Over the weekend, I broke down the biggest question marks heading into the season. If the Braves can answer most of those, they will run away with the NL East and should put themselves in position again to make it back to the World Series for the first time since 1999. Now, it’s time to break down the areas Braves fans won’t have to worry about in 2021.
The top of the lineup
Last year, the Braves had arguably the best offense in baseball, and I don’t expect that to change in 2021, thanks to a loaded lineup at the top. You could argue that nobody has a better first-four than Atlanta. Ronald Acuna is one of a kind, Ozzie Albies led the National League in hits in 2019, Freddie Freeman just won the NL MVP, and Marcell Ozuna was in the running for the Triple Crown last season. You could even go a little further and talk about Travis d’Arnaud, who hit .321 last season, and Dansby Swanson, who I believe is in line for his first All-Star appearance if he can stay healthy.
Last year’s rotation woes are a thing of the past. Alex Anthopoulos didn’t hesitate this offseason when it came to addressing the Braves’ most glaring weakness, signing Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to one-year contracts before Thanksgiving. Couple those additions with Mike Soroka‘s return, and all of a sudden, Atlanta’s rotation looks like one of the best in the majors. On top of that, it only seems like a matter of time before another one — or multiple — of the Braves’ talented young arms figures it out. Atlanta has firepower and depth for days when it comes to their rotation.
I mention this a few times every season, and it’s because I genuinely believe this is why the Braves are constantly outperforming projections and running away with the NL East each year. Over a 162-game grind, it takes laser focus to come ready to compete every night, but this team never seems to take a game off, and a lot of it has to do with the chemistry in the clubhouse. These guys love being around each other and seeing their teammates succeed, which leads to confidence and a lot of wins. It may sound silly, but it is just not like that in every clubhouse, and it has been critical to the Braves’ success in recent years.
Defense has been a staple of the Braves since the rebuild, and that will continue into 2021. Outside of Austin Riley, Travis d’Arnaud, and Marcell Ozuna (who actually shockingly has a Gold Glove in his trophy cabinet), everyone is a Gold Glove candidate. Freeman has one; Albies, Swanson, and Acuna always seem to be in the running, and I expect Pache to win anywhere from 5-10 over his career. This will once again be a fun defensive team to watch, which isn’t said too often in baseball.