The 2021 calendar year for Atlanta professional sports has the potential to be one of the better ones in recent memory. After the Atlanta Hawks made a thrilling run into the Eastern Conference Finals, taking out New York and Philadelphia in the process, Atlanta baseball was not pointing towards the same height as basketball.
The Braves initially were the only team in the city expected to compete for a championship, after coming one game short last season of beating the Los Angeles Dodgers to make the World Series. With the entire core 2020 squad coming back, general manager Alex Anthopolous re-signed Marcell Ozuna over Adam Duvall to take the left field spot in the National League’s return to a non-designated hitter season.
Drew Smyly was added for starting pitching rotation depth. Additionally, all signs pointed to Cristian Pache becoming the spiritual successor to Braves legend Andruw Jones in center field, even getting permission from the man himself to wear his old #25.
The Braves’ April was meager at best, going 12-14. 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman was on a hitting slump by his standards. Ace Mike Soroka was still out with a lingering achilles injury, which will continue to sideline him for the rest of 2021 after a re-tear. Catcher Travis D’arnaud tore a ligament in his thumb that kept him on the injured list until August 11.
After being swept by the Phillies to start the season, the Braves reached a .500 record on seven different occasions, every time losing the next game until August 6th, when they climbed to a 55-54 record.
The only thing that kept the Braves remotely relevant in the first couple months of the season was the fact that the NL East was playing at an even level amongst the contenders.
If not for a flurry of trade deadline moves that bolstered the bullpen and outfield to replace the essentially dismissed Ozuna (albeit not officially yet by the club while investigations are still ongoing) and injured Acuña Jr., Atlanta would likely still be under .500.
Anthopolous made multiple deals that at worst gave up slumping pinch hitter Pablo Sandoval, acquiring Kansas City outfielder Jorge Soler, Pittsburgh reliever Richard Rodriguez, and Cleveland outfielder Eddie Rosario, and got Adam Duvall back from Miami. The existing roster largely stepped up their game as well.
Since the trade deadline, the Braves have set their franchise road win streak (12 games and counting). As of August 24, Atlanta is 16-4 in the month’s games and leads the NL East by 4.5 games.
Most importantly, the Braves are currently in a playoff position, and are only truly threatened by the Phillies. With how strong the NL West and Central are, Atlanta will need to win the East to truly guarantee a playoff spot, as the Wild Card game will likely feature any of San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Cincinnati.