Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Fried and True


It really is a back and forth kind of year for the Braves now that Ronald Acuna, Sean Murphy and Spencer Strider are out for the year. One moment your best pitcher strikes out 13, the next your team's being shutout by the Red Sox. Gone is the consistency of the last two years, as at any moment you could show vulnerability, or just plain fail to show up.

The Braves this season have already had to pivot and rethink things a number of times. Murphy getting hurt was one of them, they slotted Travis d'Arnaud in the starting position and used Chadwick Tromp, who seemed to not be aware of how relevant it is for him to change his number to 45 in this day and age with this last name, as backup. But now Murphy's gotten hurt again, and might be missing more time. And yes, this is why you keep d'Arnaud around. For a 35-year-old catcher, he's hitting very well, and has held up beautifully. A lot like Charlie Morton, d'Arnaud overcame injuries in his 20s to become a very reliable and consistent option in his 30s. Now, Morton is probably the better overall player, but d'Arnaud still being a viable option is a great thing. Doesn't mean the Braves won't deal for Jacob Stallings at the deadline, but it's not as much of an issue as you might think.

The Acuna loss is similar. The Braves have been starting Adam Duvall more, and while Duvall isn't having the greatest season so far, he's at least a power bat the fans enjoy. They are likely planning to do something with Ramon Laureano in the coming weeks, and have Forrest Wall and Leury Garcia stirring in Gwinnett. Honestly, the outfield might be the weakest part of the team, as both Jarred Kelenic and Michael Harris are having decent but not incredible seasons. Acuna really was holding that unit together, and without him there's not much. So they have a working system, but it's clearly not perfect.

And then the hole Strider left was one that seemed simple but has needed more ideas. Bryce Elder, given his 2023 season, seemed like the next step to a 5th starter, but I think his full year wrung out his arm, as his 2024 material hasn't been as good, with a 6.46 ERA in 5 starts. Rookie options like Darius Vines, AJ Smith-Shawver and Allan Winans also had mediocre results to starting stints. Hence Spencer Schwellenbach, the newest rookie hurler, who has a chance to either be the next rotation addition going forward or be dealt to a dying market in August. So far, Schwellenbach has gotten killed in both his starts, so if I had to guess..

The best news in that regard is the strength of the other four starters. Reynaldo Lopez had the best April, Chris Sale had the best May, and Max Fried may have had the best build from the start of the season. Fried is 6-2 with a 2.93 ERA and 67 Ks, a pretty strong start. He's also been going deep into games, and leads the team in IP. Fried's 2023 injury worried some people, but he's come back stronger than ever, and hopefully keeps it up. I do worry a little about Sale, and after his recent start I should, but hopefully he's figured out how to stay healthy as well, because he's been a surprise success for the Braves. Meanwhile, Charlie Morton, at 40, still has a 3.88 ERA and 65 Ks, so even if it's not peak Morton he's still got it. 

The Braves have enough going for them that the losses haven't completely ended the season. Someone pointed out that the 2023 Braves had the same record at this point in June. But the 2023 Braves had more to work with, and more momentum. So unless the Braves find some soon, they'll be looking up at the Phillies for a while.

Coming Tomorrow- He came up in a year that seemed like the lineup was set in stone and became a regular. Now he's helping that team compete, finally.

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