June showed Braves can defend their crown

July 1st, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- Suffering a 14-4 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night was certainly not a fitting way for the Braves to end one of the best months in franchise history. But if they end up back in the postseason, they’ll fondly remember how June altered the direction of their season.

After Ian Anderson allowed seven runs over just two innings in the series finale against the Phillies, the Braves finished June 21-6. They matched the team record for most wins in a month going back to 1966, when they moved to Atlanta. But more importantly, they spent the past four weeks looking like a club capable of defending its World Series crown.

When May ended, the Braves were 23-27 and 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets in the National League East. They are now 44-33 and just 3 1/2 games back in a division race they have won each of the past four seasons. They also would fill the second of three NL Wild Card spots if the season ended today.

“Hopefully, I look back in three months and think, ‘That’s the month that propelled us to another division title,’” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “These guys should be proud of what they accomplished this month.”

A look back at June

• The Braves won the first 14 games of the month while playing the D-backs, Rockies, A’s, Pirates and Nationals. Critics questioned whether this success was simply a product of playing teams which owned a losing record. Atlanta quieted these doubters by going 6-4 while playing its past 10 games against the Giants, Dodgers and Phillies. The Dodgers’ ninth-inning rally on Sunday prevented the Braves from winning each of these three series.

Michael Harris II debuted six days before Ronald Acuña Jr. began playing right field on an everyday basis. Suddenly, Marcell Ozuna went from a defensive liability in left field to a designated hitter. With Harris in center field, Acuña in right and Adam Duvall in left field, the Braves now have one of the game’s top defensive outfields.

In addition to providing Gold Glove-caliber defense, Harris hit .347 with four homers and a .945 OPS in June. The 21-year-old center fielder debuted on May 28 having played just 197 games at the Minor League level. But he showed nothing but poise as he was arguably the Braves’ most valuable player during this great month.

• If Harris wasn’t the Braves’ most valuable player in June, then the distinction would go to Dansby Swanson, who deserves midseason consideration for the NL MVP Award. Swanson ranks as one of the game’s top defensive shortstops, and he entered Thursday ranked fourth among all NL players with a 3.4 fWAR. He hit .330 with seven homers and a .953 OPS in June.

Travis d’Arnaud also continued to make a significant impact, as he hit .304 with seven homers and a 1.041 OPS over 17 games during this past month. The veteran has positioned himself to possibly be voted the NL’s starting catcher at the All-Star Game this year.

Max Fried strengthened his Cy Young Award credentials as he posted a 2.16 ERA over his five June starts. Kyle Wright also looked like a front-line starter, brushing off a second straight challenging start on June 23 to limit the Phillies to one run on three hits and three walks over seven innings on Wednesday. The most influential rotation development, though, may have been Charlie Morton posting a 1.83 ERA over his past three starts.

Anderson has lasted fewer than five innings in three of his past four starts, but all indications are he is healthy. As the young hurler attempts to right himself, the back of the Braves’ rotation should continue to be stabilized by Spencer Strider, who allowed two runs or fewer in four of his five June starts.

• The Braves lost Ozzie Albies to a left foot fracture on June 13, but they saw Adam Duvall reemerge to hit eight homers and produce an .864 OPS during the month. Matt Olson’s .780 OPS was his lowest monthly mark of the season. But as Atlanta's first baseman tallied 14 extra-base hits, including six homers, he showed the instant impact he can make within what now looks like a very formidable lineup.