For the first time in a long time, the Braves were popular at the All-Star game.
The team has exceeded expectations. It’s propelled by Freddie Freeman, an MVP favorite; Nick Markakis, exemplifying that it’s never too late to have a career year; and a conglomerate of youthful energy.
They’re a half-game out of first place in the National League East, trailing the Phillies, a team strikingly similar in construction and timeline.
But the past two weeks were a missed opportunity. The Braves lost eight of their last 11 games before the midseason break, a temporary relief players said isn’t the worst thing.
Now, the trade deadline is less than two weeks away. The July 31 date is circled on Braves fans’ calendars. They’re carrying an enthusiasm mostly quieted during the rebuilding years.
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Their team is a contender, and as such, they should be deadline buyers. For general manager Alex Anthopoulos, it’s produced a much-talked-about conundrum of deciding how much of the future should be invested in the now.
Part of that, in theory, is satisfying his players, those whose effort has made the eye-popping season possible. But speaking with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution over All-Star week, they aren’t sure change is necessary.
“A lot of people have talked about our last couple weeks and how we haven’t played like we have,” Freeman said. “You start getting, ‘They need this because of this,’ and I’m like well, hold on. Look at our first three months. We played really good with the group we have. There’s a two-week stretch every single year where you don’t play as good. I feel like the All-Star break came at the right time. But I like our team.
“The 25 guys we have in there now, I’ll compete with them every single day. And if Alex feels like we need to go get something else, than that’s what he feels like. But I like our team.”
Orioles star Manny Machado was the biggest league-wide shoe to drop, traded to the surging Dodgers on Wednesday. Despite being a rental and publicly stating he would like to test the free-agent market, Machado’s bat is one worthy of altering a pennant race.
The Braves had interest in Machado, though they weren’t expected to be among the finalists. The Phillies were long thought to be the favorite in the Machado derby, and the Braves won’t be sad to see him sent West.
“That is nice (that he wasn’t traded to the NL East),” Freeman said. “That’s a good pickup for the Dodgers, with (Corey) Seager being out. I feel like that’s a good pickup. We’ll see them next weekend.”
Freeman isn’t convinced his team needs a Machado-level move. It’d be easy to assume he’s ready for the team to make a leap given what he’s endured in recent seasons, especially with his MVP odds ever-growing. Freeman fortified his belief in the current crop.
Anthopoulos feels a need to deliver for his players. He did so as the leader in Toronto, adding several big pieces through trades, including David Price, Josh Donaldson and R.A. Dickey.
In other words, the Braves’ new head man isn’t a stranger to pulling the trigger of a trade. And if there’s a deal to his liking, no matter how big or small, he won’t hesitate to do so again.
“We’re just going out there and trying to do our job,” starter Mike Foltynewicz said. “Leave that stuff to them and what they think is best for the team at that point, whatever we need. But we’ve been doing awesome so far this year with what we have. I think everyone needed a break there. It’s been a long first half, and it’s going to be a long season in general. So I think everyone needed a break. I think we’re going to come back hungrier than ever in the second half.”
The Braves have time to weigh their options. They’ll play three games in Washington, two in Miami and host Los Angeles for four before the Marlins come to town July 30. Those games should be telling as to which direction this is going.
Freeman feels he and his colleagues have done their part. And while baseball usually lacks urgency until the waning weeks of September, the incoming slate of games might prove pivotal.
“I think as a group in the clubhouse, all you can do is put yourself in position for the front office to help you out,” Freeman said. “I think a half-game back with a couple weeks to go until the trade deadline, that’s all you can really do is put pressure on them. And they’ve said to us, in team meetings, ‘You guys are doing a great job. Our goal is for you to try to make us do something.’ And I feel like we have.
“Our job is to try to win ballgames. Their job is to see if they can help us get better, so we’ll see what happens in the upcoming weeks.”