Kody Clawson | March 17th, 2020
The 2019 season was an overall success, finishing 97-65 and winning their second straight National League East title. However, they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series 3-2, their tenth straight postseason series that ended in a loss. While the team floundered yet again in the postseason, it returns this season with their young core still very much intact and with another season under their belts. While they have the talent to make a postseason run, they’ll have plenty of competition yet again, both in the division and in the National League in general, standing in their way.
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This is a talented infield all the way around the diamond for the Braves. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud signed a two year, $16 million deal after hitting 16 home runs last season with the Tampa Bay Rays. A solid hitter with the classic “if he can stay healthy” prefix to almost any conversation with catchers, he will split time behind the dish with solid backup Tyler Flowers.
Freddie Freeman is a perennial All-Star caliber first baseman who will continue to anchor the middle of the lineup. Ozzie Albies is an up and coming star player at the keystone. Dansby Swanson is a solid but unspectacular shortstop, more than capable of holding his own at the position. Johan Camargo will likely be the starting third baseman. That being said, if Austin Riley shows improvement during the spring (or after, if he is sent down), he could storm back and take the job at the hot corner.
The biggest new Brave comes by way of the St. Louis Cardinals thanks to a one year, $18 million show-me deal. Hoping to rebound his value after a rough season under the Gateway Arch, he should be a positive influence in the middle of an already solid lineup. Speaking of anchoring the lineup, the Braves have one of the best young players in the league in Ronald Acuña Jr. He’ll be making the move to right field while Ender Inciarte plays center field.
Soroka had a stellar season for his rookie campaign, becoming the youngest Atlanta Braves pitcher to play in the All-Star Game, finishing with a 13-4 record, a 2.68 ERA, and 142 strikeouts in 174.2 innings. Along with fellow 2019 breakout starter Max Fried, 2018 ace Mike Foltynewicz, and talented but struggle-ridden Sean Newcomb, the front four of the Braves rotation is certainly interesting and potentially dynamic.
With Cole Hamels possibly starting the season injured, the Braves could turn to former star pitcher Felix Hernandez to see if he still has anything left in the tank. If not, they could look to some combination of Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright to man the fifth spot until Hamels is healthy. Look to stud prospect Ian Anderson possibly getting some time later this season as well.
The bullpen is pretty much set with Melancon probably closing out games to start the season. If he struggles in the role at all, Will Smith is a more than capable option in the role. The first six are almost definite locks to make the Opening Day roster, with Minter probably being the seventh man in if they want another solid lefty option outside of Smith. If Jacob Webb is healthy, he’s the last man in, with Josh Tomlin providing possible inning eating depth.
Player(s) to Watch for
Austin Riley could still be a potential breakout candidate if he can steal the third base role or carve out some kind of everyday job. The power is certainly enticing. I could see a world where, if Felix doesn’t work out, whoever takes the fifth starter spot could run with it and have a breakout season much like what happened to Soroka last year.
The National League East looks to be a strong division yet again, but I still feel good about the Braves’ chances of coming out on top. They reached 97 wins last year, and I think 90 is easily reachable for them again this season. With how tough this division looks, that might be just enough to come out on top in the division, and I can definitely see them winning their first playoff series since 2001. Only the Dodgers will come between them and World Series aspirations.
Questions and comments?
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