now, after losing two of three in Denver, the Braves pace has been slashed in half to just two. But really… it could be much worse.

Thankfully, the Phillies have sort of been under the same scuffling spell over the last several days, which is why, despite losing seven of its last ten, the Braves’ odds to win the division or make the postseason – per FanGraphs — have barely been impacted since last Sunday (in fact: Atlanta’s odds to win the division have increased by 0.02 points over the last several days, despite losing over two games of a lead). Philadelphia has dropped two in a row to Miami, which couldn’t have come at a better time given the Phillies were just recently on a six-game winning streak that included sweeping the Nationals and almost the D’Backs. We know how easy Philly’s schedule is through this final month, so any loss from them is very much appreciated.

But it’s the aforementioned one-run games that seem to be killing the Braves, and it’s something the team must tighten up in order to maintain its slim lead for the regular season’s final 27 games.

A fun fact found in David O’Brien’s post at The Athletic on Saturday (before the latest Rockies matchup), Atlanta has played in 47 one-run games this season – the second-most in the majors so far. The team’s 22-25 record in those games is also the second-worst winning percentage of any team that would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today. That’s not just bad for the Braves playoff outlook, but it’s also a narrative that could carry on into the postseason, when one-run games are potentially much more common due to the level of competition. Getting blown out is one thing, but to constantly lose games that go down to the wire – that can be incredibly frustrating.

The final push

Starting with today’s series finale versus Colorado, Atlanta will play 27 games in a span of 29 days to wrap up the 2021 regular season, featuring series against the Nationals, Marlins, Rockies, Giants, D’Backs, Padres, Phillies and Mets. There are a few easily winnable games mixed in that remaining schedule, but there will also be some tough matchups as well.

Luckily second baseman Ozzie Albies seems to be perfectly fine following his injury scare, homering in back-to-back nights against the Rockies on Friday and Saturday. Hopefully his bat will stay as hot as it has been in 2021. Righty Ian Anderson’s first two starts since returning have been a mixed bag, but surely he’ll get back to his late-June/early-July ways, when he posted a 2.31 ERA during a four-start stretch before going down with his injury. This Braves starting rotation must be in tip top shape in this final month of play, and Anderson will undoubtedly play a huge part in that.

I believe one of Atlanta’s wild cards in September could be Eddie Rosario, who has now been up with the Braves for seven games. In that span, the 29-year-old has hit .294 with three XBH (one HR) and five RBI, good for a 149 wRC+. With fellow outfielder Joc Pederson currently scuffling at the plate (hitting just .080 in his last 12 games), perhaps more regularly the Braves should slide Adam Duvall over to center and let Rosario take over the reps in left (which is what the team did this past Friday). Rosario may be in the midst of one of his worst seasons overall this year, but manager Brian Snitker should ride the hot hand.

Either way, it appears this season is set to go down to the final few days, which can be both exciting but super stressful for those of us who’ve labored through following this team all year long. It’s been a helluva ride filled with plenty of ups and downs. But right now the Braves are lucky to still be at the top.

Bullpen spoils Braves night, cutting NL East lead to just 2.5; Royber Salinas strikes out 10 for FCL club

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

-Clint Manry

It feels like it’s been awhile, but the Braves bullpen ruined another late-game lead on Tuesday, dropping Game 2 versus the Dodgers by a score of 3-2.

Following two strong innings from Braves starter Charlie Mortin (featuring four strikeouts and only a double by LA), Joc Pederson got the scoring started for Atlanta with a solo-homer in the third. How the hell he was able to get his bat to the ball… who knows.

The Braves struck again in the fourth. Austin Riley came through with a one-out single, and Travis d’Arnaud followed up with a double to push Riley across home plate. With a 2-0 advantage and Morton looking sharp thus far, it appeared Atlanta was on their way to a series split. But unfortunately Mookie Betts had something different in mind…

Betts homer was really the only mistake of the night for Morton, who managed to throw 106 pitches and induce seven groundouts compared to just one flyout. However, once he walked off the mound after six quality innings, the Braves bullpen began to implode.

