May 25, 2024

Which Atlanta Braves players’ stock is up/down after first month of the MLB season

The Atlanta Braves are seven-time defending NL East champions and have the majors’ best record (20-9), so why do many of their fans seem so stressed out lately?

Part of it is the weight of high expectations. But there’s also the fresh memory of consecutive NL Division Series losses to rival Philadelphia after the Braves finished 14 games ahead of the Phillies both times in the regular season. Never mind that the Braves hadn’t lost a series this season or even dropped consecutive games until a pair of defeats at Seattle on Monday and Tuesday. Atlanta was the last team in the majors to lose two in a row.

Braves fans now see the Phillies nipping at their heels in the standings, see three of the top four hitters in Atlanta’s lineup struggling, and some start getting flashbacks to the NLDS offensive collapse. Especially when they are arguably the three biggest stars of an offense that set or tied several franchise and MLB records a year ago.

Here’s the stock report on some key Braves entering May.

Stock up

Max Fried

Reynaldo López has been the Braves’ surprising best starter through April, but the veteran lefty Max Fried finished the month with a flourish. After posting a shocking 18.00 ERA in his first two starts and a .329 opponents average through four starts, the perennial Cy Young Award contender has looked like himself in his past two starts. Fried pitched a three-hit, nine-inning shutout in 92 pitches with no walks against the Marlins on April 23, then went six hitless and scoreless innings Monday at Seattle, when he exited only because his pitch count already was at 100. Fried has given up just three hits and two walks with 13 strikeouts in 15 scoreless innings over those past two starts while lowering his ERA from 7.71 to 4.02.

Chris Sale 

He’s not just meeting or surpassing expectations on the mound, the lanky left-hander is also a strong presence in the clubhouse and a fiery competitor whom teammates say they love playing behind. Sale’s streak of three games with seven innings pitched in each ended Wednesday at Seattle, but he impressed again, limiting the Mariners to one run and six hits in five innings, with no walks and a season-high nine strikeouts. He trimmed his ERA to 3.44, and Sale has had just one bad game — five runs allowed in seven innings at Miami. In his other five outings, the 35-year-old is 4-0 with a 2.92 ERA and has 15 strikeouts with one walk and two runs allowed in 12 innings over his past two starts against a pair of first-place teams, Cleveland and Seattle.

Ozzie Albies

The second baseman was hitting .317 with an .878 OPS before breaking his right big toe when hit by a pitch on April 15 in Houston. Albies went on the injured list and returned in the minimum 10 days — without a rehab assignment — and has proceeded to go 9-for-25 with four doubles and four RBIs in six games, including three multihit games. Albies had a single, walk and run scored in Wednesday’s 5-2 win at Seattle and extended his hitting streak to a career-best 14 games. Among NL second basemen, he leads with 18 RBIs in just 21 games and ranks second with 11 extra-base hits in nearly 50 percent fewer plate appearances than the leader, Ketel Marte (15).

Marcell Ozuna

It says plenty for how searing-hot Ozuna’s bat was for the first three weeks of the season that he could hit a modest .268 with two homers and a .488 slugging percentage in the final 12 games of the month and still enter May with an NL-leading .636 slugging percentage, to go with a .327 average and 1.036 OPS. Ozuna began May with his third hitless game in the past four and his ninth consecutive homerless game but remained the MLB leader with 32 RBIs and ranked third in homers with nine.

Joe Jiménez 

The setup man’s 2.25 ERA is the lowest among six Braves relievers who’ve made 10 or more appearances. Jiménez’s expected ERA, per Statcast, is 1.25, which ranked in the 99th percentile of MLB relievers entering May. He was in the 90th percentile or higher in 10 of 12 Statcast stats at Baseball Savant, including a .166 expected batting average, significantly lower than his actual .200 average allowed. Two of three earned runs against Jiménez came in the eighth inning Saturday against the Cleveland Guardians, whose three hits against him in the inning were on two mis-hit balls and a bunt — three balls that each had an exit velocity of 31 mph or below. He had an 0.90 ERA in 10 appearances before that.

Stock down

Ronald Acuña Jr., who had 10 multi-strikeout games last season, is already up to 12 such games this season. (Rich von Biberstein / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Ronald Acuña Jr.

The reigning NL MVP is hitting .252 with one homer and a .690 OPS in 29 games, after .337 with 41 homers and a 1.012 OPS in 2023. Acuña went 4-for-33 with one extra-base hit (double) and 13 strikeouts in the last eight games of April, and he had two singles Wednesday at Seattle for his first multihit game since April 21. He also had three strikeouts to continue an alarming trend: Multiple strikeouts in five consecutive games, and 12 multi-strikeout games this season, after he had 10 multi-strikeout games in all of 2023. Acuña has more three-strikeout games in the past four days (three) than he had last season (two) and entered May with a 30.7 whiff rate that would be the highest of his career. His strikeout percentage increase of 15.3 percent is the highest year-over-year jump among MLB qualifiers, after Acuńa had the highest year-over-year decrease last season when he went from 23.6 percent to 11.4. This season, he was at 26.7 percent before Wednesday.

Matt Olson

The Braves’ cleanup hitter hasn’t homered in 21 games, and he’s 5-for-49 (.102) with one extra-base hit and five RBIs in his past 15 games. After leading the majors with 54 homers and 139 RBIs in 2023 while batting a career-best .283 with a .993 OPS, Olson has three homers and 16 RBIs this season and is hitting .206 with a .706 OPS. He still ranks among MLB leaders in hard-hit rate and has had several balls caught at the warning track in recent weeks. But Olson has not put together a productive stretch since the second week of the season and hasn’t had a multi-RBI game since April 5. He has two multi-RBI games in 29 games, after 36 such games in 2023.

Austin Riley

Another Braves slugger who, like Olson, hasn’t homered since April 7. Riley has been the victim of plenty of bad luck on a slew of hard-hit balls lately, and after getting two hits including a two-run triple in Wednesday’s win at Seattle, the Braves and their slugging third baseman hope his fortunes are changing. It was his first multi-RBI game since April 9, and Riley hit .182 with one extra-base hit, four RBIs and 20 strikeouts in the final 18 games of April. After batting .286 with a .585 slugging percentage during 2021-2023 while averaging 36 homers annually, Riley is hitting .235 with two homers and a .387 slugging percentage through 29 games.

(Top photo of Max Fried: Dale Zanine / USA Today)