Three Cuts: Braves' push to postseason going to mean flipping script outside NL East
How, exactly, will the Braves respond to another four-game losing streak? The answer could decide whether they reach the postseason for the first time sine 2013.
From July 3-28, Atlanta dropped four in a row twice before it finally put together consecutive wins again.
With a difficult stretch awaiting -- though they do maintain a half-game lead in the National League East despite suffering a series sweep at the hands of the Rockies -- the Braves can't afford an expanded, or one in general, with just 39 games remaining.
It's that gauntlet of a schedule that leads things off as we dive into the week that was and what lies ahead for Atlanta.
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1. Push to postseason going to mean beat somebody other than the NL East
When it comes to taking care of business within their own division, only the Red Sox have been better than the Braves' 40 victories against the National League East. But a four-game sweep at the hands of the Rockies, and the schedule that lies ahead, show what could end up biting Atlanta.
It is now eight games under .500 outside the East (28-36), giving the Braves the fewest wins outside the East, as they are joined by the Indians (34-35) as the only other division leader that has a losing record outside its division.
Add in the last remaining games vs. teams with a losing record is a three-game set with the Giants, and a gauntlet awaits these Braves.
Weighing in their favor is that they're 12-10 vs. the NL Central, which accounts for seven of the next 13 games with seven against the Pirates and a makeup game with the Cubs. Plus, Pittsburgh is reeling, dropping six of the last eight to drop six back in the wild card race.
But that .437 winning percentage outside the division includes a 9-18 record vs. the NL West, which includes seven games in the final month in the season vs. the Diamondbacks and the aforementioned Giants, both on the road. Then there's dealing with MLB-best Boston and the red-hot Cardinals, who have moved into the second wild-card spot.
Luckily, 13 of the final 16 games will come in-division, including seven head-to-head with the Phillies. But while the Braves are playing 19 games against teams at or above .500 before those series. Philadelphia, meanwhile, plays just three.
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2. The highs and lows of leaning on rookies on display
Only three teams have a higher fWAR from rookie position players than the Braves' 2.9 with the Angels (3.4), Rays (3.3) and Yankees (3.0), and Atlanta has over 330 fewer plate-appearances by those players. Meanwhile, the Braves also lead the NL with a 4.1 fWAR from rookie pitchers, which is equaled by just Tampa Bay.
The baseball universe was revolving around the light source known as Ronald Acuña Jr. before the idiocy of Jose Ureña had taken hold. Rattling off homers in five straight, Acuña's eight long balls since Aug. 8 are two more than any other player and double the next-closest player in the NL.
His flyout to start Sunday's series finale against Colorado ended a streak of nine straight games in which he led off by reaching base, the longest run since Johnny Damon had 10 straight 18 years ago.
While Acuña put together the only plus-300 wRC+ in baseball the past two weeks, things haven't gone quite so smoothly for rookie closer A.J. Minter over the weekend.
His last six games doing back to Aug. 5 include a 6.35 ERA and .360 batting average against, punctuated by the left-hander allowing three hits with two outs in the ninth in Saturday's 5-3 loss. It was Minter's second blown save of the season, an outing he called "pretty pathetic on my part," and while he was pitching with a small cut on his thumb, he said it didn't impact him.
To his credit, after early-season walk trouble, Minter has issued just three free passes in his last 29 innings over 31 games, while fanning 36. He also went into that appearance vs. the Rockies with a 0.90 ERA and 0.70 WHIP since the All-Star break. But he's also now blown two saves in the past two weeks and has a 3.87 FIP in that span as Minter's thrown more innings (50) than at any point in his professional career.
With Arodys Vizcaino not expected back until at least sometime in September, none of this is to say the job shouldn't remain Minter's, though. He's been molded for the role, but opening (Acuña) and closing (Minter) with rookies has the Braves riding the highs and lows of youth more so than almost any team in baseball.
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3. Do Adam Duvall's struggles have Braves searching as waiver deadline nears?
The early returns on Adam Duvall in a Braves uniform haven't been spectacular. In hitting .120/.185.120, his minus-15 wRC+ since Aug. 2 -- after he was acquired from the Reds ahead of the trade deadline -- is better than just four of the 305 players who have at least 27 plate appearances in that span.
Granted it's a decidedly small sample size, with the plan to basically platoon Duvall with Ender Inciarte, giving Duvall the start against lefties and allow Ronald Acuña Jr. to slide to center. Manager Brian Snitker has utilized that setup for four of the last five games -- the only one they didn't was Aug. 9 vs. the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez -- but Duvall, who hasn't made back-to-back starts, hasn't been able to take advantage. He's hitting 73 percent below average vs. southpaws and has yet to produce an extra-base hit on drive in a run.
How concerned should the Braves be? Luck hasn't been in Duvall's favor with a paltry .111 BABIP, and he also has the second-highest strikeout rate of any Braves player with more than 11 PAs since his arrival at 25.9 percent.
Looking to add a right-handed power bat, Duvall certainly has the resume with 79 home runs since 2016, and three of his four long balls off the bench have come this season. It just hasn't translated since the trade.
Post-All-Star Break, the Braves have two strictly right-handed bats in the top 100 in ISO in Acuña (third at .425) and Charlie Culberson (seventh at .361). With 12 days before the Aug. 31 trade waiver deadline, does Duvall's struggles change how aggressive Alex Anthopoulos will be, or does he simply need a larger workload?
In terms of the waiver options, so far seven players have cleared waivers per MLB Trade Rumors, among them the Orioles' Adam Jones -- who has 10-and-5 rights and can veto any deal -- and could be an intriguing piece. Then there's the long shots in the Nationals' Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, both of whom were placed on revocable waivers. They don't exactly help the Braves, as both are lefties and Atlanta is heavy on them.