As Gomer Pyle famously said, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”

Any team that goes on a tear like the Braves have in the first half of 2023 needs at least one surprise. Atlanta had a total of eight All-Stars on the NL roster this week, including not one but three surprises.

Orlando Arcia was named an All-Star starter after entering Spring Training as a seeming after-thought. Bryce Elder was the opening day starter in Gwinnett. And Austin Riley has had a down season in comparison to his last two…but surprise, surprise, surprise, they all played last night.

Orlando Arcia went from an off-season after-thought to All-Star shortstop in 3.5 months. AA is a genius, the rest of us are unworthy!

I don’t know what Arcia was thinking during the off-season. Nor do I know how he had to feel during the first three weeks of camp. But I imagine he had to be as surprised as anyone when he was handed the starting SS job for the Braves.

The 28 year-old veteran took and ran with the job. He played great defense, came up with clutch hit time after time (read about one of his walk-offs here), and led all SS vote-getters in the NL. He signed a 3 year/7.3 mil extension this spring, a far cry from the kind of money the marquis SS were paid during the off-season, and has out-played every one of them.

The Venezuelan-born Arcia has hit .294 through 72 games of the first half. His slash line of .345/.424/.769 leads all NL SS, and earned him his first All-Start appearance.

Respect your Elder

Elder has been the savior of the pitching staff during the first half of the season. Recalled when Max Fried went to the IL for the first time. All Elder has done is pitched at least five innings in 22-of-23 starts. The lone blemish in that streak was his last start of the first half against the Rays.

Surprise, surprise, surprise! He is 2.7 WAR player through the season’s first half and is 7-2 with a 2.97 ERA. The 24 year-old Texan has struck out 80 in 106 innings and has a 1.198 WHIP in 18 starts. Most of the metrics indicate that he should have worse results, but the kid simply knows how to pitch. All of the talk about possible regression means very little to me. The Braves have banked all of his starts and have gone 13-5 in games he has started. Most of those losses can be attributed to bad bullpen outings.

Atlanta is 13-5 in games Elder has started, and since giving up the infamous hanging slider to Pete Alonso, the Braves have been on a heater. “Throw it again,” Alonso famously screamed. The Mets went into a tail-spin, falling 19 games out of first, while the Braves are rolling. At the moment, he is our #2 IMO…when Fried returns, he is at worst our fourth starter, and I’m glad he was recognized with selection to the NL squad.

Riley named again

As surprising as Arcia and Elder excelling his been, one of the more disappointing surprises of the first half is how average Riley has been. I’ve really struggled with this, personally. He is my favorite Brave and I love listening to him talk hitting. I believe Austin has the sweetest right-handed swing in the game when he is going well. The thing I have marveled at is how level-headed he has been, even when he is lacing 113.5 mph line-drives right at left-fielders.

The Braves are on pace for 110 wins without Riley catching fire yet. He is hitting .266/.237/.448/.775 with an 106 OPS+. He has a career slugging percentage of .497 and career OPS of .834. By all offensive metrics, Riley has underperformed in 2023. But he is still good enough to be an NL All-Star! Riley has 16 homers and 44 RBI on the season and despite what the metrics say, has played a good 3B. In Tuesday night’s game, he made two stellar defensive played that enabled the NL to win for the first time in 10 years. He had the lone hit for a Braves player in the game and had three hits in the Sunday game versus Tampa…hopefully this is the beginning of something.

Can you imagine if the rest of the Braves continue on their current offensive paces AND Riley goes on a heater like he did last July in the second half? His July last year was in the Hammerin’ Hank Aaron stratosphere – and I believe it is still in there. His WHIFF rate needs to come down, and when it does the Braves will make a deep post-season run!

Now that the All-Star game is behind us, buckle up, y’all! Let’s go win a couple more series en route to the East and the NL Pennant.