MLB’s Opening Day feels like it was yesterday, yet here we are, one-third of the way through a six-month grind. The Braves season thus far has been a mixed bag. They began as one of the hottest teams in baseball, but the last month has some fans feeling uneasy, especially following back-to-back losses to the abysmal Oakland A’s. It hasn’t been fun to watch recently, but there’s been more good than bad over the first couple of months for the Braves, which is why they reside in first place. Here are the three biggest positives from the first third of the season.
Ronald Acuña Jr.
Might as well start out with the most obvious one. Ronald Acuña Jr. is currently the favorite to take home the NL MVP award, and even though he’s slowed down a tad as of late, it’s not for lack of hitting the ball hard. He’s currently on pace for over 30 homers and 60 steals, which would make him the first player ever to accomplish the feat, and I think he could be on the verge of something even more special.
Acuña is a home run threat every time he steps up in the box, but his power comes and goes at times because he’s not necessarily concerned with elevating the baseball. However, when he does, it usually clears the fence by a country mile because of how often he barrels balls and his high exit velocity. Acuña typically hits homers in bunches, as we saw earlier this month when he hit five over a seven-game stretch. If he can do that a few more times this season, I think he will reach 40 homers to go along with 50-60 steals and an NL MVP award.
Sean Murphy has come even better than advertised and actually leads Acuña in terms of fWAR, ranking fourth among position players. He’s the best defensive catcher in baseball, throwing out runners at will and calling magnificent games behind the plate. His value to the Braves pitching staff can’t be understated, and he’s also amid his best season offensively.
Murphy is on pace for over 30 homers and boasts a wRC+ of 157 (57% above league average). His previous career highs in those categories are 18 and 122, respectively. By every metric, Murphy has been a much better offensive player than he ever has in his career, and while some regression may be in line over an entire season, it’s evident playing in a more hitter-friendly park and lineup with a lot more talent has taken his game to the next level.
When the national media talks about the Braves rotation, they rave about Spencer Strider… and it’s warranted. He might be the most dominant pitcher in baseball, leading the league in K/9 and strikeouts. However, Bryce Elder has actually been just as–if not–more valuable through the first two months of the season, and it’s time people start to put some respect on his name.
It may not make sense to the advanced analytic nerds, but Elder currently leads all of baseball in ERA with a 1.92. The young man understands the art of pitching, and that’s something advanced analytics cannot measure. Elder currently sports a remarkable groundball rate of 57.6% thanks to his sinker, and if you can get guys to hit the ball on the ground that frequently, good things are going to happen. Elder could very well be on his way to the All-Star game in his first full season in the majors.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire