The Season We Didn’t Want

This was not how the 2021 season was supposed to go for the Atlanta Braves.

Sure, if you ask most projection systems, the Braves were supposed to be essentially a .500 ball club. In that regard, the team’s 44-45 record heading into the All-Star break shouldn’t be entirely surprising.

But how the season arrived at this point, and what fans expect the second half will hold, is unlike anything anyone could’ve predicted.

One of the most persistent disappointments, other than the Braves’ inability to exist a single day with a winning record, has been the recovery of Mike Soroka from an Achilles tendon injury. At one point, fans were hopeful he could maybe return by Opening Day. That date got pushed back multiple times, both from shoulder discomfort and setbacks related to the Achilles. Now, many are left wondering if Soroka will ever truly return to form for the Braves.

But as bad as losing a former All-Star and presumptive ace is, it’s actually even more crushing than that. Because Soroka was the solid one, the “Maple Maddux.” Soroka doesn’t have the devastating curveball that Max Fried has, but he also doesn’t have the blister history. He doesn’t have the stuff of a Touki Toussaint or the power of a Kyle Muller. But what he’s always had is consistency and control. If there was one pitching prospect that you could bet your house on, it’s Mike Soroka.

Until you couldn’t.

Huascar Ynoa seemed to be filling the void left by Soroka. He posted a 3.02, 1.052 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings through his first nine appearances and eight starts of the year. After a bad outing in Milwaukee on May 16, though, he broke his hand by hitting the bench during an angry outburst.

Joining Ynoa in the injured hand brigade was Travis d’Arnaud. The 2020 Silver Slugger catcher hadn’t been hitting well this season, but the position has been a revolving door of subpar performances since he went on the IL on May 1.

Then there’s Marcell Ozuna. Obviously, the No. 3 hitter being ineffective, then also suffering an injured hand, then arrested for domestic violence is almost as bad as it could possibly get. But for the Braves, it was even worse.

Coming into the season, Ozuna looked like the most perfect example for how Alex Anthopoulos’ plan could work. He signed Ozuna to a one-year “show me” deal similar to Josh Donaldson or Cole Hamels, but then he and the team were able to line up on a multi-year deal. The Braves’ fanbase connected with a free agent signing, he produced a career year and then he came back long-term. Few players on the 2021 roster were as popular as Ozuna, and he looked like a piece of the puzzle for years to come.

But then things went as far south as possible, and fans are left wondering if the Ozuna deal will prevent future deals, either tangibly or intangibly. This was the only long-term deal post-rebuild, the one we had been waiting for. And it’s completely ruined.

Speaking of deals, a Freddie Freeman contract extension once seemed a sure thing, perhaps even before the 2021 season began. Now, halfway through the year, not only has that not happened, but many are beginning to wonder if we’re watching the final months of a fan favorite’s time in Atlanta.

Even the All-Star Break itself isn’t really a break from the overall suckitude of the 2021 Braves’ season. At one point, this year’s game and the surrounding festivities were supposed to be held at Atlanta’s Truist Park. But after a situation that can best be described as a political urinating contest, all of that was moved to Denver.

And just when we all thought that it would be hard to suck any more fun out of the season, the cruelest blow of all was struck – Ronald Acuña Jr. went down last week with a season-ending knee injury. Now the Braves will play the second half without an All-Star outfielder who was hitting .283 with a .990 OPS, 24 homers and 17 stolen bases in just 82 games.

But like the rest, Acuña is more than those numbers. He’s sometimes the reason you tune in to a Braves game. When everyone else is slumping, and you’re pretty sure either the starting pitcher or the bullpen – or both – is going to blow that day’s game, you watch because Ronald might hit a ball into orbit, gun a runner down at third, steal a couple bases or do all three. And now we know he won’t be back until sometime next year.

And let’s not even delve into the eventual demotions of highly anticipated prospects Cristian Pache and William Contreras.

This isn’t to say that there’s no reason to watch the Braves now. This isn’t even to say that the Braves can’t make a run, make a couple trade deadline additions and win the division. There are plenty of reasons to watch this team, and the talent is there to run down the oft-injured New York Mets.

The problem is that 2021 has given us every reason to expect that if things start going well, Truist Park is going to become infested with feral hogs. Or Ozzie Albies will wind up pregnant. Or Rob Manfred will announce that the Braves have to play their remaining games on the TV Guide Channel, which no longer exists.

As a fanbase, it’s just all been too much, and it’s tough to set yourself up to get disappointed again. That said, I assume we’ll all be tuning in Friday, PTSD and all.

39 thoughts on “The Season We Didn’t Want”

  1. The problem is that 2021 has given us every reason to expect that if things start going well, Truist Park is going to become infested with feral hogs. Or Ozzie Albies will wind up pregnant. Or Rob Manfred will announce that the Braves have to play their remaining games on the TV Guide Channel, which no longer exists.

    Haha very well done.

