The Braves' West Coast travels are behind them, as they ended a 10-game road trip with three straight wins.
While it included continued troubles from last season vs. the National League West -- the lone division Atlanta had a losing record against in 2018, and which it now is 7-12 versus -- there were signs that the offense could hit another gear with changes to the lineup, scoring 11 combined runs over the last two games of the series.
Yes, just like the Braves, we're leading off with Ronald Acuña Jr. in this week's Three Cuts.
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1. Ronald Acuña Jr. back where he belongs atop Braves' order
It may have bordered on ad nauseam, but those of us that cringed at the very idea of Ronald Acuña Jr. moving out of the leadoff spot did so with numbers-supported skepticism.
In 2018, Acuña's 175 wRC+ atop the order was bested by only the eventual American League MVP, the Red Sox's Mookie Betts (188). Moving Acuña down to fourth behind Freddie Freeman to start the season felt more like a byproduct of new acquisition Josh Donaldson's preference to hit second than it did to have having Acuña in the optimum spot in the lineup.
With Acuña slashing .241/.294/.316 over the previous 21 games, sporting a .077 ISO -- third-worst in the majors in that span -- a minus-3.2 wRAA, and the Braves riding a four-game losing streak, order was restored Friday night in Arizona.
He launched a 466-foot home run in his first game back at No. 1, and in the series vs. the Diamondbacks went 4 for 13, a hint of vindication for those in the Pheñom at Leadoff contingent.
After a strong start to 2019 in which he had the game's second-best ISO (.467) and ranked third in wRAA (10.0) at fourth, Acuña slumped largely because of his problems against the fastball.
In his Rookie of the Year season, Acuña had 17.3 wFB runs above average and entered the Diamondbacks series a paltry minus-0.3 wFB. Friday night when he hit a homer that produced a 112.7 mph exit velocity, he did so off a 96.7 mph four-seamer from Arizona reliever Yoan Lopez.
Putting him back at leadoff was a move to get Acuña's bat going again after that slump, but if anything, his production back there only proves it's spot that manager Brian Snitker may not want to take Acuña out of. Ever.
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2. In Max Fried and Mike Soroka, Braves pitching has its answer to offense's young cornerstones
Every Mike Soroka start is seemingly the answer to a future trivia question. The latest has the 21-year-old right-hander becoming the first pitcher to allow one earned run or fewer in eight of his first ten starts.
Soroka's 1.21 ERA is third in MLB and his 2.63 FIP is eighth among starters with at least 20 innings pitched and his wSL (slider runs above average) of 4.9 is sixth-best.
Meanwhile, Max Fried allowed nine hits and three earned runs over five innings with seven strikeouts and a walk in a start in which he struggle with his command. But with a 3.25 ERA and 3.69 FIP over eight starts, he has a .109 batting average against his curveball and slider, the best of any starting pitcher.
The Braves offense has its wunderkind cornerstone pieces in Acuña and Ozzie Albies -- both of whom are under club control (and club-friendly control at that) for years to come -- and now, the pitching staff may have its answer to those established young stars.
The depth and potential of the Braves pitching has arguably been the most exciting aspect of what the regime of what John Coppolella and John Hart sowed and what Alex Anthopoulos is reaping.
They were going to have some hits, spending their last four first-round picks on pitchers (five if you count 2018's selection of Carter Stewart, who didn't sign). It's been a clear focus as Atlanta used 12 of its first 14 picks on arms in 2015, six of the first seven in '16, seven of its initial 10 in '17 and seven of its first 11 last year.
With Fried -- acquired in a trade from the Padres in 2014 -- and Soroka -- a first-round pick in 2015 -- looking like clear hits, that depth will be beneficial this season in managing their innings. Fried hasn't thrown more than 100 innings since 2016 and Soroka was shutdown last year with shoulder inflammation. But with spots seemingly solidified, do other arms transition to the bullpen or trade pieces?
This was bound to happen given the vast amount of talent in the ranks of Braves pitching, and with Fried and Soroka having the look of rotation mainstays, the difficult decisions lie ahead.
Case in point: how the Braves approach potential trades and asking prices for free-agents to be like the Giants' Madison Bumgarner.
3. So you're saying there's a chance, MadBum?
MLB On FOX reporter Ken Rosenthal reported Saturday that Bumgarner -- the four-time All-Star and World Series MVP, who is in a walk year -- has an eight-team no-trade list: the Astros, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees.
It's a list made up strictly of contenders and, no, Bumgarner isn't putting himself in position to spend the fall at home. In having those specific teams on his list, he's created a situation where he would need to accept a deal to whatever team or teams are vying for his services.
Frankly, it's a deft move, but it does pose the question in terms of the Braves: is Bumgarner the right fit for this rotation?
Due the prorated balance of $12 million, Bumgarner may not be the same pitcher that from 2011-16 threw the fourth-most innings in baseball (1,276 2/3). He hasn't gone over 129 2/3 innings since '16, which is the last time he was a more than 1.6 fWAR player.
But there are positives amid this season in which the 29-year-old left-hander has made eight starts with a 3.99 ERA and 3.48 FIP.
Bumgarner's average fastball velocity of 91.8 mph is the highest it's been in four years, resulting in the his best K/9 (9.24) in three years and the walk-rate of 1.45 is his best of any season.
The changeup has also become a bigger weapon, with 2.8 wCH runs above average, the most effective the pitch has been for Bumgarner in nine seasons.
Giants executive Vice President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi was with Anthopoulos in the Dodgers' front office, making them logical trade partners.
That being said, ESPN's Tim Kurkjian speculated that San Francisco could want as many as four top youngsters to make it happen and supplement one of the game's worst farm systems.
It's a price that is likely to be too steep for the Braves to acquire a player who will be a free agent after the season. But in putting Atlanta on his list, the North Carolina native Bumgarner has at least laid open the possibility that the defending National League East champs are going to remain in the conversation for his services.