First, it was Luke Jackson in the seventh, surrendering a sac-fly off the bat of LA’s Chris Taylor (despite actually throwing a very nice pitch)…

Then, to break the 2-2 tie and put the Dodgers up, lefty Tyler Matzek allowed an RBI double by Corey Seager, who somehow managed to turn on a 98-MPH fastball on the outside corner…

Following the go-ahead drive by Seager, Matzek was able to get out of the jam, which should be appreciated given the Braves had its nos. 4-6 batters coming up in the ninth. However, a quick 1-2-3 inning for closer Kenley Jansen was all she wrote as Riley popped out and both d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson struck out. Braves lose.

It really isn’t a good time for Atlanta to lose two in a row, either, as both Philly and the Mets are currently on winning streaks of their own. Last night’s loss cuts the Braves’ division lead to just 2.5 games. The Phillies are definitely closing in, but hopefully Atlanta can somewhat keep the walls from closing in with a win tonight. It’s going to be a tough one. The two Maxes will face off as Max Fried opposes Max Scherzer on Wednesday. First pitch is scheduled for 10:10 PM (ET) tonight.

My work schedule has been crazy this week, plus all but Augusta and the FCL team were either rained out or canceled due to COVID on Tuesday. So today will feature just scores and stats…

(70-61) Atlanta Braves

L, 3-2 vs. Dodgers

SP, C. Morton – 6 IP, 3 H, ER, 2 BB, 8 K, HR

CF, J. Pederson – 1 for 2, HR, RBI

C, T. d’Arnaud – 1 for 4, 2B, RBI

3B, A. Riley – 2 for 4, R

(58-44) Gwinnett Stripers

PPD vs. Memphis (Rain)

(58-39) Mississippi Braves

PPD vs. Biloxi (COVID-19)

(46-55) Rome Braves

PPD vs. Winston-Salem (Wet grounds)

(42-61) Augusta GreenJackets

L, 6-4 vs. Fayetteville

SP, R. Rodriguez – (L), 4.2 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, BB, K, HR

3B, J-H. Malloy – 2 for 4, HR, 2 RBI

1B, C. Bunnell – 2 for 3, HR, RBI, SB

RF, C. Robinson – 2 for 4, 2B, RBI

SS, V. Grissom – 1 for 4

(22-22) FCL Braves

L, 8-5 (F/7) vs. Pirates Gold

L, 11-8 (F/8) vs Pirates Gold

SP, K. Anglin – 2 IP, H, ER, 2 BB, HR

SP, R. Salinas – 4 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, BB, 10 K, HR

1B, M. Backstrom – 1 for 3, HR, RBI

RF, B. Mezquita – 3 for 4, HR, 4 RBI, BB

2B, C. Durbin – 1 for 3, 3B, RBI, R

3B, F. Floyd – 1 for 3, 2B

CF, T. Collins – 2 for 4, 2B, R

CF, J. Palma – 3 for 5, RBI, 2 R, SB

2B, E. Stevens – 2 for 5, RBI, SB

Jorge Soler’s heroics is becoming a regular occurrence

Sunday, August 29, 2021

-Clint Manry

Part of a complete outfield makeover at the trade deadline, the Braves acquired Jorge Soler from the Royals in exchange for prospect reliever Kasey Kalich. The transaction was a bit questionable at the time, especially considering the 29-year-old’s struggles at the plate to date. But Atlanta believed in Soler’s bat. And despite underwhelming overall numbers, it’s a damn good thing they made the move.

In just a short span so far in an Atlanta uniform, Soler has already made a huge impression as a clutch hitter. And the slugging outfielder’s most clutch performance yet came just this past Friday in the team’s win over the Giants.

By the time Soler touched home plate, after absolutely murdering this ball by the way, the Braves win-expectancy advantage grew to 87-13, a swing of 31% in just an instant. It may not have been the biggest play of the 2021 season for the Braves, but it’s pretty impressive just how many times Soler has come through when its mattered most, given he’s played only 23 games with the team so far.

To put into perspective, in the span of just several weeks, six of Soler’s 15 biggest WPA events this season have taken place while in Atlanta, with his most-recent one leading the way.

I mean, the samples are of course incredibly small, but just check out Soler’s numbers as a Brave in both High Leverage and Medium Leverage situations combined so far…

7 for 28 (.250 AVG), 2 HR, 9 RBI, 129 wRC+, 45.8 Hard%

This comes after he hit just .167 and posted a 65 wRC+ in 150 AB in those same situations as a Royal this season. The fact that he’s seemed to of flip a switch in the clutch with the Braves could mean his recent success is maybe unsustainable; although it could also mean perhaps he just enjoys delivering for Atlanta.

