3 overreactions to Braves’ scorching start to 2023 season

After a brutal end to their title defense season, the Atlanta Braves are rolling to start the 2023 season. They have taken a 1.5 game lead over the New York Mets thanks to an insanely hot start. They have lost only one of their six series this season (a 4-game tilt with the Padres), with them getting wins over the Nationals, the Padres, the Cardinals, the Reds, and the Royals.

Yes, it’s only been less than 20 games. That’s not going to stop us from making some overreactions to this hot start by the Braves. Let’s talk about the best storylines and the best players during the early portion of the year.

Ronald Acuna Jr in MVP form

The 2022 season was a rough year for Ronald Acuna Jr. In his return from an ACL injury he suffered in 2021, the Braves star right fielder did not look like himself for a good part of the year. The eye test and the stats proved it. On the field, Acuna looked hobbled, even grimacing at some point. He was forced to miss time even after his return due to nagging knee pain. It was a bit painful to watch.

The stats showed a clear dip in his production as well. The standard slash lines didn’t look too good for the Braves star (.267 BA, .351/.413 .764). He led the league in Caught Stealing with 11. The advanced metrics didn’t help either: there was a clear drop in his average exit velocity. His defense went from good to bad (-7 Outs Above Average) too.

Early in the season, Ronald Acuna Jr is looking more and more like the star that Braves fans have longed to return. He’s currently batting .367 on the year while slashing .451/.544/.995: numbers that are much more similar to his pre-injury form. The speed isn’t quite there yet (88th percentile sprint speed, not quite like the 97th from 2021), but he’s still second in the league in stolen bases with eight. His defense is also slowly coming back, too (though it’s still in the ne

Is it time for MVP Acuna to return? Give it some more time this year, and it might just happen.

Braves need a DH/LF overhaul

If there’s one complaint about the Braves’ roster this season, it’s the designated hitter role. The league rules in 2022 now have both MLB leagues to implement a permanent DH on their roster. This allows teams to field a better, more competent bat instead of getting their pitcher to try their hardest to pitch (usually to no avail). In theory, this should add more power to their lineup. However… that’s not the case for the Braves.

The Braves’ DH position is rotating right now between two delightfully terrible left fielders in Eddie Rosario and Marcell Ozuna. These two were two of the worst players in the league last year, and that still rings true this year. In fact, one of them got even worse, somehow: Ozuna is currently batting .083 this season. It’s a problem that they badly need to address, and could cause problems down the line.

The return of Travis d’Arnaud from his injury (more on that later) will hopefully alleviate some of these problems. He will likely rotate with Sean Murphy as the catcher/DH (similar to their set-up with Willson Contreras and d’Arnaud last year). However, that left field gap will still remain. Playing Ozuna at LF is asking for trouble, and his god-awful hitting further exacerbates his issues on defense. Eddie Rosario tries, but his hitting is that much better.

This team is DEEP

It’s easy to forget, but this Braves team is banged up for the start of the 2023 season. To start the year, SP Kyle Wright and closer Raisel Iglesias were put on the injured list. When the season started, the injuries just kept adding up. Max Fried was knocked out of his Opening Day start. Orlando Arcia (who was having an excellent season) suffered a wrist micro-fracture. d’Arnaud is recovering from a concussion. Reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Harris is also out with an injury.

Yet, despite all that, the Braves are still winning games, and winning them decisively. One could point at the Braves’ “soft” schedule and say that they’re being propped up by bad teams. And yes, they did play teams like the Nats, the Reds, and the Royals. However, it’s important to note that they also have one of the best run differentials in the league (+32). They’re not just winning these “easy” games: they’re demolishing them. A strong batting core and a rock-solid bullpen is key to their success this year.

There’s also reason to believe that this team could be much, much better. The return of Harris, d’Arnaud, and Arcia will add more batting prowess to a lineup already boasting the likes of Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Sean Murphy, and Ronald Acuna Jr. Perhaps Vaughn Grissom could even steal some appearances as a DH when Arcia returns to the lineup.

The post 3 overreactions to Braves’ scorching start to 2023 season appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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