Of the first five hitters in the Braves’ usual batting order, three are injured. It’s expected d’Arnaud will return in August. The Braves have no idea what’s in store for Ozuna because, in matters of alleged domestic violence, MLB conducts its own investigation, the findings of which have yet to be revealed. The Braves still have Ozzie Albies, who’s very good, and Austin Riley, who’s having a good year. But the everyday lineup is no longer an everyday thing. Ehire Adrianza, Guillermo Heredia, Abraham Almonte and Orlando Arcia have been needed. They’re needed more now.
“You’re not going to replace (Acuna),” manager Brian Snitker said Sunday morning. “He’s arguably the best player in the game.”
Then: “We’re going to continue to play. This bunch has been through this before.”
The trade deadline — it’s July 30 — assumes outsized importance. The Braves need a big-time bat, and those come at a dear cost. Let’s assume the free-falling Cubs make Kris Bryant available. He’s mostly a third baseman, but he could play left field. (Or Riley could play left field. Or something.) Bryant is also eligible to explore free agency at season’s end, which means he’d be a rental, which means the Braves would have to determine how many prospects they’d be willing to shed for two-to-three months of his services.
Also: Bryant is right-handed. The Braves could really use a left-handed bat. At this moment, though, they can’t get picky.
To consider such a trade, the Braves first have to answer the question: Is the season still salvageable? As has been noted, they haven’t spent a day above .500. After losing Sunday in Miami, where their first nine at-bats yielded nine strikeouts, they’re 44-45. With that record and without Acuna, the World Series might not be possible. Winning the National League East still is. They haven’t fallen so far behind the Mets that a division title is unthinkable. Plus, the Mets are good at messing up.
Some have wondered if the Braves might be sellers, as opposed to buyers, at month’s end. Short answer: no. Longer answer: not unless they lose every game before July 30. This club hasn’t made some sort of roster move nearly every day since April 1 in the effort to finish third.
Said Snitker, speaking of general manager Alex Anthopoulos: “He’s working tirelessly to make this club better. Whatever he decides to do, we’ll roll with it.”
This team was assembled with the expectation of winning big. Over 88 games, they’ve won half. That isn’t what anybody had in mind, but 73 games remain. Even without Mike Soroka, the Braves believe their starting pitching has solidified. They’ll almost certainly look for more bullpen help, and another bat — even if the batter is a cut below Bryant — now falls under the heading of “essential.” The Braves won’t give up on 2021 just yet. That said …
When you’ve lost your best pitcher (Soroka, who re-tore his Achilles tendon walking into the clubhouse) and your best player (Acuna, who tore his ACL trying to make a catch at the wall) at least until 2022, it’s hard to feel enthusiastic about 2021. Truth to tell, it’s hard not to feel snakebit. But sports, as you might have heard, are weird.
The Hawks fired a coach and nearly made the NBA Finals. Trae Young stepped on a ref’s foot and missed Game 4 against Milwaukee; his team won by 22 points. The Bucks were without their best player in Games 5 and 6; they didn’t trail in either. For as much as has gone wrong for these Braves — and much has — there’s still time to make a few things go right. But if you were asking, “What’s the worst that could happen to this team?” … well, it just did.
Asked how much sleep he got overnight, Snitker said: “I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried.”