5 things to know NL East's tight start
The pitching must improve. The Braves are 10th in the league in starters’ ERA, eighth in bullpen ERA. The nice thing about the rotation is that Mike Soroka (ERA of 1.14) and Max Fried (2.11) have been tremendous. Julio Teheran has been borderline as a No. 5 starter, which is to say he’s a borderline starter, period. Gausman’s first three starts were good; the two before his aborted turn in Miami weren’t.
The bigger worry is Mike Foltynewicz. He has made two big-league starts since his return from elbow soreness. He insists he’s fine. The data makes us wonder. He has struck out eight over 10-1/3 innings; last year he struck over 202 over 183. The velocity on his four-seamer is down by 2.5 mph from last season; the velocity on his slider is down by 1.1 mph. Per Brooks Baseball, opponents hit .106 against his slider last season; in his two 2019 starts, they’ve hit .400.
We say again: The Braves should never lack for starting pitching. Sean Newcomb has returned to the majors after what’s being described as a beneficial demotion to Gwinnett. He’s serving as the long reliever for now, but that could/should change. Touki Toussaint worked four excellent innings after Gausman was thumbed – mighty convenient that the Braves had promoted Toussaint that very day, eh? – and shouldn’t be dismissed as a starting candidate because of one horrid outing against Trevor Bauer on a cold Cleveland night.
And don’t sleep on Austin Riley. The third baseman has an OPS of 1.014 — that’s great, FYI — with 10 homers and 27 RBIs for Gwinnett. The Braves sank $23 million into Josh Donaldson, who has been pretty good, so there’s no immediate place for Riley to play, and the presence of Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson mitigates against any notion of Riley being deployed in the outfield, but still: The guy needs to be here next year, if not before.
But enough about down-the-road stuff. Upcoming is a three-week test for these Braves, who have done enough to hang around in the East without approaching peak capacity. Still, Luke Jackson hasn’t yet flunked the audition as closer, which means the Braves have made it through another week without Craig Kimbrel, and there’s no reason to believe anyone among this everyday eight — except maybe Nick Markakis, again — can’t do better.
After 34 games, there’s more reason to feel good than bad. (If you want bad, check the 14-19 Nationals; they’re last in the NL in ERA with big-ticket pitchers Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.) By Memorial Day, we’ll know more. And if the next three weeks are underwhelming for the Braves … well, they’ve still got 13 games left against the Fish.