Who is the Braves first half MVP?

MLB: MAY 08 Red Sox at Braves

As it always does, the Major League Baseball season is flying by. We are already more than halfway through the 162-game schedule, and the All-Star break is around the corner.

This is a first half most Braves fans would like to forget. Spencer Strider was lost for the season after just a couple of starts, and a little over a month later, Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his ACL for the second time in the last four seasons. Few teams could overcome those kind of losses and still remain competitive. The Braves have, to some degree, and those two alone don’t even begin to tell the story of all the injuries Atlanta has had to battle through.

With everything that’s happened, it doesn’t really feel like the Braves year. But it didn’t this time of the year in 2021 either, when the Braves were scratching and clawing just to remain .500 before a slew of reinforcements came at the trade deadline and helped Atlanta to its first World Series since 1995. A lot can happen between now and October.

As long as you’re in the dance, you have a legitimate chance, and the Braves have an excellent shot at getting there thanks to several guys that have really picked up the slack in the absence of Acuña and Strider. Offensively, there’s no question who has been the team’s MVP in the first half of the season, Marcell Ozuna, which Bradford Doolittle of ESPN nailed.

First-half MVP: Marcell Ozuna (127 AXE). The Braves rank 17th in park-adjusted run scoring, a rate that makes their offense one of the most disappointing units in baseball. Don’t blame Ozuna. At 33, Ozuna has been an RBI machine, and well on his way to cracking the 100-ribbie barrier for the third time in his career. He also has a shot at beating the career-best homer total (40) he established last season. Ozuna’s hard-hit rate (54.9%) is another career peak and is 16.1% better than the MLB average. In what was supposed to be a stacked Braves attack, Ozuna’s 67 runs created are 24 more than any other Atlanta hitter. Without Ozuna, Atlanta might be stuck in the NL’s messy wild-card chase as opposed to owning a fairly secure No. 4 slot in the league’s pecking order.

I would never sit here and argue that Marcell Ozuna hasn’t been the Braves MVP of the first half. Without him, this is a club that would have historically bad offensive numbers, and it’s difficult to imagine they’d be over .500.

However, the story of the first half has really been the Braves pitching staff. They’ve been the club’s MVP, led by a trio of starters in Chris Sale, Max Fried, and Reynaldo Lopez. All three of them are firmly in the conversation for the NL Cy Young as the All-Star break approaches, but it’s not just them. The bullpen has been elite in just about every facet since the season began.

Marcell Ozuna has been a revelation dating back to May of last year. But without the Braves pitching staff, this is a team that would be selling at the trade deadline and left wondering where the hell it all went all wrong.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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