This rotation took time to stabilize, which figured. Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka and Kevin Gausman weren't healthy on Opening Day. They're back now, but there has been a change in numerical designations. The Nos. 1 and 2 starters are Soroka and Max Fried, who rank first and ninth in ERA among NL pitchers who've worked 40 innings. Three Braves — Soroka at No. 2, Julio Teheran at No. 8, Gausman at No. 20 — are among the top 20 in opponents' batting average. Did we not suggest, way back when, that this club would never lack for starting pitching?
With Riley included, this everyday eight can stand with any octet in baseball. Here’s the list of Braves’ position players who’ve posted a higher WAR than Bryce Harper’s 0.5: Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, Nick Markakis, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Riley (who has played 12 big-league games). The Phillies bought Harper for $330 million and will be paying him through 2031. He’s hitting .227; he has 73 strikeouts and 44 hits. Going by WAR, he has been the 13th-most valuable Phil.
Can the Braves do better? You’d have to think so. In the Triple Crown categories, only Freeman, who’s eighth in batting average, ranks among the NL’s top 10. Only Freeman, who’s ninth, is among the top 10 in OPS. Only Acuna and Freeman, who are seventh and ninth, are among the top 25 in WAR. Of these position players, only Riley has caught such a blazing start as to seem unsustainable.
In sum, there’s every reason — save one — to believe the best of the 2019 Braves is yet to come. The caveat remains the bullpen. It’s not as bad as it was a month ago, but it’s still costing the Braves a game (or so) a week. They came close to going unbeaten on the road swing that ended Sunday, but lost leads in San Francisco and St. Louis left them at 5-2. Then again, the Braves staged rallies to win in extra innings at both places, so maybe 5-2 was a just result.
Here, though, is the one place where the macro view isn’t kind: The Braves have blown nine saves, fourth-most in the NL, and converted 60.9 percent of save chances. The league-average conversion rate is 66.4. Their bullpen ERA is 11th-best in a 15-team league; Philadelphia’s is third-best.
We’ve been saying it since April, and it’s no less true now: The Braves should repeat as division champs, provided their bullpen allows it. They have the hitting. They again have the rotation. They’re talented. They’re deep. They roused themselves after an 18-20 start to play the way they’re capable. They’re hot on the heels of the first-place Phillies after spotting them a three-game leader before April commenced.
Memorial Day dawned with the Braves where they need to be. The only thing that could bar them from where they want to go is the same old thing. The belief here is that Alex Anthopoulos will use the weeks between the June draft and the Fourth of July to address that need. That mightn’t mean Craig Kimbrel is coming, but surely someone will.