It’s safe to say that the Atlanta Braves have exceeded everybody’s expectations. We are past the halfway point in the season and Atlanta is tied with Philadelphia in the NL East with Washington currently a healthy distance back. The Braves just ended a 5-5 road trip where they had to go to St. Louis, the Yankees, and Milwaukee. If you listen to the local sports radio station in the Atlanta area, you know the vibe from the people on there “yeah, I would have been happy for 5-5 before the trip, but how we ended it stunk.”
I think that most Braves fans have that attitude. While the Braves couldn’t net a home run in the 4-game series in Milwaukee, the more alarming part was the fact that the Braves pitching staff, who had been pitching incredibly well this whole season, imploded. It actually imploded the last two games in New York as well. The big concern for Atlanta even before this to me has been the starting pitching. Yes, Atlanta has been good with the starters, but nobody has been a real inning eater save for and I cannot believe I am saying this Anibal Sanchez. He is actually having his best year overall in the Majors, even over the year where he was a Cy Young candidate in Detroit. But the thing is, you wonder when Anibal from 2014-2017 will return at any point.
The rotation is a solid rotation overall, but a couple of concerns. Sean Newcomb has seen his ERA jump from 2.59 to 3.44 in his last 3 outings and hasn’t made it past the 4th inning in either of his last two starts. His walks per 9 inning rate is very alarming on top of it. So trusting him to break losing streaks is a concern. Mike Foltynewicz has been dealing all year, but since his complete game shutout win against the Nationals June 1st, he’s had a stretch of working only 5 innings in 4 of his last 5 starts (part of it due to injury and Snitker didn’t want to further the injury I suppose). But even before the injury and the shutout, Foltynewicz does not work long into games. He’s only made it to the 6th inning 5 times out of his 17 starts. Julio Teheran, you never know what you will get. Some games he looks like a stud and the ace the Braves hoped he would be. And other games you wish you could put him on the first plane out of Atlanta. And Brandon McCarthy has been a mess.
So if you want to say the Braves have overachieved at the starting rotation spot until the young arms in Atlanta’s farm system develop. We are slowly seeing some of those guys come up, notably Max Fried and Mike Soroka who’ve done okay in sporadic starts, but are both on the DL. Foltynewicz deserves to be an all-star but he isn’t Atlanta’s ace. Actually there really isn’t any ace on the staff right now because how I view an ace is a guy who can work into the late innings when needed. The Braves need that ace of the rotation.
Currently the pitcher’s market at the deadline is, meh. JA Happ seems to be a key target to many who need to bolster the rotation. However, the Braves while having a great farm system, aren’t really in the process of trading key prospects for rental players which I think eliminates Happ. I said Atlanta could go after Rays starter Chris Archer, who can eat innings, but has consistency issues himself and injury issues. His ERA hasn’t been under 4 since 2015 and doesn’t have an impressive WHIP total either. And I’m not sure the likes of Kyle Gibson, Danny Duffy, or Francisco Liriano will invoke fear into the rest of the NL either if the Braves opt to go those routes.
Which brings the idea of Jacob deGrom & Noah Syndergaard. The Mets from all looks of it sounds like they may wipe the slate clean at this point. Yes, most fans will tell you the injury bug has doomed New York the last two seasons. Well, at some point if the same guys keep getting injured for the Mets like they’ve been, maybe it’s time to move along from them. And also, the Mets also thought they can rely on power hitters such as Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and others in that monstrosity of a park known as Citi Field, and it has been an epic disaster in Queens this year.
Both Mets starters are true aces. deGrom when healthy hasn’t gone less than 6 IP since opening day (excluding his first two May starts) and his numbers this year are mind-boggling (1.79 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 11.1 K/9 rate). If not for being on the Mets and having a 5-4 record, he is without question the voters pick for Cy Young. Syndergaard is slightly more of a question mark. He’s been dinged up since late May with a strained ligament in his right index finger and hasn’t pitched. But when he pitches, he’s also on (3.06 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10.6 K/9 rate) and he is also coming back soon, which means scouts galore in his first start back. But the best part is for both deGrom and Syndergaard, they will be locked up until 2020 (deGrom 2020, Syndergaard in 2021).
Of course, one of the key obstacles of a possible Braves/Mets trade is the fact they are in the same division and that really frightens away some teams giving up top prospects for the fear of seeing them on more than a few occurrences. Normally when we see teams trade within the division, it is low-risk, low-reward situations. This would obviously be different in that sense if a trade was made. And the Mets would certainly get a gem of a package coming back which you have to figure that any deal would include Ian Anderson and maybe Max Fried. And the Braves would get their ace, whether that is deGrom or Syndergaard.
This will be the biggest test for Atlanta as many view the Braves season being better than what was projected. The hitting is there thanks to Markakis, Freeman, Albies, and others while Ronald Acuna has come up. But the pitching and all the arms stockpiled on the farm, is still a year off in reality. Should they send some of those arms away for a deGrom or Syndergaard from a key rival within the division and have a super strong chance at a World Series this year and for years to come? Or do they trust the process and think that Anderson, Fried, Kolby Allard, and/or Joey Wentz becomes an ace in their own right, but in 3-4 years?
One argument to not trade for one of the Mets aces is that the Braves farm will put out the stars soon and Atlanta will win a championship without either one of them since the potential is so very high right now. Well, we’ve seen that road before from teams of “well, look at what they have, there is no way they won’t win a World Series.” Ask Detroit from 2011-2014. Ask Washington right now as that window may end up starting to close. Ask Baltimore. Ask Texas. Ask these teams that have come so close to a world championship only to fail, especially if it meant getting that one piece because they held onto a prospect that may or may not have panned out. Heck, it happened to Atlanta 20 years ago when they could have ended up with Randy Johnson (and the rumor was the Braves didn’t want to include George Lombard in any trade with Seattle).
We saw it with Houston last year when they had to make that trade to get Justin Verlander. It netted them a world championship because of it. But before that trade was made, Houston balked at getting Verlander at the non-waiver deadline and they really scuffled until they changed their minds and made the trade. Had they not changed their minds and got him I doubt Houston would have even made it in the World Series last season. And remember, Atlanta had 14 straight division titles but with only 1 world title to show for it. Early on in that run, it seemed like the Braves weren’t afraid of making that big move (Fred McGriff anybody?) and it did net them what felt like World Series appearance after World Series appearance with not being afraid of making a needed trade.
They keep saying the best trades are the ones that weren’t made. But you can make an argument saying the worst trades are ones that weren’t made too. Alex Anthopoulos will have a tough decision to make as the deadline continues to approach. Does he make a splash and get that ace the Braves desperately make right now or just hold off and see if Foltynewicz becomes that ace in 2019? Does he keep those prospects in his back pocket and not ship them off to a rival team or does he roll the dice and think deGrom would be better than whatever prospect the Braves have for the future?
Either way it will be a tough decision. My take is, yes, go for it because we don’t have any crystal ball to see if the Braves are a world championship team in 2018, 2019, 2020, or 2021. And with Philadelphia also looking to re-enter the fray as contenders at the same time the Braves are, this run may not be as huge as what people may think.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat