How can the Atlanta Braves avoid a first-round exit? Last year, the Atlanta Braves were defeated by the wildcard winner, the Philadelphia Phillies, in the NLDS. The unexpected loss was a shock to Braves fans who couldn't understand how an 87-75 team could overcome a 101-61 juggernaut. Each season brings new challenges, and the reasons behind the Braves' postseason struggles have evolved since last year. So, let's explore how the Braves can maintain their momentum this upcoming fall.
1. Acuña keeps his MVP level pace
When Ronald Acuna returned from his devastating ACL tear in 2022, both Braves and baseball fans celebrated his comeback. Despite being cleared to play, Acuna hadn't fully regained confidence in himself or his body. He occasionally appeared hesitant and was even seen limping to the dugout at times.
There were moments when it was clear he wasn't at 100%. While having 50% of Acuna's abilities is still remarkable, the Braves thrive when he's performing at his best, both physically and mentally. This year, the Braves have a strong, healthy, and powerful lead-off star. If Acuna remains healthy throughout the season, the Braves are better positioned to excel in the playoffs.
2. Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
Atlanta's pitching staff was stellar last year, boasting a team ERA of 3.46. The rotation was led by Max Fried, Kyle Wright, and Spencer Strider. Fried continued his solid performance, Wright found his rhythm and became a 20-game winner, while rookie Spencer Strider impressed with a 2.67 ERA and 202 strikeouts. The bullpen, featuring A.J. Minter, Dylan Lee, and Collin McHugh, was also formidable. However, the pitching staff struggled against the Phillies and was unable to contain them.
This year, Atlanta's pitching staff has improved statistically and leads the majors in several categories. Yet, an issue has emerged with a less consistent rotation. With Max Fried still finding his groove and Kyle Wright in the midst of rehabilitation, the rotation has been unstable. The Braves have given several minor league rookies, such as Dylan Dodd and Jarred Shuster, the opportunity to earn a spot. Currently, it seems the Braves are adapting their pitchers until Kyle's return.
Bryce Elder and Charlie Morton have shouldered a significant workload, while Spencer Strider has more than held his own this year. The bullpen has seen changes due to injuries, with newcomers like Pierce Johnson providing a needed boost. However, relying on AA and AAA pitchers might not suffice in October. If the Braves enter the postseason with a strong rotation and a well-rested bullpen, they stand a better chance.
3. The Layoff
Division winners enjoy a brief break before the wild card series concludes. During
this time, players engage in simulation games and drills, but maintaining a high level of momentum can be challenging. The Phillies gained tremendous momentum from a wild upset series against St. Louis, while the Braves faced a fiery opponent that couldn't be extinguished.
The Braves seemed relatively relaxed and possibly overconfident entering the series, resulting in a cold start that persisted. To avoid disappointment in October, they must stay sharp and find that spark to ignite their performance. Will the Braves go all the way this year? If they can avoid all the issues mentioned, they are arguably in the best position to win it all. Then again, anything can happen in October, right?