The Atlanta Braves: Two Key Negatives

In the baseball world, negatives come and go. For the Atlanta Braves this season, it seems like they’ve come to stay. Yes, there are some positive factors here. Nevertheless, these are overshadowed by the abundant sourness that has plagued this season. The halfway point rapidly approaches, with everyone wondering what the team will do next. Sadly, the same speed seems to be applied to the franchise’s diminished playoff hopes. Well, perhaps diminished is too light of a term. At this point, “dashed” is more appropriate. Glimmers of light have consistently been snuffed out. A hopeful winning streak is replaced with a frustrating losing streak of the same length. In short, the team has no consistency right now. So, let’s dive in and see some of the contributing factors to this lack of balance.

Atlanta Braves Negative #1: The Bullpen

Factor number one has to lie in the bullpen. Last season, the team posted some of its best bullpen numbers in years. A trio of shutdown arms were the leaders of this resurgence. Chris Martin, Shane Greene, and Mark Melancon dominated opponents. They all had ERA between 1.0 and 2.5, and posted ERA+ of 170 or higher. A.J. Minter had an incredible season (0.83 ERA, 591 ERA+). The rest of the ‘pen, minus Luke Jackson, had solid seasons. Unfortunately, Melancon departed for the San Diego Padres after the year. Martin and Greene have both been brought back, but they’ve been shells of their former selves. The rest of the relief corps hasn’t really looked any better.

For Greene, life has been especially rough. He’s posted an ERA over 10 since returning to the Braves on a one-year deal. His ERA+ has plummeted to an abysmally bad 43. On the plus side, he has only given up one home run in 7.2 innings. Regardless, it’s a small sample size, and the rest of it hasn’t looked quite as good. When it comes to Martin, his struggles have all been recent. After posting a 1.54 ERA through 12 appearances, he squandered a lead on June 10th. Since then, he’s posted a 7.20 ERA in five appearances.  He’s also given up four earned runs in a mere five innings. In short, things are not looking bright for him. The hope here is that both he and Greene will regain their previous forms. Atlanta Braves fans have seen them both do it before.

Relievers Without Relief

Now, we move to the rest of the bullpen. Another shell that is worthy of discussion is Minter. He’s falling off the map, and falling quickly. After that sparkling 2020, he’s regressed to a 4.66 ERA in 29 innings. The issue here lies in the amount of hard-hit balls he gives up. Nearly 40% of his pitches are hit with an exit velocity of 95 miles per hour or more. While he’s only given up two homers, he has given up 27 hits. Many of these have been costly. Other pitchers like Josh Tomlin and Tyler Matzek also haven’t been as effective. Experiments with Edgar Santana and Carl Edwards Jr. have failed to yield any positive results. In short, the team desperately needs bullpen help.

Finally, there’s the closer’s role. Last season, Melancon shut down opponents to the tune of a 2.78 ERA and a 177 ERA+. He also went 11 for 13 in save opportunities. This season, Will Smith has been given the job. While he has not been overtly terrible, he has been somewhat underwhelming. He’s 1-5 with a solid 3.58 ERA and a 125 ERA+. He’s also 16 for 17 in save opportunities. Now, these numbers aren’t terrible on the surface. Unfortunately, as with Minter, his hard-hit percentage is between 35 and 40%. The good news is that this is an improvement upon last season. However, he must continue to lower it in order to become a more effective closer.

Atlanta Braves Negative #2: The Outfield

Next, we will jump to the other Achilles heel: the outfield. Ronald Acuna Jr.’s success has been well-documented. He will be an All-Star this season and is making a case for National League MVP. Nonetheless, his counterparts in the outfield have not been nearly as good. Let’s begin with Marcell Ozuna. Before being arrested for domestic violence, he was very mediocre at the plate. He hit a mere .213 in 48 games with 40 hits. His power plummeted, leading to seven homers and six doubles. Productivity-wise, he had 26 RBI, but he was striking out nearly 23% of the time. His walk percentage (9.1%) was also much less than desirable. Considering his improvements in this area during 2020, this was a massive disappointment. In short, he was not living up to the massive deal the Braves had given him.

Simply finding outfielders has been a challenge for the Atlanta Braves this season. Cristian Pache, considered the team’s top prospect, struggled in the big leagues. Thanks to this and his multiple injuries, he was sent back to Triple-A Gwinnett. Guillermo Heredia and Ehire Adrianza have been placeholders. This is not to say that they haven’t contributed in some key moments. Nonetheless, they have never been strong starting candidates. So, the team needs to begin looking elsewhere for help.

Searching for Help

Within the minor league system, there are some players with terrific potential. However, some are still a good deal away from being major leaguers. Case in point, Drew Waters. After dominating for most of his minor league career, his numbers have tumbled this season. He’s slashing .218/.320/.647 with three homers and 10 RBI in 38 games. A second option is big-league veteran Orlando Arcia. His stint with the Milwaukee Brewers ended on a sour note. Nonetheless, the Atlanta Braves were able to cut a deal for him. He hasn’t caused any sense of regret yet. He’s hitting .301 with 12 homers and 27 RBI in 49 games for Gwinnett. Not only that, but he’s definitely major-league ready.

That being said, a few tempting names are hovering on the trade market. A couple of big ones lie in the camp of the abysmal Arizona Diamondbacks. Before getting hurt, Ketel Marte had been having a good season. If the Braves decide to trade, they could swing a deal for him. Another potential name on that squad is David Peralta. Considering the abundant problems that plague that franchise, they could be looking to land some prospects. A second trade partner may be the Baltimore Orioles. For the right deal, the Braves might land either Trey Mancini or Ryan Mountcastle. Both have bats with massive potential, along with outfield experience. All in all, there are a number of scenarios. It’s simply a matter of picking the right one, should the Braves go this route.

Don’t Lose Hope

Overall, while the team has picked up some momentum, there are still holes. Luckily, there’s time to plug them before the run to the postseason. If Alex Anthopolous can either make shrewd trades or work the farm system well, then the team could bounce back. However, if this plan backfires, the team could drift back into the pages of obscurity. Only time holds the answers that fans of the Atlanta Braves so desperately seek. This once-dominant team is hanging on by a thread. Let’s hope that it doesn’t snap.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images

Players Mentioned:

Ryan Mountcastle, Trey Mancini, David Peralta, Ketel Marte, Orlando Arcia, Drew Waters, Ehire Adrianza, Guillermo Heredia, Cristian Pache, Marcell Ozuna, Ronald Acuna Jr., Will Smith, Carl Edwards Jr., Edgar Santana, Josh Tomlin, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, A.J. Minter, Chris Martin, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene

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