The Braves have grabbed the NL East by the throat in the first half of the season, jumping out to a 6 game lead over the Nationals, who were the prohibitive favorites coming into this year, and 6.5 game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies. All of that success comes with even higher aspirations from the fans as we approach October. It’s been a fun ride, but 2019 will be judged by what happens in the postseason. Getting there is no longer enough, and several unanswered questions remain.
Is Dansby Swanson’s success sustainable?
It took three years, but Swanson finally had the breakout half that resembled a #1 overall pick. His defense hasn’t been as terrific, but nobody will remember that if he slugs 30 bombs like he is on pace for. I don’t believe he will go back to his 2018 form with the bat, but I do want to see if a slight regression is in order, or if this is who he is now.
A Ronald Acuña Jr. breakout
Ronald Acuña Jr. is a 21-year old that won the Rookie of the Year and now is a starter in the All-Star game in his second season. The most amazing part about that is it doesn’t even feel like he’s been hot and he’s on pace for 40 homers and an OPS of .875. I firmly believe a blazing streak is ahead – much like he did in the second half of last season. Stay tuned.
Can the Braves run away with the division?
The Nationals have played pretty well of late. Can their rotation carry them within striking distance of the Braves, or will they stumble out of the gate and contention altogether? Do the Phillies have one last push in them, or are they a hopeless group destine to underachieve? I still believe the Braves biggest threat in the East is Washington.
Whose the real Austin Riley?
Austin Riley’s torrid streak in AAA carried over to the big leagues, as he quickly launched nine homers in 18 games. He has cooled off considerably since and is striking out plenty, so what player are the Braves going to get in the second half. My guess is things heat back up, and Riley hits around .270 with over 30 home runs, but his dip in average is worth monitoring.
How active will the Braves be at the trade deadline?
Alex Anthopoulos wasn’t ultra-aggressive in the offseason, but he did make a move to go out and spend 13 million dollars for five months of Dallas Keuchel, suggesting Atlanta is all-in this season. Will he be willing to pony up the prospects necessary for a top-of-the-line starter and late-inning relief arm? If he does, the Braves will have perhaps the most complete roster in all of baseball.
Can Kevin Gausman and Mike Foltynewicz bounce back?
These two pitchers had a combined 2.86 ERA last year for the Braves. There was an argument to be made that these were the best starting arms Atlanta had to begin the year. Now, they are off the roster altogether. Who knows what the Braves are going to do with Kevin Gausman once they activate him off the IL. They could send him to the bullpen or give him another chance at starting. Folty is a whole different story. The Braves want him to find himself down in Gwinnett. It would be a massive boost if he could bounce back.
Do we see Ender Inciarte again?
So apparently the back injury that Inciarte suffered is much more significant than initially thought. That being said, the Braves haven’t missed him much on the field. His replacement, Austin Riley, has turned Atlanta into an offensive powerhouse. But eventually, Inciarte is going to be ready to return. His first rehab assignment takes place tonight in AA Mississippi. What the Braves will do with him; I have no idea. There is no way he comes back and replaces Austin Riley as a starter, and his lack of pop makes him a liability as a pinch hitter. Who knows if we ever see Inciarte again in a Braves uniform.