The Atlanta Braves were the 2021 World Series champions. They've won the NL East five straight years and won 101 games last season. It's a marquee franchise for Major League Baseball, too. I say these things because the 2023 Braves shouldn't be a team that can fly under the proverbial radar.
And yet, have we heard much about them this season? Have we discussed them enough? It feels like we haven't, especially for a team that is playing .750 ball (that's a full-season pace of 122 wins).
A big part of this is the Rays. Starting the season 13-0 is going to get the lion's share of the attention when the best teams in baseball are discussed, but the Braves are right there in the conversation.
The Braves are 12-4 and that's only one game behind their best-ever start through 16 games. The Braves went 13-3 in 1957, 1982, 1983, 1994, 1997 and 2013.
Not only do I feel like they haven't gotten enough love, but they aren't even playing above their level or anything. Ace Max Fried got hurt after 3 1/3 innings and hasn't been back yet. Last season's MLB win leader Kyle Wright just got off the injured list last week. Closer Raisel Iglesias has been on the IL all season. Michael Harris has only played in seven games. The shortstop position was given to Orlando Arcia and he got hurt and now it's Vaughn Grissom settling in. There have been other injuries.
And yet, the Braves have outscored their opponents by 24 runs and are already eight games over .500. They weren't eight games over last season until June 13 when they moved to 35-27. In 2021, they didn't get there until 65-57 on Aug. 18!
Plus, to reiterate, they're likely to get better. Reinforcements are on the way. The Phillies won the NL pennant last season and had a nice offseason. The Mets garnered a bunch of offseason attention. Then over in the AL, the Rays jumped out to one of the best starts in MLB history.
Through it all, the Atlanta Braves chugged out to one of the best starts in the history of a decorated franchise.
|Here's the thing about clowning on the Rays for the weak schedule during their 13-game winning streak to start the season: There's a legitimate argument that the Tigers, Nationals and A's will be the three worst teams in baseball this season. It's OK to say that the Rays just beat up on weak competition for nine games. The Red Sox, though, are now 8-4 when they don't play the Rays. Those four wins are good wins. In assessing the full picture here, only a sweep in Toronto would've had me contemplate a move down.||--||99-63|
|By the same token, if we're gonna talk about the Rays' weak schedule, we have to point out the Braves have eight wins against the Reds, Royals and Nationals. And as things stand, that sweep of the Cardinals might not be overly impressive. So if we're being consistent on the schedule talk, we have to dock the Braves nearly as many imaginary points as the Rays.||3||104-58|
|Last week I pointed out what an impressive start the Brewers had. Though they lost the series in Arizona to start the week, going into San Diego and taking three of four is a hell of an accomplishment.||1||92-70|
|Just win series, right? The Yankees are 4-0-1 in their five series this season. They are the only team that hasn't lost a series this season.||1||82-80|
|They've won nine of 12 and taking the series from the previously unbeaten Rays was a nice statement. Are they ready for more? This week brings a road trip to see the Astros and Yankees.||1||89-73|
|The most strikeouts in a season without a walk, among position players only, is 39 (Alejandro Sanchez, 1985 Tigers). I bring this up because Michael A. Taylor already has 21 strikeouts and hasn't walked. Let's not go only negative, though, as the Twins have had a very nice start to the season.||1||87-75|
|Francisco Lindor established a career high with 107 RBI last season. So far this year, despite hitting just .246, he's driven home 16 runs in 16 games.||5||74-87|
|Possibly concerning? Shane Bieber's strikeout rate has been declining since 2020 and so far this year he's only struck out 18 batters in 25 innings.||--||76-86|
|They've only really been impressive in taking three of four in Atlanta, right? Of course, they're about to get Fernando Tatis Jr. back and he's going to be a beast. Maybe that'll wake Juan Soto up.||5||82-80|
|After winning three of four, it looked like they might be awakening from their early season slumber. Then they lost two of three to the Rangers and looked pretty punchless in the two losses. Still, leeway for the champs here and remember, they were exactly 7-9 last year at this point, too.||1||90-72|
