After an unsatisfying start to the season, the Braves went on a tear that we haven’t seen in years, winning 33 of the 49 games Austin Riley played in since being called up on May 15th. As a result, they went from several games behind the Phillies to six games up on the Nationals and 6.5 ahead of Philadelphia. It’s been a sensational last two months for Braves fans, but the season is only beginning. There is plenty left to unfold, and I have a bevy of predictions for the second half.
Ronald Acuña finishes with an average of at least .300 and over 40 home runs
I’m starting with a bang. The 21-year-old phenom put on a show at the Homerun Derby, giving the world a glimpse of why many people believe he will take the throne from Mike Trout one day as the best in the game – uncanny power to all fields. His swing is so easy, and he can drive the ball over 450 feet to right center just as easily as he can pull one down the line.
Acuña is hitting .292 with 21 homers and was named a starter in the All-Star Game, but I don’t even think he’s hit his stride yet. I’m waiting for one of those tears as he had in the second half of last season. He will have to hit 20 homers in 71 games, but that will look much more attainable after he goes MAMMO in five straight at some point in the second half.
The Braves trade for a starter and a reliever
By all accounts, this team is a serious playoff threat. But they have a chance to become a favorite in the NL with a few manageable acquisitions. Regardless of what the stats tell us, I believe it’s imperative that the Braves add a high-quality late-inning arm at the very least. But I don’t think Alex Anthopoulos is going to stop there.
The Braves GM made it apparent when he took out 13 million dollars to sign Dallas Keuchel for five months: Atlanta is all in this season. They have the prospect depth to go out there and trade for a Zach Wheeler or Madison Bumgarner type, and they will pull the trigger before the July 31st deadline.
Freddie Freeman comes just shy of winning the MVP award
If Ronald Acuña does what I expect in the second half, he will be in the running for the MVP award as well. However, to this point, Freeman has been the undisputed MVP of the Braves. He leads the National League in hits, is on pace to surpass 40 homers for the first time in his career, and is playing a superb first base as always. Bellinger and Yelich have rightfully received all the attention, but if they slip up at all in the second half, Mr. Consistent will be nipping at their heels.
Ender Inciarte never plays for the Braves again this year
I’ve written about this plenty and talked about it even more: Ender Inciarte isn’t going to play for the Braves this season barring an injury. Matt Joyce has been too good, and there is no way he is taking Charlie Culberson or Johan Camargo’s spot. I shouldn’t even have to mention the option of starting over Austin Riley; that is not a thing. Eventually, whether it is before this trade deadline or in the offseason, Inciarte will be moved. He’s too talented to be on a minor league roster, but there is no room for him in Atlanta.
The Braves run away with the division by August
The Braves are a hot streak to start the All-Star break away from the rest of the NL East either focusing on the Wild Card or waiving the white flag. Personally, I think the Phillies are dunzo. Their confidence is shot, they have poor leadership, and their roster isn’t nearly as impressive as everyone thought it would be. I like the Nationals, especially their pitching staff. But they have bullpen issues for days, and their lineup can’t sniff that of the Braves. If Atlanta can beat these two teams the next time they play them, I don’t think it will take much more for them to crown themselves NL East champions.
Johan Camargo has a bounce-back second half
I’m not saying Johan Camargo is going to have 20 doubles and ten bombs in the final 70 games of the season. He doesn’t play enough for those type of numbers. But the Braves would be wise to give him more starts in the second half. Not only do they have a cushion and should be looking down the road at the playoffs, but they are going to need the Johan Camargo from last year to show up if they want to win the World Series. The deepest teams are usually the last ones standing, and the Braves ultra-talented bench begins with this man right here.
Austin Riley easily surpasses 30 homers
I’m not sure if he will hit above .250 for the season, but he will easily smash over 30 homers. His power is otherworldy – that is all.
Mike Foltynewicz never returns to the Folty of 2018, or close to it
The Braves will likely give Folty another shot in Atlanta before too long, and perhaps he even works his way back into the rotation. However, mentally, this is not the same pitcher we saw from a year ago, and on top of that, his stuff hasn’t been the same either. His fastball was noticeably slower all season, and his slider was a hanger nearly every time it left his hand. I’m not holding my breath here.
Kevin Gausman never returns to the rotation
As it stands now, Gausman is about the seventh guy I would send out there to start a game. And I’ve already said the Braves are going to add another piece to their rotation. Gausman may return to the team in the bullpen, and he probably deserves a shot there, but his days in Atlanta are numbered.
The Braves current bullpen will experience some regression
For as much grief as they received to begin the season, this bullpen has been arguably the best in baseball for the last two months. They are just as much responsible for the Braves rise to the top of the division. With that said, several players are candidates for regression in the second half.
Luke Jackson is legit. There is nothing flukey about his numbers thus far, and he has a 12.1 K/9 rate. But is that sustainable all season? Is Sean Newcomb really the next Andrew Miller out of the pen? He could be, but I’ll believe it once I’ve seen a larger sample size. The same can be said for both Jacob Webb and Anthony Swarzak. There’s no way all of these guys perform up to the same standard as they did in the first half, but with the addition of another bullpen arm via trade; they won’t have to.
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