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Braves rev back up, thunder past everyone in August

After July was good-but-not-great, the Braves went back to dominating in August

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

The Braves used June to vault into first place in all of MLB. They held on to it through a relatively tempered July, but in August, they decided that moderation was for teams that can’t grind their opponents into bone dust every night, and just went crazy with the domination. As a result, here’s where they stand right now, with one month left to go in the 2023 regular season:

  • 88-45 overall record, five games ahead of both the Orioles and Dodgers.
  • 5.8 runs scored per game, most in MLB, 0.1 runs ahead of the Dodgers.
  • +1.8 run differential per game, best in MLB, 0.4 runs ahead of the Rays.
  • 32.6 position player fWAR, best in MLB, over three wins ahead of the Dodgers.
  • 16.0 pitching fWAR, third in MLB, about four wins behind the Phillies for first place.
  • Much like they have a five-game lead for best record, they have a 5ish fWAR lead on a team basis.

Really, the only bummer here is that the Braves don’t have both the best position player and pitching fWAR, but they’re trying, because the pitching was fantastic in August.

The Atlanta pitching staff started the year well, ranking fifth and seventh, respectively, in April and May fWAR. June brought about the dark times that the team just hit right past — 26th in MLB in pitching fWAR — and July was better but not great, ranking 12th. But, August brought the return of Max Fried, the partial reinvention of Charlie Morton, and a few other improvements, giving the Braves the second-most-productive pitching staff over the course of the month. The position players again finished first, but that’s somewhat less interesting since they were already first in June and have generally had the most productive position player group over the course of the year.

Combine those things and it’s not surprising that the Braves went 21-8 in August; perhaps the only real surprise here is that not one but two teams (Dodgers, Mariners) finished with a better August record. Still, there was essentially nothing to even pick at with regards to the team this month. They lost just one series while sweeping two, and had just one three-game losing streak while running five different streaks of three wins or more.

According to the percentages in this schedule, the Braves should’ve gone 17-12 or 18-13; they outplayed that. They were favored in all but three games, and actually won two of the three games where they weren’t favored, including a Yonny Chirinos-Logan Webb matchup. Probably the weirdest loss was when a Spencer Strider-Osvaldo Bido matchup turned sinister, but that sort of thing will happen to you here and there.

Here’s something incredible about the Braves in August: despite them already being expected to win so many games, only four teams increased their end-of-season win expectation by more in August. Only five other teams performed in a way where their future winning percentage increased by more than the increase for the Braves over the course of the month. It’s one thing to have high expectations, and maybe even meet them. It’s another to exceed them and push future expectations even higher.

It’s also worth noting here that among other things, August was the month in which the Braves broke their own franchise homer record, and Ronald Acuña Jr. became the first guy in AL/NL history to have a 30/60 season. Those probably aren’t the only records the Braves will break in 2023, but it’s amazing that they did those with a whole calendar month left to play.

One wonders how the Braves will follow up their summer in September... but until then, we’ve got meaningless awards to give out.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for August 2023 Performance - Position Players

Were you expecting Marcell Ozuna and his team-leading 201 wRC+ and 1.6 August fWAR here? Well, too bad. Ozuna clattered through the month and the opposing pitching it brought, for sure, but it’s a little too obvious. Maybe it should be Ronald Acuña Jr., who had another amazing stretch (177 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR) despite having Mookie Betts pull away in the fWAR race with an absurd month of his own? Eh. No, instead, it’s going to be the object of my 2023 obsession: Eddie Rosario.

Rosario’s month wasn’t particularly special —a 153 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR seems dominant, but both Ozuna and Acuña outhit him, and six of his position player teammates out-fWARed him. Instead, I want to point out two things:

First, through the end of May, Rosario had a 75 wRC+. His scorching June put his seasonal wRC+ back up to 118, but he was especially horrible right after, with a 29 wRC+ in July. With a league-average bat and nondescript left field defense, Rosario seemed to be locked in to essentially a role player’s production level — not awful, but not interesting, either. But then came August! That 153 wRC+ has complicated the story to some extent — if he can do something similar going forward, that makes him more like an average regular rather than a miscast one. Moreover, Rosario’s August batting line came with a .394 xwOBA underlying it, his best of any month — he’s never had a better xwOBA during a calendar month in the Statcast era. Given that so much of Rosario’s season has been a bit of a push and pull between his desire to swing and make contact with everything and the Braves’ preference that he pick a pitch and crush it if he gets it, the more he absolutely wails on the ball, the greater the chance that the Braves have succeeded in transforming him. And that’s pretty cool.

