Who are the 2021 Atlanta Braves? What's wrong with this team?
These are two questions Braves fan have asked themselves continuously since the season started on April 1. Fittingly, the first 37 games feel like an April Fools' joke.
The Atlanta Braves were one game away from reaching the World Series last October, but watching this team right now, you wouldn't be able to tell. The bullpen, which was arguably the strongest aspect of the team last season, is now the weakest link. It's shocking how much the bullpen has regressed, and not keeping Mark Melancon will prove to be a bone headed decision in the long run.
Right now, this does not look like a team that can make a deep playoff run again, and there are a few reasons why.
Pitching is the main problem with this team right now.
There is no question that the bullpen is the weakest link and several games have been lost now because of it. The starting pitching isn't that much better either though. Ian Anderson has improved since last season, showing early signs that he has what it takes to be an ace on this pitching staff. Max Fried is off to a shaky start, but after his latest performance against the Toronto Blue Jays, it seems as though he may be returning to his 2020 form.
Unfortunately for both the Braves and Mike Soroka, he suffered a setback in his rehab from an achillies injury and it doesn't look like he will be back anytime soon. He is a young ace in this rotation and to not see him on the mound is a travesty.
Looking at free agent signings Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly, putting it nicely, neither man has shown that they are worth their respective contracts. Morton was good last year for the Tampa Bay Rays in their run to becoming the American League Champions, but he currently has an earned run average of 5.08. That's not going to cut it. Smyly's earned run average is even worse, currently sitting at 6.12. This is not the numbers the Braves were looking for.
Huascar Ynoa is a bright spot for the Braves in the pitching rotation however, accumulating four wins with an earned run average of 2.23. His two homers, including a grand slam, have been some of the most exciting moments of a frustrating season.
Aside from pitching, the offense has been extremely inconsistent. Outside of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Pablo Sandoval, the line up has been frustrating to watch. Austin Riley has figured things out as of late, but guys like Dansby Swanson, Marcell Ozuna, and Ozzie Albies are clearly still struggling to find any kind of consistency. Even reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman is struggling inconsistency. Freeman has nine homers on the year, but his average is only .214, over 100 points lower than last season.
For Christian Pache, the least said the better.
It's early, but it is okay to panic.
Yes the team has only played 37 games so far out of 162, but the Braves may just be the most inconsistent team in the league. Just when you think they've figured it out by putting together a four-game winning streak, they then lose four in a row and look terrible. When the team came back to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in extra innings last Saturday, one would assume that this would be the point where the team would finally get it together. That did not happen however as they met the Blue Jays.
Thankfully for the Braves, the season series against the Toronto team is over. The Blue Jays are a perfect 6-0 against the Braves and it never seemed in doubt that they would lose in a single one of those games. It could just be a case of having a teams number like the Braves do with the Chicago Cubs this season, but it's still alarming.
This team has to get it together soon becuase the Phillies aren't going away and the New York Mets are on a bit of a role right now. If the Braves aren't too careful, they will find themselves in a big hole early that they may not be able to dig themselves out of.