Braves: Three concerns through the first quarter of the season

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The Braves have experienced their first real rough stretch of the season lately, which has led to some outlandish takes from the fan base. But that’s what fans are for, right? The Braves are now 27-16 and sit in first place by five games, boasting the largest division lead in baseball. It’s been a promising start, but there are a few concerns moving into the summer months.

Michael Harris II

Michael Harris came up and set the world on fire, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award over his teammate Spencer Strider. I kept waiting to see if he was ever going to hit the notorious “rookie wall,” but every time he started to slump, a hot streak would follow. That hasn’t been the case early in 2023.

Harris hit a couple of balls hard last night against the Rangers but had nothing to show for it. He ended up going 0-for-4, dropping his average down to .194 on the season with an unsightly .576 OPS. Harris does deserve a little slack because he’s been injured for half of the year and only played in 22 games, so the sample size is small, but his 56.1% ground ball rate is a bit concerning. I’m far from hitting the panic button, but most advanced analytic sites like FanGraphs projected regression was in line for Harris, and so far, it looks like they were right on the money.

The bullpen

The bullpen, as currently constructed, is a bit flimsy. Raisel Iglesias is still getting his feet under him after missing the beginning of the season with a shoulder injury. A.J. Minter hasn’t performed nearly as well as he has over the past couple of seasons, even if positive regression is surely in his future. Collin McHugh is also off to a sluggish start for his standards, and Joe Jiménez has not done anything to earn Brian Snitker‘s trust in his first year with the team.

The real standout relievers for the Braves have been guys like Jesse Chavez, Kirby Yates, Michael Tonkin, and Nick Anderson, which nobody would have believed at the start of the season. However, those guys aren’t going to continue to pitch lights out all season long. The Braves really need their top guys to start looking like themselves, or things are only going to get worse moving forward.

A hobbled rotation

Some fans might not agree, but the only concern I really have with this Braves team moving forward is the rotation. Losing two guys who finished in the top-ten in the NL Cy Young race in 2022 for multiple months is a gut-punch few teams would be able to overcome. Fortunately, the Braves have enough firepower to right the ship, but they are going to need people to step up.

It must be a group effort. Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton, and Bryce Elder have to continue pitching the way that they have. Guys like Jared Shuster and Michael Soroka–whenever he’s called up–must give the team some competitive outings. The bullpen has to be better than they have been through the first seven weeks, and the offense is going to have to mash. It’s not going to be easy, but if anyone can maneuver the losses of two of their best pitchers, it’s the Braves.

Photo: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire

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