Second, he stumbled into nearly-impeccable timing during August. Consider this: if you set the cutoff for a “meaningful” WPA contribution at six percent or higher (or lower), Rosario managed to exceed that in nine of the 24 games he played during the month (about 40 percent), while doing the reverse just three times. At one point, he had five straight games where he substantially helped the Braves, and even more crazily, that five-game stretch was part of a larger nine-game stretch where he had a pretty substantial impact on the game’s outcome one way or another (seven above 0.06 WPA, two below -0.06 WPA). Again, pretty cool. (In fairness, Ozuna had a ton of games above 0.06 WPA in August, too, but he also had more below the reverse of that mark.)

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for August 2023 Performance - Starting Pitchers

I didn’t give this award to Spencer Strider last month because he seemed really torn up by things that happened to him in some of his starts, and that made it feel weird... but his run-of-the-mill domination in August without any of the attendant vibe-ruining events warrants it now. Strider wasn’t hilariously elite in August or anything — 67/54/81, compared to 81/65/66 for the entire season — but it was still the best fWAR mark on the team, and very Strider-esque anyway.

The Braves won five of Strider’s six outings during the month, only losing the aforementioned matchup with Bido that was kind of Strider’s worst start ever (it was literally the worst xFIP he’s ever had in a start, at 6.86). Four of those outings saw him essentially throw up zero after zero in close games, as opposed to cruising with a large lead. But perhaps more importantly, the worst-start-ever aside, Strider seemed pretty pumped about dominating. And that’s what we’re here for.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for August 2023 Performance - Relief Pitchers

Haha yeah it’s gonna be Raisel Iglesias, who not only had an absurd 0/37/65 mark for the month, but managed shutdowns in more than half of his outings (seven of 13), while having six of his 13 outings occur as part of two distinct stretches of pitching three days in a row. But, really, the real kicker here was Iglesias coming on, after getting the day off, to shut down the Dodgers in a one-run game on the month’s final day. What a guy.

(Also, a lot of the rest of the bullpen was pretty mediocre in August, which made this a fairly slam dunk choice.)

Now, to the videos!

Best Offensive Play - Rosario Saves the Game

On August 19, things weren’t looking good late. The Braves fell behind, 5-4, in the sixth, and hadn’t been able to respond in the last couple of innings. The Giants’ funky Taylor Rogers retired Austin Riley and Matt Olson to make it seem like the Braves would need to find a miracle in the ninth, but then Marcell Ozuna singled, and the miracle came an inning early:

Rosario both guessing right and absolutely demolishing the ball based on his guess? Just truly excellent stuff. Across this and a few similar games in August, the Braves turned what was probably just an expectedly good month into something special.

Best Run-Stopping Play - Pretty Much the Best Outcome

On August 22, the Braves came into the bottom of the ninth with a one-run lead over the Mets. Given the way these two teams’ seasons have gone, especially head-to-head, having Raisel Iglesias attempt to nail down a one-run game wasn’t particularly concerning, but it got dicier as Iglesias walked the first batter he faced, and then gave up a single. But, you already know from above that Iglesias didn’t have any blemishes in August, and that’s in part because of what happened next:

Thanks to the apparently now defensively-apt Austin Riley, Iglesias got the first two outs he needed, and then sealed the win with a groundout to short.

Most Dominant Single Game Offensive Performance

The thing with that game where Rosario hit a two-run homer to deliver a come-from-behind win? That wasn’t his only big contribution in that game. In his first plate appearance, he mashed an RBI double off Logan Webb to cut a two-run deficit in half; the Braves tied the game later in the inning. In the fourth, he had a one-out single and came around to score to cut another deficit in half. In the sixth, with Ozuna on first and none out, he singled to push the tying run to second, but the Braves ended up wasting that chance. And, lastly, he hit his epic homer. So not only did he have the single biggest hit of the month for the Braves, but it came in a game where he went 4-for-4 and finished a triple shy of the cycle. What a game for Rosario.

Most Dominant Single Game Starting Pitching Performance

I’m putting this one here because it is amusing. The Braves had a ton of scoreless or near-scoreless, massive K/BB games from their starters in August. But, on August 12, with Spencer Strider on the mound, that’s not what they got. Instead, this was a game of Spencer Strider annoying the Mets.

While this game ended up an easy 6-0 win, Strider pitched the first four innings of a scoreless tie, and then three more with just a one-run lead. In the process, he:

  • Erased a leadoff single in the first with three groundouts.
  • Walked two in the second, but struck out the other three.
  • Issued a leadoff walk in the third, but had it erased on a lineout double play to first base.
  • Stranded a two-out walk in the fourth, and a two-out double in the fifth.
  • And, finally, got three straight outs after a weak leadoff single in the seventh.

