5 thoughts as Braves snap cold spell

June 17th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ATLANTA -- Here are some random thoughts as the Braves celebrate their first series win since taking two of three at Wrigley Field from May 21-23:

1. The Braves spent $17 million to gain control of for five seasons. They could get their money’s worth this year, if Kelenic spends a significant portion of this summer compensating for the absence of Michael Harris II as a center fielder and leadoff hitter.

So far, so good. Kelenic has shown us he is a capable defender and he has homered in both of the games he has played since filling Harris’ void in the leadoff role. He has hit .300 with a .920 OPS over his past 15 games. That’s certainly encouraging.

Manager Brian Snitker feels like Ozzie Albies is his only player suited for the two-hole. So expect to see Kelenic remain at the top of the lineup.

2. We may eventually hit a point where the Braves will not be able to overcome the injury bug. But we’re not there yet, even with the season-ending losses to Ronald Acuña Jr. and Spencer Strider, the month-plus absences of Sean Murphy and Harris, and the injury list stints experienced by Austin Riley and Albies.

If the Braves can get to the postseason with Max Fried, Chris Sale, López and Charlie Morton all healthy, then why shouldn’t they still be a World Series contender? Yeah, you’d love to see Acuña in that lineup. But they won a title without him, and that club didn't feature a lineup as strong as the injury-depleted one they are currently using.

3. As the July 30 Trade Deadline approaches, folks will be wondering if Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos can recreate the magic he produced in July 2021, when he used a couple buckets of balls and rosin bags to acquire Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall. Anthopoulos essentially bought a bunch of $1 scratch-off lottery tickets and won with each of them.

Harris could recover from his strained left hamstring before the Trade Deadline. Regardless, it still feels like the Braves’ most significant need might be to acquire one outfielder.

4. While conversing with a friend a few weeks ago, I suggested the Braves pursue Jack Flaherty. Acuña was injured about 36 hours later and the focus began to change. With Harris out, Atlanta's outfield choices are Kelenic, Duvall, Ramón Laureano, J.P. Martínez and Brian Anderson.

Where have you gone, Guillermo Heredia?

Even when Harris rejoins this mix, you still have a need for an outfielder. Duvall has performed more like a backup outfielder this year. Laureano is nothing more than a decent defender and Anderson’s best days are long behind him.

We can sit here and list Tommy Pham and a bunch of other outfielders as potential targets. But by doing so, we’d be ignoring the fact that Anthopoulos always ends up landing Sale or somebody nobody was really thinking about.

5. Speaking of Sale, over the next few weeks, you and your friends might debate how many Braves will be All-Stars this year. Marcell Ozuna is a given. López leads MLB with a 1.69 ERA and Sale joins the Yankees’ Luis Gil as MLB’s only pitchers to have a strikeout rate over 30 percent and an ERA below 3.00. Fried (3.20) is also capable of dropping his ERA below 3.00 before selections are made.

It would be pretty remarkable to have three starters earn All-Star selections, even after losing Strider.