By Keller Austin
It’s the second week of July, and the Atlanta Braves lead the National League East. Coming off a grueling ten-game road trip to St. Louis, New York, and Milwaukee in which Atlanta went 5-5, the Braves remain atop the NL East, tied with the Philadelphia Phillies. But the Braves’ road trip revealed plenty of weaknesses on a team that has enjoyed a first-place perch for most of the year. Most of the concern now comes from the mound, where the bullpen has been an issue almost all year and the starters have begun to struggle. Going into the road trip, young lefty Sean Newcomb was 8-2 with a 2.71 ERA. In his two games this month, Newcomb gave up five runs in each appearance, while only going six and one-third innings total, and his ERA climbed to 3.44. Meanwhile, All-Star selection Mike Foltynewicz hasn’t thrown past the 6th Inning in the five games since his complete game shutout of the Washington Nationals on June 1st.
Injuries have also gotten a hold on Braves pitchers, as Max Fried, Brandon McCarthy, and Peter Moylan are all on the 10-day disabled list, while Mike Soroka and Jose Ramirez are on the 60-day DL. Closer Arodys Vizcaíno was activated from the 10-day DL for the July 4th matchup against the Yankees. Without a fully healthy rotation and pen, it’s difficult to evaluate what exactly this team needs before the trade deadline, but pitching stands out as the most glaring need.
New general manager Alex Anthopoulos has a reputation, from his time as GM of the Blue Jays, for making the big trade. But “AA” doesn’t have to go get a flashy player or name like he did when he brought Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki north of the border. Instead, Anthopoulos should look to maintain most of the minor-league assets the previous regime built up while adding some controllable arms. Adding another infield bat would be intriguing as well. And while Anthopoulos should not actively pursue trading top prospects, he should listen to any offer that comes his way. It’d be interesting to see what prospects the Texas Rangers would want for Cole Hamels and Adrian Beltre. Hamels’ best days are behind him, but he still has one year left on his deal and could be a pitcher who is effective starting or coming out of the bullpen. Beltre would give Atlanta another right-handed power bat that could play against left-handed pitching and Johan Camargo could start against righties. Atlanta could then go after one or two bullpen arms, focusing on a left-handed reliever to ease the burden on A.J. Minter and Sam Freeman. But Atlanta does not need to make a deal just for the sake of shaking things up. If Anthopoulos and the rest of the Braves brass get a trade done, it should be one that improves Atlanta’s chances of making the playoffs this year without sacrificing future chances of making a run for a World Series.
The Braves 2018 season has been a resounding success, but even better days are still ahead of the ball club if history once again proves true. From 2010-2014, the Chicago Cubs did not have a winning season. Since then, the Cubs have won two pennants, made two NLCS appearances and won the 2016 World Series. Last year’s champions, the Houston Astros, took a similar path to the Cubs. From 2009 to 2014, Houston finished every season below .500. Then they won the World Series in 2017. The Braves didn’t manage 81 wins in any season from 2014 to 2017, a shorter time span than the Cubs or the Astros. The Cubs had one winning season before winning the World Series. The Astros had two. And the Braves most likely will have their first winning season after a long stretch of losing this season. If the front office can keep most of the top-level prospects on the farm while adding a few veteran pieces, this team could be on their way to a World Series appearance in the near future.