Braves on pace to win more games than last year, and it’s about to get better

Atlanta Braves outfielder Adam Duvall (14) runs onto the field at the beginning of the game versus the Cubs at Truist Park on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)



Atlanta Braves outfielder Adam Duvall (14) runs onto the field at the beginning of the game versus the Cubs at Truist Park on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)

The Braves still aren’t scoring runs like they should with their loaded lineup. It took a month for their starting pitching to shape up. The quantity of injuries has been manageable, but the quality of the hurt players is substantial.

And yet the Braves enter the weekend with a 26-14 record. That’s one game better than at this point last season, when they went on to post 104 victories. The Braves have won more games than they’ve lost against good opponents. What might they do once they reach their full potential?

We should find out soon.

The Braves host the Padres on Friday to begin a stretch of 17 games in 17 days. The Cubs are the only opponent during that stretch currently has a winning record, and the Braves just took two of three games from them. The Pirates, Nationals and Athletics should be overmatched against the Braves.

The Braves played their first 40 games over 48 days. The light schedule helped them manage their pitching rotation. Now 17 games without a break could be good for the Braves.

“If anything, we are ready for one of those stretches right now,” manager Brian Snitker said.

The Phillies have been even better than the Braves. Philadelphia began Thursday three games ahead in the NL East. The Dodgers are just behind the Braves, who lost all three games in L.A. two weekends ago. The run differentials show the gap between the teams: plus-72 for the Phillies, plus-81 for the Dodgers and plus-48 for the Braves.

But now the Braves get a chance to beat up on lesser foes for more than two weeks. The pitching has come around. The injured list is about to be less crowded. Now the Braves need their good hitters to produce as expected. That’s a sure bet for this lineup.

There was some consternation among Braves backers after their team lost three games at the Dodgers while scoring a total of six runs and giving up 20. The Phillies are the more immediate threat to the Braves – they lead the NL East and beat them in the playoffs two years in a row – but the Dodgers always loom as an existential menace. There’s a reason why betting markets have L.A. favored to win the pennant.

But other than the California sweep and losing two of three in Seattle, the Braves have been very good against quality opponents. They are 2-1 against the Phillies, Guardians, and Rangers and 2-0 versus the Red Sox. And the Braves are about to get some reinforcements.

Catcher Sean Murphy (oblique) is expected to begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment next week. He hasn’t played since opening day. Quality reliever Pierce Johnson (elbow) is on track to rejoin the bullpen this weekend. Third baseman Austin Riley avoided an IL stint after leaving Sunday’s game with pain in his left side.

Riley is a good hitter who has produced so-so numbers so far. The same goes for Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson, and Michael Harris II. The Braves have been getting by with Marcell Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud and Ozzie Albies carrying the lineup. They need more from the others.

Quality starring pitching has allowed the Braves to keep winning as the offense tanked in May. Less than a month ago, Braves starters had a 4.85 ERA (24th in MLB). Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton and (to a lesser extent) Chris Sale weren’t pulling their weight. Only Strider could blame physical ailments for his struggles.

Strider went to the injured list with a torn elbow ligament. The top four Braves starters have since sorted themselves out. Since April 19 they’ve compiled a 3.31 ERA, eighth best in MLB (through Tuesday’s games). Sale, Fried, Morton and Reynaldo Lopez all had 2.01 ERAs or better during that time.

Those pitchers collectively made 16 starts from April 20-May 14. In 12 of those starts they pitched at least six innings with no more than two earned runs allowed. Those performances are a big reason why the Braves were 13-8 during that stretch despite scoring only 3.6 runs per game.

“We obviously haven’t had the best year offensively, at least compared to last year, and the pitchers have kept us in the game to win close ones,” Harris said.

The run of good starting pitching ended Wednesday. The Cubs chased Morton after three innings during their 7-1 victory. He gave up three earned runs and another that scored after his throwing error. Morton’s performance wasn’t as bad as his line, though, because there was some bad luck on batted balls that weren’t hit hard.

Throw out that game, and the Braves have been getting adequate-to-good starting pitching in almost every game for nearly a month. When the starting pitching was lacking early in the season, Braves relievers often saved them. Sometimes the offense erupted to win games when starters and relievers leaked runs.

“I feel like, in the aggregate, we’ve playing good baseball,” Morton said. “And I think that’s what matters.”

I expect the Braves will be even better over the next 17 games in 17 days.