Braves Acuna A TCB illustration of stars of the Atlanta Braves.

The Atlanta Braves lost star right-hander Spencer Strider before the season could begin. Like many others in Major League Baseball this year, Strider suffered an elbow injury and underwent season-ending surgery, putting the Braves at a big disadvantage. Strider is one of the best young pitchers in MLB and is especially skilled with his strikeouts.

Yet, without Strider, the Braves have still been one of MLB’s elite teams. Through the first quarter of the season, Atlanta is 24-12. They’re 1.5 games behind the scorching Philadelphia Phillies, who own the league’s best record.

But despite that, the Braves remain on their tail. It’s pretty likely that holds true all season long, too. Although they aren’t in first place, Atlanta is still a team no one should be counting out.

Here are a few reasons why.

Chris Sale

When Atlanta acquired Chris Sale, many probably didn’t expect the veteran left-hander to be at the front of the rotation right away. Sale’s dealt with injury issues and has seen his performance be affected over the past few years.

Well, something must be in the water in Atlanta. Sale looks crisp yet again on the mound and has pitched very well thus far. He’s posted a 2.54 ERA through 49.2 innings pitched, and what’s more is that his strikeout-throwing ways haven’t dwindled. He leads all Braves starters with a 11.05 K/9. That ranks fourth in MLB behind Freddy Peralta, Tyler Glasnow, and Dylan Cease.

With Strider gone, if the Braves get elite pitching out of Sale, then they’re obviously a very imposing ball club. Sale has pitched in October before and knows the deal there.

Ronald Acuña Jr.

Ronald Acuña Jr. hasn’t gotten his bat going yet… and that should probably intimidate everybody else to an extent. The Braves have won exactly two-thirds of their games this season. They’ve done that even though Acuña hasn’t hit the ball particularly well this year. Through May 11, he’s slashed just .252/.359/.357. His slugging percentage combined with a ballooned K% might be cause for some concern.

That said, Acuña is simply too talented. It’s hard to expect that he’ll continue to have these issues at the plate. He’s still been a great base-stealer, with 14 stolen bases to his name so far. But that bat will need to come back around. The good news for the Braves is that he’s due to bring that thunder back.

Marcell Ozuna

One of MLB’s biggest surprises this year is Marcell Ozuna. The former Marlins slugger has belted 12 home runs already this season, a mark that currently leads the National League. He only trails league leader Kyle Tucker, who hit his 14th home run this weekend. Ozuna leads the Braves in batting average (.329), on-base percentage (.409), and slugging percentage (.629). It’s been a fascinating early start, but Ozuna has certainly powered them up. If he continues to, then they will remain a relentlessly tough out.

About Chris Novak

Chris Novak has been talking and writing about sports ever since he can remember. Previously, Novak wrote for and managed sites in the SB Nation network for nearly a decade from 2013-2022