How much longer should Braves fans wait to hit the panic button?

A once stunning Braves team may now be in bad shape.
Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves
Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

Last year, the Atlanta Braves was a history-making team for the ages. It appeared at the beginning of 2024 that might have been the same story two years straight. Unfortunately, things took several wrong turns.

First came the loss of Spencer Strider, the Braves ace. But even with his loss, the Braves’ starting rotation has done surprisingly well aside from the fifth starter’s spot that has been shared with several pitchers riding the bus between the minors and the big leagues. The losses of Sean Murphy and Austin Riley led to a bit of a lull in a Braves’ offense that had already been struggling.

Just a day before their return, the Braves lost last year’s MVP, Ronald Acuna Jr., for the rest of 2024. Despite his struggles, he was still vitally important as the Braves’ leadoff man. Acuna Jr. still holds the second-highest OBP on the team behind Marcell Ozuna and has always been a threat on the bases. Thus far, the Braves have three things to worry about: an Acuna-sized hole in the lineup, the fifth spot in the rotation, and a bullpen that has been somewhat shaky. Looking at the Braves' problems begs the question: is it time to hit the panic button?

Disclaimer: All statistics reflect totals at the time of writing on 5/27

Acuna’s injury is reminiscent of 2021 when he suffered a season-ending injury in July. That year, the Braves made a flurry of moves acquiring Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, and Joc Pederson. This combination of outfielders would lead the Braves to a World Series victory later that season. Unfortunately, this year is different.

Finding a solution to the backend of the rotation

To start, the Braves don’t have enough minor league pieces to pull off a lot of trades. Their top five prospects are all pitchers, two of them are on’s top 100 prospects list (A.J. Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep). A.J. Smith-Shawver is currently injured, his injury coming after a scoreless outing in his first major league start of 2024. With Smith-Shawver on the shelf, it is unclear who will be taking the fifth spot in the rotation.

So far, after several pitchers have auditioned for the role, the Braves haven’t yet found a prospect that could hold the position (besides maybe Smith-Shawver but we won’t find out for about a month). This uncertainty means the Braves will likely be hesitant to trade any of their pitching depth that could potentially make an impact this year. It also means that trading for a top of the line starting pitcher while the lineup is in disarray is likely out of the equation.

The bullpen

At this point, the bullpen isn’t a top concern. The Braves have already acquired one arm in Jimmy Herget who is thus far doing a good job in his limited experience as a Brave. The Braves’ bullpen isn’t necessarily bad, but if they wish to address any further inconsistencies or shore up any weaknesses, they have a few options. One such option is Ken Giles who is having a decent year in Triple-A. Giles had a few all-star worthy seasons in the MLB though he has never been selected.

The Braves offense without Acuña could get ugly

The lineup as a whole, even with Acuna, hasn’t really had the same impact it did in years prior. The team appears to be riding on the back of Marcell Ozuna who has been an aircraft carrier for the Braves all year. With Acuna gone, the Braves are using both Adam Duvall and Jarred Kelenic in the corner outfield positions.

Kelenic was once a top-rated prospect and Duvall mustered a fantastic .531 SLG last year with the Red Sox through 320 ABs. However, neither of them has lived up to their full potential this year. Kelenic has a staggering strikeout rate and Duvall has a low batting average. While both Kelenic and Duvall have had their moments and still fit in the lineup quite well, neither are going to fill the hole that Acuna left. The Braves are in need of a bat that can stimulate production on a consistent basis.

Give them a little more time, but if things don't change we understand hitting the panic button

So, is it time to hit the panic button? The Braves are 31-23. They are 6.5 games behind the first place Phillies in the NL East. They are still in a good position to hold the first wildcard spot if they can’t retake the East. After all, the main goal is to win another championship. Getting into the postseason is step 1 in that endeavor.

The other two current contenders for the second WC slot are 4 games behind the Braves. It appears the Braves will be in the postseason. When/If (most likely when) they get there, opposing teams will have to face an intimidating triumvirate consisting of Reynaldo Lopez, Chris Sale, and Max Fried. This is definitely a plus. But what about the offense?

Unless Kelenic and Duvall can start performing at their absolute best, the Braves offense will almost certainly need help. But it is worth noting that the Braves have done some remarkable things without Acuna, again referring to the 2021 World Series. While the Braves may not be in the same position, they could still acquire some players that could make surprising contributors. In 2021, it was a scuffling Jorge Soler. The Braves acquired him when he was hitting below .200 and, at the end of the postseason, he was holding the WS MVP award.

Throughout the years, the Braves have managed to turn struggling players into productive ones and have helped others regain their best form. Whether the Braves make a splash or some under-the-radar moves, they still have a solid footing. One good addition could potentially turn the Braves back into a championship-caliber team. In other words, no, the panic button should remain under its dusty, plexiglass case in its drawer unpressed.

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