The Braves are exactly where we thought they’d be back in March. I’m just not sure how.
If I told you on March 1st, that on September 14th, the Atlanta Braves would be on pace for a 100-win season, it probably wouldn’t have surprised you. It definitely wouldn’t have surprised me. The Braves were supposed to be one of the best teams in baseball, fully ready to defend their World Championship title. And that’s exactly where they are. They have 88 wins, as many as they had all of last year, and 20 more games still to play. They are one of the best teams in baseball.
It’s the how that doesn’t make much sense.
To illustrate my point, we’re going to play a game. I’ll give you some scenarios and you tell me what you think the Braves’ record would be if that scenario were true.
If I told you on March 1st the Braves were going to let Freddie Freeman walk away, trade for Matt Olson, and as of September 14th, Olson was having statistically the worst full season of his career, what would you guess the Braves’ record would be?
On top of that, if I told you that Ronald Acuña Jr. did come back from his knee injury, but still wasn’t 100 percent, and as of September 14th, he was having the worst statistical year of his career, what would you guess the Braves’ record would be?
On top of that, what if I told you Ozzie Albies would miss most of the season with a broken foot, and when he did play, was having the worst statistical season of career? And that Adam Duvall would miss most of the season with an injury, and when he did play, was having one of the worst statistical seasons of his career. And that Eddie Rosario would miss a large chunk of the season with eye surgery, and when he did play, was having one of the worst statistical seasons of his career. What would you guess the Braves’ record would be?
What if I told you, on top of all that, Marcell Ozuna was going to be the worst position player in baseball and have easily the worst offensive season of his career, what would your guess be for where team is?
What if I told you, on top of all of those position player issues, that Ian Anderson would pitch so poorly this season, he’d eventually be demoted back to Gwinnett, and that Charlie Morton would be having his worst season since he resurrected his career in Houston, where would you put the Braves’ record on September 14th?
And on top of all that, what if I told you Luke Jackson would miss the entire year with Tommy John surgery, Tyler Matzek would take a large step back from the guy he was last year, Will Smith would pitch so inconsistently he would get sent away at the Trade Deadline, and on September 14th, Kenley Jansen would be second in the league in blown saves?
What if, on March 1st, I told you all of that would be true on September 14th, how would you imagine the season would go? Where would the Braves be in the standings in your mind? 70 wins? Fewer?
Well all of it is true as we sit here on September 14th, and the Braves are on pace to have their best season in the Alex Anthopoulos era. They’re on pace to win 100 games and are a virtual lock for the playoffs. They are exactly where we thought they’d be. The destination is familiar. The journey, anything but.
How the Braves have done this can be summed up in one phrase: Thank God for the kids. Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright, William Contreras, Vaughn Grissom, Dylan Lee, Bryce Elder, and more have all come up and immediately contributed. And often, substantially contributed.
Harris, Strider, Wright and Contreras, specifically, have been monsters this season when the Braves needed it most. Harris has a 149 wRC+, the highest on the team, while playing elite defense in center field. William Contreras has a 133 wRC+ while growing leaps and bounds as a catcher and also stepping in at DH when Ozuna forgot how to play baseball (or appease the baseball gods enough to have his outputs at least come close to his inputs). Spencer Strider is tied with Max Fried for the team lead in pitching fWAR at 4.8, even though he started the year in the bullpen. Tied with Max Fried. He’s going to get some downballot Cy Young Award votes, as he should. They might just have to give him and Harris both Rookie of the Year this year because I don’t know how you decide (though the voting process makes this unlikely). Right behind Fried and Strider on the pitching fWAR team leaderboard is Kyle Wright, who finally put it all together. Wright’s going to get close to 190 innings this season and has 3.18 ERA with a 3.68 FIP that’s still above average.
This, along with a monster season from Austin Riley and career, top-10-in-baseball year from Dansby Swanson, is how the Braves have weathered so many of their big names having down or disappointing seasons. This is how the Braves are exactly where we thought they’d be.
With Atlanta getting down seasons from so many of their big names, this should’ve been a down season for the team. The kids have refused to let that happen, at least so far. They’ve quite literally saved this team and this season, making this more than just a Swanson-Riley-Fried slog through the summer. There’s still half of September and October to play, but it’s been incredible to watch and you hope it continues.
Of course, if a few of the bigger names want to start carrying a little more of the load, that would be ok too.