Regardless, there’s something definitely special about Soler and his time so far as a Braves hitter. Hell, just look at his overall numbers with each team this year…

Soler w/KCR – 94 G, .192 AVG, 13 HR, 80 wRC+, 26.9 K%, -1.0 fWAR

Soler w/ATL – 23 G, .274 AVG, 6 HR, 146 wRC+, 17.3 K%, 0.3 fWAR

Maybe it lasts… and maybe it won’t. But even though the addition didn’t seem too significant at the time, Soler has been quite a blessing since coming over from Kansas City. And his ability to come through in the clutch has been one of the many reasons Atlanta is once again playing great baseball.

Last night was fun, but the Braves pitching must tighten up when it matters

Thursday, August 12, 2021

-Clint Manry

There’s no shame in wanting to simply hold on to Wednesday night’s exciting walk-off win over the Reds, in which the Braves jumped out to a strong lead early, lost said lead, and then proceeded to fight its way back in the 11th inning via a three-run homer off the bat of second baseman Ozzie Albies. In case you missed it, the bomb by Ozzie was absolutely epic…

But you and I both know… this team cannot continue to spoil leads. If a division title and a playoff spot really is in the cards, Atlanta’s pitching must find a way to keep opposing teams from mounting a comeback.

Last night’s game versus the Reds was a perfect example: We had starter Touki Toussaint, who for 98% of his outing pitched wonderfully, allowing a pair of base-hits and walking three through five innings. However, in the sixth, Touki lost his touch and in a matter of minutes – thanks to a homer by Joey Votto — Cincinnati had two runs on the board to make it a 5-2 game. Reliever Jesse Chavez did a nice job of working a mostly-clean sixth, and Chris Martin pitched around some trouble to keep things where they were in the seventh. However, both Luke Jackson and Will Smith completely imploded in the eighth and ninth, and by the end of regulation the Braves five-run advantage was ruined.

As we of course know, though, Atlanta scratched and clawed and ultimately found a way to win that game on Wednesday. And honestly… that’s all that matters. But boy are they skating on thin ice with these types of wins. The back-and-forth victories can be entertaining to watch, but sooner or later the Braves offense will hit a wall. And when that day comes, these fun-to-watch outcomes will come to an end.

High Leverage situations has been hell on the pitching

You can get really deep into Leverage Index, WPA (Win Probability Added) and all kinds of other metrics to try and quantify a team’s ability to swing a game in its favor at its most crucial point. Although, thankfully, FanGraphs has a split that’s easy to use called High Leverage. And for the Braves, its pitchers have been one of the worst in baseball when it comes to performing in “High Leverage” situations.

According to FG, Atlanta pitchers have tallied 98.1 High Leverage innings this season, which is about an average amount so far. However, in terms of run-prevention, the Braves 10.25 ERA in those High Leverage frames is the eighth-worst mark in MLB, behind a bunch of non-contending teams such as the Royals, Nationals and Orioles. I know it’s nothing we didn’t already know, but Atlanta plain stinks when it comes to pitching during critical portions of a game.

Now the good news about all of this is that a lot the Braves High Leverage pitching struggles appear to be a horrible case of bad luck. Atlanta may have one of the ten-worst ERAs during High Leverage situations, but the team’s FIP (4.32) is right around average at 15th in the majors. However, the problem with the “unlucky” theory is that, along with Atlanta, a lot of the other poor High Leverage performers have also dealt with bad luck too, so it’s not as if it’s necessarily a given that Braves pitchers will regress to the mean. In a nutshell, Atlanta has had really bad results in High Leverage situations, and some of that is due to really bad luck… but there’s a very real possibility that that really bad luck just simply continues for the final month in-a-half of the regular season.

The saving grace here, though, is that the Braves offense and starting pitching continues to help lead the team when it matters. While Atlanta’s lineup has been below average this year in terms of overall offense in High Leverage situations, its 15 home runs rank inside the top-five. And we all know just how crucial clutch homers are for teams unable to hold down leads. It also helps that Braves starters are tied for seventh in homer-rate this month, having allowed just 0.92 home runs per nine innings so far in August. Keeping the ball in the park in general is a productive thing to do, but when delivering the long ball late in games is also added by the lineup, there’s a good chance you can sneak away with the win.

