The All-Star break is supposed to be a time for players to rest so they can return recharged for the final stretch of the second half. For the Braves, it could work as a necessary respite off the field, or it could result in Atlanta players getting sore from the rotten end of the team’s first half.
The Braves are sure to appreciate the break before the canine days of summer. But given the way the offense responded Sunday in its first game without Ronald Acuña Jr. at the top of the lineup, with a record nine strikeouts in a row to open his loss to the Marlins, it’s fair to wonder about the ceiling of this team and the state. of the clubhouse psyche after Atlanta’s attempt in the first half. The Braves have a losing record for the first time at this stage of the season since 2017, when they missed the playoffs last year. This team is likely to follow a similar path. FanGraphs measures Atlanta’s playoff odds with 7.6% after their system returned a 63.8% probability before Opening Day, by far the largest decrease among NL teams.
No position group on Atlanta’s roster has been spared the collective funk that has engulfed the team this season. The rotation is better than last year’s unit, which was held together by Max Fried and duct tape, although that doesn’t say much. This season, he ranks eighth in the National League with a 4.05 ERA and is once again plagued by injuries. The Braves haven’t had Huascar Ynoa, their most electrifying young starter, since mid-May when he broke his hand hitting a bench. They may also lose NLCS Game 7 starter Ian Anderson to the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Mike Soroka re-injured his surgically repaired right Achilles tendon late last month and will be missing the rest of the year. The 20 losses attributed to the bullpen, five to closer Will Smith, are the most of any relief unit in the National League except for Arizona, which ranks last. Six receivers have adapted for Atlanta, and none have come close to fitting at the plate, including current Silver Slugger winner Travis d’Arnaud, who racked up a paltry .594 OPS in 23 games before suffering a fracture at the plate. the thumb. The infield has seen the performances of current MVP Freddie Freeman and shortstop Dansby Swanson diminish.
But you don’t have to look beyond the outfield to understand how bad the 2021 season has gone for the three-time defending NL East champions. A Braves field projected to consist of an unparalleled phenomenon in Acuña, 2020 National League home run leader Marcell Ozuna and top prospect Cristian Pache were patrolled Sunday by former Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia, the utility Ehire Adrianza and Guillermo Heredia (who was held in such low regard last season that he was cut by the Piratas punching bag).
Pache, despite holding his own in last year’s NLCS against the Dodgers, proved out of his league by cutting .111 / .152 / .206 in 22 games before being demoted to Triple-A, where he has also been underperformed. of the average. offensive player. Ozuna hit just seven home runs in 208 plate appearances and broke his thumb in May before police allegedly saw him a few days later strangling his wife and throwing her against a wall, leading to domestic violence charges. And Acuña tore his ACL while attempting to make a jump catch on Saturday, ending his 2020 campaign in a play few others would have had the combination of talent and guts to attempt.
A promising rookie struggling to adapt to the greats. An expensive veteran who couldn’t bear his weight before a nasty run with the law likely ended his season, and perhaps his tenure on the team. And to top it all, the MVP of the team suffering a debilitating injury that will not only end his current season, but could bleed out the next. Atlanta outfields alone have accounted for almost all the different types of problems you may encounter in sports.
And yet the Braves enter the All-Star break just four games out of first place in the NL East, with the division’s best run differential (+19). The fact that the Braves are still within attacking distance of the Mets is a testament to how well positional injury replacements have fared in their extended tryouts. But how long can they hold out with an even heavier load? While it’s certainly reasonable to expect an improvement in the pitching staff in the second half, what has been a top-five offense in the NL is sure to wane without Acuña.
If a team is said to have its head above water when it has a winning record, then the Braves have been the kid in the pool continually dipping below the surface just when they get a chance to breathe. They are one of three teams, along with the Marlins and Rangers, that never went a single day in 2021 above .500. They have had the opportunity to get there six times, including Sunday’s game against Miami. All six times they failed, and the first five preceded multi-game losing streaks. Another seems likely with the Rays coming to town to open the second half.
Tampa Bay’s visit to Truist Field kicks off a crucial and potentially brutal stretch for Atlanta. All teams on the schedule leading up to the July 30 trade deadline (Rays, Padres, Phillies, Mets, Brewers) have managed to finish the first half at .500 or better, with Philadelphia being the only club in that group not to currently occupies a playoff spot. If the Braves emerge during that 15-day, 16-game gauntlet with their first breath of precious fresh air sweeping across the surface, then perhaps president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos will enhance this list. A hugely successful deal for Joey Gallo would do wonders to resurrect this team’s 2021 edition and lengthen the lineup for 2022 as well. A meeting with Adam Duvall from Miami would be a more conservative route.
If not? Well, it may be better to mark this season as lost in terms of chasing a championship rather than rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. The title window opened by the long and absurdly friendly contracts with the team signed by Ozzie Albies (a probable nine-year, $ 45 million deal that ends after the 2026 season and has been criticized by many in the game as the worst deal for a player in league history) and Acuña (a likely 10-year, $ 124 million contract ending after the 2028 season) gives Atlanta more leeway to absorb a lost season than most. The only potential albatross in the books is Ozuna, who could potentially terminate your contract (or more likely reduced through clearance) depending on the language in MLB Uniform Player Contract that a player must “adjust his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship.” With only about $ 50 million committed for the 2022 payroll, the central office is well positioned to sign a new pool of free agents and hope for better luck next year.
Although the Braves possess quite a few veterans with expiring contracts, including Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly, Shane Greene, Pablo Sandoval, d’Arnaud and, most important of all, Freddie Freeman, it’s hard to imagine they would become total salesmen in Limit date. Only the most outlandish fans would suggest a trade from Freeman, a franchise icon who owns commercial veto rights of 10 and 5, has said he wants to retire as Brave and lives in Atlanta with his wife and three children, including two babies born during the low season. Anthopolous can listen to any contender who needs a starting pitcher willing to hang prospects for the postseason pedigree of Morton or Smyly, who is 5-0 with a 2.75 ERA in his last seven out after a difficult start to the season. But those are the only candidates who would bring back something useful in Atlanta’s long-term pursuit of a World Series. And moving any of them would likely require a complete collapse upon exiting the breakout.
But the fact that these possibilities are being discussed speaks volumes about the state of the team just a few months after being one game away from the World Series… three times. If this core of the Braves is going to completely exorcise the postseason demons of this franchise, it will have to do so with all the pillars of its lineup intact. That includes Albies, the ambidextrous All-Star who may be the best second baseman in the National League. That includes Freeman, whom Atlanta can’t afford to lose in the offseason. And that certainly includes Acuña, whose injury apparently only took the last leg of life from the Braves this season, but whose continued attachment to the team makes hope everlasting.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.