AJ Minter has struggled for the Braves at times but, as the team has also been stumbling, even the reliever is surprised the team is still succeeding.
On the one hand, the Atlanta Braves can feel comfortable entering the month of June knowing that the club has a four-game lead over the Mets and Marlins in the NL East and, when you consider that they have a 66-run advantage over New York in terms of differential, they feel comfortably separated from the pack.
Then there’s the other hand, the one that saw the Braves struggle comparatively in the month of May, posting a 15-14 record after going 18-9 in April. Moreover, Atlanta is just 4-6 in their last 10 games, a stretch that most recently included a shocking series loss in Oakland to the league-worst A’s.
After avoiding a sweep against the Athletics with a 4-2 win on Wednesday night, though, the Braves seemed to take that as a moral victory. But reliever AJ Minter, a pitcher who has battled for much of the season, may have offered the best assessment of the situation.
Speaking with David O’Brien of The Athletic (subscription required) after the win, Minter gave this assessment of Atlanta’s recent performance in relation to still having the second-best record in the National League:
“I feel like we’re playing pretty bad right now, honestly, and the fact that we’re in this position speaks volumes to this team and how talented we are.”
Braves success in spite of ‘bad’ play a surprise to AJ Minter
Given the substantially worse record that we saw in May compared to April for the Braves, it’s not hard to see where that assessment stems from with Minter.
Though the team’s overall hitting numbers are almost exactly on par in May with what they did in the first month of the season, there have been more battles with inconsistency at the plate. But the real decline has been with pitching as the team’s ERA ballooned to 3.91 this past month after sitting a 3.42 in April.
And yet, despite that, the surprise to Minter and to others has been that the Braves still posted a winning record for last month, the best record in the NL East in May too, and have maintained their division lead and status as a contender.
Minter, incidentally, has started to turn things around after an awful start. The 29-year-old southpaw began the year by posting a 9.26 ERA in the month of April. That improved to 4.85 in May, but he’s also posted a 2.70 ERA in his last seven appearances, starting to really right the ship and be the dominant bullpen option the team hoped he’d be.
More importantly, though, when you consider that the Braves are still dealing with crucial injuries to the likes of Max Fried and Kyle Wright, which has causes manager Brian Snitker to try and find rotation solutions, it really does speak to how talented this team is that they’re still in such a good position.
As they start to get players back, as Michael Harris II and others struggling almost surely get back to the expected form, the fact that the Braves are still a winning ball club when things aren’t going right should terrify the rest of the league. “Pretty bad” play as Minter called it isn’t a good thing, to be sure, but when it’s still resulting in more wins than losses, the rest of baseball should be on notice.