Opening Day is here, as the Braves take on the Mets at Citi Field this afternoon, featuring a marquee matchup between Mike Soroka and Jacob DeGrom. Finally, we can stop talking about the “what ifs” and start talking about actual baseball games that count. On Wednesday, I went over a couple of glaring weaknesses the Braves have. Today, it’s all about the things that will play to the Braves’ advantage over this 60-game sprint.
When I talked about the Braves’ two most glaring weaknesses, a thin rotation topped the list, and that’s true. Outside of Mike Soroka and Max Fried, the Braves have to hold their breath when any other starter takes the mound. However, their overall depth will be critical to them overcoming that.
On top of the Braves projected starting five of Soroka, Fried, Newcomb, Folty, and Wright, they have a handful of options they can turn to if one or more of them falter. They just signed Jhoulys Chacin; Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson both have experience starting in the majors, and if they absolutely have too, they have a few top prospects, like Ian Anderson or Tucker Davidson they can turn to. Nobody in this shortened season can afford a slow start, but if the Braves can right the ship until they figure things out with their rotation, they should be just fine. Atlanta certainly has enough bodies to find the right combination.
The Braves also feature what projects to be one of the best bullpens in baseball — a far cry from where this unit has been the last two seasons. Unfortunately, Will Smith, their newest addition and one of the best relievers in baseball, has yet to test negative for the coronavirus and return to the team. Hopefully, that happens sooner rather than later, but they are still in fantastic shape.
The Braves feature four guys with closing experience at the back end of their ‘pen — Luke Jackson, Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, and Shane Greene. Make that six if you include Darren O’Day and A.J. Minter, both of whom are on the Opening Day roster, although I don’t see them closing any games this year. They also have a bunch of guys who could hold down long-relief roles early in the season, like Toussaint, Tomlin, and Chacin. This is a versatile and loaded group that Brian Snitker should have no problem turning into a weapon, especially when Will Smith is cleared to return.
A loaded offense
The Braves offense finished 7th in runs scored last year — 3rd in the National League — and they have the opportunity be even better this year.
The loss of Josh Donaldson will sting, but Atlanta upgraded in the outfield with Marcell Ozuna. He will ease the pain a bit, and one of Austin Riley or Johan Camargo should be a more than serviceable fill in at third base. The rest of the offense remains intact, including Atlanta’s big three of Acuña, Albies, and Freeman.
The most significant upgrade the Braves have this year over last is depth. If Ender Inciarte can’t carry his weight, the Braves can shuffle things around and start Adam Duvall, who showed last season he can still be an All-Star caliber player. The DH has also made its way to the National League, and unlike most teams in the NL, the Braves are well equipped with a multitude of options to choose from, especially after the addition of Matt Adams. Like the depth of the Braves bullpen, their deep lineup will help this tremendously in this 60-game sprint.
Above all, chemistry could be the most significant thing the Braves have over their opponents. This is going to be a weird year, and it’s going to take a collective disciplined effort for a team to come out a champion. The Braves are lucky to have a tight-knit group that’s been together and won together. That will be critical for them on the road to a third consecutive NL East title, and hopefully, a World Series.