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Rival Season Preview: Atlanta Braves

The Braves lost the NLDS to the Cardinals last year and are eager to win it all now thanks to a talented combination of experience and youth.

MLB: Spring Training-Atlanta Braves at Minnesota Twins Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The season is finally about to begin, and the Atlanta Braves will have another chance to win it all. After the team was eliminated last year by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, they are eager to get to the World Series for the first time since 1999, along with the young core that excites every Braves fan.

The Marlins will be playing 17 percent of their regular-season games (10 of 60) against the Braves, so let’s take a look a team we’ll see a lot of in 2020.


Initial 60-man player pool

New faces:

LF Marcell Ozuna, C Travis d’Arnaud, LHP Cole Hamels, LHP Will Smith, RHP Félix Hernández*, 1B Yonder Alonso*, IF Pete Kozma*, IF Yangervis Solarte*, OF/1B Peter O’Brien*, RP Chris Rusin*

Players with an asterisk are on the 60-man player pool, but not on the 40-man roster.

Players who left:

3B Josh Donaldson (MIN), RHP Julio Teherán (LAA), OF Matt Joyce (MIA), LHP Dallas Keuchel (CHW), CF Billy Hamilton (SFG), C John Ryan Murphy (PIT), C Francisco Cervelli (MIA), LHP Jerry Blevins (SFG), RHP Anthony Swarzak (PHI), 1B Lucas Duda (free agent), C Brian McCann (retired)

Pitching

After a wonderful 2019 season in which he was the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award, Mike Soroka is ready to step up as the Braves’ unquestioned ace. He’s locked in the first spot of a rotation that will also include LHP Max Fried and RHP Mike Foltynewicz. Foltynewicz was awful during the first part of 2019 (6.37 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 59.1 IP) but brilliant after the All-Star break (2.65 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 57.2 IP).

So far, so good. Beyond the first three spots, we see veteran lefty Cole Hamels, who signed a one-year, $18MM deal in the offseason. He’ll be manager Brian Snitker’s fourth starter.

The fifth spot is more unsettled. Félix Hernández is supposed to be given the chance to reclaim his status and make the most out of his minor league deal. He was outstanding in Spring Training 1.0 but has a 15-27 record and 5.42 ERA since 2017 (59 starts). A good thing about the Braves is their pitching depth. If someone gets injured or Hernández doesn’t pan out, they have plenty of prospects and youngsters such as Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, and Touki Toussaint.

Regarding the bullpen, it looks pretty decent. Thanks to recent additions (Will Smith, Shane Greene, Mark Melancon), the Braves are in place to have a great, competitive relief staff. The above-mentioned trio should help the team secure some wins besides other options such as Darren O’Day, Luke Jackson, Chris Martin, and Grant Dayton.

Hitting

Last year, the Braves had the fourth-best batting average in the National League (.258), the third-best on-base percentage (.336), and the fourth-best slugging percentage (.452). According to FanGraphs, the team’s offensive WAR (26.9) was second-best on the senior circuit, only behind the Dodgers (34.8).

Entering 2020, the Ronald Acuña Jr./Ozzie Albies/Freddie Freeman heart of the lineup welcomes productive left fielder Marcell Ozuna to fill Josh Donaldson’s void in the lineup, as well as catcher Travis d’Arnaud after Brian McCann’s retirement. But with the National League carrying the designated hitter, they should have an even better offensive order and a better defensive alignment.Thanks to the universal DH, the Braves can now have Nick Markakis in the lineup while Ozuna mans left. Three-time gold-glover Ender Inciarte will play center, and Acuña will move back to right.Their most questionable position will be third base. They failed to bring Donaldson back and will need to use Johan Camargo and Austin Riley at the hot corner, crossing fingers and hoping one of them can be good enough to take over the everyday role.

Riley, only 23 years old, slashed .329/.369/.696 with nine home runs in his first 20 games (84 PA) but fell off in his next 60: .185/.244/.379 with nine more dingers in 213 plate appearances. On the other hand, Camargo did have success at the plate in 2018 (.272/.349/.457) but had a shaky season in 2019 (.233/.279/.384) and didn’t play regularly.

Things to know

  • The Marlins lost 15 of their 19 games against the Braves in 2019 and were swept three times. including twice in Marlins Park.
  • C Francisco Cervelli and OF Matt Joyce played for Atlanta last year, but are playing for Miami in 2020.
  • OF/1B Peter O’Brien is trying to earn a spot on the Braves’ 40-man roster. He appeared in 14 games as a Marlin last season.
  • Acuña hit nine home runs off the Marlins in 2019, Freeman hit six.
  • Elieser Hernández, Pablo López, and Sandy Alcántara combined for 46 23 frames of 2.12 ERA ball last year against Atlanta.

2020 ZiPS Projection: 33-27 record, 52.4% chance to make playoffs, 31.9% to win division