Braves' Complete Guide, Preview for 2nd Half of 2022 MLB Season
The defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves have been one of the hottest teams in baseball over the past month-plus, including a 14-game winning streak in June that vaulted them back into contention.
They are still looking up at the New York Mets in the NL East standings, but they've gone from 10.5 games back on June 1 to just 2.5 games back entering play on Thursday despite a head-to-head series loss.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos was busy at the trade deadline last season, adding Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson to upgrade an injury-plagued offense, and he'll undoubtedly be looking for ways to improve once again this year.
Ahead, we've provided a preview for the second half of the season, complete with potential X-factors, a trade deadline outlook and a blueprint for this Braves team to reach the postseason.
LF Eddie Rosario
One of Atlanta's postseason heroes last October, Rosario rejoined the Braves on a two-year, $18 million deal during the offseason. The 30-year-old went just 3-for-44 with 10 strikeouts in his first 15 games before landing on the injured list with blurred vision and eventually undergoing eye surgery. He returned on July 4 and is still shaking off the rust, but a healthy and productive Rosario would be a major in-house addition.
2B Ozzie Albies
When will Albies return? The two-time All-Star second baseman suffered a fractured left foot on June 13, and he is not expected to be back until late-August at the earliest. Orlando Arcia and scrapheap pickup Robinson Cano are handling second base, but expect the Braves to explore outside additions at the deadline.
SP Mike Soroka
It feels like a lifetime ago that Soroka went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 174.2 innings to finish runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in NL Cy Young balloting in 2019. A torn Achilles in 2020 and a second operation on the same injury last year have limited him to just 13.2 innings since his stellar debut, and he recently took a line drive off his knee while rehabbing that has provided yet another setback. Despite all of that, he's still expected to return to an MLB mound sometime after the All-Star break.
Trade Deadline Outlook
Finding a short-term solution to man second base while Ozzie Albies recovers from a fractured foot will likely be the top priority for Atlanta at the trade deadline.
Brandon Drury has a 130 OPS+ with 18 home runs and 50 RBI playing on a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Cincinnati Reds, and his versatility means he could still provide plenty of value even after Albies returns.
Cesar Hernandez (WAS) and Jose Iglesias (COL) are two other veteran infielders playing on one-year deals for non-contenders who Atlanta could consider.
With Adam Duvall struggling and Eddie Rosario off to a slow start in his return from eye surgery, another outfielder could also be on the shopping list.
Andrew Benintendi (KC) and David Peralta (ARI) are rental options, while Bryan Reynolds (PIT) and Ian Happ (CHC) represent controllable players who would come at a higher price.
After buying low on Jorge Soler to great success last season, could Atlanta be a landing spot for New York Yankees slugger Joey Gallo?
The Braves Make the Postseason If...
With a 30-10 record since June 1, the Braves have the best record in baseball over the past month-and-a-half.
However, they're still chasing the New York Mets in the NL East standings, and they'll no doubt try to do everything they can to avoid settling for a wild-card berth.
The National League postseason picture is not quite as tight as the American League side of things, as there appear to be eight legitimate contenders vying for six postseason spots, with the Braves sitting on the third-best record among that group.
The Braves will play the Mets nine times in August, and that could go a long way to deciding who wins the NL East.
As long as they avoid injury, the Braves are in good shape to get an opportunity to defend their title in October.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Tuesday's games.