It has been a rollercoaster 2021 season for the Atlanta Braves.
After starting the year with high hopes, things came crashing down when rising superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. was lost for the season to an ACL injury.
Braves’ OF Ronald Acuña Jr. suffered a complete tear of his right ACL that will force him to undergo season-ending surgery.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 11, 2021
Acuna was batting .283 with an outstanding .990 OPS, 153 OPS+, 24 home runs, 19 doubles, and a triple over 82 games.
He was on pace to finish the year with a WAR of about 6.9, meaning he would have been firmly in the MVP conversation.
Needless to say, losing a player like that is virtually impossible to overcome.
When he went down, all hope seemed lost for the 2021 campaign, and for many fans, the focus shifted to the 2022 season.
But against all odds, the Braves are still hanging around in the playoff picture with about two months remaining in the regular season.
Let’s take a look at where they stand and how they’re doing it.
Are The Braves Really Contenders?
Thanks in large part to a very weak National League East, the Braves truly are still in the mix.
The team is just one game out of first place entering play on Wednesday.
PHILLIES LOSE. THE BRAVES ARE ONE GAME BACK IN THE NL EAST.
— Braves Stañ Page (@BravesStanPage) August 11, 2021
The Philadelphia Phillies are atop the division, and the New York Mets are in third place.
Here’s a snapshot of the way things currently stand:
2. Braves (1 GB)
3. Mets (2 GB)
It’s a three-team race, and it seems like it’s going to be there for the taking for whichever club finishes strong down the stretch.
How Has This Happened?
The Braves are red-hot.
Having won seven of the last eight, Atlanta has made up a lot of ground over the past week or so.
The Braves’ rotation—although banged up—is still the team’s identity.
It’s loaded with reliable arms, and it’s the biggest reason the Braves are still alive today.
The staff will soon return to full strength, and when that happens, the club will have an excess of quality options.
Here’s how that list of options will look:
- Charlie Morton (3.52 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 1.10 WHIP)
- Max Fried (3.91 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 1.31 WHIP)
- Ian Anderson (3.56 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 3.60 WHIP)
- Huascar Ynoa (3.02 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 1.05 WHIP)
- Kyle Muller (2.88 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 1.11 WHIP
- Drew Smyly (4.41 ERA, 5.03 FIP, 1.36 WHIP)
That is a phenomenal group of arms.
Atlanta could choose to pivot to a six-man rotation, or it could choose to move someone to the bullpen.
Regardless, it’s a good problem to have.
Both have been huge in Acuna’s absence, and those two are arguably the biggest reason the Braves have a top-10 offense in the Majors.
On the year, Freeman has an OPS of .898 and an OPS+ of 131.
Riley, meanwhile, has an OPS of .887 and an OPS+ of 127.
There’s no replacing Acuna, but those two have done their very best to make up for his lost production.
If anything is for sure, it’s that the Braves are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the very near future.
The organization has an excellent foundation in place, and once Acuna recovers from his injury, Atlanta is going to be one of the best all-around teams in baseball.
That might not happen until 2022, but don’t quit on this 2021 team, either.
There is a lot of baseball still to be played this season.