So right now this Braves lineup is powerful, and in a way, somewhat clutch on offense, but the exact opposite is true when it comes to pitching and holding down leads. We know this sort of dynamic is unsustainable and will eventually end, which is why it needs to be corrected. I certainly won’t complain about last night’s win, for every single one of them are super important right now. But at some point this team is going to have to become complete. If the Braves want to finish this thing… becoming complete needs to happen real soon.

This week is an opportune time for the Braves to get back on top

Monday, August 9, 2021

-Clint Manry

Here’s a look at what’s ahead for the Braves this week, now just two games behind the first-place Phillies. If the offense will hit and the pitching remain hot, perhaps by week’s end Atlanta will be back where they belong: on top of the division.

ATLANTA BRAVES (57-55 / 2nd place)

Mon, August 9 – OFF

Tue, August 10 – vs. Reds (7:20 PM) / Drew Smyly, LHP

Wed, August 11 – vs. Reds (7:20 PM) / Touki Toussaint, RHP

Thu, August 12 – vs. Reds (5:10 PM) / Kyle Muller, LHP

Fri, August 13 – @ Nationals (7:05 PM) / Charlie Morton, RHP

Sat, August 14 – @ Nationals (6:05 PM) / TBD

Sun, August 15 – @ Nationals (1:05 PM) / TBD

The Braves were off today and then will finish up its current homestand with a three-game series versus the surging Reds — winners of their last five in a row and eight of their last ten. Starting on Friday the 13th (eww… scary), Atlanta will travel to D.C. to play a weekend set with the Nationals, and from there, they’ll play nine games total on the road before coming back home to begin a two-gamer versus the Yankees on August 23 and 24.

According to FanGraphs, recently-acquired outfielder Adam Duvall is the Braves hottest bat coming into Tuesday’s opener with the Reds. Over the last week of play, Duvall is hitting .263 with a pair of homers and seven RBI (167 wRC+) — good for 0.3 WAR. That’s not too shabby for a new player, especially one that was producing at a similar rate for a fellow division foe just a few weeks ago in the Marlins.

In the pitching department, Atlanta will have to wait until probably Friday (Game 1 vs. WAS) to get its current ace on the mound. Charlie Morton’s 2.8 WAR this season is tied for the 12th-most by a pitcher in the majors, and over his last three starts he sports a 2.65 ERA to go with 9.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. Max Fried, who’ll most likely start against the Nats at some point this coming weekend, is another hot hand the Braves will look to ride. Fried’s 0.7 WAR over the last 14 days is tied with six other pitchers for the second-most in baseball, and he already showed on Sunday that he’s overcome his career-long demons against Washington.

All-in-all, this is an opportune time to make up some more ground on the Phillies. Philly is also off today, with only the Marlins playing from the NL East. With the Phillies beginning a series with the Dodgers tomorrow, perhaps Atlanta can steal at least two of three from Cincy over the next several days, while LA takes care of business. Who knows… by this weekend the Braves could be back on top!

CURRENT INJURIES

Ronald Acuna Jr., OF – 60-day IL (knee surgery)

Tucker Davidson, LHP – 60-day IL (forearm)

Grant Dayton, LHP – 60-day IL (shoulder)

Mike Soroka, RHP – 60-day IL (Achilles)

Huascar Ynoa, RHP – 60-day IL (hand) rehab assignment

Travis d’Arnaud, C – 60-day IL (thumb) rehab assignment

Ian Anderson, RHP – 10-day IL (shoulder) rehab assignment

Eddie Rosario, OF – 10-day IL (abdominal) TBD

Marcell Ozuna, OF – 10-day IL (finger) TBD

NL EAST STANDINGS (8/9/21)

  1. Phillies – 59-53
  2. Braves – 57-55 (2 GB)
  3. Mets – 56-55 (2 ½ GB)
  4. Nationals – 50-62 (9 GB)
  5. Marlins – 47-65 (12 GB)

Dansby Swanson has shown that he deserves an extension

Saturday, August 7, 2021

-Clint Manry

The 2021 season has featured its share of turmoil for the Braves. There’s no questioning that. However, once you get past the unfortunate injuries and the disappointing performance of the team overall, there’s at least one takeaway we should all feel good about: Dansby Swanson is Atlanta’s shortstop… now AND for the future.

