You can’t panic over results in early May (unless you’re a team like the Reds, where at 3-22 you’re hopeless). But I’m also not going to tell you to feel totally fine about these Braves. It’s a disappointing start at 12-15. We’re all underwhelmed.
That said, I’m not worried about this team. They’ll click, get those hits with runners in scoring position and make their run. But with the Mets’ play, they can’t wait too long.
Here are some early season thoughts on the 2022 Braves before they begin their third homestand:
1. They missed an opportunity. The Braves had series against Cincinnati, Washington, Miami, Chicago and Texas in April, all expected to be losing teams. The Braves lost four of the five series, three of which came at Truist Park.
In recent years, the Braves have proved how obsolete slow starts can be. But they squandered the chance to open with a bang against a soft schedule. If you examined the Braves’ April slate before the season, you probably didn’t figure they’d find themselves under .500 in May’s first week. Then again, they’ve started slowly before, so maybe you figured.
2. Kyle Wright, take a bow. In past years, he was on a suboptimal development plan, yanked between Triple-A and the majors, that clearly shook his confidence. The former No. 5 overall draft pick, after spending nearly the entire 2021 season in the minors, pitched well in the World Series. He proclaimed in spring that he had his groove back, pointing to the confidence that comes with succeeding on baseball’s grandest platform.
Wright, to this point, has backed up his words. He’s been marvelous. Wright has a 1.74 ERA in five starts (31 innings). How about those 37 strikeouts to seven walks? Wright looks like the pitcher we expected he’d be. He’s the team’s most pleasant surprise. Good for Wright, a great guy who’s emerging from early career adversity to establish himself.
3. On the flip side, this team needs Charlie Morton at his best to get where they’re trying to go. Morton was THE stabilizing force in the rotation a year ago. He’s the only one who avoided an injured-list stint in the regular season. As chaos unfolded around him, the Braves could count on Morton every fifth day.
This season, Morton hasn’t found himself. He’s been stricken by soft contact but he’s also not missing bats, something he attributed to hitters not chasing rather than any changes to his stuff. The bottom-line: Morton has a 6.85 ERA over five outings. He’s struck out 18 and walked 14. It’s a small sample, but his velocity is down slightly and his whiff rate is down substantially.
Whatever to blame, it’s been a poor start for the 38-year-old. We need to see more. Luck should better swing in Morton’s favor. I trust him to figure out what’s ailing him. We’ll see. (Our new Braves beat writer Justin Toscano recently spoke with Morton about his season. I’d recommend checking that out.)
4. The stats don’t jump out yet, but I expect third baseman Austin Riley to hang around in the National League MVP conversation. Feels like he’s due to go on a tear - he has only one extra-base hit in his past six games. I expect him to get his first All-Star nod this summer.
5. Speaking of future NL MVP candidates, how nice is it to see Ronald Acuna back in the Braves’ outfield? He’s been quiet so far and that’s OK. He’ll find his footing. It’s a huge win for the sport to have him back out there. And it’ll be a huge win for the Braves when he and second baseman Ozzie Albies get going.
6. I know he’s coming off a skid, but first baseman Matt Olson should be commended for his start. He had endless excuses to need an adjustment period: Replacing Freddie Freeman, a massive new contract, playing for the reigning champions, playing in front of friends and family at home, moving to the NL.
But Olson’ introduction has been largely impressive. He’s hitting .283 with a .395 on-base percentage in 27 games. The Braves have their issues, but Olson isn’t one. He was put into a complicated situation, yet he’s immediately produced.
7. Like you, I can’t wait to see Michael Harris. The Braves’ top prospect is going scorched earth in Double-A Mississippi, hitting .323/.380/.556 with four homers, seven doubles and two triples in 24 games. You’d figure he’ll be at Triple-A Gwinnett sometime in the not-so-distant future.
We’ll see what happens with the big-league team’s outfield, but doors typically open for players like Harris. I’m not sure he’ll make his major-league debut this season, but it wouldn’t surprise anybody. A vague prediction: He’ll be an outfield regular and fan favorite sooner than you might think.
8. The Braves dropped to seven games back Tuesday when they were swept in a doubleheader against the Mets. They were seven or more games back only three days last year in June, when their lowest point was eight games behind New York. They’re now 6-1/2 games back with 135 contests remaining. So sure, be underwhelmed, but it’s far too early to be concerned.
9. I think the Mets might be the best divisional adversary the Braves have faced over the past few years. The Braves have won the NL East relatively comfortably in each of the past four years. They even won it by 6-1/2 games in 2021 despite sitting below .500 until August.
I said the Mets “might” be the team’s top challenger because of the 2019 Nationals, who finished four games back (93 wins) but won the World Series. However, those Nationals were 10 games back on Sept. 16. They were nine games back Sept. 23. Speaking just from a regular-season competitiveness standpoint, the Mets should give the Braves more of a push. Their startling comeback Thursday in Philadelphia was just the latest example of how this Mets team feels different than the clown shows of years past.
It was important – as crucial as May series can be – that the Braves split in New York this week. I came away from the series feeling that the Mets are the better team right now, which isn’t much of a revelation considering the standings. I picked the Braves to win the NL East, and I’m standing by that (it hasn’t even been 30 games!), but I’m not as confident as I was in March. It’ll be a tight race through the summer.
10. One more reminder about where we are in the season. Here are the Braves’ records through 27 games over the past four campaigns. None stand out as superb or awful, but each ended with a division title. Make of it what you will:
2021: 12-15 (finished 88-73)
2020: 16-11 (finished 35-25 in the truncated season)
2019: 13-14 (finished 97-65)
2018: 16-11 (finished 90-72)
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