Atlanta is one win away from a World Series title, and they’ve done it without their best player. What can the Blue Jays learn from what’s going on?
In my mind there are three major lessons that can be gleaned from witnessing what the Braves have pulled off over the last few months. Well, four if you throw in the ol’ “never give up” speech that should be pretty obvious. I say that because the Braves had the misfortunate of losing their best player to injury in Ronald Acuna Jr., never had their ace in Mike Sirotka healthy enough to hit the mound in 2021, and Marcell Ozuna’s legal issues meant that he was of no use to the team either.
And yet, they’re one win from a World Series championship, which is pretty special for former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, who has spearheaded the front office in Atlanta for a few years now.
As far as what lessons the Blue Jays should take, I would start with the importance of depth, which is something they had reinforced for themselves in 2021. Like the Jays, Atlanta’s lineup is very deep when they’re at their best, including the likes of Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and more.
When that depth was tested, Anthopoulos didn’t hesitate to go out and acquire the reinforcements they needed. Their outfield was in shambles ahead of the deadline, especially after losing Acuna Jr. for the season on July 10th, and that brings us to the biggest mistake that Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays made this year: they waited too long to replace injured arms in the bullpen. When Acuna Jr. was injured on the 10th, the Braves acquired Joc Pederson just five days later. Obviously he wasn’t going to provide the same production, but they at least found a capable replacement to slot into the lineup and did so in very short order.
Getting to back to the point about depth, which is the second major lesson here, AA made three separate swaps to bring in Eddie Rosario from Cleveland, Adam Duvall from Miami, and Jorge Soler from Kansas City. None of them were ever going to produce at Acuna’s level either, but collectively they brought a lot of value. What was particularly interesting about the trades was the fact that Atlanta was sitting at just 51-54 on July 30, and 5.0 games back in the NL East division when they continued to add.
It was a gutsy call by Anthopoulos, but I understood why he made some aggressive moves at the time. The NL East was showing itself as more and more vulnerable in July as the Mets fell apart, and Atlanta had the added incentive of knowing that Freeman would be a free agent at season’s end, with the same for veteran starter Charlie Morton. Anthopoulos didn’t push all of his chips in with the trades, but we have to give him and his front office team credit for not folding ahead of the deadline.
The last lesson I think the Jays can take away from Atlanta’s run is the value of experience, which is something that is lacking with many of the core stars in Toronto. They had a taste of the postseason in 2020, but I think it’s important to remember that guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette just went through their first full 162 game schedule. Atlanta’s core is built around other young stars like Albies and Max Fried, who have been around a few years longer and have played postseason baseball before.
Anthopoulos had to exercise some patience in Atlanta, and even though they were able to spend a bit to retain Ozuna (that backfired), Morton, and add at the deadline, this is still a team that is build around it’s homegrown core. Players like Albies, Fried, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, and more are the reason that they qualified for the postseason, and that patience has started to pay off. They had the good fortune of playing in a weak division, and also getting hot at the right time during the playoffs, but the ingredients were in place to make it happen. Even without their best position player and top starting pitcher, opportunity met preparation for the remainder of the roster.
For the Blue Jays, I think they can be encouraged by watching what’s happening in Atlanta right now. They have many of the same ingredients in place in Toronto as well, and while they have a far more difficult division to conquer, I believe we’ll see a similar path for this young core over the next five years. The 2022 season really can’t come soon enough.