Are the Mets too fatalistic to feel irked by a fireballer without anything resembling his best stuff still shutting them down thanks to a bunch of ball-in-play luck and sequencing shenanigans? I have no idea. But it was pretty funny to watch.

This video doesn’t do any of the above justice, but it’s what exists.

Most Dominant Relief Pitching Performance

There’s a lot of Raisel Iglesias this month, but rightly so. On September 9, Iglesias nailed down the toughest situation that his “role” is generally called upon, a one-run save on the road. He actually allowed a couple of hits to put the winning run on base with two outs, but came right back to get his second strikeout of the inning to end the game, with a pretty crazy pitch on 0-2:

I mean, seriously, on 0-2, what do you even do with that pitch? Hope the umpire calls it a ball, I guess.

Most Crushed Dinger

Coors Field-aided? Probably. But doesn’t change the fact that on August 30, Marcell Ozuna blasted off again to the tune of 112 mph and 443 feet of estimated distance.

The bad stuff in August was kind of localized, but it still happened.

Worst Offensive Result - Whatever the Hell This Was

Marcell Ozuna had a month to remember for sure, but he somehow ended up in the vortex of WPA suckage a few times anyway. One of the biggest culprits was being involved in this mess:

Not really Ozuna’s “fault” aside from not hitting the ball in the air... but that and the combination of Olson voluntarily standing in no man’s land made for a potentially disastrous play... at least until Kevin Pillar and Orlando Arcia bailed them out and gave the Braves a late come-from-behind win anyway.

Worst Pitching Result - Kirby Yates, C’Mon, Man, Seriously

Yeah, it’s just the title. There’s not really anything else to say. In a tie game in the ninth, Yates walked the leadoff batter, and then hit two batters in a row. He actually gave the Braves a glimmer hope when he struck out the next two batters... but then he walked Joc Pederson on four straight pitches and then got removed from the game. Seriously, Yates? Really?

This is a 3-0 pitch that isn’t even borderline. Come on, man.

Worst Single-Game Offensive Performance

To add to Ozuna’s weird “fielder’s choice” right before the Braves came back against David Bednar, he also had a bunch of other stuff go terribly for him. In the first, he grounded out to end the inning with runners on second and third. He also had a strikeout and a pop-out to the catcher, in addition to a lone single. It was a weirdly bad game for him in a scorching month. It was his worst WPA effort since April Fool’s Day of 2021, against the Phillies, when he flew into a double play in extra innings.

Worst Single-Game Starting Pitching Performance

As usual, this category is rarely purely on the pitcher. It’s more on the fact that the pitcher languishes in the game far too long and causes a mess as a result. On August 21, that’s what happened with Allan Winans, who was definitely not replicating his seven scoreless innings against the Mets from his prior outing.

In the first inning, Winans gave up two homers. The Braves not only battled back to tie the game, they actually took the lead. But, in the fifth, not only was Winans (who, again, had allowed two homers already) allowed to start the third time through, but it went like this: one-out walk, single, single, single. Only then was Winans pulled, with the Braves having converted their lead into a deficit.

This wasn’t the only instance of this sort of thing happening in August, and as you know, its been happening all year. But it was particularly brutal given that the offense had shown little compunction in tolerating a deficit early, only for it to go for naught given the insistence that Winans push too far into the game despite not actually pitching well to begin with.

Worst Single-Game Relief Pitching Performance

Oh boy, this one. Up by a run in the fifth, the Braves stick with Jared Shuster for batter number 19 and beyond, and Shuster gives up a single and a walk while recording an out. The Braves swap for Shuster for Collin McHugh, and all hell breaks loose.

McHugh walks the first batter he faces, on five pitches, tying the game. He then gives up a hard-hit ball that is hit to Matt Olson, but not fielded by Matt Olson, clearing the bases. But it gets sillier. The Braves get two of those runs back, yet McHugh returns, only to walk the leadoff batter. After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, a single and a bunt hit erase the two runs the Braves just put up. In the end, McHugh ends up getting four outs while issuing four walks and only striking out one... and being charged with four runs, to say nothing of the inherited runners of Shuster’s that ended up scoring as well. It is worst outing, by WPA, of McHugh’s career.

Most Crushed Dinger Allowed

It’s a Coors Field thing, definitely. This Ryan McMahon blast off Bryce Elder went an estimated 473 feet.

See you next month!

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