The Braves are on the positive side of the ledger in their National League East road trip, taking two of three vs. the Phillies ahead of their set with the Nationals. But for the next three days, all of Braves Country will at least have their eyes -- if not a finger fixated on the the refresh button -- toward Wednesday's 4 p.m. ET trade deadline.
What will general manager Alex Anthopoulos do to bolster the defending division champs? That focus is the focus here, too, as we dive into this week's Three Cuts.
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1. With Markakis out, will Braves look to trade to fill the void?
The shopping list for the Braves ahead of the deadline seemed clear, but that was before a key injury went and added a wrinkle to all that.
There is hope that Dansby Swanson will return form his heel injury once he's eligible Aug. 2, but Atlanta is expecting to be without Nick Markakis for an extended period of time.
The veteran outfielder is likely out 6-8 weeks, which would have Markakis returning in the middle of September, and while a blow, it comes with a time sensitive silver lining: it happened before the July 31 deadline and not after it. Nonetheless, it may well change the focus from bullpen and potentially starting pitching to whether Alex Anthopoulos will look to bring in another outfielder.
The Braves' lauded depth does give them plenty to work with. The return of Adam Duvall -- who followed up his record-setting turn in Triple-A by homering in a three-hit first game, equalling the amount of hits he had all of last September, and has four hits in all in two games -- along with Charlie Culberson, Ender Inciarte, Austin Riley and Matt Joyce are all in-house options.
There are questions with that group, though, mainly with Duvall, who had a minus-6 OPS+ in limited playing time in a Braves uniform last season; Riley, whose hot start has been dampened with a 23 wRC+ in July and Inciarte has hit above league average in three of the last 11 full months he's played in the majors.
Mixing and matching along with Ronald Acuña Jr. as the center piece can provide potential, but will Alex Anthopoulos, Brian Snitker and Co. prefer stability? Markakis, who has never bee on the injured list since joining the Braves, has played in no fewer than 156 games since coming to Atlanta in 2015.
There are everyday pieces available, with right-handed rentals like the Tigers' Nicholas Castellanos and Reds' Yasiel Puig or Diamondbacks' David Peralta, with the lefty hitting arbitration for the third time this winter. But if Markakis is expected to return, will the Braves actually be looking to add a consistent starter or just another option to supplement their depth?
Pitching needs remain, but this has to be the storyline to watch for the Braves as we head toward Wednesday's deadline.
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2. Where do Braves turn to supplement arms?
Among the trade targets that make sense for the Braves, it's hard not to line them up with the Blue Jays. Anthopoulos' history there and Atlanta having the kind of young pitching that Toronto covets in its offense-heavy rebuild makes it a natural fit.
It's been said, though, that the Jays have asked for an elevated return when their former executive comes calling, making it that much more difficult to see the Braves bringing in relievers like Ken Giles or Daniel Hudson. Atlanta surely could have put together a better package for starter Marcus Stroman, who the Mets got without including a single top-100 prospect, but how high was a potential asking price from the Braves, who have one of the game's most coveted farm systems?
Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray has been linked to the Braves, and his 11.89 K/9 would be a solid addition alongside Dallas Keuchel and Mike Soroka when penciling together a postseason rotation. The Giants' Madison Bumgarner has also been a target. But is a starter the right play? Granted, Kevin Gausman allowed three homers for the first time in his career Sunday vs. the Phillies, but between him, Julio Teheran, whose ERA+ (132) is the best of his career, Max Fried putting together a solid outing after dealing with his blister and Mike Foltynewicz putting it together at Triple-A, the Braves may not need to look elsewhere to aid the rotation. It may be further down the needs list given how they plan to address Markakis' absence.
If the Braves are seeking to add a bullpen piece, there's no shortage of possibilities ahead of Wednesday's deadline to aid a relief corps that that's 3.96 ERA is third in the NL (though one the Braves were believed to be in on -- the Royals' Jake Diekman -- has already been dealt).
A closer remains the biggest need, with Luke Jackson's 17 saves offset by seven blown saves. The Braves haven been linked to the Royals' Ian Kennedy, a high-priced option due $16.5 million next season, and there's a chance that five of the top 11 in saves could all be had.
Among that group is maybe the most intriguing name, one that Atlanta is reportedly pursuing in the Mets' Edwin Diaz. Yes, he's been abysmal in New York with a 4.81 ERA and four blown saves, but the 25-year-old was the game's best closer in 2018 and remains under control through 2022.
But how costly would it be to get that deal done in-division? Toronto is also said to be in the mix for Diaz, which could send him Atlanta's way.
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3. The wait for a matchup with Mad Max will have to continue
The Braves are headed to Washington for three games beginning Monday with the division lead at 5 1/2 games. It's a huge series, but it appears it's going to be missing one big ingredient: the game's best pitcher.
Through nine meetings, the Braves have avoided Max Scherzer -- MLB's leader among starters with a 5.6 fWAR and fourth overall behind only Mike Trout (6.8), Cody Bellinger (6.1) and Christian Yelich (5.9) -- and it now appears unlikely that he'll make his Tuesday starter due to a mile strain in his upper back.
Scherzer was shut down Friday and Saturday after receiving a stem cell injection and was unable to throw a bullpen session Sunday. Righty Erick Fedde, who has a 3.40 ERA in 13 games with eight starts, is in line to take his place.
It's a stroke of luck for the Braves, as Scherzer has hit double-digits in strikeouts six times in eight starts and had nine and eight in the others, and leads the NL with 87 Ks since June 2. But here's the thing: these are the kinds of pitching matchups Atlanta needs and needs to dominate to prep for the postseason.
The Braves couldn't solve the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu (complete game shutout) and saw the best of the Mets' reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom (two earned over 8 1/3) and the Diamondbacks' Zack Greinke (one earned over seven innings). In nine outings vs. the top-10 NL pitchers in fWAR, Atlanta has a 2.91 ERA, but a crack at Scherzer, the cream of that crop, will likely have to wait ... again.