The Braves season is one-third of the way over. There have been some ups and downs for this Braves team, mostly ups so far. Atlanta stills find themselves in second place in the NL East, but with the way the team finished the first third of the season, things are looking up in Atlanta.
The Braves just came off a grueling stretch of baseball coming into the Memorial holiday. The Braves came off that run of games with a winning record, which is all you can ask for when you have a run of games over a month. It’s brutal for any team, especially a team like this Braves team, which is being led by a young core, mostly. The Braves have left games out there, with poor performances from the bullpen, but a team can’t think about the games that have been left out there. If the Braves can keep improving on what they’ve been doing, which isn’t much improving there, Atlanta could run away with the NL East.
The Braves have options moving forward the rest of the season. With the emergence of Austin Riley, the Braves now have an expendable asset in Ender Inciarte. The addition of Riley’s bat into this Braves lineup has given this team new depth that Inciarte couldn’t give to the team on his best days. Yes, Riley will spend the season playing out of position, and the Braves have already seen the consequences of that on Sunday in St. Louis, but his bat in the lineup is worth the growing pains. The Braves offense has taken new life since the lineup changes, going 12-4 in that time. Moving Ronald Acuna and Dansby Swanson up top, and adding Riley to the lineup has only produced positive results. The offense is starting to heat up at the right time.
The Braves starting pitching has been better than expected. It’s taken Mike Foltynewicz a little longer than expected to bounce back, but the addition of Mike Soroka and Max Fried has been invaluable to this Braves starting staff. Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran have been fine, innings eaters if nothing else. Teheran had a good May, finishing with an ERA under a run in five starts. A pitching staff of Soroka, Fried, Folty, and Teheran will be enough for this Braves team to compete with anyone in baseball. The bullpen is another story.
The Braves have blown nine saves in the first third of the season, tied for third-most in all of baseball. It’s been very up and down for this bullpen, with Luke Jackson alternating from bonafide closer to questionable AAA pitcher. A.J. Minter, Braves first closer, had an ERA hovering around 10 before he was booted to the minors. Two bright spots, Touki Toussaint and Sean Newcomb, have gone up and down between the minors and majors all season, but have provided solid work when called upon. The Braves bullpen will be the heel of this team for the rest of the season, but with Inciarte and players available, possibly after the draft, the Braves have moves to be made. If the Braves can find the right moves for this bullpen, this Braves team could be on the way to something special.
The Braves are 30-24, a game and a half behind the Phillies in the NL East. The Phillies are going to be in the way for the rest of the season, much like last season, but like last season, the Braves are the better team still. Even with all the improvements of the Phillies through offseason trades and free agent signings, the Braves still feel like the better team. The number of games the Braves have blown, nine, is enough to give this Braves team a big division lead if half those games could have ended differently. But here we are, in second place. If the Braves want to repeat as NL East champions, they’ll have to find a way to improve this bullpen to hold on to the games they are putting themselves in position to win. There’s still a lot of the season left, but the Braves are on the right path.