Why the Atlanta Braves are no longer the favorites in the National League

Assessing the Braves after the first month of the season
Boston Red Sox v Atlanta Braves
Boston Red Sox v Atlanta Braves / Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/GettyImages
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In the month of April the Braves wasted no time asserting their dominance. They capped their spectacular run with a series victory over the top team in the AL at the time, the Cleveland Guardians. However, since the series with the Mariners began, the Braves have been on a small slide.

Since then, they have ceded the top spot in the NL East to their bitter rivals, the Phillies. Should this be alarming? Short answer, no. Every team goes on slumps. Bad days and losing streaks are just a part of baseball, but for anyone who watched last year’s Braves, this might be a head-scratcher. The question that lingers in the back of every Braves fan is: what is the difference between these two Braves teams?

Disclaimer: All statistics reflect totals at the time of writing on 5/7.

Comparing the 2023 Braves to this year's squad

When you look at the two lineups, they are very similar. And while the Braves’ record is still very good, this year’s team doesn’t have that same feel as the one that won 104 games. This is because of two differences: offensive production and starting pitching.

Last season’s lineup was firing on all cylinders in relentless fashion. If this season’s Braves lineup seems to be a far cry from last year’s, it is because most of their key sluggers are struggling at the plate. Ronald Acuna Jr, Matt Olson, and Austin Riley each consistently produced at a phenomenal level putting up astronomical numbers in their 2023 campaign.

This year, they have collectively hit 8 HR while their batting averages suffer (Acuna’s .267 AVG is still fair, but far below last year’s .337). Olson, the reigning home run king and Braves record breaker is currently hitting under .200. The main force behind what is keeping the Braves alive and thriving (other than Marcell Ozuna, whose bat has been carrying the Braves offense) is the starting rotation.

The rotation has been able to put together quality starts allowing their offense to take full advantage. In any case, while players have down years, it would be difficult to fathom if the entire heart of the Braves lineup doesn’t start hitting like they did last year or at least to some degree. With talents like those of Acuña, Olson, and Riley, it’s only a matter of time before they figure it out. Hopefully it comes sooner rather than later. Regardless of what it seems, the Braves are still on pace to win 103 games.

That brings us to the topic of the postseason. Even with offensive struggles from key players, the Braves continue to win at a rate greater than .600. As annual postseason contenders with a great record, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them there again this season. However, when they get there, they will be greeted by an assortment of highly talented teams. It may be a little too early to pick out favorites to win the fall classic, but it is never too early to assess a team’s ability to do so. With that said, do the Braves have what it takes to blow past the competition?