The Braves have the pieces to repeat as World Series champions. Now, that’s incredibly difficult to accomplish — the last team to do so was the Yankees at the turn of the century — but there’s enough talent in Atlanta to get the job done. You could even make the argument that this team is even more talented than last year’s. The pitching staff has improved significantly, and it always helps to get one of the best players in baseball back healthy.
Unfortunately, the Braves’ record doesn’t resemble anything close to a World Series caliber team. They are three games under .500 through 51 games and trail the Mets by 10.5 games in the NL East. Nobody should be pleased, but it does feel as if the individual pieces are beginning to shine. Now, they all just need to come together.
For a while, the offense was dragging the Braves in the dirt. You would be hard-pressed to find anybody batting over .250, and several players were struggling to hit over the Mendoza Line. If the pitching staff hadn’t held up their end of the bargain, the Braves could be staring at a 15-game deficit in the NL East. That might be too much to overcome, but 10.5 with four months to play is doable. It may be challenging, but it’s possible, especially when the offense looks to be catching its stride.
Dansby Swanson has been arguably the best shortstop in baseball since late April. He’s hitting .313 with an .881 OPS over his last 37 games. Right behind him in the order is Marcell Ozuna, who has also found his stride after being mired in a dreadful month-long slump. The Big Bear has a .300 average with five homers in his last 15 games. That’ll play, and so will the recent bats of Austin Riley and Matt Olson, who I would call the two most important pieces of the Braves offense, outside of Ronald Acuña.
Riley’s well on his way out of a pretty lengthy slump, and we all know what happens when he gets going. Riley’s raised his average over 30 points in his last 10 games, thanks to a .390 average to go with five homers. Olson hasn’t quite been that hot, but after watching his OPS drop almost .500 points in a month, that number has started to trend back in the right direction over the last week. The doubles are coming in bunches for Olson; he has seven hits in his last four games — five of which were two-baggers.
The Braves are even getting an unexpected boost from William Contreras, who has been one of the hottest hitters on the planet when he’s in the lineup. He already has seven homers on the season in just 18 games, and over his last 10 games, he’s hitting .394 with eight extra-base bits — five doubles and three homers. As I wrote earlier today, the Braves need to find a place for him in the lineup nearly every time out.
Outside of Adam Duvall, who should be seeing less and less playing time by the day, this offense has come alive. Unfortunately, the wins haven’t quite yet strung together in bunches.
There hasn’t necessarily been one aspect letting the team down over the last several weeks; it just seems to be a different thing every night. One day it will be the defense, the next it is base running, or the bullpen, or the offense’s inability to come through with runners in scoring position. The Braves are close; the pieces have all flashed how good they can be. Now, they all need to do so at the same time.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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