With Austin Riley amid a mega-slump, and Nick Markakis going down for what could be the entire season – the Braves front office was beginning to scramble to find outfield help before the trade deadline. Alex Anthopoulos and Co. still have a few hours to make that happen, but the recent play of the replacements – Ender Inciarte and Adam Duvall – has eased the pressure to add another outfielder significantly.
I’ll be the first to admit; I didn’t believe Ender Inciarte would ever be an integral part to the Braves again. His bat was atrocious before he went down, Austin Riley was a Greek God at the plate, and Atlanta had plenty of outfield depth in their system. But the three-time Gold Glove Award winner finally got his opportunity, and he’s reminding everyone why he was an All-Star back in 2017.
Defensively, Inciarte remains the best center fielder in baseball. Ronald Acuña has the potential to be an elite center fielder, but you take for granted how easy Inciarte can make difficult plays look out there. However, defense alone was not going to earn him back his full-time starting job. He had to show some improvement with the bat, and he’s been one of the hottest hitters on the Braves since his return.
After going 0-11 in his first four games, Inciarte has caught fire over his last four contests. He has three multi-hit games with two home runs, two doubles, and eight RBIs. I’m not sure if it is sustainable, but Inciarte has always been a second-half hitter. His numbers before he went down with injury were not indicitave of his ability. It’s going to be difficult to take sticks out of the starting lineup unless he cools down substantially.
Not to be outdone, Adam Duvall has arrived after hitting 29 home runs in AAA Gwinnett and is instantly becoming a fan favorite. Let’s put his return to Atlanta in perspective.
Duvall came over to the Braves around this time last year. For the remainder of the season, he hit .132, accumulating seven total hits – one of which was an extra-base hit (a double). Duvall never even registered an RBI in Atlanta. His most memorable play was actually on the basepaths as a pinch-runner. He was so helpless; the Braves only gave him 57 plate appearances.
Fast forward to today, and Duvall is finally proving the trade worth it. In just four games, he already has more hits (9), extra-base hits (3), home runs (3), and RBIs (5). It couldn’t have come at a better time either. Without him, the Braves would be forced to give up prospects for an outfielder, but with him, they have no pressure to overpay for anyone.
I’ll be the first to tell you I’m shocked at how quickly things have turned, but that is baseball. While Duvall and Inciarte are hot today, it could be Riley again in a few weeks. The point is the Braves have options. It’s also not a foregone conclusion that Markakis will still be injured come October. So while it looked for a few days that the Braves needed to acquire an outfield bat, Anthopoulos is probably spending most of his time focusing on the pitching staff, as most fans are hoping for.