Said manager Brian Snitker: “Maybe you look back on in two or three weeks and point to this, I hope. Other than the one inning (in Friday’s 9-5 loss), we played a really good series against the world champions. We did a lot of really good things. The bullpen was unbelievable. It should show those guys (meaning his players) we’re as good as anybody out there when we play the way we can play.”
Said Ender Inciarte, who hasn’t done much in a while but who drove in two runs Sunday: “I think we should play against everybody the way we played this series.”
Well, yeah. Which leads us to ask: Why haven’t they? Some of it has to do with the sport itself. Why is Freeman’s expected batting average – as noted by AJC colleague Gabriel Burns – nearly 70 percentage points higher than his actual batting average? (Here’s where we shake our heads and say, “That’s baseball.”) How can the Braves rank first among MLB clubs in home runs but 25th in hits? How can this team try 14 different relievers and still have the fifth-worst bullpen ERA?
When the season began, it was possible to regard this as a team without a howling weakness. Reality has forced us to reevaluate. Mike Soroka hasn’t pitched. Huascar Ynoa was the Braves’ best starting pitcher until he punched the bench and broke his hand. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud broke his thumb. Marcell Ozuna broke two fingers and was set to miss two months. He has since been arrested on domestic violence charges. In such cases, MLB conducts it own investigation. The Braves have no way of knowing what’s apt to happen with Ozuna.
It’s not as if other clubs have stayed healthy. The Braves list seven players on the injured list. The Mets have 13, the Dodgers nine. Barely a day has passed that the Braves haven’t made a roster move, which tells us general manager Alex Anthopoulos is dancing as fast as he can. His team has used 22 pitchers over 57 games. Ehire Adrianza, Guillermo Heredia and Abraham Almonte – as a threesome, they’ve played for 14 MLB clubs – have started 45 times for the Braves. Remember Jeff Mathis, emergency catcher? He worked three games.
Without Soroka, d’Arnaud, Ynoa and Ozuna, the Braves’ ceiling isn’t quite so high. That is, however, subject to change. They expect d’Arnaud and Ynoa to be back by August. They hold out hope on Soroka. The return of Shane Greene gives the Braves another right-handed reliever, which they needed. The organization still believes this is a playoff team, even though it hasn’t often looked the part..
The Braves have spent two months doing what mediocre teams do – never knowing if their starting pitcher would give them a chance to win, never being certain their bullpen could hold a lead, seldom sustaining a rally that didn’t include a home run. With Ozuna’s case pending and Cristian Pache back in Triple-A, Anthopoulos could import an outfielder before the trade deadline. Until then, the bulk of the Braves’ improvement must come from within.
The Braves know how good they can be, but two months of slogging can make any team wonder. As of today, their minds are more at ease. They took two of three from L.A. They reminded us who they are. They also reminded themselves.