FOX Sports MLB Analyst
Ask opposing players about the Atlanta Braves’ lineup and they get quiet, borderline reverential. Hyperbole and cynicism fade away, replaced by grand statements, glowing praise and utter respect.
“It’s the best lineup I’ve ever faced,” one National League pitcher offered.
“Every night someone new is gonna get you,” an American League hitter whose team recently faced the Braves said. “Or all of them get you, and then you’re f—ed.”
“There’s no break in the lineup. Everyone is a bopper and can burn you at any moment,” another AL hitter lamented. “It’s exhausting.”
Through 120 games this year, the Braves have smashed 232 homers, putting them on pace for 313, a mark that would eclipse MLB’s single-season record. Atlanta is tops or near tops in almost every important statistical category and not a single starting player has performed at a below-average level this season.
Baseball’s best team has an offense with everything: star power at the top, balance between righties and lefties, outrageous down-order production and a strong cadre of depth reserves. And with the final month of the regular season inching into focus, this Braves offense is building a legitimate case to be the greatest offense in baseball history.
Runs and traditional stats like batting average or on-base plus slugging percentage are insufficient to compare teams across run scoring environments. Two of the top 10 single-season run totals belong to various unspectacular Colorado Rockies clubs, thanks to the outrageous offensive environment at Coors Field.
The OPS+ metric, which accounts for differences across eras and ballpark run scoring environments, provides a much truer picture of a team’s offensive output. For reference, a mark of 100 is league average. Corey Seager currently leads baseball with a 189 OPS+ while Martín Maldonado’s 54 OPS+ brings up the rear. The handful of best lineups in baseball history by OPS+ are the ones you’d expect, including the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds of 1976, the “Murderers’ Row” New York Yankees of 1927, the “Harvey’s Wallbangers” Milwaukee Brewers of 1982, and the 1947 Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.
The highest team OPS+ in MLB history is 123, and it belongs to the infamous 2017 Houston Astros. Perhaps you’re familiar with them? After winning an enthralling World Series against the Dodgers, the Astros were exposed three years later in a sign-stealing scandal that rocked the baseball world. And even if you’re willing to look past the production from perennial All-Stars like José Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer, it’s hard to ignore just how suspiciously superb the bottom of that lineup performed in 2017.
The second-highest team OPS+ in MLB history is 122, and it belongs to the 2023 Atlanta Braves, who, as far as we know, are not stealing signs with a dugout monitor and a secret code of clangs. This lineup is a nonstop parade of headbangers, a shed full of rakes, the driving force behind Atlanta’s quest to win a second trophy in three years.
Is this the BEST Atlanta Braves team of all time?
It all begins with Ronald Acuña Jr., a terrifying lightning bolt of a ballplayer and the odds-on favorite to win the NL MVP award. As the Braves’ leadoff hitter in every game this season, Acuña has become quite a horrible welcome for starting pitchers. He’s like waking up in the morning to a bucket of ice water and a right hook to the kidney. An amuse bouche of Malört to begin a fancy meal.
Acuña has a chance to become the third player since integration to finish a season with at least 60 steals and an OPS over 1.000. The others? Inner-circle Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Joe Morgan.
But if a pitcher manages to evade Acuña’s wrath, that’s just the beginning of a bad day at the yard. After an injury-plagued 2022, usual two-hole hitter Ozzie Albies has reemerged as one of the best second basemen in baseball. He’s currently on the shelf with a minor strain, but the diminutive, tightly wound switch-hitter has rediscovered his power stroke. Behind him is third baseman Austin Riley, a clean-shaven grizzly bear with elite rotational athleticism who’s up to 29 home runs after a chilly first half.
And then there’s cleanup hitter Matt Olson, Freddie Freeman’s worthy replacement and MLB’s current home run leader. The quiet slugger sets up with his hands intimidatingly draped over the dish, imploring pitchers to throw him an inside fastball. But that’s a ruse, a trap, delicious bait for a man capable of getting his barrel to velocity in a flash. Olson has been the NL’s best hitter since June 1 and, with 43 big flies entering Friday, has an outside shot of reaching the 60-homer plateau.
One of the Sean Murphy/Travis d’Arnaud catching tandem typically bats fifth, which keeps the other fresh and enables constant offensive production from baseball’s most physically grueling position. Six-hole hitter Marcell Ozuna looked cooked at the end of April, his on-field talents seemingly done in by age and multiple off-field transgressions. But the organization held firm. And after slashing .085/.194/.203 in his first 67 plate appearances, Ozuna has been an .880 OPS hitter dating back to May 1.
At the bottom are a trio of hitters many other teams would take at the top: Eddie Rosario, Orlando Arcía and Michael Harris II. This is where the difference is made. Most lineups begin with a few good hitters followed by more bad ones, but not the Braves. Every human with batting gloves in his locker is a lockdown, no-doubt big leaguer.
Rosario, the hero of Atlanta’s 2021 run, has rebounded to post a 100 OPS+ with 18 homers following a lackluster 2022. After three years on the bench, Arcía won the starting shortstop job in spring training after Dansby Swanson’s departure. He hasn’t missed a beat, coupling a 108 OPS+ with good defense to earn a surprise start in the All-Star Game. Harris is one of the best young hitters in baseball, a dynamic left-handed swinger whom Atlanta extended only a year ago. After a disastrous first month, Harris has bounced back in a big way. At this point, he only hits ninth because the Braves are an overstocked wagon.
It’s a constant wrecking crew, capable of pulverizing any big-league hurler into dust. Overreactions make the sports world go ’round nowadays, but don’t let the tsunami of sensationalism fool you — this is a generationally special group. And while this lineup, like all others, will be judged by how it performs in October, the Atlanta Braves are World Series favorites for a reason: They mash historically.
Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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