Braves' Complete Guide, Preview for 2nd Half of 2021 MLB Season

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2021

Braves' Complete Guide, Preview for 2nd Half of 2021 MLB Season

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Relative to preseason expectations, the Atlanta Braves might be baseball's most disappointing team in 2021 because of their 44-45 record at the All-Star break.

    A year after coming one win away from reaching the World Series, little has gone right. And things went from bad to worse when superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. was lost for the year to a torn ACL days before he was set to start in the All-Star Game.

    The wide-open nature of the National League East division means they are still only four games back in the standings even with a sub-.500 record, and that could be enough to chase another postseason appearance, especially with Freddie Freeman headed for free agency.

    Ahead is 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 still reach the postseason.

2nd-Half X-Factors

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    Kyle Muller
    Kyle MullerBen Margot/Associated Press

    CF Cristian Pache

    The Braves used a starting outfield of Orlando Arcia, Guillermo Heredia and Ehire Adrianza in the final game of the first half following the loss of Acuna.

    Sooner or later, top prospect Cristian Pache is going to get another shot to stake claim to the starting center field job. The 22-year-old hit .111 with 25 strikeouts in 68 plate appearances to start the year before he was demoted. He's hitting a punchless .243/.306/.387 over 121 plate appearances at Triple-A, so he will need to earn his way back to the big leagues.


    LHP Kyle Muller

    Can Kyle Muller be this year's version of Ian Anderson in the second half?

    The 23-year-old has a 3.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 15.2 innings spanning three starts and one relief appearance. With Mike Soroka out for the season, Huascar Ynoa recovering from a fractured hand and fellow rookie Tucker Davidson dealing with a forearm issue, someone needs to step up in the No. 5 spot in the rotation.


    C Travis d'Arnaud

    The catcher position has been an offensive black hole this year with Travis d'Arnaud sidelined with a torn thumb ligament. William Contreras, Kevan Smith, Alex Jackson, Jonathan Lucroy and Jeff Mathis have all failed to impress, and despite his own slow start, d'Arnaud cannot return soon enough.

    According to David O'Brien of The Athletic, he has started swinging a bat with both hands and is expected to be back sometime in August.

Trade Deadline Outlook

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    Robbie Grossman
    Robbie GrossmanReed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    If the Braves intend to press forward with hopes of contending, adding an outfielder should be their first order of business.

    With Marcell Ozuna away from the team indefinitely while he faces domestic violence charges and Acuna likely to miss the start of the 2022 season, it would make sense to target someone who is controllable beyond just being a two-month rental.

    Detroit Tigers left fielder Robbie Grossman signed a two-year, $10 million deal during the offseason, and he posted a 111 OPS+ with 12 doubles, 42 RBI and a .354 on-base percentage during the most productive first half of his career. His on-base ability would help ease the loss of Acuna at the top of the lineup.

    They could also get involved in the Joey Gallo sweepstakes if they want to aim a bit higher or they could inquire on Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star Bryan Reynolds.

    The other area that will need to be addressed is the bullpen, which ranks 21st in the majors with a 4.58 ERA and has 13 blown saves in 32 opportunities.

    Ian Kennedy fits the type of player the Braves have targeted in recent years as a veteran who is closing games for a non-contender and could be slotted into a setup role in Atlanta.

    Beyond that, any of a number of available bullpen arms would provide welcome reinforcement.

Braves Will Make the Postseason If...

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    At this point, who knows who is going to come out on top in the NL East.

    The New York Mets are the best team on paper, but they haven't been at full strength all season, and there's no guarantee they will suddenly avoid the injury bug in the second half.

    If injuries continue to keep them from pulling away from the pack, it's anyone's division, which could work in the favor of a team that has won three straight division titles and knows what a pennant race feels like.

    Acuna's loss makes it imperative that Atlanta finds some sort of offensive reinforcement at the trade deadline and also places even more importance on the bullpen's ability to protect leads with less offensive firepower in the lineup.

    Stranger things have happened than an Acuna-less Braves team rallying to win a wide-open NL East division, but their postseason odds took a hit the moment he went down.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.