After today’s game against the Phillies, the Braves will officially be one-quarter of the way through their schedule, and as we all predicted back in March, the Marlins would be in first place on August 7th. It’s been a crazy last five months, but yesterday’s walk-off win by Nick Markakis was the first time I felt a bit of normalcy during this season (aside from there being no fans and no dogpile once he touched home plate).
After COVID-19 provided us with an initial scare — with breakouts among two ball clubs — things are beginning to settle down, and by tonight, all 30 teams could be back in action. It’s finally starting to feel like we can take our minds off whether the season will be completed and start focusing on the baseball. Here’s what we’ve learned from the Braves over the first two weeks of the season.
Pray for the starting pitching
Max Fried has been outstanding, but after that, it’s been shaky all around. Finally, a young pitcher — Touki Toussaint — looked confident on the mound last night. However, we’re going to have to see it more than once to crown him the Braves second ace. Even still, Atlanta needs a couple of more arms to become serviceable if they want to be considered World Series contenders in October.
The bullpen is elite
How good does this feel? For years, Braves fans held their breath once Brian Snitker took the ball from the starter. Now, it’s the other way around. The Braves current bullpen doesn’t have a pitcher with an ERA over 2.45, and they just added Will Smith, one of the best relievers in the game. As long as Atlanta’s starting pitchers can go 4-5 innings each time out, this group will consistently give the Braves bats a chance to win, and that’s about all you can ask for with Mike Soroka out for the season.
Adam Duvall should be an everyday player
Brian Snitker hinted at it yesterday, but Adam Duvall should be in the lineup every day, not Ender Inciarte. Inciarte’s started this season miserably offensively, and frankly, this isn’t anything new. He’s just not good with the bat. Duvall has put in his dues, spent time in AAA, and returned a different player. I don’t expect him to hit over .300 like he is now, but he will provide plenty of more pop and better at at-bats than Inciarte every night while also playing above-average defense in left field.
Ender Inciarte’s days in Atlanta are numbered
Adam Duvall is going to be the starter going forward, and if he keeps this up, there’s little reason to hold on to Ender Inciarte. His defense isn’t worth much as a replacement, and there are plenty of better bats the Braves could use off the bench. It will be interesting to see what Alex Anthopoulos decides to do with him over the next few weeks.
Put some respect on Josh Tomlin’s name
Josh Tomlin deserves respect, not just from Braves country, but from the entire baseball community. I’m aware high-80s fastballs aren’t the fad anymore, but that hasn’t stopped Tomlin from being incredibly useful. He accrued 1.0 WAR out of the Braves ‘pen last year, posting a 3.74 ERA and 0.8 BB/9 and still had to settle for a minor-league contract from Atlanta this past offseason. That’s going to change after this season. Tomlin’s off to an incredible start, tossing 8 shutout innings with 11 strikeouts and no walks, facing just two batters more than the minimum. Put some respect on his name.
Tyler Matzek and A.J. Minter have been wonderful surprises
Coming into the season, the Braves looked to have a need for quality lefty relievers. Outside of Will Smith, who began the year on the COVID-19 list and was just recently added to the active roster, the Braves didn’t know if they had another reliable southpaw on their roster. Tyler Matzek and A.J. Minter have put a rest to that early this season. They’ve only allowed 1 earned run while striking out 16 in 11.2 innings combined.
The Braves need Austin Riley’s bat to come around
It pains me to say this because I believe in Austin Riley, and the Braves offense needs him to reach its full potential, but he’s looked a lot more like the guy from the second half of last year than the first. It’s only been two weeks, but in a 60-game season, if he can’t show a little more at the plate over the next two weeks, he might find himself in Gwinnett camp.
The Braves are in a much better situation at catcher
Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud have only been around for nine games after missing the first five with symptoms of the coronavirus. However, it’s already overwhelmingly apparent they are much better than what the Braves had last year. Travis d’Arnaud is head and shoulders above Brian McCann at this point in their careers, and Tyler Flowers looks much better at the plate than he did last season (let’s hope he can keep it up).
Touki Toussaint might be the real deal
I know I said earlier in this article that we need to see more than one excellent performance before we start proclaiming Touki Toussaint as legit, but I almost can’t help myself. Yesterday’s outing was the best we’ve seen out of any of the young arms, not named Max Fried or Mike Soroka. Toussaint was confident and had four legit pitches to turn to in any situation. We’ll really get a chance to see what he’s made of next time out as he is scheduled to face the Yankees on Tuesday.