  2. The Braves haven’t won the World Series since 1995. I was 9 years old. So, I’m going to be just as happy of a person if the Braves don’t win the World Series for one more year. If we were going to be starting Williams Perez and Boom Boom Bobby Fausto Hernandez in the second half, I would want us to neither sell nor buy. But if Davidson and Ynoa come back healthy in August and Anderson is not really injured then I want the Braves to sell. Let Fried, Anderson, Wright, Wilson, Davidson, and Ynoa toe the rubber in the second half and see where exactly we’re at. If you have an entire rotation of starters pitching well in the second half and you have Soroka coming back next year, then not only will we not have to spend money on a Morton or Hamels again next year, but hey, maybe we can finally trade off someone to get someone back with control.

    And this too. I feel like we’re already at the point in the Competitive Window(TM) where we’re having to use stopgap players like 32-year old Abraham Almonte who have had their share of opportunities but they’re slightly more likely to be helpful so you go with them over someone like Demeritte who has gotten a fraction of the big league PAs that Almonte has gotten.

    I want to see who we have. Stop yo-yo’ing pitchers like Wilson and Wright between AAA and MLB. Stop throwing bandaids like Almonte and Jeff Mathis and Sean Kazmar and Pablo Sandoval and Jesse Chavez and Nate Jones at problems.

  3. @2 Yes sir. Demeritte should be here in place of Almonte who should shift into the Sandoval role. Ender should be replaced by virtually anybody. Wilson or Wright need to be in the Tomlin role to see if they can in fact get MLB hitters out and if not cut bait. They have proven time and time again that they can be good in AAA but we need to see if they can make it in Atlanta.

    We should be beyond the retreads that make up a lot of this roster.

  4. I hate the AAA express, I truly think it puts too much pressure on the call ups to be perfect and if they aren’t, boom, back down they go.

  5. From the last thread:

    I played little league with a guy named Jason Davis. He was drafted by the Indians. I randomly went to a game in Cleveland and he started. I told my then girlfriend I knew him. She didn’t’ believe me and I had to buy a program.

    I also went to high school with Vincent Yarbrough. He was a 5 star recruit. Dean Smith and Rick Petino would come to see him play. He was drafted by the Nuggets and is most famous for getting posterized by Kobe.

    Jason Davis:
    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/d/davisja02.shtml
    Kobe Dunk:

  6. Am I misremembering or have there been teams who have done a partial sell off and actually improved themselves in the process, becoming playoff contenders? I could see a possibility of us getting rid of Smyly and Morton and some of our veteran relievers and improving slightly in the process. It’s not likely, but if I’m remembering correctly it may not be out of the realm of possibility.

  7. @9
    I’m sure teams have done that, but I don’t see a universe where the pitching staff that has barely hung on with the current roster getting better by subtracting pitchers that can return value. You could MAYBE get by with trading one of Will Smith or Chris Martin, but that only works if Shane Greene finds himself, and you need every rotation arm to stay.

  8. @9, in general yeah, but I’m guessing a lot less of that lately. My sense is that teams have often traded vets for prospects and then seen the prospects immediately outperform the departing vet. But that requires vets to unclench their grip on their prospects, and these days, as GMs have tended towards prospect hoarding, we’ve seen many fewer of those types of trades.

    DOOOOMED!

  9. Sounds like the 7 inning DH and extra inning runner on second rules will be gone at the end of the season. I kind of liked the DH rule but hate the runner on second.

  10. Hoping the designated hitter comes back for the NL. Let’s be consistent – – either all MLB uses it – – or no one.

    With all these injuries – – even if it isn’t “pure” baseball (and I’ll let some of you debate that!) – – it’s practical. With the budget the Braves have, I’d rather protect the pitchers and avoid the potential for an likely injury.

    Call me crazy. And that’s okay!

  11. The days of Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz are long gone. And perhaps Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz is the exact reason why they’re long gone.

  12. @14
    The year Doyle Alexander was traded to the Tigers, he pitched 88 innings for them with a 1.53 ERA and they won their division. He started 11 games and they won every single one of them. Yes, Smoltz became a HoF, but like the Braves with Wainwright and JD Drew, they don’t take the division without the trade.

  13. On another note, the Braves have opened up another 40-man roster spot. I hope one is not for Adam Eaton. Keep in mind though, AA has preached the value of having a full 40-man so I fully expect that something is afoot.

  14. @14

    Did the Tigers “win that trade” in an objective sense? Certainly not. Did they get exactly what they wanted from that trade when they made it? Sure did. I’ve never felt super bad for the Tigers on that.

    @12

    The 14-inning doubleheader should go away. Fine for the minor leagues and college, but not for the majors. Unless you’re gonna implement a mercy rule while you’re at it.

    The runner-on-second tiebreaker I think is fine to avoid eye-gougingly, icepick-lobotomizingly interminable extra-inning regular season games, but starting it in the 10th inning is way too early, especially since a major plurality (really almost half) of extra-inning games already ended in the 10th inning before the rule change if you look at the numbers. Slap that rule into play starting in the 13th inning and I’m cool with it (assuming it’s regular season only). The 10th or 11th? No thanks.

