Hey batter batter…
It’s early. Gotta keep telling yourself it’s early in the season. Playing baseball during an apocalypse, the Braves might be fortunate to have a .500 record after 6 games. All things considered, this is not even close to the worst thing that could have happened, right? Starting the season with both of your rostered catchers on the COVID IL (neither of which had COVID, by the way…), DFA’ing a member of your starting rotation after one start, and facing two of the best pitching staffs in the game in your first two series is a recipe for disaster. If we’re being honest, however, there is some legitimate concern surrounding the offense and their inability to put the bat on the ball.
The Braves ranked 11th in all of baseball in number of strikeouts last season. Nothing to brag about, but certainly not an indicator that it needed to be an area of focus for this season. Besides, strikeouts don’t matter, right? Maybe if you are in the middle of the pack they don’t matter, but when you lead the league, that’s a big problem. Through the first six games of the season, the Braves have the most k’s in baseball at 74. That’s an average of over 12 per game. That’s not bad, it’s obnoxiously bad. Sure, facing deGrom and Glasnow is part of the problem, and you’re right, usually pitching is ahead of hitting early in the season. If you’ve watched theses games, though, you can definitely see that not only are the Braves striking out, they are extremely non-competitive in those strikeouts. If you throw 95 MPH or above, there is literally no reason to throw a breaking ball. Just pump three fastballs in there and move on to the next guy.
To be fair to the Braves, they have seen more pitches over 95 MPH than any other team not named the Astros, and apparently Houston batters spend more time dodging theirs than swinging at them. Thankfully there aren’t an unending supply of starters who throw 95+, so perhaps this trend will even out as the hitters start getting their timing down.
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Markakis opts out, then back in
As hitter after hitter did an about face at the plate for the Braves, many were asking themselves whether things might have been different if Nick Markakis hadn’t opted out of the 2020 season. Apparently, one of those people asking themselves this question was Nick Markakis. On Tuesday afternoon it was announced by multiple sources that Nick Markakis would be opting back in to the 2020 season. It turns out, after making the decision to remove himself from the three ring circus that baseball has become, Markakis came to realize that the risks to his personal health and that of his family was not weighing on him nearly as much as watching the men he went to war with every day for the last 5 years struggle in his absence.
While anyone who has watched Markakis play should not be surprised by this, it came as a huge surprise that it was even POSSIBLE for him to return. When the agreement was reached to restart the season, it was widely reported that players who opted out for personal reasons (as opposed to being in the high risk category) would be unable to opt back in for 2020. As it turns out, there were provisions in that agreement that allowed for players to apply for reinstatement before August 1st. Markakis took advantage of this and is set to rejoin the Braves after a brief stopover in Gwinnett to get his legs under him.
Whether or not this will be a big boon for the Braves remains to be seen, of course. The addition of Markakis to the roster will necessarily take AB’s from Matt Adams, who is seen as a much proficient power threat than Nick. The benefit, however, is that despite what most of us think of the aging Markakis in the outfield defensively, he is a marked upgrade over the suddenly immobile Marcell Ozuna. It has been well documented that Ozuna’s throwing arm has declined in recent years, but I doubt anyone truly expected his sprint speed to be compared to Braves legends Matt Kemp and Ryan Klesko. Moving Ozuna to a full-time DH and platooning Markakis and Duvall in LF might be the best thing for Atlanta this season, especially since it looks like Yasiel Puig will not be joining the club this season.
So welcome back Markakis, Greek god of doubles and divine protector of managers in crisis. He may not be the hero we deserve, but he is the hero we need right now.
Braves acquire 2018 version of A.J. Minter
So apparently that injury that Minter sustained in Spring Training last season might have affected him more than anyone believed at the time. Minter was in a car accident, and reportedly the seat belt tweaked his shoulder. It’s not uncommon for the Braves to downplay injuries, of course, and as a result most believed that the poor performance from the lefty hurler last season was simply due to him relying more on his cutter and less on his 95+ MPH fastball.
In his first couple of outings of 2020, Minter has shown renewed life on that fastball, solid depth on the cutter that wasn’t fooling anyone last season, and a changeup that was added to his arsenal and has become a devastating weapon against righties. With Will Smith still battling back from a positive COVID-19 test, the resurgence of A.J. Minter could be a huge advantage for the Braves.
Folty designated for assignment
If you weren’t sure how high the stakes were in a 60 game season, just ask Mike Foltynewicz. When Folty arrived to camp this spring, he looked like the Folty we expected to see. A little wild, maybe, but his FB was in the mid 90’s and he was working on his secondary pitches to miss more bats. Fast forward to spring training 2.0, a noticeably thinner Folty showed up throwing batting practice velocity fast balls and getting knocked around. Initially he blamed it on getting his innings in, a lack of rosin during a rain-soaked start, and even the radar gun being off, but everyone could see something was wrong. The Braves repeatedly asked him if he was healthy, even testing his strength just to be sure. He said he felt great, and his fastball felt just like it always has with no pain or injury concerns.
After his first start of 2020, however, assistant GM Perry Minasian met with Foltynewicz before the game had even ended and informed him that the Braves were designating him for assignment. Whether he needed more time to get his velocity back or if he had a nagging injury that might need time to work through, one thing was certain: with regards to Mike Foltynewicz, there simply was no more time to be had. His stuff was not good enough to be used out of the pen, and frankly the Braves have 10 better options in the bullpen than Folty armed with an 88 MPH fastball. It was doubtful the Braves would have tendered him a contract in the offseason, so it must have seemed a perfect time to cut bait and see if they might be able to get something in return for him from a team starved for pitching. Who knows, maybe Houston, who has lost more than a couple of starters this season (including Justin Verlander), might be tempted to reunite with the troubled hurler. At this point any return is better than watching Mike Foltynewicz struggle to break 90 MPH with a flat fastball.
Regardless, it’s been a sad ending for one of the more colorful members of the Braves in recent years. Sure, he’s thrown some temper tantrums on the mound, but I always enjoyed his interactions with the media and with fans on Twitter. He’s an emotional guy, and that has always driven him to push for excellence. I wish him all the best as he looks to recapture some measure of success with a new organization in the future.