It’s not too early to say Braves are NL powerhouse

Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. runs with teammates to celebrate with shortstop Orlando Arcia after he hit a walk-off single. 
Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. runs with teammates to celebrate with shortstop Orlando Arcia after he hit a walk-off single. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

The Braves began the season by beating up on the rebuilding Nationals. They moved on to St. Louis and swept the Cardinals, the favorites to win the NL Central. They returned to Truist Park for the home opener on Thursday and blew two leads against the Padres, challengers to the Dodgers in the NL West, before Orlando Arcia won the game with a walk-off RBI single.

The Braves (6-1) have the best record in the NL and four wins against two of its better teams.

“We have a good ballclub,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said before the home opener. “But you have to go through the trials and tribulations. I’ve never been on a ballclub where everything goes to plan.”

He’s singing my tune. I’m the one who’s always warning against small sample sizes. The Braves have 155 games left. A hot start doesn’t guarantee anything.

Counterpoint: For a long time nearly every move the Braves have made has worked out. Somehow, someway the Braves come up with answers for every question and solutions for every problem.

As much as I try to resist drawing conclusions from a few games, at some point I just have to acknowledge that the Braves will find a way to keep on winning. What they did on Thursday night is what they’ve been doing for five years in a row.

The Braves led the Padres 2-0 after Arcia’s lead-off homer in the second inning. Braves right-hander Spencer Strider, a Cy Young Award candidate, gave back the lead on Matt Carpenter’s three-run homer in the fourth inning. No worries for the Braves. Kevin Pillar, the fifth outfielder, tied the game in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single.

Braves reliever Lucas Luetge blew the advantage in the sixth when Jake Cronenworth led off with a homer. The Padres extended the lead against right-hander Kirby Yates in the eighth. Yates walked two batters, threw a wild pitch and then sailed the ball into the outfield after fielding a bunt.

That put the home fans in a sour mood. They should have known the Braves would bring the good times back.

Pinch hitter Eddie Rosario, who played terribly in 2022, doubled with two outs in the ninth. Arcia, who wasn’t projected to be the starting shortstop during spring training but is playing like it now, singled off Nabil Crissmat to win it.

“There was never a doubt our offense was going to come back and compete, and they did,” Strider said.

That’s just the way it goes with the Braves. They won three in a row against the Cardinals and came back twice to beat the Padres.

“These are good clubs,” Snitker said before Thursday’s game. “The Padres are a really good, strong team and so are the Cardinals. But you can play the teams you are supposed to beat, and you don’t beat them.”

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter (33) delivers against the San Diego Padres Thursday, April 6, 2023 at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Daniel Varnado / For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

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Credit: Daniel Varnado

That’s going to happen (see Atlanta’s loss to the Nationals in game 2). Strong early-season results can be fool’s gold for some teams. For the Braves, the early wins are confirmation that they’re a talented and deep group. The trials and tribulations will come, as Snitker said, but the Braves are built to last.

They’ve already had some setbacks but keep on winning.

Staff ace Max Fried lasted just 3 1/3 innings in the season opener before going on the injured list. No need to panic. When Fried’s turn in the rotation came up again on Wednesday, lefty Dylan Dodd made his MLB debut and held the Cardinals to a run over five innings.

Three good Braves relievers are on the injured list? Don’t worry about it. The bullpen had been stellar without them until Thursday. Injuries and recent usage by others pushed Luetge and Yates into bigger roles. If they can’t get it done, then Snitker has plenty of other options in a deep bullpen.

The Braves have averaged 5.42 runs per game. That’s with Michael Harris and Ozzie Albies not doing much at the plate yet and with Marcell Ozuna’s one homer his only hit in 17 at-bats. It doesn’t matter because nearly everyone else in the lineup is producing. Catcher Sean Murphy joined the party with two hits and two walks against the Padres.

The Braves were down 3-2 to San Diego after Carpenter’s three-run homer off Strider. That was just the second time this season that the Braves trailed in a game. The deficit didn’t last long. The Braves forged a tie in the bottom of the fourth on No. 8 hitter Pillar’s RBI single with two outs.

The Braves regained the lead, 4-3, with three straight walks against lefty Blake Snell. That came after Arcia homered in the third inning. He also doubled in the eighth.

“The World Series is a goal of ours,” Arcia said through interpreter Franco Garcia. “It’s not too early to say that. We can achieve it.”

It’s only been a week but already it’s clear that he’s right.

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