Credit: Curtis Compton, AJC
The month of April is almost over and with it, the first month of the 2021 MLB season is about to wrap up. As it stands currently (4-29), the Atlanta Braves are 12-12 and currently on a 3-game winning streak. They also sit in first place in a tight yet so far underwhelming NL East.
This was an…interesting month for the Braves to put it lightly. Sure, this week has been great so far, but there were multiple games and stretches this month where the team was completely inconsistent with both hitting and pitching. On top of that, we lost several key players such as Max Fried, Cristian Pache, and Chris Martin to the IL. Despite all of this, the Braves find themselves at .500 on the year with a chance to finish the month with a winning record. That goes to show you how much pure talent is on this team.
Here are some of the storylines from the Braves this month:
Ronald Acuña Jr.: Offensive MVP
The ultimate highlight from the Braves this month has been Ronald Acuna Jr. What else can you say about him that hasn’t been said before? On the year, he is hitting .350 with 8 HRs and 17 RBIs, as well as a .454 OBP and ridiculous OPS+ of 217 (league average OPS+ is 100). He leads the Braves (and most of the majors) in almost every hitting category, and is presumably the leading candidate for N.L. MVP.
Ronnie has brought consistency to a lineup that has been anything but that at times this month. This past Sunday, in a doubleheader against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Braves managed just 1 hit in 14 innings, including being no-hit by North Carolina native Madison Bumgarner in game 2. They also struggled in the opening series of 2021, where they only managed just 3 runs the entire series.
Acuña did suffer an injury against the Cubs while sliding to first base on a pickoff attempt by a Chicago Cubs pitcher over a week ago, which caused him to miss a few days. When he returned, he had a bit of a slump before breaking out of it with a massive 481 ft. home run vs the Cubs (ironically). It might be early on, but we just might be witnessing an incredible season from the 23-year-old phenom.
Much like last year, the Braves find themselves once again dealing with injuries to both starting and relief pitchers, as well as a bit of underperforming from our pitchers in general. This isn’t to say every pitcher on the team has underperformed. Rookie Ian Anderson has looked elite so far this season. He followed up 6 2/3 shutout innings vs. the New York Yankees on April 21 with a 7 inning, 1 hit shutout performance against the Cubs in his next start. Anderson is looking like a future ace of this team. Charlie Morton has also had some quality starts despite a high ERA.
Opening day starter Max Fried was sent to the 10 day IL on April 14th with a hamstring injury, and free agent signing Drew Smyly also spent some time on the IL in April. After a quality start on opening day, Fried’s next two starts saw him give up 13 runs on 17 hits in only 6 innings. This is a far cry from what we saw from Max in 2020, a season that saw him finish without a single loss as a starter. With Mike Soroka likely unavailable until the summer, the Braves need Max Fried to return to his old self once his injury stint is done in order to keep the Braves competitive this year.
The Braves have always prided themselves on having a great bullpen over the past couple years. However, it has been a bit rocky to start the year. They no longer have guys like Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, and Darren O’Day as in previous years. Chris Martin is back with the team, but has been injured for much of April. Due to these key losses, the Braves are searching for a go to right hander in the bullpen, as there are multiple lefties in the ‘pen currently. Perhaps a bigger concern is the high amount of walks by the bullpen. Braves relief pitchers have walked 45 batters this month alone. The pitcher with the highest ERA in the ‘pen is Luke Jackson of all people, who is sporting a 1.04 ERA despite 7 walks in just 8 2/3 innings. We saw multiple games in which the bullpen surrendered late inning leads thanks to multiple walks in an inning. Good pitching wins games, and the Braves must improve if they are to make a World Series run this season.
It always seems as if the Braves and other teams have players who seemingly come out of no-where to make an impact on the team. There have been more than one this year so far for the Braves.
The biggest has been Huascar Ynoa. Ynoa was put into the starting rotation due to the injuries mentioned earlier, and he has made the most of his opportunity. He currently sports a 2-1 record with a 2.96 ERA and currently leads the Braves in strikeouts with 34. Oh, and he’s also pretty good with the bat too, where he has been 4 for 10 with a double and home run. If he continues to keep this production, we could see Huascar as a rotation fixture for the Braves for years to come.
Guillermo Heredia is another player making a big impact so far. Heredia was called up to play center field following an injury to Cristian Pache, and he has made the most of his opportunity. He’s currently hitting .333 with 2 HRs (including a grand slam), 8 RBIs, a .467 OBP, and a 1.106 OPS. Heredia has also played excellent defense in center field. When Pache returns, Brian Snitker will likely continue to find a spot for Heredia in this lineup thanks to his production.
Slow starts like the Braves have had can be frustrating, especially knowing this team was just one win away from the World Series last year. However, with 138 games left to go, the Braves can go nowhere but up from here. Let’s not get too hard on this team. Sure, there’s flaws that need to be corrected, but soon enough we will start clicking on a regular basis and return to that dominant form we have seen over the past couple seasons.