For the second season in a row, the 27-year-old Swanson is among the ten-best players at his position, coming off a shortened 2020 campaign in which he finished fifth among MLB shortstops in fWAR. Now into the back-half of his second arbitration season, the Braves should really start considering a contract extension for Swanson.

It’s pretty amazing. If you recall, it wasn’t that long ago that most of us were wishing the team would find itself a new shortstop. Just four years ago, in his first full big league season, Swanson struggled to perform at even a remotely average level with the bat, primarily due to his consistent struggles versus the breaking ball. In 2017 and ’18 combined, the Atlanta shortstop managed just a .203 wOBA against all breaking balls, and overall, his 86 wRC+ for those two seasons was far from ideal. Sure, Swanson was a strong defender at one of the most critical positions on the field; and yes, he had his stretches of good hitting. But there was always this thought that the Braves could do better.

However, during the 2020 campaign, Swanson’s results against non-fastballs, particularly breaking balls, began to improve. Playing in all 60 games last year, the former first-overall pick posted a much more respectable .250 wOBA against breaking pitches and ended the year with an above-average 116 wRC+. Those strides against curveballs and sliders has only continued in 2021, where Swanson’s current wOBA sits at .268 in 2021, to go with a career-high five home runs.

Then there’s his play of over the last month or so. Other than franchise player Freddie Freeman, Swanson is second among Braves position-players in fWAR since July 3, with 1.6 WAR (just 0.1 less than Freeman). In the 30 games the shortstop has played in during that stretch, he’s slashing .325/.372/.600 with seven homers and 25 RBI, good for a 155 wRC+. In his last six games, Swanson is 11 for 25 (.440 AVG). If the last 170-ish games is any indication, it certainly seems that this new type of Swanson is sustainable. Which brings us to the aforementioned extension…

Comparable extensions

Swanson has been good over the last 1 1/2 seasons, but he still isn’t on the same level as some of the top-tier shortstops in the league, featuring guys like Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts and Marcus Semien — nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, on FanGraphs WAR leaderboard from 2017-21. Now over that particular span, Swanson wouldn’t even be included in the second group either. But when you look at the top 15 or so shortstops from 2018-21, that’s where he begins to become part of the discussion.

Since the 2018 campaign, Swanson’s 7.5 fWAR ranks 13th in MLB among shortstops, and though that figure is quite a big difference from… say… tenth-ranked Carlos Correa (9.6 WAR), it’s still the production of a player that’s among some of the best in the game at his position.

So the top side of a potential extension would be in neighborhood of something like what Bogaerts received from Boston back in 2019 — a six-year, $120-million deal. At the time, he was roughly a year younger than Swanson, though, AND he obviously played for a team much more willing to spend. If the Braves have any plans of locking up Freeman long-term… paying Swanson a $20-million salary probably isn’t a realistic option.

However, there is a potential comparison that would make sense for both sides, and it’s an extension the Braves have already handed out to a former shortstop. Back in February of 2014, it appeared Atlanta was locking up Andrelton Simmons when the team gave him — along with reliever Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran and Freeman — a long-term extension. The deal for Simmons was for seven years and $58 million and its AAV was structured to escalate each season, topping out at $15 million in 2020.

Simmons’ 2014 extension

  • 2014 — $1 million
  • 2015 — $3 million
  • 2016 — $6 million
  • 2017 — $8 million
  • 2018 — $11 million
  • 2019 — $13 million
  • 2020 — $15 million

Now Simmons was still making the league-minimum at the time of his extension, where Swanson has somewhat enjoyed the pay-raises that have come with arbitration (he’s earning a $6-million salary this season). But still, even if Atlanta gave Swanson the exact same deal, the shortstop’s AAV would instantly increase by over $2 million, not counting the aforementioned escalators that would more than double his present salary by the time he reached the last couple years of the contract. Swanson is in line to make more money through arbitration, regardless, but like all team-friendly extensions, he would sacrifice a bit of money for the luxury of knowing where he’ll be for the next seven seasons. With the Braves now three years into contention mode, perhaps the guarantee of playing for a competitive team is worth the commitment.


