Going into the 2018 season, if you asked any Braves’ fan what their outlook was on the season, they would have said the team was still a year away from contending.
One year and a division championship later, Braves’ fans are no longer tempering their expectations. Now, they expect to win another division title and advance out of the first round, which they have not done since 2001.
Sure, the Phillies signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen in addition to trading for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura. The Mets added Wilson Ramos, Robinson Cano, and Edwin Diaz, while the Nationals signed Brian Dozier, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez.
But even with the current injuries on their roster, the Braves are still better off than they were one year ago.
Comparing Opening Day Lineups
- CF Ender Inciarte — CF Ender Inciarte
- 2B Ozzie Albies — 3B Josh Donaldson
- 1B Freddie Freeman — 1B Freddie Freeman
- RF Nick Markakis — LF Ronald Acuna Jr.
- C Tyler Flowers — RF Nick Markakis
- LF Preston Tucker — 2B Ozzie Albies
- SS Dansby Swanson — SS Dansby Swanson
- 3B Ryan Flaherty — C Brian McCann
- P Julio Teheran — P Julio Teheran
Inciarte is batting leadoff here because the Phillies’ Opening-Day starter Aaron Nola is right-handed. If a left-handed pitcher is going, then expect Albies to bat leadoff. Teheran also gets the start because of the injury to Mike Foltynewicz.
In looking at this lineup, it is head and shoulders above 2018. Donaldson and Acuña are significant upgrades over their counterparts. I won’t put McCann over Flowers, but McCann is probably going to be Teheran’s catcher, so that’s why he’ll get the start here. Plus, could you imagine McCann returning in a Braves’ uniform and not getting the start?
Yes, the bullpen is a question mark. It was the same story in 2018.
However, with the return of Darren O’Day and Grant Dayton, the group is a little better this year. The younger arms could also play a substantial role in providing a band-aid for this unit. Plus, having a closer platoon of A.J. Minter and Arodyz Vizcaino is something several teams would envy.
Beyond that, we all know that the Braves will make moves to bolster their bullpen during the season. It won’t be a Craig Kimbrel-type move, but it’ll be someone that can make a difference in the same way Brad Brach and Jonny Venters did last year.
Young Pitchers Will Get Early Look
With the injury to Folty, younger pitchers like Kyle Wright, Touki Touissant, Bryse Wilson, and Max Fried will get a chance to show what they have early on.
Expect all four of those players to be in Atlanta at some point during the first few months of the season. And who knows? Maybe they’ll see something from one or more of the four that will force the team to keep them in the rotation all year. Sanchez forced the Braves’ hand last year, and had he not gotten injured, Mike Soroka would’ve done the same thing.
Yes, there are some question marks and several unknowns. Yes, Braves’ fans aren’t happy that management continues to hold onto all of these prospects and refused to make a big splash.
But when you compare the beginning of this season to what the Braves had at the beginning of 2018, the outlook is much brighter.
Outside of the Donaldson signing, nothing was sexy for the Braves. They didn’t get a front-line starter or an All-Star catcher for a few of their prospects. But what if it’s not needed? The Braves did so much with less last year. And looking at how the team is currently constructed, they’re positioned to make a run at the top of the division once again.