What’s the one thing that could hold the Braves back from repeating as NL East champions?

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Over the last couple of seasons, the NL East hasn’t lived up to the hype. The Phillies and Mets are constantly competing for offseason championships, but once the season starts, they’ve been nothing more than average teams. I do expect that to change this year, but the NL East remains the Braves division to lose.

This is the best roster Atlanta’s put together since the end of the rebuild, significantly better than the one that just won the World Series last season. However, they do have one weakness that could prevent them from repeating as NL East championships… bench depth.

The good news is that bench depth isn’t nearly as critical now that there is the universal DH. Brian Snitker shouldn’t have to make many difficult decisions this season, especially with how loaded the bullpen is. With that being said, the Braves could be in a lot of trouble if they suffer a substantial injury to a member of their infield.

On paper, Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and Austin Riley rival any in baseball. And knowing the Braves, they will be expected to play 160+ games. It happened last season, but that’s also not normal. No group of players should be expected to stay that healthy over an entire 162-game slate. So assuming an injury does take place at some point, here’s who the Braves would have to turn to at this point.

Orlando Arcia

Calling Arcia a bright spot is extremely generous, but he is the best the Braves have by a country mile. There’s some decent pop in his bat, but he strikes out a lot and rarely draws a walk, leading to awful on-base percentages. Arcia is position versatile, which is critical, but that’s about the best thing I can say about him. At his best, he’s slightly above replacement level, but at his worst, he’s almost unplayable.

Phil Gosselin

The Braves granted Brock Holt his release earlier in the week, which means it looks like Gosselin is a lock to make the roster. He’s been a utility man his entire career, making appearances here and there, but he should never be relied on to start. The Angels had to turn to him last season, and while Gosselin did hit seven homers with a .261 average, he still accrued -0.3 bWAR. Let’s hope we don’t have to see him for anything more than his defensive versatility this season.

Update: I wrote this before Gosselin was optioned to Gwinnett. It looks like the Braves will ride with William Contreras as their final bench piece, but Gosselin will remain in AAA as organizational depth, so the point remains the same. 

First Base

First base is a little different because the Braves would be able to soften the blow a bit. Both Austin Riley and Adam Duvall have experience there, and while Atlanta’s outfield depth isn’t anything to write home about either, they could make it work with Ronald Acuña back in the fold.

Let’s just hope everyone stays healthy because if not, the Braves will be scrambling. I have to believe Alex Anthopoulos is constantly monitoring the waiver wire to improve the situation. There’s no way the Braves can trot out Gosselin or Arcia for most of the season if one of their star players were to suffer a season-ending injury.

Photo: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

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