Braves need reliable starting pitcher, fewer reps for Eddie Rosario

Braves' left fielder Eddie Rosario walks away after striking out on May 27, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)



Braves' left fielder Eddie Rosario walks away after striking out on May 27, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Braves don’t necessarily need to make any significant trades before the Aug. 1 deadline. They are breezing to a sixth consecutive National League East title. Human bettors and statistical projections favor the Braves to win the World Series. The postseason can be a crapshoot, but the Braves clearly are good enough to win it all.

Still, the Braves have some holes. That’s not an overreaction to their 4-7 record since the All-Star break. The recent issues with left field and the starting rotation are nothing new. They’ve just been covered up by explosive offense. The Braves can’t count on that in the postseason, where pitching is at a premium, and every plate appearance is important.

There’s also the specter of the Dodgers creeping up behind them in the race for the NL’s top postseason seed. The Dodgers have made up 1.5 games on the Braves this month and are 6.5 games behind (all records and statistics before Thursday’s games). The Dodgers addressed a major lineup weakness by acquiring shortstop Amed Rosario from Cleveland on Wednesday, and they still are seeking to add a starting pitcher.

The Braves should have the same goal. Four reliable starting pitchers are the minimum needed for postseason contention. The Braves currently have three, if you count Bryce Elder. That’s dicey because of his inexperience. Elder also is not a swing-and-miss pitcher. Inducing contact brings bad luck into play with the small samples of the postseason.

It’s also risky for the Braves to count on lefty Max Fried and right-hander Kyle Wright to regain their form and stay healthy through October. Fried (forearm) hasn’t pitched in the majors since May 5. He’s set to return soon. Wright (shoulder) has yet to begin a rehabilitation assignment.

With Fried and Wright sidelined, Spencer Strider is the one shut-down pitcher in the rotation. Charlie Morton is having a good bounce-back year, but he doesn’t go long much, and walks have become a problem. Left-hander Kolby Allard (shoulder) is one of eight Braves pitchers on the 60-day IL. The Braves need some insurance.

The challenge is that nearly every team aiming for the postseason is looking for more pitching. General manager Alex Anthopoulos took a flier by claiming Yonny Chirinos off waivers. The Rays dumped Chirinos even though injuries have hurt their pitching depth. The Braves have a few days left to do better than Chirinos on the trade market.

Left field isn’t a pressing issue for the Braves. They reportedly are interested in bringing back Adam Duvall, but they have some adequate internal options. The question is whether manager Brian Snitker will use them.

Snitker’s style is to stick with his struggling veterans and count on them to get going. Sometimes, it works. The manager kept sending out center fielder Michael Harris during an ugly May, and now Harris is on a roll. Snitker’s patience with Eddie Rosario isn’t paying off. After a hot June, Rosario has been awful.

Really, the June surge is the only time Rosario has produced this season. He was hitting .239 with a .269 on-base percentage through May; it’s .154/.200 in July. The Braves won the 2021 World Series with the help of Rosario’s best-ever hot streak. He’s mostly been cold since then, but it hasn’t cost him playing time.

Reserve outfielder Kevin Pillar typically still starts only when the Braves face a left-handed starter. He hasn’t hit much in his few opportunities against righties this season, but he’s been better than that over his career. And unlike Rosario, Pillar isn’t a big liability in left field. The same goes for Sam Hilliard, who went on the 10-day IL last week with a bruised foot.

Designated hitter is further down the list of concerns for the Braves. Marcell Ozuna has hit a bit below average for the season. Admittedly, I doubted he would reach even that level again. But Ozuna has looked bad at the plate lately while striking out a lot. Meanwhile, backup catcher Travis d’Arnaud still isn’t getting any starts at DH.

DH and left field are relatively minor problems for the Braves. Anthopoulos shored up the bullpen depth by acquiring Pierce Johnson and Taylor Hearn in trades. It’s possible that more Braves trades will improve the roster on the margins (though Anthopoulos cryptically hinted that he’s looking at longer-term moves, too).

Picking nits is the only thing to do with a ballclub as good as the Braves. The recent slump hasn’t moved the statistical models or betting markets.

The forecasts at FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and FiveThirtyEight all give the Braves the best odds of winning the World Series. The Braves were the betting favorite to win the Series before the break. They are still 3-1 favorites, though the Dodgers (4.5-1) have closed the gap while going 18-10 since June 20, same as the Braves.

I’m sure some Braves backers are disconcerted by the team’s post-break funk. It hasn’t been many games, but the qualitative measures have been bad.

The Braves lost two of three games against the White Sox, who could lose 100 games. Two days later, the Braves scored 13 runs at Arizona and still lost. The bullpen blew it the next day. After winning two of three games at Milwaukee, the Braves scored four total runs while losing two games at Boston.

It’s been a rough stretch for the Braves. They still are strong contenders to win the World Series. They would be even stronger by trading for a starting pitcher and giving someone else a chance to do better than Rosario in left field.