Who knows what Anthopoulos and the Braves decide to do this coming offseason. With one more controlled-season on the books for Swanson, maybe the team waits until the end of 2022 to make sure its shortstop’s strides on offense are real. But from a future payroll standpoint, if Atlanta could persuade Swanson to settle for a Simmons-like contract extension this winter, Anthopoulos would be crazy not to lock him up. With what he’s done with the bat last season and during this one, I think it’s fair to say that Swanson has earned himself a long-term investment from the Braves.

Braves make strides in post-deadline ZiPS playoff projections

It may surprise you, but the Braves did really well during this year’s MLB trade deadline. According to ZiPS at FanGraphs, Atlanta experienced the second-largest bump in its overall playoff chances, going from 11.4% up to 18.1% immediately following the team’s many trades, a positive difference only bested by the Yankees who went from 36.4% to 45.1%.

Monday, August 2, 2021

-Clint Manry

MLB’s Five Biggest Improvers Post-deadline (ZiPS)

  1. Yankees — +8.7%
  2. Braves — +6.7%
  3. Brewers — +2.0%
  4. Phillies — +1.7%
  5. Blue Jays — +1.6%

Now obviously playoff probabilities vary rather widely among the five teams listed above. For example, the Bombers are now approaching a 50/50 shot according to ZiPS (45.1% to be exact), and Milwaukee is essentially a lock now at 93.8%. On paper, there are still numerous teams that are in a much better place than Atlanta, in terms of playoff odds, but it is comforting to know that the Braves were one of only two teams to experience at least a 5% positive change in its playoff probability. At this rate, any positive is much appreciated!

As Dan Szymborski rightfully expressed in his ZiPS update at FanGraphs on Monday, the Braves didn’t go out and get any superstars on deadline day, and the impact is pretty limited when looking at each of the team’s additions individually. However, as a whole, GM Alex Anthopoulos did a wonderful job at addressing obvious weaknesses in the outfield, and even more importantly, reinforcing a rather thin bullpen.

In regards to the outfield, a part of the roster decimated by Marcell Ozuna’s absence and the season-ending injury to superstar Ronald Acuna Jr., the improvements are staggering. Using each player’s rest-of-season ZiPS projections for 2021, here’s a comparison between the old Braves outfield and the new one. You’ll notice, just the depth alone has drastically improved, hence the seven players now compared to just five.

OLD Braves outfield (pre-All Star)

Ehire Adrianza – 93 PA, 2 HR, 90 wRC+, 0 WAR

Orlando Arcia – 133 PA, 3 HR, 80 wRC+, 0.1 WAR

Guillermo Heredia – 119 PA, 3 HR, 89 wRC+, 0.1 WAR

Ender Inciarte – 129 PA, 2 HR, 82 wRC+, 0.3 WAR

Abraham Almonte – 100 PA, 3 HR, 96 wRC+, -0.1 WAR

Total – 574 PA, 13 HR, 87 wRC+, 0.4 WAR

NEW Braves outfield (post-trade deadline)

Adam Duvall – 174 PA, 10 HR, 98 wRC+, 0.6 WAR

Eddie Rosario – 206 PA, 9 HR, 108 wRC+, 0.7 WAR

Jorge Soler – 182 PA, 10 HR, 111 wRC+, 0.3 WAR

Joc Pederson – 159 PA, 7 HR, 108 wRC+, 0.5 WAR

Guillermo Heredia – 119 PA, 3 HR, 89 wRC+, 0.1 WAR

Abraham Almonte – 100 PA, 3 HR, 96 wRC+, -0.1 WAR

Ehire Adrianza – 93 PA, 2 HR, 90 wRC+, 0 WAR

Total – 1,033 PA, 44 HR, 100 wRC+, 2.1 WAR

Then there’s the bullpen addition in right-hander Richard Rodríguez, who was nearly unhittable while with the Pirates this season. Simply put, Rodríguez should insert himself into the Braves set-up role, and best of all, he’ll essentially move every Atlanta reliever down a notch on the leverage ladder, which all alone should result in better matchups for manager Brian Snitker to exploit. Even more than Rodríguez’s stingy 2.68 ERA and 3.04 FIP, the 31-year-old has allowed just two homers all year in a span of 40.1 innings. Adding one reliever may not seem like much, but it’s less about the actual addition itself and more about the overall impact that one pitcher has on the entire bullpen.

