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View from the other side: Braves questions for Kris Willis of Talking Chop

Atlanta Braves v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

We start a 2-game series against the Braves tonight.

Atlanta is first in the NL East, 5.5 games up on the Nationals, at 80-53. They are 8 wins better than their Pythagorean W-L suggests they should be.

They are third in the NL in runs scored per game at 5.30 and eighth in the NL in runs allowed per game at 4.73.

I sent off questions to Kris Willis, manager of Talking Chop, SB Nation’s Braves blog.

What do you think of Alex Anthopoulos? He has God like status among us Blue Jays fans.

I am a big fan of what Alex Anthopoulos has done during his short tenure as GM of the Braves although I think we have seen a bit different version than the one that was in Toronto. What we have seen has been a much more calm and calculated version of Anthopoulos. I don’t think he is afraid to make the big deal as he showed while with the Blue Jays, but he has been very protective of Atlanta’s prospect capital and many of his moves have been very big picture oriented. With that said, he has been able to tweak and strengthen Atlanta’s roster while providing more depth for what they hope will be a longer postseason run. I think he fully understands what a modern front office should look like and I think the Braves are much better because of the changes that he has made within the organization.

I see that our old friend Josh Donaldson has remained healthy (I’m glad to see that the Jays will be honoring him tonight). What do you think of him?

Josh Donaldson was the big ticket offseason acquisition that it seemed as though everyone forgot about. He has been nothing but great while in an Atlanta uniform offensively and defensively as well. I think he brings a necessary edge to the locker room as well. The Braves simply wouldn’t be in first place right now without his bat in the middle of the lineup. When he arrived we thought that he was simply going to be a bridge until Austin Riley was ready to take over at third base next season but now I wonder if they won’t try to bring him back on possibly a multi-year deal.

Speaking of old friends, my son went to high school with Mike Soroka (not that I met him). And I see he is starting against us Tuesday. Can we have a scouting report on him. Do you think he has a spot at the Cy Young? And, while you are at it, can we have a scouting report on Wednesday’s starter Mike Foltynewicz?

Mike Soroka has emerged as this team’s ace. He is not going to overpower you on the radar gun although he can run it up there when he needs to. What you will see from him though is a lot of ground balls, a lot of control. He reminds many people of Greg Maddux in the way he approaches hitters. I don’t know if he is truly a Cy Young contender but I do think he deserves mention for the National League because again, the Braves aren’t in first place without his performance.

2019 hasn’t quite gone as planned for Mike Foltynewicz who seemed to have put everything together in 2018 and for the most part looked like a top of the rotation arm. Elbow soreness in spring training set him back and delayed the start of his season. Once he did return, he has struggled to find effectiveness with his slider. He struggled enough that he spent all of July at Triple-A. He has since returned and pitched better although the slider still isn’t where it was last year. He is coming off arguably his best start of the season so we will see.

You have a few starters on the IL. What’s the status of Brian McCann, Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis? Who are filling him for them?

When the Braves won the division in 2018 they did so without much depth which really showed in the Division Series where they lost to the Dodgers. Improving the team’s organizational depth was a goal for Alex Anthopoulos in 2019 and it has paid off. Atlanta enjoyed a pretty injury free first half but that has changed in the second half. The Braves’ outfield has been hit particularly hard with injuries to Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte. They have turned to guys like Matt Joyce, Rafael Ortega and Adam Duvall to fill the gap. Dansby Swanson just returned from the injured list and Brian McCann may return at some point in early September.

The Braves have been able to stay afloat thanks to savvy veteran additions by Anthopoulos. Adeiny Hechavarria was signed as a free agent and filled in at shortstop while Swanson was out. The team also just signed veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli after he was released by Pittsburgh. Both have contributed in a big way over the last couple of weeks while filling in.

Since I’m thinking we have little chance against Soroka, who pitches in the setup/closer roles? Do you trust them in a close game?

Like most of Major League Baseball, the Braves’ bullpen has been a source of angst in 2019 but it has pitched much better of late. They made three significant additions at the trade deadline acquiring Chris Martin from Texas, Shane Greene from Detroit and Mark Melancon from San Francisco. The early returns were not great but they have seemed to turn the corner over the last couple of weeks. So expect to see some combination of Martin, Luke Jackson or Anthony Swarzak in the 6th and 7th innings with Greene and Melancon in the 8th and 9th.

Were you happy with what the Braves did at the trade deadline?

The bullpen was really scuffling at the trade deadline and I thought Anthopoulos did what he had to do. He was able to acquire Martin, Greene and Melancon without giving up any high ranking prospects although there was a significant financial element to acquiring Melancon.

Thank you Kris.