Jim Bowden on which Braves trends to be worried about

MLB: SEPTEMBER 19 Phillies at Braves

To say the Braves season is off to an odd start doesn’t even do it justice. They currently sit at 20-9, the best record in baseball, yet they’ve gotten to this point in a manner few could have expected.

For starters, the injury bug struck the Braves swiftly over the first few weeks of the season. Sean Murphy suffered an oblique injury on Opening Day and has still yet to return. Spencer Strider tore his UCL in his second start and will miss the rest of the season, and Ozzie Albies went to the IL with a fractured toe soon after that. That’s three All-Stars down in the first three weeks, Two of which have barely played at all, and yet the Braves never seem phased.

The offense is still tops in the league in most categories, but they haven’t been led by the three pre-season NL MVP candidates. Ronald Acuña, Austin Riley and Matt Olson all have an OPS of .706 or lower and have combined for just six home runs. To put that in perspective, Marcell Ozuna has nine home runs by himself.

But what’s really carried the Braves, especially recently, has been the starting pitching staff. Even without their ace, the rotation has been as good as any in the game. Max Fried has found his footing after a shaky start. Chris Sale and Reynaldo Lopez look like two of the best acquisitions of the offseason, while Charlie Morton doesn’t seem to age. Add in a pinch of Bryce Elder, who boasts a 1.50 ERA after two starts, and the concerns of this group post-Strider have quickly been put to rest.

It’s not exactly how Braves fans might have drawn it up prior to the season, but the results have been the same nonetheless. A testament to the balanced roster Alex Anthopoulos has managed to put together. However, it’s only April. These trends aren’t all going to continue for the entire season. So, which ones are most likely to keep going, and which ones are not?

Jim Bowden of The Athletic recently had a couple for the Braves, one in each category. 

6. Marcell Ozuna and Shohei Ohtani are making the case for full-time DHs

Several teams believe the DH position is best served by rotating position players to give them a rest while keeping their bats in the lineup. However, there are a couple of DHs who show having a full-time slugger in that role may be the best option. Case in point: Marcell Ozuna of the Braves and Shohei Ohtani of the Dodgers. Ozuna is batting .330 with nine home runs and a majors-leading .650 slugging percentage. His strong start isn’t a surprise considering he belted 40 homers with 100 RBIs last year, but it still stands out. Meanwhile, Ohtani has landed in L.A. and started to put together what could become the best offensive year of his career, batting .347 with seven home runs, 14 doubles, five stolen bases, a .406 OBP and a .635 slug. And yes, both the Braves and Dodgers are in first place, where they belong.

I know WAR doesn’t typically look fondly on designated hitters, but that’s where I believe WAR has its flaws. Marcell Ozuna was one of the best offensive players in baseball last year, smashing 40 homers and 100 RBIs. Yet, he only accrued 3.1 fWAR, which was right there with Lars Nootbaar, who hit .264 with 14 homers.

Ozuna’s been pivotal to the Braves success over the last calendar year and has been among the hottest players in baseball, hitting .321 with an NL leading nine homers, 32 RBIs, and .624 slugging percentage. You can take your defensive talk elsewhere, I’m going with the guy who can mash 40 homers every day of the week.

On what Braves trend not to buy, Bowden’s is rather obvious.

2. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson’s April hitting stats

Ronald Acuña Jr., the reigning NL MVP, is batting .255 with only one home run in April. OK, so he had a bad month by his standards, but he’ll still be in the MVP conversation by September. Matt Olson, who last year had 54 home runs and 139 RBIs, is batting .211 with just three homers. Who cares? The Braves are still in first place. Olson, too, will get going in May. Remember how April showers make the garden beautiful in the May sunshine?

Watching Acuña, Riley, and Olson struggle has been frustrating. These guys each finished in the top seven of the NL MVP race last year, with Ronald Acuña wining the award and Matt Olson setting a franchise record for home runs in a single season. It’s rare that one of them struggles this badly, let alone all three at the same time.

With that being said, these players have track records of All-Star level production. There is a reason they were all pre-season favorites to win the NL MVP, and as I always say, over a 162 game season, the cream will eventually rise to the top. We’ll look up at the end of the season and laugh at how anybody was worried about their early season struggles.

Photo: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire

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