Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Braves


Of the teams loudly protesting against the round one bye in the new expanded playoff schematic, the Braves might be the loudest. They had an incredible season, hitting NL marks all around, and getting a high seed for the playoffs. And then, because they missed a week of play, they didn't hang onto their momentum and were trounced by the Phillies. With everything the Braves accomplished this year, including monster seasons from Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder and an all-timer MVP year from Ronnie Acuna, it's disappointing that their stellar regular season didn't amount to more in the postseason. 

But that's where we are right now. It's no longer about regular season achievements, it's about which teams can hold their momentum for 7 months rather than six, I guess.

Eddie Rosario had some great midyear spikes but I just couldn't get to him during the season, for a lot of the same reasons I didn't get to Chris Bassitt til this month either. Rosario never had to come close to his 2021 postseason numbers, but at the very least he improved over his comatose 2022, with 21 homers and 74 RBIs, despite a .255 average. He didn't have to be the absolute highlight of the roster, he just needed to hit for power, and he certainly did that. 
2024 Prediction: Rosario will be a replacement-level player for a middle of the road team. His days of being a postseason hero are probably over.

The Braves were ready for another great season from Kyle Wright this year, after an impressive 2022. Then...he got injured, missed most of the season, and was way shakier upon his return. Wright topped out at a 6.97 ERA, and was unable to pitch during the postseason. What I'm saying is, even if they did have a lot of respect for Wright in his development, this season destroyed any goodwill, and made it easier to part with the right-hander to clear space.
2024 Prediction: Will improve in Kansas City, but he could struggle without the run support.

An amusing comeback from 2023 was Kirby Yates, who, after becoming an excellent closing option in San Diego prior to the pandemic, struggled with injuries for three straight seasons. Yates finally was healthy enough to play a relief role in this year's Braves team, and he impressed, with a 3.28 ERA, 80 Ks, a 7-2 record and 5 saves. He only pitched one postseason inning, but he didn't allow any runs. 
2024 Prediction: No matter who signs him, it's probably not gonna be as good as that Braves year. At least he'll get a payday out of it. 

After a season of injuries spent on the Dodgers' bench, Kevin Pillar finally returned to the field this year. Clearly, this is not the same Kevin Pillar who commanded the crowd when I caught a game in Toronto a few years back. Pillar was used as an extra outfielder this year, and as a cover for Eddie Rosario mostly. Though he did make fans pine for Adam Duvall a bit, Pillar still was decent off the bench, hitting 9 homers and 32 RBIs in 81 games, in addition to some above-average outfield play. 
2024 Prediction: I believe Duvall in Atlanta was a perfect storm, and a lesser team trying to capitalize on this won't have the same results. Honestly, though, of any of his former teams, I think the Rockies have the highest chance of bringing him back. 

And then we have the very ballsy trade deadline move I've spoken of, nabbing Nicky Lopez from Kansas City as an extra middle infielder, forgetting that Vaughn Grissom and Braden Shewmake were still on the team. Lopez was a quick fan favorite for the Braves on account of his contact bat; he hit .277 with 12 RBIs and 18 hits in 25 games. Even if he was basically a backup for Ozzie Albies, he was an extremely good one, though his immediate departure in exchange for Aaron Bummer was...slightly unsurprising, despite the necessity for him in July.
2024 Prediction: Of the three new middle infielders in Chicago [Lopez, Shewmake, DeJong], Lopez will have the best season. 

Coming Tomorrow- Several survivors of the latest, and final, Craig Counsell Brewers team to leave the playoffs empty handed. 

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