  15. @ 16
    I really don’t get why everyone is so against signing Adam Eaton right now. They have run through a LOT of OF options, and Eaton provides a warm body with big league experience. He’s not going to cost a lot, but he will allow the organization more time to evaluate the situation.

  16. @9 The Rays traded Chris Archer at the deadline of 2018 and still won 90 games, though it wasn’t enough to get to the playoffs out of the AL East. That would be an example of a team that traded off pieces because they didn’t think they had the horses to go all the way, and they still ended the season in a respectable position.

  17. @19 Adam Eaton, if I’m not mistaken, has a reputation for being a bit of a jerk. I don’t know where I read that, but I’m pretty sure I did. So if he’s not good at playing baseball and that’s a concern, then I can see why Atlanta would pass on him.

    Put it this way, I’d rather call up Demeritte and see what he’s got then pick up 32-year old Adam Eaton.

  18. @ 21
    Signing Eaton doesn’t mean you can’t call up Demeritte. It just gives you another option. Just keep in mind that of the original four OF on the Braves’ roster this year, only Ender remains. You can call Pache back up if you want, but I’d rather not rush him back if it can be avoided.

  19. @22 I see your point. So you would DFA Ender and sign Eaton? Or would Acuna’s roster spot just go to Eaton? Who goes to make room for Demeritte?

  20. @23
    Apparently there are two open 40-man spots already, so you wouldn’t need to do anything there. On the active roster, there are seven infielders NOT counting Adrianza, so you could easily send Camargo back down or even Sandoval honestly.

  21. I wouldn’t hate Eaton instead of Ender, especially if Demeritte is also brought up. I would prefer Carmago to Sandoval because he is certainly a pumpkin now (and an oversized one at that) that offers zero defensive flexibility since he can’t play in the field. To maximize the limited position players, I think you outright Ender and Sandoval, bring up Demeritte and another outfielder from inside or outside the orginaztion.

  22. But…Ender doesn’t really start. Adam Eaton definitely would. Adam Eaton is Ender Inciarte. They are the same and neither has been good since 2019. The time is now for the Braves to decide their fate and neither choice should involve Adam Eaton.

  23. They may not be able to decide their fate right now. And they are one Ender sprained ankle from having to call up Pache or Waters, whether they’re ready or not. Signing Adam Eaton prevents that from being the case and buys them some time to really evaluate the situation.
    And with an OF rotation that currently includes Ender, Almonte, Heredia and Adrianza, Ender will absolutely be starting. Probably more than he doesn’t.

  24. Speaking of Doyle and Smoltz, I wonder if AA will ever tell us who he could have gotten at the deadline last year for Pache and Waters (and Muller + Wright + Touki etc.). Twenty years from now he is still going to be punching himself in the shower.

  25. @JT

    Highly doubt Ender starts (at least regularly) as you’re leaving out Arcia who’ll likely be the regular LFer with Heredia in CF. From there, Braves can platoon semi-platoon Almonte and Adrianza in RF. However, if I were running the team, I’d throw Camargo and Adrianza in at 3B and run a Riley, Heredia, Almonte/Adrianza OF.

    However…I fully expect the Braves to add.

  26. Oh I really hope they do add. But I just don’t see a situation where Brian Snitker doesn’t throw Ender into the mix. And signing Adam Eaton for $250,000 doesn’t even come close to preventing other moves. He’s literally just an insurance policy.

  27. @29 in that scenario, where is Arcia? Shortstop? I don’t think that makes the team any better honestly. In my opinion, a Camargo/Adrianza 3B with that OF and Arcia at SS is worse than what we currently run out there with Riley at 3B, Dansby at SS, Arcia LF, Heredia CF and the RF black hole. I don’t think Carmago makes anything better unless he replaces Sandoval as the utility bench bat.

    @30 I agree…Eaton is a cheap insurance policy that honestly could also go to Demeritte, but who cares if Eaton doesn’t get any at bats where it would matter with Demeritte.

    And I hope we do add as well

  28. Arcia = supersub.

    Eaton is probably completely cooked. Stash him at AAA and give a kid a try.

  29. The problem with having Adam Eaton in your organization is that sooner or later you might use Adam Eaton.

  30. I’m all for rolling the dice with the older minor leaguers. I think it’s the best short term chance to get lucky, and the best long term move for development. It wouldn’t bother me if Freddie was the only starting position player over 30 in the second half.

    If Alex Jackson, Demeritte and/or Camargo can’t play, let’s find out once and for all. Pache is younger, and if you’re scared to let him work things out against MLB pitching, we can keep Heredia in center. But please stop giving starts to people who we know aren’t the answer.

  31. @25: from the Kung Fu Panda to La Gran Calabaza.

    I’m never calling him anything else, but let’s hope his name doesn’t come up very much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *