Preseason question: Will Ozzie Albies be closer to the hitter he was before the All-Star break last season (.281 batting average, 20 home runs, 55 RBIs, .834 OPS) or the hitter he was after the break (.226 batting average, four home runs, 17 RBIs, .624 OPS)? And will he improve as a left-handed hitter (.231 batting average and .695 OPS last season, compared to .333 and .904 as a right-handed hitter)?
Midseason answer: Albies' .290 batting average, 14 home runs, 49 RBIs and .836 OPS are pretty close to his numbers in the first half of last season. (That's despite a poor May in which he hit .239 with a .615 OPS). He has a .253 batting average and .762 OPS as a left-handed hitter this season, compared with .410 and 1.081 right-handed. Now the big question is whether, unlike last year, Albies will sustain his productivity in the season's second half.
Preseason question: Will Acuna's second season be everything that his rookie season portended? And more?
Midseason answer: Yes, Acuna has been the same dynamic player as last year. Maybe the best news of the Braves' season so far is that they now have him under contract for up to 10 years.
Preseason question: After team owner Liberty Media revealed strong financial results for the Braves in 2018 … shouldn't some of those additional funds have been used to bolster the roster by increasing the player payroll (which instead was lower at the start of this season than at the beginning or end of the 2018 season)?
Midseason answer: After signing Keuchel to a $13 million contract for the rest of the season, the Braves' payroll is now just a few dollars short of where it was at the end of last season (about $130 million). The Braves have said they're willing to surpass last year's spending as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, so stay tuned for that.
Braves stat leaders
Preseason question: Will the bullpen be reliable? Or will it prove problematic, especially in light of bullpen investments during the offseason by three NL East teams (Mets, Phillies and Nationals)?
Midseason answer: The Braves' bullpen has had its ups and downs, but it has been by far the best in the division as measured by ERA. In fact, the Braves have the NL's best bullpen ERA at 3.64. On the other hand, the Braves rank 10th in the league and third in the division in save percentage (60.98%, 25 saves and 16 blown saves in 41 opportunities), meaning the bullpen remains a trade-deadline priority.
Preseaseason question: Will Nick Markakis be closer to the hitter he was in the first 120 games last season (.319 batting average, .878 OPS, 14 home runs) or the hitter he was in the final 42 games (.229 average, .586 OPS, no home runs)?
Midseason answer: He has been somewhere in between, but closer to the former than the latter. He has a .286 batting average, .799 OPS and eight home runs through 91 games.
Preseason question: Can Dansby Swanson, who made great strides defensively last season, progress offensively from last year's .238 batting average?
Midseason answer: Swanson's progress at the plate was a highlight of the season's first half. His .270 batting average is 37 points above his previous career average, and he already has a career high in home runs with 17. He is on pace at this point for a 30-homer, 100-RBI season.
Preseason question: Will the catching tandem of Brian McCann-Tyler Flowers be productive enough? Or will the decisions not to re-sign Kurt Suzuki, now with the Nationals, and not to relinquish the considerable prospects required to acquire J.T. Realmuto, now with the Phillies, be rued?
Midseason answer: If the price really would have been Soroka and Riley, as widely speculated, then no one rues the Braves' decision to pass on a Realmuto trade. The McCann-Flowers tandem has combined to hit .254 with 15 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .784 OPS, although Flowers, who hit .340 through April, is hitting .194 since May 1.