After sweeping the Miami Marlins last week, the Atlanta Braves looked poised to attack a west coast swing with momentum on their side.
Let’s just say the trip it was as polarizing as the Braves’ season so far.
Atlanta started off in Los Angeles to play the Dodgers. At least, that is what was supposed to take place on paper. Not only were the visiting Braves swept in the three-game series, they were outscored 23-7 in the process.
The beat down was reminiscent of last year’s NLDS where the talent and pedigree of the Dodgers severely outweighed the youthful bravado of Atlanta.
Yet, the Braves found solace in Phoenix by taking three of four games from the Arizona Diamondbacks. They finished the road trip with a modest 6-4 record.
Here are some key points from the west coast venture.
Acuna As Lead Man
After spending essentially the last half of the year in 2018 as the leadoff hitter for Atlanta, Ronald Acuna, Jr. has been fixed into the cleanup role for the start of the 2019 campaign.
The move to the No. 4 spot came as no surprise considering Acuna’s newfound discipline at the plate, which was evident in spring training. Couple that with Ozzie Albies’ ability to leadoff, and the Braves have a formidable weapons at the front-end of their lineup. The 2018 All-Star second baseman is batting .273 with 7 HR in the leadoff spot.
After several games of struggling with runners in scoring position, Brian Snitker decided to mix things up a bit in the batting order. Several moves were made within the order, but the move to get Acuna back to the No. 1 spot looks to be the most beneficial
#Braves failed to get a hit with runners in scoring position in four of the past five games including last night's 0-for-4 in those situations.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) May 11, 2019
In 70 career games batting first in the order, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year is slashing .307/.426./1.035 with 90 hits. While these numbers beg to question the experiment in the first place, there should not be any doubt going forward as to where/how this team and RAJ thrive.
While most of the bullpen continues to be leaky, Atlanta may have found a closing option in veteran Luke Jackson.
Despite blowing a save in the first game of the series against Arizona, Jackson came back with a vengeance the following two games. He earned a save in his next two appearances, one of which was a two-inning performance, his first multiple-inning outing since April 27.
Since earning his first save of the season in dramatic fashion against the Colorado Rockies on April 28, the workhorse-turned-temporary closer has recorded four saves in five attempts. Jackson also has a 1.35 ERA and 6 SO in 6.2 IP during that stretch.
What a wild ride it has been for Luke Jackson, transforming from Braves Fans whipping boy to our Lord and Savior.
— CC (@CCBraves) May 12, 2019
Nevermind Jackson’s tumultuous journey prior to March 31. Since Opening Day, the reliever has allowed just one run: the one that cost him the save against the Diamondbacks. There is a stark difference in the 2019 version of Jackson. The key for the Braves is for Snitker and the rest of the staff to manage that role appropriately.
Time For Riley?
One advantage of having Josh Donaldson and Johan Carmago available to flex is providing top-prospect Austin Riley enough time to develop, especially after suffering a knee injury that derailed his 2018 campaign in the minor leagues.
After a slow start in 2019, Riley has since proven why so many scouts covet the budding star. At 6’3, 220 lbs, his frame looks more fitting for a linebacker than a third baseman. Don’t be fooled.
The former first-round pick has cat-like reflexes and a solid glove at the hot corner. He can also hit a little, too. Prior to going 0-for-4 in yesterday’s game against Pawtucket, Riley had hit 12 HR and 28 RBI in just 18 games.
I will go ahead and key in a NSFW warning before reading/seeing anymore illicit information.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 10, 2019
Riley’s slash line in those 18 games was an astounding .406/.488/.1043.
The Gwinnett Striper (AAA) has long been the topic of trade bait or booming prospect. If recent history is any indication, Atlanta is inclined to add Riley to its repertoire. Atlanta doesn’t need Riley to fill a void, but they do need a spark that can provide support when the bullpen fails or baserunners can’t get to the plate.
And who knows, the trade deadline is only getting closer. Would the Braves consider moving a flex-piece like Camargo to help obtain a premier arm?
It may not take that kind of move to get Riley to the big stage. He will make that happen if he keeps up this Acuna-like trajectory.
For now, Braves’ fans wait for the arrival of the next young talent.