Don't fall asleep on the Braves

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Ronald Acuna Jr. keeps the Braves running well because of a high on-base percentage.
© Imagn

Should baseball fans and bettors be taking the Atlanta Braves more seriously?

The reigning National League East champs close out a series with the St. Louis Cardinals in this week’s edition of “Sunday Night Baseball” (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). While it’s generally assumed that last season’s other division winners in the Senior Circuit will be back in the brackets this October (Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers), the Braves are considered a relative longshot by media and betting markets. 

Last year’s 90-72 record is still seen as a fluke. Now that Philadelphia has Bryce Harper (even embroiled in a slow start) likely leading the Phillies to a divisional crown, how could the Braves squeeze back into the championship chase?

Here’s the case for Atlanta as a smart bet and possible playoff threat moving forward . . .

Atlanta’s offense is better than many realize. The Braves have been in the upper half of the league on the road in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage this season. You regulars know VSiN likes to focus on “road only” stats to evaluate skill sets in an attempt to take part effects out of the mix.

The Braves also have an engine that should keep running well because of high on-base percentages. Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Nick Markakis, and Josh Donaldson all entered the weekend as lineup regulars with on-base percentages above .370. Hitting stats are better with runners on base than empty (known in analytics circles for years), so that helps build a synergy creating a run-scoring merry-go-round.

Atlanta’s starting pitching rotation isn’t spectacular, but should be consistently decent moving forward. That characteristic often drives betting value. Too many wagerers look to back exorbitantly priced aces at the expense of more affordable rotation regulars that get the job done. 

Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran all have WHIPS (walks plus hits per innings pitched) that will win with run support. All are within arm’s reach of a strikeout per inning, a stat to which sharps pay attention.

Atlanta’s schedule is favorable because it’s played surprisingly few divisional games in the league’s softest quintet. The Braves haven’t even faced woeful Washington yet! Still 19 games ahead vs. the Nationals, 15 vs. the inconsistent Mets, and 13 vs. the Marlins.  

Even if you assume Philadelphia wins the East, Atlanta may have a good chance at the Wildcard just because St. Louis, Arizona, and San Diego have more challenging obstacle courses in other divisions. 

Entering the St. Louis series, Atlanta had won three of four at Arizona, two of three at home vs. the Cards, two of three at home vs. Milwaukee, and three of four at San Francisco. A manageable slate awaits the next few weeks with Washington (2 games), Detroit (3), Pittsburgh (3), Miami (3) and Pittsburgh again (4).

Let’s see how the market prices those encounters. Maybe Atlanta won’t make it to plus 18 betting units like it did for gamblers in 2018. But the market still isn’t respecting this team of late…which opens the door for investment value.

 

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