Bradley’s Buzz: Here’s where we say, ‘Don’t give up on the Braves just yet’

Braves in June 2023: 21-4.

Braves in June 2024: 3-5.

Braves vs. Washington in 2023: 8-5.

Braves vs. Washington in 2024: 2-6.

For all who are saying, “Last year isn’t this year,” those fat factoids are Exhibits A and B. More? Sure.

Through April 28, these Braves were 19-7. They’re 16-21 since.

Over the season’s first nine series, the Braves lost one. Over the past five, they’ve won one.

The 2023 Braves led MLB in runs. The 2024 Braves are 18th. The 2023 Braves hit 307 home runs, matching the most in major-league history. Sixteen teams – more than half the major leagues – have more homers in 2024.

At this point last year, the Braves led the NL East by 4-1/2 games. These Braves trail by nine.

The 2023 Braves sent four infielders plus their catcher to the All-Star Game. At last year’s All-Star break, those five had combined for 91 home runs. As of June 10, 2024, the same five have combined for 23.

Ronald Acuña Jr. and Spencer Strider were 2023 All-Stars. Acuna became the NL’s unanimous MVP. Strider began this season as the Cy Young favorite. Both are lost to season-ending surgery.

In the grand scheme, that last bit is the most important. Brian Snitker can say “next man up” until he’s blue in the face, but no team has Next Men of such eminence. These Braves will never be what we expected them to be, which isn’t to say that can’t do better than this. They can. They should.

Having played sub-.500 ball for six weeks, the Braves still hold the National League’s fourth-best record. Even without Acuña and Strider, the analytic sites give them between an 87.2% (Baseball Prospectus) and a 91.8% chance (FanGraphs) of making the playoffs.

And the Braves seem, it must be said, to be putting no undue pressure on themselves. We recall 2021 for Alex Anthopoulos’ July purchase of a whole new outfield, dire necessity having begat inspired invention. That team’s only path to those playoffs was to win MLB’s worst division. That’s not the case today.

The NL’s fifth-best team is below .500. (That team is San Diego, which just put pitchers Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove on the injured list; shortstop Xander Bogaerts is out with a broken shoulder.) Also: Each league gets three wild cards, up from the two of ‘21. Standings-wise, the Braves are more than OK.

Max Fried struck out 13 Red Sox over seven innings on Tuesday. He could have started Sunday on the usual four days’ rest. The Braves opted to summon Hurston Waldrep, saving Fried – who has worked seven-plus innings in five of his past six starts – for Tuesday in Baltimore.

In his MLB debut, Waldrep yielded seven earned runs over 3-2/3 innings. The Braves lost. They’re 4-10 in games started by seven different “fifth starters.” (There’s your Strider Effect.) But, as Snitker said of Fried: “It’s like we’ve been doing all year, just giving guys extra days.”

It wasn’t so long ago that yours truly wondered if these Braves might be better served trying to win less – it still sounds weird, I know – over the regular season. But a smallish thing like buying Fried two extra days was what I meant, sort of. Nobody knows better than this club that a World Series cannot be won in June.

As also mentioned, I believe these Braves – minus Acuña, with only Marcell Ozuna doing much hitting – need another bat. Beyond that, I see no reason to despair. Winning the division isn’t required for postseason qualification. Assuming Chris Sale and Reynaldo Lopez keep doing as they’ve done, there’ll be enough starting pitching for October.

I see what you’re seeing, and what we’ve seen is the Braves at their least imposing since the first half of 2021. That season ended with a parade. Tempting though it is to say this-World-Series-or-bust year has already gone ka-blooey, it hasn’t. What was true in October 2021 will be true again: If you’re in it, you can win it. The Braves should be in it.

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