The Atlanta Braves have heretofore been one of the biggest disappointments of the season. The Braves, who have won the National League East three years in a row, entered Tuesday 5 1/2 games back of the New York Mets with a 30-33 record. Even the Braves' run differential, minus-2, paints the team in an uninspiring light.
If there's good news to be found for the Braves, it was contained in an interview general manager Alex Anthopoulos did this week with Jeff Shultz of The Athletic. Within, Anthopoulos divulged two important nuggets: 1) they will have financial flexibility at the trade deadline; and 2) they could return a number of injured players before the end of August. That combination suggests the Braves should be better positioned for the stretch run than expected.
"We started the year, I think, at 25 percent capacity and we moved up incrementally and we're up to 100 percent," Anthopoulos said. "So we're absolutely in a position and I've been told that as well, that we can add payroll at the trade deadline."
Many teams like to keep at least $10 million in reserves for in-season additions. It's possible the Braves' figure falls short of that, as they entered the season with a franchise-high $131 million Opening Day payroll.
How the Braves might use their financial wiggle room is informed in part by the other aforementioned nugget. Anthopoulos expressed optimism about pitchers Mike Soroka and Huascar Ynoa, as well as catcher Travis d'Arnaud, returning sometime in August. Should that come to fruition, it would give the Braves a boost to their pitching staff and lineup alike.
Of course, that doesn't mean the Braves should take the deadline lightly. They entered Tuesday ranked 10th in offense, according to FanGraphs' catch-all wRC+ metric; 15th in rotation ERA; and 25th in bullpen ERA. Atlanta's relief corps have been responsible for 46 "meltdowns," a measure that evaluates the unit's Win Probability Added (or subtracted), which is tied for the worst mark in the majors, alongside the struggling Minnesota Twins.
The Braves should be able to address their bullpen by calling various non-contenders. The Pittsburgh Pirates, for instance, ought to make Richard Rodríguez, Kyle Crick, and Chris Stratton available between now and July. Ditto for the Colorado Rockies and Daniel Bard and Mychal Givens. (The Braves may also want to add an outfielder after Marcell Ozuna was arrested in June on domestic violence charges.)
Whether or not the Braves can hang around until reinforcements arrive is to be determined. One thing is for certain: Their schedule is going to do them no favors. Beginning on Tuesday, the Braves will play 17 consecutive games against teams who have a .500 or better record. That stretch includes seven games versus the division-leading Mets.