Braves: 5 Takeaways from the first quarter of the season

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Despite some struggles of late and injury concerns, the Braves still hold the largest division lead of anybody in baseball, clearing the Marlins by five games. It remains one of their better starts in recent memory, and while there are a few concerns, most of my early season takeaways are all positive.

Orlando Arcia is a starting caliber shortstop

Listen, I give myself props when I’m right, but I also have to knock myself when I’m wrong. I didn’t necessarily disagree with the Braves decision to start Orlando Arcia over Vaughn Grissom. In fact, I said all offseason that Grissom wasn’t ready for the responsibility and the Braves needed to add another shortstop. I was right about Grissom, but I was wrong about the second part.

Orlando Arcia has been one of the team’s best players when on the field, boasting a .342 average, .997 OPS, and 169 wRC+. His defense at the shortstop position is well above average, and it’s apparent that his improved offense from 2022 is no fluke. Is regression in line? Absolutely. Arcia is currently on a 162-game pace for about 8 fWAR. He’s not that good, but can he be a reliable starter? He’s proved that through the first quarter of the season.

Ronald Acuña Jr. is the best player in the NL… and it’s not close

There were murmurs inside the Braves organization about Ronald Acuña Jr. being back to his normal self after a down 2022 in which he was still recovering from a torn ACL. However, those murmurs didn’t do him justice. This is the best version of Ronald Acuña Jr. we’ve ever seen. He’s leading all of baseball in WAR and on pace for over 40 homers and nearly 70 stolen bases. Acuña’s also hitting .345, and what’s noticeable about his approach is his decreased strikeout rate. He’s only striking out 13.7% of the time, down ten percent from last season, and his walk rate sits at 13.2%, up over 3% from 2022.

That is simply unbelievable, and while his scorching hot start doesn’t seem sustainable, I don’t see anything that suggests he’s going to slow down. At the end of the year, we’re going to be talking about if he’s the best player in all of baseball. But as far as the National League goes, nobody is even close.

The bullpen is going to need another arm

The Braves bullpen hasn’t been great this season, especially of late, but I’m not nearly as down on the group as most. There have been several great under-the-radar adds, like Michael Tonkin and Nick Anderson. However, it’s been the Braves primary relievers–Collin McHugh, A.J. Minter, and Raisel Iglesias–that have really struggled.

I don’t expect that to continue the entire season, so this current group will look better moving forward. Still, at least one more power arm that can be used in high leverage situations would be nice. The good news is relief arms are generally available at the trade deadline for pennies. The Braves should have no problem making this bullpen one of the most feared again come October.

The Sean Murphy trade was a home run

The Sean Murphy trade caught some people off guard because the Braves already had two All-Star catchers, but it hasn’t taken long for everyone to realize why Alex Anthopoulos was willing to send William Contreras and more away for the former Athletics catcher. Murphy has been the best defensive catcher in baseball, which was expected. What wasn’t expected was his offensive production.

Murphy was by no means a bad offensive player. He recorded a 122 wRC+ last season (22% above league average), but that pales in comparison to what he’s doing with the Braves. Murphy is currently sporting a 163 wRC+ (63% above league average) and already has ten homers, which is more than halfway to a career-high. A better lineup around him is clearly paying dividends, and the Braves are set to have him as their primary backstop through at least the 2028 season.

Spencer Strider is going to win the NL Cy Young

It might not be the best time to say this, considering Spencer Strider is coming off one of his worst outings of the season last night against the Rangers, but I’m not backing down on this take. Pitching has never been better than it is right now. There are so many guys that are nearly unhittable, but the best of the bunch is Spencer Strider. It seems like every time he toes the rubber, he’s breaking another franchise or MLB record. He currently leads the league in strikeouts, K/9, and strikeout rate. As far as dominant pitchers go, nobody holds a candle to him at the moment. There are some other pitchers in the NL, like Zac Gallen and Clayton Kershaw, that are having fantastic years, but at the end of the season, Spencer Strider will be in a class of his own, winning his first Cy Young in just his second year.

Photo: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire

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