This past offseason, it was hard to argue the two biggest names on the MLB free agency block were Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Predictions abounded San Diego, which landed Machado, would make a serious run for the western division of the National League, while Harper would be key in turning things around and making the Philadelphia Phillies the likely team to beat in the NL East.
Meanwhile, Atlanta was fairly quiet on the free agent front, with possibly the most major signing being that the Braves brought back catcher Brian McCann after he was let go by the Houston Astros. With the relatively uneventful offseason, a number of my baseball-loving friends predicted this could be a fairly rough year for Atlanta, and even I had my doubts about the team being able to keep up with the likes of a Bryce Harper-led Phillies roster and the Washington Nationals, who still have a robust rotation in Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer despite having lost a major offensive cog in Harper.
However, after playing at an average level of the first few weeks of the season, Atlanta has exploded in the month of June and is currently sitting on top of the NL East standings, a couple games ahead of Philadelphia. In fact, the Braves have been absolutely on fire since Memorial Day, going on an explosive tear and dominating their opponents virtually every night.
Prior to Atlanta’s 10-2 loss to the New York Mets on Tuesday night, the Braves had a streak of scoring at least five runs in all but one game going back to a June 7 victory over the Miami Marlins, the only exception being a 1-0 over Miami on June 8. From June 7 until Monday, Atlanta had only lost one game (9-8 against Philadelphia on June 15) and had outscored its opponents 90-49.
Even more fascinating, the Braves have scored many of these runs in the seventh inning or later, leading all of Major League Baseball in this specific category.
Even without having signed any of the top-tier free agent talent that was available over the winter, the Braves have put together a lineup that goes all out every game and refuses to give up. Hitting in the leadoff spot, Ronald Acuna Jr. continues to mash first-inning home runs, while McCann still has plenty of power left to show off.
When Ender Inciarte went onto the disabled list, Austin Riley was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett to take over in left field and has cemented himself as a player with a bright future. In just over one month of games since coming up from the minors, Riley has slashed approximately a dozen home runs, more than 30 runs batted in and is batting nearly .300. The pitching rotation has proven itself to be consistent game in and game out, while the bullpen finds ways to shut down the opposition’s bats in the late innings time and again.
Even though the Mets showed the Braves are human after all by taking Atlanta down 10-2 Tuesday night, the Braves are truly someone to look out for not just in their division, but across the entire National League. As the team continues to play strong baseball, the Braves are demonstrating that a franchise does not always have to pull in the biggest and most recognizable names for its roster in order to be competitive.
If Atlanta can keep this intensity going throughout the rest of the season, a strong and deep playoff run is definitely not out of the question.