Major League Baseball is, as we all know, regularly one giant marathon of a season. When you’ve got 162 games to play, it’s hard to qualify one game as the ideal trend-setter, because, obviously, there are so many being played. But if there is one game to encapsulate what this Atlanta Braves team’s potential is all about, it is Wednesday night’s 20-2 rout against the New York Mets.
It wasn’t just that the offense fired off 20 total runs, including multiple six-run innings and four total home runs. It wasn’t that Max Fried was lights out from the second inning on, utilizing four different pitches that helped fan seven and yield only two runs through five innings. It wasn’t even that the frequently silver-platter-serving bullpen managed to stymy opposing hitting to only one hit through the latter four innings. It was so much more against their division’s top contender in a game that could be a staple for the Braves to lean on from here on out in 2021.
A Staple for the Braves to Build On: An Offensive Onslaught
To say the Braves’ bats came alive Wednesday night would be an understatement. Their bats not only overwhelmed Truist Park, but the sound of their contact probably created a larger reverb than the cheers did from their fans.
It marks the second time this year the Braves have recorded 20 runs in a game, and everyone in the lineup had their cake that night. Whether it was Ronald Acuna Jr. Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, Guillermo Heredia, Abraham Almonte, or the game’s MVP Ozzie Albies, there was no shortage of offense.
Albies went five for six with two home runs, while belting in seven and scoring four times himself to notch his first five-hit game of his career. He was damn near unstoppable against fastballs, with four of his five hits coming off the pitch, all the while facing four different pitchers.
This is a year where, frankly, more was expected from Albies both at the plate and in the field, especially when it comes to reaching base. His average is only .265, his OBP is a pedestrian .321, and he appears to be off track in scoring 100 runs as he did in 2018 and 2019. It’s that level of production Wednesday night though that can help Albies redirect his rhythm back on track to building on his terrific 2019 campaign.
Acuna Jr. may have only had one hit Wednesday night, but he made the most of it with a left-field shot off a David Peterson sinker to put them on the board in the top of the first inning. He also had an outstanding base-hit robbing play against Kevin Pillar with a diving catch in the top of the third.
Freeman also looked like his vintage MVP form going three for three with four runs and some outstanding baserunning to beat a tag at home in the bottom of the first. In fact, he’s kind of looked like his vintage MVP form over the last 18 games now, with five doubles, while hitting .373 and slugging .627.
After a rough month of June that saw Riley’s batting average drop almost 40 points, Riley too rattled out the final June day with a bang, going three-for-six with three runs and three RBIs.
A Staple for the Braves to Build On: Resilience on the Mound
As for the pitching, this is what is imperatively needed for the future stretch. Pitching has clearly been the weakest aspect of their game thus far in 2021, especially within the bullpen. But both the starter in Fried and his supporting cast that followed up in Jesse Chavez, Josh Tomlin, and closer Edgar Santana were all incredibly effective. For Fried and the bullpen, there wasn’t a need to be special. There shouldn’t be, frankly, as all they need is to minimize run production to a moderate amount, while the offense takes over, and both worked in a harmonic fashion.
It may have not started out in pristine fashion, with Fried coughing up a leadoff double and, following a pair of strikeouts, a home run to Pete Alonso. But after that, Fried couldn’t be touched often by opposing hitters, especially against his slider that racked up a 60 percent whiff rate against the pitch.
One of Fried’s biggest concerns has been whenever he utilizes his fastball to his repertoire. It’s been arguably his least effective pitch, returning a .315 opposing batting average against it. Wednesday night, in fact, resulted in two of his three hits coming off this pitch that tallied only one swing and miss on 10 total swings.
As a breaking ball pitcher though, his stuff can be dangerous. Both his slider and curveball have a whiff rate that doubles that of the fastball, with the batting averages down to .226 and .152 against the two as well. If he can feature those more so in his repertoire and lessen the fastball usage, he could become a formidable threat out of their rotation, like he was when using them against the Mets.
The bullpen was stellar, turning in one of their best performances all year. Sure, they had a significant cushion to work with. Nonetheless, for three different pitchers to come in and only allow one hit through four innings, it can be a tall order for this bullpen to fill.
Jesse Chavez, in particular, was lethal in his two relief innings following Fried’s departure from the mound, striking out the final four batters he faced with the help of his sinker.
This bullpen has been one of the worst in the entire league, ranking 22nd in ERA and 27th in both WHIP and opposing batting average from the seventh inning on. For them to experience a win, even in a blowout like this, it’s a necessary plus in their books to build some momentum for future games.
A Staple for the Braves to Build On: The Meaning of It All
Now, it’s obvious this game is likely an anomaly. Dropping 20 runs on the Mets might be Atlanta’s second and final time they reach the 20 run mark in a game this season. But this team can still reach a similar level of focus and cohesion in lesser production that could lead to them sniffing out the postseason this year. To have the power, the contact, the baserunning, the defense, the starting pitching, and the bullpen all click in one game should mean a lot for a team that’s felt like it’s always had a few loose screws. This is especially the case, having done it against the NL East’s leader.
Since we’re on the brink of the all-star break in a few days, the turn has to start now. A collective team execution will remedy their first-half woes and rectify the belief that’s stood strong thus far in the Braves being MLB’s most disappointing team in 2021.
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Main image credit; Embed from Getty Images