By Johnathan Brock
Opinion — The Atlanta Braves have been the laughing stock of the National League for quite some time now, but that could change this year.
The Braves haven’t seen the playoffs since 2013 when they dropped the NLDS in 4 games to the Dodgers. Since then, they’ve posted lackluster records, never winning more than 80 games.
So why could 2018 be any different?
Because they now have a ruthless lineup and two young stars who are destined for greatness. The addition of Ozzie Albies in 2017 and Ronald Acuna in 2018 have set the Braves up in prime position to, at worst, make it to the Wild Card game. While it is just the beginning of the season and the Braves are notorious for getting their fans’ hopes
up with an early hot streak only to disappoint, this year seems different. Although the pitching rotation is still garbage, it appears Atlanta’s hot bats, dirty middle infield, and lockdown outfield can carry this team further than it’s been in years.
First for the bad news. Pitching.
Any weekend rotation that features Julio Teheran is destined for failure. Teheran might be the most overpaid starter in the game at the moment. The only bright spots come in the form of starters Brian McCarthy and Mike Foltynewicz and closer Arodys Vizcaino. It would be in the Braves’ best interest to trade Teheran and see what they can get because they really can’t get much worse.
Now for the good news. The lineup.
Year after year after the Braves would trade away studs like Andrelton Simmons and Craig Kimbrel, leaving fans to say the same thing: “at least we have the best farm system in the league.” I never bought into this, but how wrong I was!
Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, and Dansby Swanson (even though he was traded for, I still
consider him part of the farm system) are proof that the Braves weren’t completely delusional.
On top of being the hometown kid and probably the future face of the franchise, Swanson is absolutely dirty at shortstop. His bat isn’t quite there yet, but give him a few years and we will all be asking “Andrelton who?”
Acuna hasn’t been in the show for more than two weeks and he is already showing why he was sculpted by the baseball gods. As mesmerizing as Shohei Ohtani is, Acuna is by far the best prospect to make his debut this year. His first career homerun went a mile.
As for Ozzie Albies…if this kid isn’t at least in the MVP talk there is no justice in the world. He has only been in the league for less than a year and is already looking like an All-Star. He hit .288 as a rookie with a .810 OPS. You can’t tell me this dude is anything short of a stud. Plus, that Swanson/Albies middle infield duo? Nasty.
To add to the offensive juggernaut, we have veteran first baseman and the rock of this team, Freddie Freeman. Freeman has been the light of this dark and despairing club the past few years. He hit for the cycle last year and lost…LOST! Had it not been for the rising superstars, I’m not sure how much more his back could have handled holding this team up day in and day out.
Besides the lockdown outfield, Ryan Flaherty in left, Ender Inciarte in center, and Nick Markakis in right makes for a lethal combination. While he is shadowed by guys like Mike Trout and Charlie Blackmon, Inciarte is one of the best center fielders in the league. To top it off, the Braves have the best hitting/catcher duo in Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki. With both hitting in the 280. range last year, they were a productive pair.
Notice I haven’t mentioned third base. There’s a reason for that. It’s because no matter who the Braves put there, he’s not Chipper. Plus, I’m not even sure the Braves know who their third baseman is. No worries though, because the 2019 free agency includes none other than Manny Machado. There are two types of people in this world: realists and dreamers, and I for one am the latter. THE BRAVES WILL SIGN MACHADO and no one can convince me otherwise.
One may ask, how they will win their way into the playoffs even with this talent. Let’s answer that with a brief summary of every National League East team.
Mets: Completely beatable due to the inevitable downfall of their always injury-plagued pitching staff.
Nationals: (1. The outside drama of Bryce Harper’s being a 2019 free agent will hold them back. (2. They’re the Nationals. They’re not allowed to have nice things.
Phillies: While hot at the start of the season, they usually, somehow manage to end up at the bottom of the pack.
Marlins: Derek Jeter has lately shown himself to be incompetent.
With the Mets seemingly the only true roadblock, the Braves very well could win the NL East. But even if they don’t win it, they will have to genuinely try to not at least make the Wild Card.
But will they win the NLDS, or win the Wild Card?
Probably not. (1. At the end of the day, they’re still the Braves. (2. They can’t simply out hit everyone. They will eventually have to improve their pitching staff if bringing a World Series back to Atlanta is ever a possibility.
But for now, beggars can’t be choosers, and we Braves fans must take what we can get.