By: TJ Hartnett
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
The Atlanta Braves have been scorching hot lately. They leapfrogged the Phillies to take sole possession of first place in the National League East.
With the All-Star Break rapidly approaching, the Braves appear to be positioning themselves well to go into the second half as the team on top and that might mean that General Manager Alex Anthopoulos may be able to make moves (on top of the Dallas Keuchel signing) before the trade deadline to bolster some of the weak spots on the roster.
That being said, let’s take a brief look at some of the things that have led the Braves into first place, as well as a few things that need improvement.
The Really Good:
Austin Riley – It’s not a coincidence that Riley’s promotion to the big leagues proceeded the Braves rise to the top of the heap.
Riley has been beyond exceptional for Atlanta, not just hitting the ball out of the yard but also coming up with clutch hits and playing better left field than a third baseman has any right to.
Nearly the rest of the lineup, for the most part, has been roaring during this surge. Ozzie Albies has found his stroke, Freddie Freeman is putting up MVP-type numbers, Dansby Swanson and Ronald Acuna have been consistent (Acuna loves that leadoff spot), and the catching platoon has been reminiscent of the Flowers/Suzuki platoon a few years ago.
Mike Soroka – The undisputed ace of the staff in 2019, picked up right where he left off in 2018. He has a razor-thin ERA and composure on the mound far exceeding his years. With Keuchel as an unknown factor at the moment, Soroka starts Game 1 of the playoffs for this team.
Julio Teheran – To the surprise of many (myself included – see my unflattering and now-proven-wrong article about Julio from the end of March), Julio Teheran has recaptured the magic that caused the Braves to extend him years ago. He’s been more reliable than Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman, stepping up as the veteran presence in a young rotation.
Luke Jackson – A relief pitcher? Yes. Jackson opened up the season with an atrocious showing, but has since taken over the closer role and has been a solid – if imperfect – piece to close out Atlanta’s victories in 2019.
The Not So Good:
Josh Donaldson – The Bringer of Rain has managed to hit 10 homeruns and has a surprisingly robust batting average with runners in scoring position, but he has failed to earn the $23 million the Braves gave him during the offseason.
It’s unlikely the Braves will find a trade partner for the veteran, but with Riley’s emergence it seems like that Donaldson’s tenure in Atlanta will not span past one season.
Folty and Gausman – The two steadiest presences in the rotation in 2018 were both injured during Spring Training and neither seems to have come back quite right.
Gausman hit the Injured List, and with Keuchel waiting in the wings he may have made his last start for the year.
The Rest of the Bullpen – I know it. You know it. Let’s move on.
I’ll do the math for you, there’s more good than bad on the team right now.
Plus, the weaker points can be improved: Keuchel for Gausman is sure to be an upgrade, and the party line for months has been that Anthopoulos will make moves if the Braves are contending and first place is certainly contending.
If things continue as they are or improve even slightly, Braves Country is in for a great second half.