As the Atlanta Braves enter October, they remain the favorites to win the World Series. All eyes will be on this team and the expectation is for them to be flawless. Let's check out three potential “X-factors” that could help lead the Braves to their second World Series Championship in just three years.
1. Ronald Acuña Jr.
Ronald Acuña Jr. had an absolutely remarkable 2023 regular season and that is putting it lightly. He should be a lock for the National League MVP with a .337 batting average, 41 home runs, and 106 runs batted in. Those stats don't even mention his MLB-leading 73 stolen bases, 217 hits, and 149 runs scored.
This is obviously next-level production for a leadoff hitter. Keeping this pace against playoff pitchers will be challenging. Now if anyone can do it, it’s Ronald Acuña. However, of all the skills he brings to the field, his on-base percentage may be the most important for the Braves.
If Acuña can continue finding his way on base and use his speed to manufacture important runs, Atlanta has a much better chance of finding success in the playoffs.
2. Michael Harris II and Orlando Arcia
The Atlanta Braves have taken pride all season long in having a solid lineup 1-9. In the playoffs, it will be key for the bottom of the lineup to feed the top. Michael Harris II and Orlando Arcia will also need to focus on getting themselves on base so that Acuña, Albies, Riley, and Olson have chances to drive in runs.
Harris II struggled early on in 2023 but he figured out his swing towards the middle of the season and absolutely turned into a beast for the Braves. He will be a dangerous weapon for Atlanta at the bottom of the lineup. He also provides a major "x-factor" with his defensive ability to make almost any play in the outfield.
Orlando Arcia struggled a good bit in the second half of the regular season after earning the starting spot for the NL All-Star team. When he was at his best, he was one of the best clutch batters for the Atlanta Braves. If he can find an inkling of that success in the playoffs, opposing teams are in trouble.
3. The Entire Braves Starting Rotation
Hopefully, the Braves will move on from the NLDS and Charlie Morton will return for a World Series push. For the time being, Morton is sidelined with an injury to his right index finger, leaving the rotation weakened.
Kyle Wright was thought to be an arm that could improve the starting staff for the postseason but after his recent struggles while trying to work back from injury, he will likely be used out of the bullpen. This puts pressure on those that remain including Bryce Elder who has featured struggles of his own lately. The Braves don't really have any other options unless they choose to carry someone like A.J. Smith-Shawver on the roster.
Max Fried, Spencer Strider, and Bryce Elder will need to go deep into games to give the Braves their best chance to win games in October. The bullpen still seems to be the biggest flaw Atlanta has at the moment. The starters will likely have a heavier workload and will be the individuals that determine the outcome of games.
However, as fans witnessed in 2021, a struggling bullpen can turn into a lockdown bullpen in a matter of moments. Atlanta will hope to see a repeat of that performance in the 2023 playoffs which kick off on Saturday for the Braves. They will face the winner of the Phillies and Marlins Wild Card series.