The 2021 Atlanta Braves have had a complex season so far. A stumble out of the gate and a weak series with the Miami Marlins placed them in a corner. Looking back over the past couple of weeks, there are still things to be excited about. The Braves accomplished their first successful road trip. Some of the key offensive players began to find their stroke. Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna had productive trips. Austin Riley showed flashes as well, along with Ehire Adrianza and Guillermo Heredia. After these successes, the Braves repeated things in a very good overall homestand. However, struggles with injuries and a lackluster bullpen continue to plague the Braves. Not to mention one of the worst doubleheaders in team history. So, let’s take a look back at the preceding and see the successes and the failures.
2021 Atlanta Braves Week in Review: Weeks 3 & 4
A Somewhat Hot Offense in Cold Chicago
The week began on a cold, chilly day against the Chicago Cubs. Wrigley Field was not exactly friendly as the wind whipped around the players. Thankfully, the Braves managed to scratch out a 5-2 victory. This gave them back-to-back victories for the first time in nearly a week. Kyle Wright was solid as a starter, but the bullpen was spectacular (3.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R). Despite this momentum building win, the second game in Chicago was not nearly as terrific. The bats went silent once again as the pitching faltered, giving up 13 runs and six homers. Huascar Ynoa had his first rough outing of the season (4.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R). New Brave Jesse Biddle made his first appearance and got rocked for four runs. In short, the Braves appeared to be headed back to where they were as they lost 13-4.
However, Sunday night proved otherwise. The offense caught fire, scoring six runs in the first inning off Kyle Hendricks. Four homers in the frame tied a franchise record. Freeman, Travis d’Arnaud, Adrianza, and Heredia all went deep. However, Heredia was just getting started. In the sixth inning, he came to the plate with the bases loaded. He promptly walloped a Ryan Tepera offering over the left field wall. The grand slam topped off a six RBI night for the backup outfielder. He, Adrianza, and Pablo Sandoval continue to prove that the Braves have one of the deepest benches in baseball. The former achilles heel has consistently come through for the team this season. Aside from that, solid pitching helped the Braves one-up the Cubs and defeat them 13-4. It was the first time since 1936 that one team beat another 13-4 after losing the previous game by the same score.
The 2021 Atlanta Braves: Injuries, Injuries Everywhere
While the Braves may have left Chicago with some confidence, they also left without a few players. Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. were both injured during the series. Thankfully, they also managed to avoid stints on the injured list. Other notable injuries from the week included Cristian Pache and Drew Smyly. Luckily, both of these players are expected to return sooner rather than later. On the negative side of things, young hurler Mike Soroka is still struggling to rejoin the rotation after a setback in his rehabilitation. Manager Brian Snitker has said that a return is not in the cards for the near future. Losing Smyly, along with Max Fried, has caused the rotation to take a massive hit. Because of this, pitchers like Wright, Ynoa, and Bryse Wilson have had to take leading roles.
Atlanta’s Lackluster Yankee Opposition
Despite this, the season played on as The Braves rolled into The Bronx for a series with the struggling New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers, in many ways, reflect the Braves at this point in the year. The offense has been anemic. Stars like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton had yet to find their power stroke at the time. Other players like Gleyber Torres, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier are struggling offensively. As a whole, the team is batting a dismal .215 with 169 hits and collective 99 OPS+ at the time of the series.
However, their pitching has been terrific so far. A 3.24 ERA places them first in the league. They also lead the league in strikeouts (250). Gerrit Cole has been the ace of the staff and Aroldis Chapman is leading a very good bullpen. Chad Green and Luis Cessa have ERAs between 0.5 and two. Former Brave Darren O’Day is proving his worth (2.25 ERA in eight innings of work). However, other pitchers like Jameson Taillon, Corey Kluber, and Jordan Montgomery have not panned out as planned.
Two Games in The Bronx
Speaking of which, the Braves faced Taillon and Kluber in the short series. Game one turned in the Yankees favor thanks to another Braves bullpen implosion. The team held a 1-0 advantage, thanks largely to Charlie Morton’s effective pitching. In the eighth inning, Tyler Matzek came in to relieve A.J. Minter. Matzek pitched himself into a mess and Nate Jones was called upon to fix it. Unfortunately, he could not, and the Yankees wound up with a 3-1 victory. However, game two was much more favorable to Atlanta. The team plated four runs and Riley belted his first homer of the year. Young hurler Ian Anderson pitched 6.2 innings of shutout ball in front of his friends and family. The bullpen received some redemption, holding the Yankees to one run. So, the Braves left New York with a split series, yet still a somewhat underwhelming 8-10 record.
