At 56-38, the Braves are in a far better position heading into the second half than they were last season, but they still find themselves 2.5 games behind the division-leading Mets. With an extra Wild Card spot, Atlanta should be able to cruise into the postseason for the fifth consecutive year. However, the division title carries some added weight this year, given the top two seeds in each league will receive a first-round bye to the NLDS. It should be a helluva second half in the NL East, and here’s how I see things shaking out for the Braves.
Austin Riley wins MVP
I’m starting off bold, but the hottest player in baseball right now is Austin Riley, and I see him carrying that momentum into the second half. Over his last 18 games, he’s hitting .419 with nine homers and six doubles — good for a 1.321 OPS. Riley’s currently on pace to post a 7-WAR season, and if he helps lead the Braves to another NL East title, I just don’t see how he gets overlooked for the award, especially after what he did last season. This is no fluke; Austin Riley is not only the best player on the Braves right now, but he’s up there with the best in all of baseball.
Spencer Strider establishes himself as a second ace to Max Fried
You could argue this has already happened. Strider has a 3.03 ERA and even more impressive 2.04 FIP to go along with his ridiculous 13.8 K/9 this season. However, I think he’ll be even better in the second half, and I want to shut down the narrative that he will be moved to the bullpen. I don’t see that happening. The Braves have already stated that they don’t plan on restricting his innings, and with the way this guy prepares his mind and body, I don’t see him hitting a rookie wall down the stretch. Strider is the real deal, and he’s most valuable in the rotation. I can’t wait to see him dominate down the stretch and into the postseason.
Braves clinch the division on the final weekend series against the Mets
If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been adamant that the Braves will eventually surpass the Mets and run away with the division. With the way the two teams are constructed today, I firmly believe that. However, I expect the Mets to be one of the most active teams at the trade deadline. They could upgrade significantly at catcher, and I don’t think they’ll stop there. They should be able to add multiple bats to their lineup and bullpen arms. If they accomplish that, which I think they will, they’ll be a more than formidable foe for the Braves down the stretch, but Atlanta’s grit and experience will be the deciding factor. It will come down to the wire, but I see the Braves clinching the division during the second-to-last series of the season against the Mets.
Photo: John Adams/Icon Sportswire
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