Posted on March 1, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Atlanta Braves
Image via ajc.com

The Atlanta Braves surprised most of baseball in 2018 by winning the NL East with a record of 90-72. However, they must now show some consistency and staying power in 2019 in a division that looks rather balanced. Can the Braves repeat as NL East champs in 2019 and become contenders or will they take a step back after a big step forward last season?

Rotation

Atlanta’s rotation was one of the biggest surprises last season, as four starters all posted an ERA under 4.00. Anibal Sanchez has signed elsewhere, but the trio of Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, and Sean Newcomb remain. The Braves will rely on those three to carry them again this season. Foltynewicz and Newcomb both had breakout seasons in 2018 and will now have to find a way to replicate that success. 

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Teheran, meanwhile, is a little more established but has had some ups and downs in his career. The Braves need him to consistently perform like a frontline starter. Atlanta also has Kevin Gausman, who posted a 2.87 ERA in 10 starts after coming over from Baltimore. If that Gausman shows up as opposed to the one who posted far more modest numbers the previous season and a half with the Orioles, the Braves could continue to have four reliable starters.

Finally, there could be some competition for the final spot in Atlanta’s rotation. Youngsters like Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, and Luiz Gohara all made starts last season. All have a fair amount of upside but have yet to prove themselves as big league pitchers. The good news is that the Braves should have a fair amount of depth in their farm system if they are hit by injuries to their starting rotation.

Bullpen

At times, Atlanta’s bullpen was reliable last season, but there were also other times when they blew leads with regularity. Arodys Vizcaino has proven to be a dependable closer, but he also missed a significant chunk of time last year with shoulder problems. The good news is that A.J. Minter was a suitable replacement and a solid setup man if Vizcaino can stay healthy. Jonny Venters also gives the Braves a high-level setup man if he can finally stay healthy.

The Braves also have a nice contingent of middle relievers who can help be the bridge to Minter and Vizcaino in the late innings. The likes of Jesse Biddle, Dan Winkler, and Shane Carle all impressed at times last season. However, none of those pitchers have proven themselves over the course of multiple seasons, so there is still some question about their long-term sustainability in the majors. That being said, Atlanta’s bullpen certainly has the potential to be one of the best in the National League if everything falls into place.

Lineup

Offensively, the Braves were in the top half of the National League in 2018, and they have a chance to repeat that this season. Freddie Freeman is back to anchor the middle of the lineup. The club also re-signed Nick Markakis and added Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann to give them a veteran presence aside from Freeman. Donaldson is a little bit of a question mark after injury issues last year, but he’s only a few seasons removed from winning MVP honors. If he has a bounce-back season, the Braves could have a forceful lineup.

Of course, how good the Atlanta lineup is this season will depend on their younger players. The Braves will be excited to have Ronald Acuna Jr. for a full season. If he and Ozzie Albies pick up where they left off last season, the Braves will be in great shape. However, the X-factors for Atlanta will be Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte. Both had disappointing seasons in 2018 and the Braves will need more out of them in 2019. Atlanta has a little depth from utility man Johan Camargo, but if their lineup is going to have adequate depth, Swanson and Inciarte need to be better.

Prediction

The Braves benefited last season from a couple teams in the NL East failing to reach expectations. This year, Atlanta may have a more difficult time rising to the top of the division. If their pitching staff comes together, the Braves should score enough runs to remain competitive. But they are still relying on a lot of young players who’ve only had one good season in the majors. Look for the Braves to finish 84-78, which may not be enough to repeat as NL East champs.

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