The Snakes Bite The Braves
The team returned to Truist Park for a series with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hopes were high after succeeding so well on the road. Game one of the series went the Braves way, though not without some drama. Ynoa pitched well, and the offense backed him up. Riley had his first homer of the season and Albies cracked another. However, Ynoa was also productive at the plate, picking up his first two big league hits and an RBI. The drama came when the Diamondbacks threatened in the eighth. Thankfully, Matzek was able to escape with only one run of damage. Will Smith came in and shut Arizona down in the ninth, preserving a 5-4 Braves victory.
Unfortunately, after a rainout, the Braves endured a very lackluster doubleheader. Zac Gallen and Madison Bumgarner combined to shut the team’s bats down. Freeman’s single accounted for the team’s only hit over the two contests. To make matters worse, they were “no-hit” by Bumgarner in game two. Meanwhile, the Braves pitching staff had its own share of troubles. Wilson was roughed up in game one and Smyly allowed five runs in the opening frame of game two. Being in the stadium for these two games was an eye opening experience. It truly was the most severe crowd response this writer had ever seen. The fans in attendance quickly turned on the team. It seemed that things had reached the ultimate low.
Sage, A Terrific Series, & Austin Riley’s Bat
Seeking to put an end to the lifeless bats, Dansby Swanson enacted a scene not unlike the film Major League. He burned some sage in the clubhouse, keeping to an age old superstition. In an ironic coincidence, it actually worked. The Cubs came to town and the Braves came to life. Game one saw the team erupt for eight runs. The bullpen struggled, but managed to keep the Cubs at bay for an 8-7 victory. In game two, Anderson continued his brilliant performance, hurling seven shutout innings. Minter and Jacob Webb were able to preserve it as the Braves won 5-0.
The team then erupted for 10 runs in their second straight shellacking of Hendricks. Home runs from Ozuna, Riley, Freeman, Albies, and starter Ynoa helped fuel the fire. Ynoa also pitched into the sixth inning, and the bullpen gave the team their second straight shutout win. Unfortunately, the luck ran out against Adbert Alzolay and the Cubs as the Braves dropped game four, 9-3.
However, the team should not be complaining. The 4-3 homestand shone a light on a lot of positives, namely Austin Riley. His bat sprung to life as he hit .429 (9-21). He also crushed two dingers and had his first career four-hit performance. The question now becomes what to do with him. Logic plays something of a dual role in this case. On the one hand, he’s hitting well enough to be placed higher in the lineup. However, on the other hand, he’s a spark to the lower half of the team’s lineup. Being moved could do more harm than good. When asked about this, Riley simply stated that he needed to continue working, but that he was encouraged by his recent results.
The 2021 Atlanta Braves: Still A Sleeping Giant
Fans of the 2021 Atlanta Braves should not be disappointed right now. Currently, the team is ravaged by injuries and looking for answers regarding relief pitching. That being said, the offense did show signs of life on the road and at home. Their multiple double digit victories over Chicago are proof of what this team can accomplish. Players like Freeman, Ozuna, Albies, and Riley are coming back to life. Riley, in particular, is doing well, having raised his overall average to .301. The bench is continuing to prove its worth. Acuna is back in the top of the lineup, and reports are that we should see Max Fried and Sean Newcomb back very soon. However, the issues continue to lie in one place: the bullpen. If the front office can resolve this situation, the Braves could become very frightening. This is still a tremendously talented team. Do not sleep on them.
Players Mentioned: Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, Austin Riley, Ehire Adrianza, Guillermo Heredia, Kyle Wright, Huascar Ynoa, Jesse Biddle, Kyle Hendricks, Ryan Tepera, Pablo Sandoval, Ozzie Albies Ronald Acuna Jr., Cristian Pache, Drew Smyly. Mike Soroka, Brian Snitker, Bryse Wilson, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, Gerrit Cole, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Darren O’Day, Jameson Taillon, Corey Kluber, Jordan Montgomery, Charlie Morton, Tyler Matzek ,A.J. Minter, Nate Jones, Ian Anderson, Will Smith, Zac Gallen, Madison Bumgarner, Dansby Swanson, Jacob Webb, Adbert Alzolay, Sean Newcomb
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images