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STATS & ANALYSIS

The Atlanta Braves Are at it Again

The defending World Series champs have stormed back from a slow start to win 11 in a row. How have the Braves managed to do it?

Don’t look now, but the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves are at it again.

They started off slow in 2021, going 25-26 through 51 games at the end of May and sitting at a middling 38-41 at the end of June. Atlanta went 50-32 down the stretch of the MLB regular season after that point before going 11-5 in the playoffs en route to its first championship since 1995.

That pattern is repeating again in 2022. Brian Snitker’s club was 23-27 at the end of May, but immediately turned around and won its first 11 games in June to go from 10.5 games behind the first-place New York Mets in the NL East to a much more manageable 5.5 entering the week.

So, how are the Bravos suddenly doing this?

  • The team started hitting, and hitting for power. After anemic months in April and May slashing a respective 230/.305/.411 and .239/.304/.401, the Braves have come to life in June to the tune of .283/.340/.538, up to a team OPS+ of 103 that now sits above the league average.
  • Ronald Acuña Jr.— all the way back from his torn ACL— the Travis d’Arnaud/William Contreras catching platoon, Adam Duvall, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, and Michael Harris II each have an OPS above .880 in June. The Braves hit 22 homers in 11 June games after hitting 34 in 28 May contests.
  • The pitching has been strong all year, but it’s improved every month of 2022. After a 4.13 ERA in April with a 1.24 WHIP and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.86 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP and 9.0 strikeouts per nine, Atlanta is up to a 2.47 June ERA with a 1.00 WHIP and 10.5 Ks per nine. Strong pitching and a revitalized offense has meant a bananas +44 run differential in June, winning by an outstanding four runs per game.
  • While Ian Anderson and Charlie Morton have struggled in June, Max Fried, Spencer Strider, and Kyle Wright have been rotation revelations. In relief, AJ Minter, Dylan Lee, Darren O’Day, Jesse Chavez, and Collin McHugh have combined for 20 2/3 innings in June without allowing a single earned run. And that’s not even mentioning offseason acquisition Kenley Jansen, who’s increasingly settling in himself.

While top hitters like offseason acquisition Matt Olson — Freddie Freeman‘s replacement at first base — and Ozzie Albies may be just beginning to emerge from relative struggles, Riley is currently No. 2 in the NL with 16 homers and No. 8 with a .523 slugging percentage. William Contreras, younger brother to Cubs All-Star Willson, is really coming into his own at age 24. Shortstop Dansby Swanson has picked up his pace offensively as he approaches free agency in November.

UPDATE 6/13: Ozzie Albies suffered a fractured foot Monday and is out indefinitely.

In the outfield, Acuña continues to be one of baseball’s most dynamic players and has barely skipped a beat despite the long road back from his torn ACL, but the arrival of rookie Michael Harris may be biggest catalyst of all. The Atlanta-area native made his MLB debut on May 28 at just 21 years of age and his hit .296 so far with strong defense to match — the kind that permitted Adam Duvall to move out of center field to a far, far more favorable situation in left.

Does all this mean that 2022 is Atlanta’s year once again with such an encouraging crew of bats and arms? It’s immutable that the Mets are off to their best start since their World Series year in 1986, while the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants are all extremely formidable out west and the Cardinals and Brewers will be right there in the mix from the NL Central. The competition will be tough, but the Braves have once again shaken off some early-season rust to reemerge as more-than-plausible contenders.

And after the title run we witnessed in 2021, you’d be foolish to think they couldn’t do it again.

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