The Atlanta Braves’ lead in the National League East is comfortable. It doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a flag for a sixth straight division title, at least not yet. But it’s a lot better being five games up compared to five games back, which is where they were a year ago after 72 games.
After going 3-5 in an eight-game stretch in late May, the Braves have gone 15-5 in the last 20 games. Sure, they’ve beaten a bunch of bad teams in that stretch, but that’s what great teams are expected to do — beat the heck out of teams they are supposed to beat.
Offensively, watching the Braves has been much like watching the College World Series. You’re almost surprised the ping of an aluminum bat is not being heard when you hear the Braves come to bat. And they’re not just hitting home runs, they’re hitting long home runs.
The Braves have hit 16 home runs of at least 450-feet this season. The Rockies and the Angels are the next closest team, with six apiece. Since this became a stat eight years ago, the most home runs of at least 450-feet by a team in a single season is 19 by Colorado two seasons ago.
The Braves might top that by the fourth of July.
And now that Eddie Rosario and Marcell Ozuna have proven they are going to be solid contributors, and now that Michael Harris has shaken his sophomore slump, this lineup is the best in baseball one through nine in the order.
What about the pitching? Three of the penciled-in starters back in February have combined for only 10 starts. Max Fried and Kyle Wright have made only five each, while Ian Anderson went down with season-ending elbow surgery in April. But miraculously, it hasn’t mattered.
Entering Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia, Atlanta’s rotation had the best team ERA in the National League. How is that possible? Manager Brian Snitker has had 12 different people (including three relievers) start games. Three of those have been rookies, and one hadn’t pitched in the big leagues in three years. And yet that group is surviving until Fried and/or Wright return.
The bullpen is getting better by the day. With the exception of his two hiccups against Oakland and Detroit, Raisel Iglesias has been solid. A.J. Minter has gotten better after moving out of the closer’s role, and Joe Jimenez is doing what the Braves expected him to do when they acquired him from Detroit last winter. Another lefty reliever would help compliment Minter.
So, this team has been really good, but as someone once said, “It’s a long way to October.” Can the Braves keep this up? The team is on pace for 100-plus victories, and that will likely be enough to win that sixth straight division title. But when you’ve got a team this good in the regular season, you want to win it all.
General Manager Alex Anthopoulos wishes he had a crystal ball and could know what he will get from Fried and Wright once they return. Getting them back is only half the battle. What will they be once they get back is the other concern. In a perfect world, Fried and Wright jump right back to where they were last season, and Michael Soroka proves he no longer needs to be in Triple-A. It’s not always that easy, however.
As Anthopoulos decides what to add before the trade deadline, he should still focus on pitching.
This lineup is going to play in October. It will run into better pitching than what it saw over the weekend against Colorado, but to shut even half of the Atlanta lineup down will be a tough task.
There are five names in particular to keep an eye on who could be available by trade before the deadline: Cleveland starter Shane Bieber, St. Louis right-hander Jack Flaherty and three starters from the Chicago White Sox – Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease.
One of these five would likely be preferable in a postseason series compared to one of the rookie starters. Yes, Bryce Elder is second in the NL in ERA (2.60), but like with any rookie you wonder if he can sustain it over six months. And AJ Smith-Shawver should be in his sophomore algebra class this October instead of starting a playoff game.
Even if Elder and Smith-Shawver do great the rest of the way, and if Fried and/or Wright and/or Soroka return, we’ve learned over and over again that you can never have too much pitching.
And that’s what Anthopoulos has to think about. What will help this great team he’s assembled win it all in October? If the offense can click in October like it’s clicking now, it will be hard to beat, especially if the pitching can be just as impressive.
Listen to The Bill Shanks Show weekdays at 3:00 pm on TheSuperStations.com. You can email Bill at TheBillShanksShow@yahoo.com.
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Bill Shanks: Can the Atlanta Braves keep this up?
Source: Yahoo Sports