In a couple of days, the unofficial second-half of the season will get underway and even though the Braves will be heading into the next phase of the season in a bit of a slump, it’s still an exciting time for the Braves. After all, a lot of us here on the staff here at Talking Chop figured that .500 baseball would be this team’s ceiling in 2018. Yet here they are — they’re 10 games over .500 and are very much in the conversation for the NL East title and failing that, at least a spot in the Wild Card game.
Just look at the real-time projection models. While none of the big projection models have the Braves as the favorites to win the NL East at the moment, they’re still clearly right in the thick of it when it comes to having a serious chance of making it to October.
If you had told me back in March that the Braves would be in the position that they’re in right now, I would have taken it without asking any sort of questions. They’re basically a year ahead of schedule and I’m very pleased with how things have gone in the first half of the season and I’m excited to see where things go from here until the end of the season.
With that being said, I’m sure we all would love to see the Braves solidify themselves by the time the stretch run arrives. So what should they do? Should they go after a third baseman? Should they shore up their bullpen? Should they just roll the dice, stand pat and wait til’ next year to really get serious? Let’s try to figure it out.
Improve at third base?
I’ve always wanted a chance to do this and now is about as perfect of a time as ever to do it. It’s time for one of my favorite mini-games: “Who’s Player A and Who’s Player B?” In this case, both of these players are third basemen and now it’s up to you to figure out who they are.
Player A: 389 PA, .249/.306/.466, 105 wRC+, 6.7% walk rate, 15.4% K rate, 19 HRs, 1.5 fWAR
Player B: 266 PA, .248/.346/.422, 109 wRC+, 12.4% walk rate, 18.8% K rate, 9 HRs, 1.4 fWAR
I’ll give you a few minutes to figure out who’s who. Go ahead, get up and grab a snack or actually get some work done if you’re reading this on the job. Alright, if you’ve taken your time to figure it out then I’ll reveal the results to you. Player A is Mike Moustakas. Player B? Our every own Johan Camargo. There have been rumors that the Braves are interested in Moustakas and unless they can get him for super cheap (which is a distinct possibility considering the relatively light contract that Moustakas is currently on) then the Braves may actually be better served sticking with what they’ve got at that position.
That may be a controversial take, especially since I’ve personally felt like the Braves have sorely needed an upgrade at third base for years now but I’d be willing to let Camargo ride out the rest of the season at third base and wait until Austin Riley assumes his place at the position when he’s ready to go by next season.
Shore up the bullpen
While I believe that “upgrading” at third base may be an option, fixing the bullpen is a must if the Braves plan on being serious about making it to the playoffs this year. As a unit, Braves relievers will be entering the second half of the season with the fourth-highest BB/9 (4.24), only the 22nd-best strand rate (71.2 percent), and their ERA/FIP/xFIP numbers are all middle-of-the-road at best.
While it’s possible to make the playoffs and win in October with a middle-of-the-road bullpen, you’d better have something else in your overall team arsenal that’s exceptional and right now, the Braves don’t really have that. So basically, shoring up the bullpen is a must and they’ve got to figure out a way to improve it. The good news is that they’ve got plenty of options, either via trade or simply using their vast ocean of pitching prospects who are finally reaching major-league form, so this isn’t hopeless. It’s just a matter of them doing something, instead of simply standing pat.
Keep things as they are?
Speaking of, that would probably be the biggest possible gamble for the Braves. It would be one thing for them to keep going with the status quo at third base. Like I said earlier, it would be controversial but I’d understand. It would be another if they just decided to keep on rolling with things how they are. The bullpen clearly needs some sort of help. The bench could afford to be improved as well. Shoot, they could even dip their toes into the pool of starting pitchers and see if they could get a quick fix in that department as well.
The point is that they really can’t afford to stand pat. Even though the Phillies didn’t land Manny Machado, you have to figure that they’ll be active before either the trade deadline or the non-waiver trade deadline arrives. The same could be said for the Nationals, who are still going to do their best to hop off of the surgeon’s table and bring themselves back to life. Plus the Braves will now have to keep an eye on teams around the rest of the National League who could end up being their foes in a potential race for the Wild Card spots.
Simply put, the Braves need to find a way to improve, either internally with call-ups or externally via trade, if they’re going to be serious about making the playoffs and actually making noise once they get there. They’ve done a great job of making it to this point of the season where they can be considered a contender to make the playoffs.
Now it’s time to finish the job. 2019 may have been the “target” year but you never know when these opportunities will come around and you have to take advantage of it whenever it happens. We’ll see if the Braves can handle what is definitely a delicate moment in their evolution from “rebuilder” into “contender.”