Most of this season, especially recently, has been spent talking about the disappointing aspects of the Braves — and for a good reason. On a nightly basis, a different piece of the team seems to falter — a complete 180 from what we saw from 2018-2020. All of this has led to an 18-22 record, and they are lucky they sit just four games back of the New York Mets in the division. However, it hasn’t all been terrible for the Braves, and even if the bright spots are few and far between, I thought I would focus on those in this piece.
How can you not love what Riley’s done at the plate of late? After a slow start, he’s slashing .337/.451/.543 since April 17th, and with that has come some newfound confidence — confidence we haven’t seen out of him since he was first called up to the bigs. Riley now has a .400 OBP for the season, something I never thought I would see out of him, and his power seems to be returning to normal. He’s slugged a homer in each of the last two games. If this is the Austin Riley the Braves are going to get for the entire season, this offense will become a juggernaut again because it’s only a matter of time before the likes of Freeman, Albies, Ozuna, and even Swanson begin to heat up.
Braves starting pitching depth
The Braves received a bunch of devastating news on Monday. Mike Soroka was essentially announced out for the season after an exploratory surgery on his Achilles that he tore last season, and an MRI on Huascar Ynoa‘s hand discovered a fracture, meaning he will be out for at least a couple of months. However, despite those two critical injuries, the Braves rotation doesn’t look too shabby.
Max Fried is returning to form, allowing just three earned runs in his last three starts since returning from the IL. Ian Anderson has been consistently good all season long. Tucker Davidson looked excellent in his first start of the season and just the second of his career, and even Drew Smyly appears to be bouncing back after an abysmal beginning to his Braves career. He’s allowed just one earned run in his last two starts (12 innings). If the Braves can get Charlie Morton on track, they should be just fine until Ynoa returns, and don’t forget, they also have Bryse Wilson, who was terrific his last time out against the Blue Jays, and Kyle Wright in Gwinnett.
The hidden gems
Alex Anthopoulos has made his fair share of mistakes, particularly when it comes to signing pitchers. However, one thing he has excelled at since becoming the GM of the Braves is finding guys that most people have never even heard of that end up contributing significantly to the major-league team. That’s been the case again in 2021.
Pablo Sandoval, who many probably thought should have retired, already has four pinch-hit homers — three shy of the most pinch-hit homers ever in a season. Guillermo Heredia has been a wonderful replacement for Cristian Pache, recording a .987 OPS in 16 games, and even Ehire Adrianza has had some critical moments for the Braves this season.
Huascar Ynoa’s bat
I mentioned the Braves starting pitching, but what about Huascar Ynoa’s bat? This kid has been on fire on the mound and with the stick, hitting to the tune of a 1.118 OPS and 188 OPS+, thanks to a .353 average and two homers, including a grand slam.
The injury to Travis d’Arnaud was devastating, but the progress we’ve seen from William Contreras has been extremely promising. He already has three bombs this season in just 13 games, leading to a .912 OPS and 139 OPS+. Many rookies tend to start hot and then flare out, so we will see if Contreras’ success is sustainable, but so far, he’s been fun to watch.
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