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The Braves are looking dangerous. Here’s why.

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After five straight series wins, the Braves seem to be putting it all together.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Entering their game against the Diamondbacks on May 10, the Braves looked lifeless. They had lost a season-high four straight games, three of which were thorough beatings at the hands of the Dodgers, the same squad who had eliminated the Braves from the playoffs the season prior. Sitting four games back in the NL East standings, the Braves were two games under .500 (18-20) and carried a -4 run differential. They were just beginning a grueling May schedule, and apart from beating up on the lowly Marlins, it was not off to a good start.

But then the Braves bounced back… resoundingly.

Since May 10, the Braves are 12-4 with a +21 run differential. Their turnaround cannot be attributed to an easy schedule, either. The Braves have played 10 of those 16 games on the road and have played only four games against a team (the Giants) with a record under .500. They have now won five straight series and have narrowed the Phillies’ division lead to just 1.5 games.

During that span, the Braves increased their odds of making the playoffs by 31%, up to 64.8%, per FanGraphs. Their chances of winning the division also jumped 23.1% up to 43.2%. The Braves now have the best odds of winning the division despite trailing the Phillies in the standings.

So how have they done it? What can account for such a sudden improvement?

One might suspect that the May 15 call-up of Austin Riley and his subsequent power surge he provided to the lineup are the answer. Riley has hit five homeruns and driven in 14 while slashing .333/.373/.688 and compiling 0.5 fWAR in his first 12 games. While his staggering 2:18 walk-to-strikeout ratio is troubling, his power has been able to compensate for it to this point.

Braves’ offense

Braves offense AVG OPS wOBA wRC+ Runs per game
Braves offense AVG OPS wOBA wRC+ Runs per game
Before May 10 .258 .771 .329 102 4.82
Since May 10 .264 .775 .329 102 5.06

Although Riley has helped carry the offense at times already, overall the offense is performing at almost the same level as it did before this hot streak. Riley’s hot bat, along with Freddie Freeman’s, have mostly just compensated for other slumping hitters, namely Ozzie Albies and Nick Markakis. While Freeman and Riley have scorching wRC+s of 198 and 171, respectively, since May 10, Albies and Markakis are at 52 and 82, respectively.

While we have seen a slight increase in runs scored per game, the Braves’ offense has been nearly identical to what it has been all season. To be sure, maintaining the same offensive numbers during this stretch is not a bad thing. The Braves’ offense has consistently been one of the top offenses in the National League:

Braves’ offense in 2019

Statistic Value NL Rank
Statistic Value NL Rank
AVG .259 1st
OBP .335 4th
SLG .437 6th
wOBA .329 3rd
wRC+ 102 4th

So if the offense has had the same production, it doesn’t take Bill James to figure out that the biggest reason for the Braves’ surge has been the pitching. If it weren’t for the insane numbers that the Dodgers’ starters have been putting up lately (1.62 ERA and 3.2 percent walk rate over 89 innings, for example), the Braves’ rotation would lead the NL in most statistical categories during this span.

Braves’ pitching (NL rank)

Braves pitching AVG wOBA WHIP FIP ERA
Braves pitching AVG wOBA WHIP FIP ERA
Before May 10 .248 (11th) .325 (14th) 1.42 (15th) 4.65 (13th) 4.51 (9th)
Since May 10 .216 (2nd) .277 (2nd) 1.12 (2nd) 4.03 (5th) 3.13 (2nd)

Clearly, the staff as a whole is performed at a very high level during this hot streak. In analyzing the numbers deeper, the starting rotation can rightfully claim a lot of the credit. Keep in mind that the Braves’ rotation was not healthy early in the season with Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka, and Kevin Gausman opening the season on IL. Not only are these three now apparently healthy, but Julio Teheran and Max Fried have been impressive so far.

In fact, Foltynewicz is the only starter with an ERA above 3.00 since May 10, which can be attributed to his worst outing of the year on May 14 when he surrendered eight earned runs to the Cardinals. However, in his two starts since, he has pitched 12 innings and allowed just two earned runs, eight hits, and no walks.

Braves’ starters (NL rank)

Braves’ starters AVG wOBA WHIP FIP ERA
Braves’ starters AVG wOBA WHIP FIP ERA
Before May 10 .248 (9th) .321 (10th) 1.35 (11th) 4.53 (10th) 4.55 (12th)
Since May 10 .193 (1st) .257 (2nd) 1.02 (2nd) 3.78 (3rd) 2.48 (2nd)

While all of the Braves’ starters deserve some credit for their success, Soroka has been pitching like a true ace. His 1.07 ERA ranks first among all pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, and he has yet to allow more than one earned run in any of his eight starts this season. While the Braves must make efforts to limit the wear on his worrisome throwing shoulder over the course of the season, Soroka appears poised to anchor the front of the rotation now and for years to come.

Now healthy, the Braves’ starters have solidified the rotation and allowed management to focus the organization’s resource on what has been its Achilles heel this season: the bullpen.

While there is still room for improvement, the bullpen has improved overall recently. Luke Jackson has settled in nicely to the closer role, despite a couple of bad-luck outings. Since his poor performance on Opening Day, Jackson holds a 1.73 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with a 34.3 percent strikeout rate and 5.7 percent walk rate over 26 innings. Sean Newcomb has adjusted well to the bullpen by posting a 1.69 ERA, striking out 11, and walking zero batters over 10.2 innings as a reliever. Touki Toussaint and Jacob Webb are both pitching beyond their years and are solidifying their spots in the bullpen. And most importantly, Charlie Culberson still has not allowed a run as a reliever!

Braves’ relievers

Braves’ relievers AVG wOBA WHIP FIP ERA Walk rate
Braves’ relievers AVG wOBA WHIP FIP ERA Walk rate
Before May 10 .247 (10th) .330 (11th) 1.52 (14th) 4.83 (14th) 4.46 (9th) 13.2% (14th)
Since May 10 .251 (7th) .309 (4th) 1.30 (7th) 4.46 (8th) 4.23 (9th) 7.7% (5th)

Perhaps the most encouraging sign from the bullpen is the big dip in walk rate. The Braves’ relievers had been on pace for a historically high high walk rate, but have now cut it to the fifth best rate in the National League since May 10. Shedding some of the relievers with the highest walk rates, like Jesse Biddle and Jonny Venters, undoubtedly helped, but the current relievers should be commended, as well.

The Braves have positioned themselves very well to win a lot of ballgames going forward. They are playing their best baseball right now, and six of their next seven opponents have a record of .500 or below. Offensively, the Braves continue to perform at a high level, and the addition of Riley gives the lineup great depth. The Braves’ starters are pitching incredibly and have a nice front end of the rotation with Soroka, Fried, and Foltynewicz if Foltynewicz can continue to perform like he has his last two outings. The bullpen is making significant strides and will likely be the focus of midseason acquisitions. If another high-leverage reliever is added (maybe Craig Kimbrel?), then this bullpen could be quite good.

Don’t look now, but the Braves might have a formula for sustained success in 2019.