It’s seemed like ages since the Braves were participants in the playoffs and it has actually been ages since they won a first-round playoff series (the last one came back in 2001). However, for the first time in long-time things are starting to feel different. The Braves are heading into game #30 with an 18-11 record, good enough for first place in the NL East. It is safe to say the baseball world has to be shocked at Atlanta’s early pace and even more are questioning if they are a legitimate playoff threat. Those questions are valid, given the Braves recent struggles, but after 29 games, this team has done enough to prove this hot start is no fluke.
The key to their success; their depth. The youth movement that began two seasons ago, is finally coming to fruition at the major league level. Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna are already proving to have the makeup of future stars in this league, which is giving Freddie Freeman even more of an opportunity to have an impact on the game. A scary thought for opposing pitching staffs, who have been absolutely walloped by the Braves bats so far this season.
Up-and-down this lineup it is impossible to find a weak spot. Markakis has been one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball the past three seasons. The combination of Flowers and Suzuki has proven to be among the most productive at the catcher position. Dansby Swanson has shaken off his rough year and is off to a much better 2018. Ryan Flaherty or Johan Camargo? Take your pick, they are both hitting over .300. Oh, and batting last is Ender Inciarte, the only Brave on the roster to make last season’s All-Star game. Even the Atlanta bench carries legitimate options like Preston Tucker, who shined as a starter before Acuna’s call-up and could be adding a power-bat in Jose Bautista soon. There is a reason why this team started out having the hottest offense in the National League and has yet to slow down, leading the NL in runs scored by a wide margin.
A hot lineup can only push a team so far. Atlanta’s pitching will have to catch up to their offense if they want to be serious playoff contenders. But recently, there have been signs that this might not be too far away either. Atlanta’s farm system is filled with top pitching prospects, and in 2018, they are beginning to show off in the big leagues.
Mike Foltynewicz looks like he has finally turned the corner, as he has been the Braves most consistent pitcher thus far. Perhaps even more excitingly, though, has been the recent performances of Mike Soroka and Sean Newcomb. Soroka, a strike-throwing machine and the Braves top pitching prospect, was masterful in his MLB debut on his way to his first major league win.
Braves beat the Mets 3-2 in Mike Soroka’s debut.
His line: 6 IP 6H 1 ER 5 K 1 HR pic.twitter.com/y5kWFBIbB5
— SportsTalkATL.com (@SportsTalkATL) May 2, 2018
Not to be outdone, Sean Newcomb, who is also in his first full season in the big leagues, tossed his best career outing, going for seven innings, allowing just two hits while striking out eight on the way to a 7-0 Braves win. If the Braves can count on consistent performances like this out of Soroka and Newcomb, you mine as well pencil them into the postseason.
The depth among Braves starters does not stop their either. It is just a matter of time before minor league stars, Kolby Allard, Luiz Gohara and Kyle Wright get their opportunity on this roster. All three have top of the rotation potential, and while it is unreasonable to think they could all be stars this season, it is possible that they could have some sort of impact on the Braves postseason run.
One spot the Braves are going to have to add some depth is the bullpen. Atlanta has a few reliable arms for the later innings currently, but it will need to add at least one if not a couple more if they want to be taken seriously. The great thing about that is the bullpen is usually the easiest and least costly type of personnel to acquire before the trade deadline. There is no reason the Braves, with their loaded farm system, should not be able to improve the bullpen as the season goes on. If that happens, watch out, we might have a new NL East champion in 2018.