Of course all of these much-needed adds by Anthopoulos is just moot if the Braves fail to get themselves out of this win-loss-win-loss pattern they seem to have gotten stuck in the last several weeks. The team has struggled to get on any type of winning streak all year, but here lately Atlanta literally cannot break the cycle; since July 17, a span that’s lasted 16 games now, the Braves have followed up every single win with a loss, making it extremely frustrating to watch. At 52-54 overall and in third-place in the NL East, somehow Atlanta is still only four games back in the division. Although with roughly 65% of the 2021 regular season already in the books, time is quickly running out for the team to get on some kind of streak. Following Sunday’s loss to the Brewers, on Monday the Braves playoff odds sat at 15.1% (per FG) and it’s odds to win the East were at just 13.6%. Those aren’t exactly great chances, and those percentages will begin shrinking at an even faster rate until Atlanta starts stringing three and four wins together.

Regardless though, the team’s movement within the ZiPS playoff probability table (found here) does help to keep the faith, at least for time being. Given how badly this season has gone so far, there really hasn’t been many positive moments to feel good about, and sadly, if the Braves performance doesn’t change soon, that sentiment will only continue. But heading into the recent trade deadline we all wanted Atlanta to do something to give the team a chance to make an improbable run at the postseason. Even if you don’t think Anthopoulos did enough, you have to agree with at least one thing: the team is better than it was this time last week. And for a fanbase that has been through hell this year, that’s about all we can really ask for right now. The Braves still have a chance.

Hopefully Saturday night was just a glimpse of what Joc Pederson can offer 

Saturday, July 18, 2021

-Clint Manry 

After what seems like years of talk, the Braves finally went out and got their guy. And though acquiring outfielder Joc Pederson in July of 2021 perhaps isn’t as exciting or headline-worthy as it would’ve been… say… one or two years ago, when he was coming off of back-to-back seasons in which he slugged 25 or more homers (in each of 2018 and ’19, respectively), but the fact remains: Atlanta has received a damn good hitter and a player that can certainly help this lineup.

And in his second game as a Brave, and just his fourth PA with the team, after coming from the Cubs literally just a day ago, Pederson did something he has yet to do during the 2021 season: he slugged a home run versus a left-handed pitcher. As part of a six-run fourth inning by the Braves and following a two-run double by pitcher Max Fried, the 30-year-old Pederson blasted a 1-0, 90-mph pitch into the Braves bullpen. 

Welcome to Atlanta, Joc.

Pederson also singled in the eighth, in what was essentially garbage time at that point, finishing the night 2 for 5 with two RBI and two runs scored. But that fourth-inning home run has just stuck with me. I already mentioned Pederson’s splits in an earlier post and wrote that they haven’t been as drastic this season, at least not in terms of overall offense. Sure, until last night, Pederson had hit all 11 of his homers versus righty-pitchers, but it’s not as if he has been unplayable against southpaws in 2021. In fact, Pederson’s AVG for the year was higher against lefties and his wRC+ was the exact same. Following Saturday’s game against the Rays, Pederson’s wRC+ versus righties and lefties stands at 94 and 105, respectively, with also just a 17-point difference in wOBA. What is telling though is that Pederson is hitting the ball harder versus southpaws this season. And though he’s faced that flavor of pitching only around 30% of the time in 2021, the difference is pretty significant. 

Pederson’s Hard% vs. RHP – 34.0%

Pederson’s Hard% vs. LHP – 41.7%

Once it was announced that the Braves had traded prospect Bryce Ball in exchange for Pederson, I immediately thought the deal was a good one, but deep down I just assumed that it probably meant another trade would eventually follow considering Pederson’s struggles against same-handed pitching. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case anymore. Pederson could easily be Atlanta’s everyday right fielder, and a solid lead-off hitter against both righties and lefties. His numbers this year show that he doesn’t have to sit the bench when the Braves face southpaws. 

And if Saturday night was any indication as to what Pederson can provide for the Braves lineup on a nightly basis, this should be a fun second-half to the season. 

Young starting pitching has been a bright spot in what’s been a disappointing 2021 for the Braves 

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. 

Huascar Ynoa 

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…

Ian Anderson

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. 

Tucker Davidson 

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. 

Kyle Muller 

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.