Cast last night’s one-run loss to the Nationals aside – the Braves are streaking. They have won five straight series for the first time since the 2016 campaign, and they have done so against arguably the toughest part of their schedule. Despite people’s reservations on the Braves lack of moves this past offseason, they are proving they are substantially better than the team that won the NL East crown a year ago. Atlanta is a World Series contender once again, and there are some glaring reasons as to why.
5. Luke Jackson
Everything I just said about the Braves being World Series contenders would not be possible without Luke Jackson. I’m not saying Luke Jackson is the long-term solution to Atlanta’s bullpen woes. But to this point, he’s saved Alex Anthopoulos’ butt for not adding to the pen in the offseason. This was a player who was a borderline roster cut to begin the year, and now he is the go-to closer. His story is one of perseverance, and one that has kept this Braves team afloat through the first 50+ games.
4. Dansby Swanson’s breakout
I’ve been wrong before, and I will be wrong again. Dansby Swanson was a player I was skeptical about entering 2019. Coming into his third full MLB season, his bat had been egregious even though his glove was worth keeping him on the field. When the Braves decided to sign Josh Donaldson, they had a decision to make between Swanson and Camargo – one the organization made correctly.
Swanson has looked like a former #1 overall pick with the stick. He’s already hit ten home runs, which is four off of his career high, and we are barely a third of the way through the season. His defense is still spectacular, and he might be the most clutch player on the team. Even when Swanson has gone through his lulls early on, the ball is coming off the bat hard. His name should be mentioned among the best on the team, and Braves’ fans should be ecstatic for what is to come from the hometown kid.
3. Mike Soroka and Max Fried
These two have been the anchors of the Braves staff, and thank the sweet Lord for it. Soroka might be the best pitcher in all of baseball right now. He leads the majors in ERA with an incredible 1.07 number, his WHIP is currently under 0.9, and he boasts a record of 5-1 in eight starts. Soroka may only be a rookie, but this looks sustainable (to a degree). He has the opportunity to be in the Rookie of the Year race and the Cy Young race. Pretty crazy to think about when two months ago we didn’t even know if he was going to pitch again this year.
Equally as impressive in his own way has been Max Fried. He may not have a sub-two ERA, but in a larger sample size, he has shown the traits of a pitcher who can lead a rotation. Fried is constantly attacking hitters with his mid-90s fastball and following it up with his patented curveball and developing slider. While his stuff is fantastic, it is his dog pound mentality on the field that has the entire fan base on his side. It doesn’t matter if Fried is pitching, fielding, hitting, or running; he is competing. It’s almost Max Scherzer-like, and I can’t wait to see him as the postseason race begins to crank up.
2. Austin Riley’s emergence
What more is there to say about this 22-year-old. After a slow start in Gwinnett, Riley went on an unprecedented tear at the AAA level. Once Ender Inciarte went down with an injury (I have a feeling we will be saying this for a while), the rest was history. Riley already has six home runs and 16 RBIs in 13 games. And these run-producing hits aren’t coming in low leverage situations. They are happening when the Braves need them most. With Riley in the lineup, Atlanta has a whole different feel to them. There are no easy outs and game-changing power at every turn. Good luck to National League pitchers if this is what we are going to see from Riley the rest of the year.
1. The Front Office standing pat
I’m not saying everything Alex Anthopoulos did this offseason was perfect. He completely underestimated how weak the Braves bullpen was in 2018, and by failing to address it, he’s cost the teams at least five games already. With that said, by holding onto the Braves top prospects, AA has made this team more dangerous than it ever would have been if he had traded them for a player like J.T. Realmuto. Imagine these Braves without Fried, Soroka, or Riley. The thought of that makes my stomach hurt. They are already three of the most valuable five players on the team, and they are under team control for years and years to come. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make, and the 2019 Braves are the perfect example of that.