The 2021 Atlanta Braves got off to a rocky start, losing their first four contests. However, baseball is not judged by small sample sizes. The game plays out as a chess contest over many weeks and months. Currently, the National League East has the Braves in check. It’s early in the season, and there are still tools the team can use to reverse its fortunes. Manager Brian Snitker has referred to the team’s overwhelming talent. He makes an excellent point, which could be the very thing that switches the team’s destiny. Let’s look back at the week and see the good, the bad, and the ugly.
2021 Atlanta Braves Week in Review: Week 1
A Sweep in Philly
The reigning NL East champions began the season against the Philadelphia Phillies. Spring Training was kind to Atlanta, as they went 15-13. However, Opening Day was not quite so generous. In the blustering wind, the Braves lost on Jean Segura’s walk-off hit in extra innings. However, the superficialities of the game do not tell the entire story. Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman both had potential home runs blown down into the opponent’s gloves. Cristian Pache had a potential RBI double pushed foul. In all fairness, Bryce Harper also had a home run stolen by the wind.
Philadelphia’s pitching dominated the next two games. Atlanta native, Zack Wheeler, was terrific against his hometown team. Wheeler shut down the Braves, going seven innings with 10 strikeouts. Archie Bradley and Hector Neris came out of relief to finish off their division foes once again. The next day brought more of the same as the previous games. Travis d’Arnaud’s solo homer was the only offense the Braves could muster out. Zach Eflin and the Phillies’ bullpen defeated Atlanta once more. The Braves left the City of Brotherly Love 0-3, looking very much unlike last year’s juggernaut. It seemed that the team’s first three games upended a lot of predictions.
However, to reiterate, baseball is not judged on brevity. Braves beat reporter Mark Bowman shared some interesting statistics about the series. Bowman brought up the team’s 90.8 MPH average exit velocity, fourth-best in all of baseball. From this, we can deduce that Lady Luck had her own hand to play. The website Team Rankings has rated them the fifth unluckiest club in the majors with a -1.07 mark. Braves fans everywhere can attest to this. Soft contact by an opponent typically yields disastrous results for the team. Giving up bloop hits has become as common as clouds in the sky. Add in a hefty dose of opposing pitchers getting hits, and this fire becomes a raging inferno.
The recent doubleheader against the Washington Nationals proved this. After a heartbreaking defeat in Game One of the series, Atlanta turned it out immensely. The Braves exhibited exactly what can happen when this machine is firing on all cylinders. In the first contest on the twin bill, the offense took center stage. The Braves offense finally managed to string some hits together, including a five-run second inning. The young core of Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Austin Riley helped push the team to victory, with Albies picking up his first hit of the season in the process. The seven-run onslaught was noteworthy that the team’s offense is nowhere near dead.
The Pitching Comes Alive
In Game Two, the pitching was the name of the game. Huascar Ynoa, Luke Jackson, and Sean Newcomb combined for a two-hit shutout. Ynoa was especially impressive with a pitching line of 5 IP, 2 H, 5 K, 0.667 WHIP. As for Jackson, he walked a couple of batters but managed to now allow any earned runs. Lastly, Newcomb silenced the Nationals bats by striking out the side in the seventh. A game like this further supports the idea that Newcomb might be better utilized in the bullpen.
When Newcomb started, he has struggled, going 16-20 with a 4.38 ERA, 32 HR, 1.466 WHIP, and 8.8 K/9. However, his numbers have turned around for the better. As a reliever, Newcomb is 6-3 with a 3.07 ERA, 8 HR, 1.168 WHIP, and 10.2 K/9. If he can gain more work as a reliever, he can become the teams closer. Floating with that idea would be monumental for the Braves, considering Will Smith’s early struggles so far this season.
Another Addition To The Bench
Atlanta made headlines this week when they acquired veteran infielder Orlando Arcia from the Milwaukee Brewers. Arcia has struggled in his six-year career, hitting only .244 with 42 HR, 180 RBI, 422 H, a .658 OPS, and 72 OPS+. However, his addition can help take a lot of pressure off the other bench players. It’s important to note this, as Atlanta’s backups have not been as productive as in previous years. With Charlie Culberson’s departure, that, in particular, left a massive hole for the Braves to fill. So far, only one person has been able to fill it.
Pablo Sandoval has been something of a revelation. After a spring in which he hit .400, he was given a chance to come off the bench. The Braves are not regretting that decision as he’s already crushed two crucial pinch-hit homers. Sandoval’s first dinger was the game-winner in the second game of the doubleheader in Washington. But still, the other parts of the bench could use some support too. Johan Camargo has seen a significant downturn in production over the past few seasons, and he’s off to a cold start to the season. As for the other backup, Alex Jackson, he has been stuck with limited playing time over the first week. So, Arcia’s addition gives Snitker one more option for the bench.
The 2021 Atlanta Braves Are Still Talented
Through the first six games, Braves fans have not had a lot to cheer about. In many minds, the season is over if the team loses one game. But, they should stop and consider just how much talent is on the team. The reigning league MVP is the foundation of the Braves lineup. Outside of Freeman, the team has a wealth of riches with up-and-coming players and a veteran presence. Defensively, many of these same players could qualify for Gold Glove Awards.
In the rotation, the Braves pitching depth has terrific players. While Max Fried’s first two starts have not gone as planned, he’s still showing flashes of brilliance. Despite losing, young hurler, Ian Anderson, was solid in his first outing of 2021. Veteran signee Charlie Morton continues his solid work after coming over from the Tampa Bay Rays. The bullpen continues to show young arms that are coming to life. Newcomb, Ynoa, and offseason pickup Nate Jones have all impressed so far this season. The 2021 Atlanta Braves are still very good as fans should not judge this particular book by the introduction. Chapter one is still yet to be written.
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