“(Anthopoulos) and his team do a really good job of identifying those kinds of players,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “... There’s a lot of really good ballplayers out there. They do a really good job of identifying guys that will fit into our system.”
The infielder, Nicky Lopez, was the closest thing the Braves had to a deadline splash. He’d batted .213 in 68 games with the Royals and was brought in mainly as infield depth, as he played in five positions in Kansas City. Entering Friday’s series opener with the Giants, he’s hitting .412 with the Braves, and his eight RBIs in his first four appearances was the best in team history.
“It’s nuts, especially because of how many greats have worn this jersey,” Lopez said. “(It’s) really cool.”
Lopez came to the Braves knowing his role would be occasional appearances, but he’s been forced into regular playing time. Second baseman Ozzie Albies started the first 117 games of the season, but Lopez has stepped in after a left hamstring strain sidelined Albies.
“(If) what I’m called upon to do is to hold down the fort until then,” Lopez said Monday, “that’s what I’m gonna do.”
For the bullpen, Anthopoulos found something special with Pierce Johnson. Johnson, who had a 6.00 ERA with the Rockies, was acquired mainly because the Braves needed another right-hander in relief. Johnson has done more than that. He’s yet to allow an earned run in his first 10 appearances (10-1/3 innings).
“I just think I have the confidence to go out there with this kind of team, throwing strikes,” Johnson said. “The catchers have done a phenomenal job behind the dish for me, calling great games.”
Fellow reliever Brad Hand has been solid as well. Hand was acquired so the Braves would have three lefties in the bullpen once Dylan Lee returns from injury, but he’s performed well as the team waits for Lee. While Hand did give up two runs in a 7-5 loss at Pittsburgh, his other four appearances produced scoreless innings.
“Coming to a first-place team is exciting,” Hand said when he first joined the team. “You go into a season always wanting to be the last one standing, so being able to come here on a really good team ... is nice.”
The fourth deadline acquisition was reliever Taylor Hearn, who was shelled in his only Braves appearance. But Anthopoulos managed to flip him for Lopez, so all’s well that ends well.
Even Lopez proved to be a shrewd bullpen pickup. He pitched a scoreless ninth inning Saturday, closing a 21-3 win over the Mets.
While the new guys have played well on the field, they’ve fit in in the clubhouse, too. Lopez spoke of friendly teasing from the infielders, while Hand and Johnson, who played together with the Rockies, talked about bullpen camaraderie. Johnson has bonded with the pitchers, telling starter Charlie Morton a dad joke every day, and both Hand and Johnson quickly joined in on the relievers’ home run celebrations.
“That’s what makes good bullpens,” Hand said of the tight-knit group. “Everybody working for the same goal, picking each other up and stuff like that.”
The Braves didn’t need a big deadline acquisition. They were 31 games over .500 and 11 games in front of the Phillies, while the 2021 team was three games under .500 and five games back in the division.
But as in 2021, they found a way to get better.