Imagine where the Braves would be without Ronald Acuna… and their bench

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The Braves are off to a 7-10 start, but what’s been even more worrisome is how they have lost (and won) many of these games. Seemingly no aspect of the team is clicking, and each day, they find a new way to lose. Atlanta may be 7-10, but truthfully, their record could be much worse. By the eye test, this team — that has been so magnificent to watch over the last three seasons — has been appalling. If it weren’t for Ronald Acuna — who is off to an MVP start — and the bench (just as everybody expected), the Braves could easily be looking at a record along the lines of 4-13… or worse.

As Clint talked about a couple of days ago, Ronald Acuna was named the NL Player of the Week, but it’s been more than that. He’s easily been the best player in baseball so far this season. These were his MLB ranks entering Monday:

  • 1.6 fWAR (1st)
  • 7 HR (1st)
  • 21 runs (1st)
  • 16 RBI (t-2nd)
  • 253 wRC+ (1st)
  • .887 SLG (1st)
  • .486 OBP (4th)
  • .419 AVG (2nd)
  • .468 ISO (1st)

Absurd. Acuna left Sunday night’s blowout win over the Cubs with an injury, but thankfully, it wasn’t deemed serious after an MRI. There’s a chance he returns today against the Yankees; however, given that the Braves have another off-day on Thursday, I could see Snitker resting Acuna one more game. Hopefully, he will be back in the lineup by Friday at the latest because the rest of the Braves starters have been miserable at the plate.

I’ll exclude Freddie Freeman from this slander. He hasn’t been his 2020 NL MVP-self so far this season, but he’s still getting on base at nearly a .400 clip thanks to 14 walks and features an OPS of .903. However, all of the other Braves starters deserve to be shunned for their abysmal results at the plate.

Outside of Acuna and Freeman, Atlanta doesn’t have a single everyday starter with an OPS north of .700, and only one other starter — Travis d’Arnaud — has an OPS above .600 (.625). To put that in perspective, the lowest OPS among starters last season was Austin Riley, who posted a .716 mark. That is how unfathomably awful this lineup, which was arguably the best in all of baseball last season, has been so far in 2021.

But not even Ronald Acuna could lead this team to seven wins by himself. He’s received some help from some unlikely faces — players that weren’t even expected to make the roster when Spring Training began.

The most pleasant surprise has been Pablo Sandoval. He’s come up with not one, not two, but three clutch pinch-hit home runs. That’s just one off the mark for the most pinch-hit homers in a month in baseball history, and there are still ten days remaining in April. The Panda has also coaxed four walks in just 16 at-bats, leading to an OBP of .500 and OPS of 1.533. 

Sandoval hasn’t been the lone hero on the Braves bench, though. Ehire Adrianza, another player who made the Opening Day roster purely because of his Spring Training performance, is hitting .320 with a couple of homers. He could end up being the everyday third baseman for the Braves if Austin Riley doesn’t show some signs of life with the bat in the next couple of weeks. Then there’s Guillermo Heredia, who was only called up because of an injury to Cristian Pache. So far, he has five hits — two of which were home runs — and three walks in 19 plate appearances, good for an OPS of 1.274.

Alex Anthopoulos often receives the brunt of the blame, and it’s understandable because he’s the GM, but it is rarely deserved. He’s consistently done a fantastic job with the budget he’s allowed, constantly finding hidden gems. The Braves would be two or three wins worse without their bench, which was supposed to be the weakest part of their team this season. Anthopoulos deserves some credit for that, but this kind of production isn’t sustainable. Eventually, the stars on this team not named Ronald Acuna have to step up, or this has the potential to get ugly quickly.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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