|The first-place Diamondbacks have Andrew Chafin as their dominant, lock-down closer. That's a fun sentence right there.||4||84-78|
|They are 8-8 with a +18 run differential, which is a small-sample oddity. They don't look a lot better than the record to these eyes so far, but it's still way early. Remember, they were 16-26 at one point in 2018 and ended up in the World Series.||2||100-62|
|Fun team. They should have solidified their pitching staff better by spending more money in free agency, but the result is those who aren't invested get to see a lot of wild games and this past week illustrated as much.||4||101-61|
|I've never made it a secret I'm a die-hard Cubs fan (side note: It's hilarious when people think they "catch" me). Coming into the year, I was pretty skeptical and just thought it was a mediocre team. I know it's a small sample and all that, but I have to say I'm pretty intrigued right now. They had a ridiculous comeback last week, have won three straight series and have taken seven of their last 10. That series win over the Dodgers in L.A. was the first since 2014. I suppose we could say they took two of three there in the 2016 NLCS, but those were different times. The point is, there might be a little something going here.||4||83-79|
|The Rangers have won five of their last seven and are the only team in the AL West above .500.||4||90-72|
|Gotta credit the Mariners' fortitude. They blew a 7-0 lead in Wrigley Field and that was their third straight loss. They responded by winning four straight to climb back to .500.||3||88-74|
|As noted above, the Red Sox are 8-4 when they don't play the Rays. Still, look at that lineup. It doesn't resemble that of a contender. Not right now. Rob Refsnyder in the three hole says it all.||1||78-84|
|Can a 4-3 week be uninspiring? Yeah, I'd say we just witnessed it. Given the competition and the Cardinals' expectations for the season, it should've been 5-2 or 6-1. Still, it's a big step in the right direction after the terrible week last time around.||4||71-91|
|They've looked pretty good in flashes so far, but then those three losses in Boston to start that series were pitiful.||8||73-89|
|They have a .500 record despite having gone 1-3 in Sandy Alcantara's four starts. They're definitely interesting, but they've got to generate more offense. They've only scored 49 runs in 16 games (3.06 runs per game and league average is 4.72).||3||84-77|
|How long can they hang around above .500 and in contention? The talent isn't there, but they battle on nearly a nightly basis. The rest of the April schedule isn't too tough, either. They might well hang for a bit.||--||76-86|
|Prior to Sunday's 14-run output, the Phillies had been one of the least "clutch" teams in all of baseball. Among NL teams, they were second in average, third in slugging, fourth in OPS and 13th in runs. Maybe Sunday's barrage jarred something loose.||2||90-72|
|On the opposite end of the Yankees, there are the White Sox. They haven't been swept and have generally looked competitive, but they are 0-4-1 in series this season.||1||61-101|
|Boring and bad is a rough combination, but it might be headed that way this season for the Giants.||4||79-83|
|Graham Ashcraft has been amazing, Nick Lodolo is clearly a future ace and, hell, maybe he's already there. Hunter Greene flashes so much upside. And then there's Luis Cessa. Woof. Really fun Big Three in the rotation, though!||--||82-80|
|Uh oh, is it happening again? The Rockies are 3-4 at home but 2-7 on the road. They'll need to get better at home to better resemble their drastic splits from recent memory, but it's on the table.||--||59-103|
|If they got a vintage Javier Bàez hot streak, it would at least be a tolerable team to watch. And lookie here: In his last three games, Javy is 5 for 9 with three doubles, four RBI and two walks.||2||78-84|
|Everyone is picking on Patrick Corbin, but the Nats have now won his last two starts. Sure, you could say those came in spite of him, as he sports a 6.30 ERA and 1.75 WHIP, but ... yeah, OK. The wins were in spite of him.||--||71-91|
|It's too early to start tracking the worst home records in history, but the Royals are now 1-9 this year in Kauffman.||2||56-106|
|In the midst of a pathetic 17-6 loss Friday night, A's pitchers issued 17 walks (yes, 17; that's not a typo) and hit two batters. It's just not a major-league-quality ballclub. A sad state of affairs for a city that deserves so much better.||--||50-112|