Star-studded Braves on pace for all-time great season

The Braves are boring again. They are entertaining, of course, but what I mean is that the winning seems humdrum because they’re so good. The last time I felt that way about the Braves they scuffled through July before getting hot and surging to the World Series title. Now they completed their best-ever month and are rolling toward a potentially all-time great season.

The Braves completed a three-game sweep of the Marlins on Sunday at Truist Park. The victory felt perfunctory even though the Braves trailed after four innings. I expected them to come back and win, and they did. It was their 16th victory in their last 17 games and 23rd in 26.

“The run we’ve been on, it’s not surprising to anybody,” Braves right-hander Spencer Strider said. “It’s what’s expected.”

Soon after the game, MLB announced that five Braves players had been selected for the All-Star game as reserves and pitchers. That felt routine, too.

We knew that All-Star starters Ronald Acuña Jr., Sean Murphy and Orlando Arcia would be joined by multiple teammates on the NL team. It turns out the Braves are sending a franchise-record eight players to MLB’s midseason showcase game next week in Seattle.

Strider and right-hander Bryce Elder were voted in by players along with third baseman Austin Riley, second baseman Ozzie Albies and first baseman Matt Olson.

“It’s special,” Riley said. “It’s awesome. The group of guys that we have here, what we’ve done the last month is a testament to what we’re capable of one through nine.”

The All-Star announcements were the latest confirmation that the Braves are on another level in the NL. The Marlins certainly don’t need to be convinced. The 6-3 loss on Sunday was Miami’s ninth in 10 games against the Braves this season. The combined score of those games is 83-29.

The Marlins are in second place in the NL East, nine games behind the Braves. They left town after providing no indication they can close that gap. It’s the same for all of Atlanta’s foes in the East. The Braves are 10-1 against division foes since the start of June.

The East has become an afterthought for the Braves. The Braves still have 79 games to play, and strange things happen in baseball. But so many things would have to go wrong for the Braves to not win a sixth straight division title that it’s not worth thinking much about.

The Marlins tried to avoid getting swept a by the Braves for the second time this season. They took a 2-0 lead against Strider after two innings. Right-hander Sandy Alcantara held the Braves to a run through four innings by peppering the top of the strike zone with 100 mph fastballs. It was a sleepy Sunday for the home team.

The Braves finally got to Alcantara in the fourth. Michael Harris singled, stole a base, went to third on an error and scored on a wild pitch. Acuna walked, then Albies homered.

Suddenly, Strider had a 4-2 lead. He struck out the next five hitters he faced.

“We fall behind, and I know if I can just keep us in the game long enough, we’re going to come through,” Strider said. “And we did. It’s a testament to these guys to how easy it is to pitch with them behind me.”

The All-Star voting corroborated Strider’s view. The Braves are sending their entire infield to Seattle. Two of their starting pitchers will be there, too. Acuna is a heavy favorite to win the NL MVP award.

This is such a complete and deep Braves team that I’m wondering how much help they even need before the trade deadline at the end of this month. The lineup certainly doesn’t need any additions. The backup outfielders are reliable and the backup infielder never plays.

I want to say the Braves could use another good starting pitcher. That’s true for every contending team. Pitchers get shorter hooks in the postseason. Injuries happen. It’s always good to have another starter on standby. But then I look at Atlanta’s staff and another starter seems more like a luxury than a necessity.

Strider, Charlie Morton and Elder all have complied 1.5 Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs) or better. Only six other teams can boast of the same, and three of them play in the AL. Fried has compiled 0.6 WAR in five starts so he’d surely make the 1.5 WAR cutoff if not for two stints on the IL. Once Max Fried returns — it could be later this month — the Braves will have four good starters.

There’s depth behind them. Kyle Wright may not be far behind Fried. Michael Soroka flashed his old form on Friday. The Braves will get to see him for up to four more starts before the trade deadline to determine if he’s really back. They can do the same with Kolby Allard, who was sharp on Wednesday in his first start this year after a long IL stint.

I suppose the Braves could add a power right-hander to the bullpen. Maybe there’s some other marginal move to be made. It’s hard to improve a team that’s on track to be one of the best teams in modern MLB history as judged by run differential.

After Sunday’s victory, the Braves have a run differential of 1.67 per game. If they keep up that pace they’ll finish with the seventh-best run differential during MLB’s integration era (since 1947). The franchise record for run differential was set by the 1998 Braves, who were plus-245 (1.51 per game).

The 1998 Braves won 106 games but didn’t make it to the World Series. The 2023 Braves still have a long way to go. But with the way they’re rolling now, winning big has become ordinary a playoff berth is as inevitable as anything can be in baseball. The Braves are boring again, in the best sense of the word.