NEW YORK -- Now that their rotation seems fixed, the Braves must decide whether there are any sensible ways to upgrade their lineup before Friday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.
A pair of strong pitching performances netted the Braves just a split as their offense was blanked in a 1-0 loss to the Mets in the second game of a doubleheader on Monday night at Citi Field. The game’s lone run came courtesy of Jeff McNeil’s two-out RBI double off Luke Jackson in the fifth.
“You’re a little disappointed whenever you can’t get the second [game],” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “But to keep things in perspective, I thought they threw the ball well in the second game. We didn’t have too many chances and whenever we did, we weren’t able to capitalize.”
After Kyle Muller guided the Braves to a 2-0 win in the first game with five scoreless innings, Bryse Wilson contributed a decent spot start, tossing three-plus scoreless frames in the nightcap. But the offense’s inability to dent the scoreboard against the six relievers the Mets used in a bullpen game prevented Atlanta from climbing the National League East standings.
“Guys are going to be ready,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re going to fight our way through this thing.”
The Braves are five games behind the first-place Mets. But they are sending their top three starters -- Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Drew Smyly -- to the mound for the final three games of this five-game series. By sweeping the remainder of this series, Atlanta would pull within two games and possibly influence its front office to be more aggressive with its buying efforts before the Trade Deadline.
Joc Pederson’s leadoff single in the sixth helped create the Braves’ only significant scoring threat in the second game. But after Ozzie Albies walked to put two on with none out, Freddie Freeman flied out to the left-field wall and Austin Riley grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“It was two well-pitched games,” Snitker said. “They got a big hit and we couldn’t.”
The Braves came out of the All-Star break and scored at least five runs in each of the three games they played against the Rays. They won just one of those contests against the reigning American League champs because of a bullpen that has been the club’s primary liability throughout the season.
Adding at least one reliever before Friday seems to be a necessity. But if the Braves are to win a fourth consecutive division crown, they may also need to address an offense that misses the production of Travid d’Arnaud, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna.
d’Arnaud should return within the next couple of weeks. But Acuña is done for the season and Ozuna might never return.
Pederson has provided a .743 OPS since being acquired from the Cubs during the All-Star break. His energy and power potential could certainly aid the club down the stretch. But more is needed from an offense that has scored two runs or fewer in six of its past eight games.
Freeman has hit .383 with 10 homers and a 1.088 OPS over his past 41 games. But even with the reigning NL MVP surging, the Braves need pieces to lengthen their lineup.
Albies ranks near the top of the Majors in extra-base hits. But his OPS (.756) during this Freeman surge has been trumped by those produced by Swanson (.777) and Riley (.792). This quartet, combined with Pederson, gives Atlanta potential at the top of the lineup. But the addition of one more bat could lengthen the lineup enough to truly strengthen Atlanta’s bid for another division title.
“We have a lot of great players,” Swanson said. “We have the ability to get things done. I think it’s just a matter of consistently doing that. I feel like it’s a little inconsistent at times.”