When the Atlanta Braves turned around a slow start in 2021 en route to a World Series title, they did it behind longtime first baseman Freddie Freeman; then-37-year-old Charlie Morton atop the rotation, and a series of veteran outfields acquisitions at the trade deadline that panned out quite nicely. This year’s edition has followed a similar path, overcoming a sub-.500 April and a sub-.500 May with a blistering stretch that included 14 consecutive wins, but Atlanta Braves rookies Michael Harris and Spencer Strider have been catalysts.
Indeed, the youngsters are a big reason why the team is threatening the New York Mets in the National League East. Let’s look at what Harris and Strider have brought to the table, and what might lie ahead.
After rocketing through the minors, skipping Triple-A altogether, Harris singled and scored the Braves’ lone run in his MLB debut on May 28. The 4-1 loss to Miami left Atlanta with a 22-25 record.
The local kid from the Atlanta suburbs got his first extra-base hit – a double – in a 6-0 win at Arizona on June 1, helping to ignite a 14-game winning streak that improved the Atlanta Braves’ standings in dramatic fashion, slicing their deficit from 10.5 games to four. Harris hit .370 with his first two career homers during the run.
Atlanta opened up just behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees in the World Series odds sheet. By the time Harris was starting out, the Braves had sunk to eighth on that list, bottoming out at +1700 early in the winning streak.
By the time the run was complete, they had improved those odds to +1000. And they’ll emerge from the All-Star break at +900. So, in essence, the arrival of Harris split the difference with the team’s World Series odds in a rather short time.
The team is 34-14 with Harris in the lineup overall. He’s batting .312 in wins, and .216 in losses. He’s an outstanding defensive center fielder, helping to stabilize an area of need for the team. Quite possibly, Harris is right behind Ronald Acuna Jr. on the list of most impactful Atlanta Braves players.
Another area of need in late May was at the back end of the starting rotation. Morton had struggled mightily to that point, Ian Anderson was just so-so and fill-ins for the fifth spot had failed dramatically. Enter Strider, who was doing solid work in the pen and then took advantage of the opportunity to contribute on a bigger scale.
His first start was on May 30, when the Braves were +1500 to repeat as world champs. After he struck out 11 Cincinnati Reds in six dominant innings of a win on July 2, those odds had plummeted to +1000.
For the year, Strider is 4-3 with a 3.03 ERA. He has a 3.42 mark in his 10 starts while limiting opponents to 34 hits and striking out 77 in 50 innings. Remarkable numbers.
Rookie of the Year?
The odds for National League Rookie of the Year have become a two-person race between the two Atlanta Braves rookies. On most boards, Strider has a narrow edge over Harris at about +170 to +200, with Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz lurking in a distant third.
The rookie wall is looming, however.
Between Double-A and the majors, Harris has played in 91 games, 10 shy of his total at advanced Single-A last year. He’ll surpass that mark around the MLB trade deadline when the dog days are just beginning.
Harris is only 21, so energy shouldn’t be an issue. But going through an intense division race while playing more baseball than you ever have in your life can be taxing. He hit .161 with 11 strikeouts and two walks in his final nine games before the All-Star break, so it’s worth watching.
As for Strider, he went into the break after a difficult outing at Washington on Sunday in which he gave up five runs in four innings. While the righty can bring it (he regularly eclipses triple digits on his fastball), he is entering uncharted territory, having thrown 22 innings fewer than he did last year in his only season as a pro at four minor league stops.
Prior to that, Strider made four quick starts for Clemson during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and that came after he missed all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery.
The Atlanta Braves rookies were instrumental in the team turning the season around, but workload could be an issue at some point.Follow us on Twitter