The Braves will be pondering a couple of different things at the trade deadline. First, they must evaluate whether it is realistically possible for them to win the NL East. They should know the answer to that after the next eight days in which they play nine games against the Phillies and Mets. But even if they come to the conclusion that the division is winnable, they then must decide how aggressive they want to be. With so many critical pieces missing for the season — like Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka, and likely Marcell Ozuna — is it even worth attempting a blockbuster trade in what feels like a lost year already?
Those aren’t easy questions to answer, especially the second one when you consider just how random baseball can be come the postseason. Oftentimes, it’s the hottest team, not the best team that wins in October, providing every organization a glimmer of hope. Fortunately, the Braves have a pretty good idea of what it will take to win a World Series. After all, they were up 3-1 on the eventual World Series champions just last season, so Anthopoulos should have a feel of whether this team can get to that level with the proper adjustments. If you ask me, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Last year’s Braves squad had its strengths, but it also had a glaring weakness. The rotation was absolutely abysmal. Behind Max Fried and Ian Anderson, Atlanta had nothing they could rely on, which is why they were unable to finish the job. That’s not the case for the Braves this season.
Charlie Morton once again looks like the guy who finished third in the AL Cy Young race in 2019. In his past 11 starts, he’s 6-1 with a 2.86 ERA. Max Fried has also pitched like a Cy Young candidate again. Ever since returning from the IL in early May, he is 7-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 12 starts. Ian Anderson has picked up in 2021 right where he left off in 2020, and Drew Smyly has experienced a significant turnaround over the last couple of months as well. Throw in the likes of Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Muller, Tucker Davidson, and Touki Toussaint — who have thrived at points this season — and the Braves have more starting pitching than they know what to do with. Unfortunately, the other two aspects of the game aren’t nearly as polished as they were a year ago.
The Braves had — at worst — the second-best offense in baseball in 2020, led by the NL MVP Freddie Freeman. They were poised to have a similar group this season, but injuries and other issues have prevented them from reaching their full potential. Travis d’Arnaud has been out for five months with a torn ligament in his hand; Marcell Ozuna has missed nearly just as much time because of a domestic violence dispute, and now Ronald Acuna is out for the season with a torn ACL. That’s a lot of firepower to replace, but the Braves still have a unique core of players to build around. The same can’t be said about the bullpen.
Atlanta’s bullpen has gone from one of the best to one of the worst in the span of a year, and you can point the finger right at Alex Anthopoulos as to why. I understand not wanting to bring back the likes of Mark Melancon, Darren O’Day, and Shane Greene, but not replacing any of them was a grave misjudgment and has cost the Braves at least five games this season. Even with all the injuries, this team would be in first place with a competent relief core. However, out of all three phases, the bullpen is the easiest to fix at the trade deadline.
Alex Anthopoulos should be able to add a plethora of help to the ‘pen without giving up any top prospects. I expect him to be active in doing so, but I’m not sure the Braves need a complete overhaul. They have some guys that are due for some positive regression, and I also talked earlier today about how Ynoa, Muller, and Toussaint could all provide a boost to the bullpen. If Alex Anthopoulos could add just one or two high-quality relief arms, it would have a domino effect on the current group of Braves relievers. Right now, guys are being overused and asked to pitch in situations they aren’t comfortable in. That can change with just a couple of additions.
Still, for the Braves to really compete, they’ll need another middle-of-the-order bat. Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies are stars. Joc Pederson can fill Ozuna’s shoes, Austin Riley has become a steady contributor, and Guillermo Heredia is an upgrade over Pache/Inciarte, but after that, the Braves need more consistency. Travis d’Arnaud will hopefully provide that when he returns, but Abraham Almonte and Orlando Arcia can’t be starting every day. The Braves need to add at least one more impact bat if they want to have a chance at a championship; good thing — there should be plenty of options available at the trade deadline.
Take a look at this hypothetical lineup:
- Joc Pederson
- Starling Marte
- Freddie Freeman
- Ozzie Albies
- Austin Riley
- Travis d’Arnaud
- Dansby Swanson
- Guillermo Heredia
- Pitcher’s Spot
Sure, that may not be murderer’s row, but with a good pitching staff, it is more than enough to win a championship if the cards fall the right way. There’s even an argument to be made that the Braves could put a better team on the field come this year’s postseason. The starting rotation is superior to 2020, and Austin Riley’s improvement offensively has been staggering. If Alex Anthopoulos pulls the trigger on a couple of impactful trades, a championship run is not out of the question.
You must log in to post a comment.