Maybe you’re disappointed. The Braves made trade deadline moves – five, counting claimed-on-waivers Yonny Chirinos – but nothing major. Two transactions involved Taylor Hearn, acquired for cash but re-gifted to Kansas City for Nicky Lopez, who has a career OPS of .628. The remaining imported relievers hold ERAs of 4.54 (Brad Hand) and 5.62 (Pierce Johnson).
That’s not a lot. Lopez figures to be a pinch-runner/late-inning defender in October, though it’d be hard to pull any member of this all-All-Star infield in a tight playoff game. Chirinos mightn’t make the postseason roster. Having escaped the pitching-poisoned Rockies, Hand and Johnson are capable of better work. Both were good in the 2022 playoffs.
And that’s it. No Justin Verlander, though him coming here never made sense. He’s older than Charlie Morton and under contract for more than twice what Morton is scheduled to make next year. No Jack Flaherty, who landed in Baltimore where he’s needed. But here we ask: How much did baseball’s best team – a team with eight healthy All-Stars, a team about to activate Max Fried – need?
If the Braves had concerns over Fried’s elbow, they’d have added a real starter. Peak Fried is peak pitching. He had the biggest starts of the 2021 World Series run – Game 2 in Milwaukee, the only time that postseason the Braves trailed in a series, and the triumphant Game 6 in Houston. His line in those: 12 innings, seven hits, 15 strikeouts, no walks, no runs.
Playoff bullpens are a guesstimate. You hope you have enough arms. You hope to use them at the right moment. A team that plays deep into the postseason will face a slew of bullpen moments. The man to watch: A.J. Minter, immense in the 2020 and 2021 playoffs. He started this season badly. He just exited the injured list. He has yielded three earned runs since May 25.
The Braves are the class of the National League. They’re eight games better than the second-place Dodgers, who needed starting pitching but rustled up only Lance Lynn (6.32 ERA). Eduardo Rodriguez spurned L.A. to stay in Detroit, which isn’t the sort of thing that happens to the snooty Dodgers.
The two most intriguing NL teams: Philadelphia, which has pulled 1-1/2 games ahead of Miami and just added Michael Lorenzen to what will become, at least for the moment, a six-man rotation, and San Diego, which is below .500. The Padres, who figured to be sellers, bought instead. They landed Rich Hill, who has been everywhere, and Ji-Man Choi.
The response to the Padres’ insistence on persisting is to recall the 2021 World Series winners, likewise sub-.500 in August. Difference is, the Braves geared up – the whole new outfield! – knowing they were in the one division they could win. The Padres can’t win the NL West. They’re 8-1/2 games behind L.A. They’ll need to jump four teams to land the third wild card. That just might be possible.
My one qualm about the Braves’ glittering season is the state of their league. On the day after the deadline, the belief is that only a raging fluke can keep this team from the World Series. This being baseball, flukes happen. Maybe the Padres will get rolling and derail the Braves in an NLDS. Probably not.
The American League is a source of greater concern. Texas added starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery to a team that can really hit. Still, the Rangers are being chased by the club that has reached the World Series four times in six years. Houston re-acquired Verlander, perhaps inspiring Framber Valdez to remind his employer that he’s a Game 1 starter, too. He no-hit Cleveland last night.
The Astros haven’t had a smooth ride – they trailed Texas by five games on July 1 – but they’ve gotten it going. I said it in April, and I say it now: Baseball doesn’t get better than Braves-Astros. They’ll see one another again soon.
The above is part of a regular exercise available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Go to the AJC.com home page. Click on “Choose from a variety of newsletters” at the top. Click on “Sports Daily.” You’ll need to enter your email address. Thanks, folks.