It took the Atlanta Braves some time to get going in 2019, but there has been no stopping them since an early June spurt vaulted the club back into first place.
Now sitting with the second-best record in the National League and with many of their early season problems behind them, attention has shifted in Atlanta. Not only are the Braves eyeing their second consecutive division title, but they’ll be looking for more once the calendar flips to October.
“I think everyone settled in,” said Fox Sports South broadcaster Chip Caray. “This is a good team, and they know they are good. It took some time for everyone to settle into their roles, but they got it going, and they got it going at SunTrust Park. They turned it into a real home field advantage.”
Alongside Caray, Fox Sports South color commentator and former Brave Jeff Francoeur had another angle on what changed for the Braves after stumbling out of the blocks to start the season.
“The bullpen got it together,” added Francoeur. “That, combined with Dansby (Swanson) moving to the two hole in the lineup, allowed Josh (Donaldson) to be more of a run producer alongside Freddie (Freeman).”
One of the key contributors to the extended run of success was Austin Riley, who was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett on May 15. The third baseman turned left fielder hit 16 home runs in his first 48 big league games, but has struggled mightily at the plate in July.
Francoeur had a similar start to his career with 12 home runs in his first 46 games before a dry spell, and offered some thoughts on Riley.
“He’s late on the fastball and early on the slider,” said Francoeur. “Right now he’s stuck in a tough spot, and your mind starts to play tricks on you. You start to wonder if you’re really good enough to be up here. It’s a game of adjustments, and the great thing is he has so many veteran guys to help him out.”
While Riley and the Braves continue to battle through the season on the field, some tough decisions will have to be made in the front office.
It has been 18 years since the franchise last won a playoff series, and the pressure is mounting on general manager Alex Anthopoulos and his staff with the trade deadline less than a week away.
“I don’t want them to not take advantage of this opportunity,” said Caray. “The next logical step for this franchise is to not just get to the playoffs, but to advance in them. I hope that the Braves find a way to balance their desire to win a World Series, and protect the farm system.”
And on the subject of the farm system, Francoeur had a very clear idea of how the front office should approach the trade deadline in terms of their top prospects.
“What they (the Braves) shouldn’t do is give up Christian Pache or Ian Anderson. You have two untouchables,” said Francoeur. “I think Pache is the center fielder of the future. Those are two guys they should not give up.”
Pache and Anderson are both currently at Double-A Mississippi, and are ranked as the No. 12 and No. 24 overall prospects in baseball according to MLB Pipeline. Pache has posted 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in Mississippi this season, and Anderson has pitched to a 2.80 ERA with 129 strikeouts on the season.
If the Braves end up moving Pache or Anderson, it will be all about playing deep into October.
The Braves battled hard against the Dodgers in the 2018 NLDS, but were ultimately overmatched by the defending National League champs and fell 3-1 in the series. But this year, Caray sees the potential for a different outcome with the right moves at the deadline.
“This is a really good, dynamic, young team,” said Caray. “Sometimes you have to take a big gulp and say you’re going for it. If it works you’re a hero, if it doesn’t, nobody can say you didn’t try.”
The trade deadline will be Wednesday, July 31 at 4 p.m.