Saturday, March 2, 2019

Atlanta Braves 2019 season preview

Ozzie Albies. From ESPN


             The Atlanta Braves hoped that their wave of young talent would bring success to the team the same year they opened a new ballpark. It didn't work that way, with the team winning just 72 games in 2017. Luckily for the team, they aspirations were just a year behind. In SunTrust Park's second season of existence, the Braves won the NL East in a commanding fashion, led by Rookie of the Year recipient Ronald Acuna Jr. The Braves didn't dislodge their core, and added to it with former all-stars. The fun has just begun in Atlanta.

               Offseason additions: 3B Josh Donaldson, C Brian McCann, C Raffy Lopez, UT Pedro Florimon, INF Andres Blanco, OF Ryan LaMarre

               Offseason subtractions: RHP Anibal Sanchez, C Kurt Suzuki, RHP Brad Brach, 1B Lucas Duda, RHP Brandon McCarthy, RHP Peter Moylan

                Rotation
Right-handers Mike Foltynewicz and Julio Teheran created quite the one-two punch for the Braves, with a .195 and .196 opponent's batting average, respectively. Those are the lowest two totals for a Braves pitcher in a single season, just edging out Greg Maddux's .197 in 1995. Sean Newcomb had a strong season, and is a good third starter. Kevin Gausman was very good in 10 starts after a trade from Baltimore. The fifth spot is up for grabs, with youngsters Touki Toussaint, Max Fried and Mike Soroka the favorites. The team could still add a starter like Dallas Keuchel as well.

                Bullpen
Aroyds Vizcaino returns as the closer, but he struggled to stay healthy in 2018, but was good in his 39 games. While he was out, set-up man AJ Minter recorded 15 saves. Shane Carle and Jesse Biddle both had strong seasons in middle relief, with ERAs hanging around the 3.00 mark. Darren O'Day never pitched for Atlanta, but was part of the Gausman trade and will be ready for 2019. Dan Winkler, comeback player of the year winner Jonny Venters and Sam Freeman are other options.

                Catching
The platoon of Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers favored Suzuki in 2018, but he left for Washington. The Braves brought back hometown boy and former all-star Brian McCann to complete the other half of the platoon. He still has power. Raffy Lopez was brought in as the third catcher after spending 37 games in San Diego.

                 Infield
Freddie Freeman is by far their best player, and will be until Acuna passes him. In all 162 games last season, Freeman hit .309, with 23 home runs and 98 RBIs, and finished 4th in MVP voting, while picking up his first gold glove at first base. 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson played in just 52 games in 2018 due to injuries, but his career power and average had the Braves sold, and they brought him in on a one year deal worth $23 million, thinking he can still play third. 21 year old 2B Ozzie Albies hit 20 home runs before the all-star break, but hit just four more after, but is still a home run/stolen base threat. Former first overall pick Dansby Swanson is still young, and hit a career high 14 home runs in 2018.

                  Outfield
Ronald Acuna Jr. took the league by storm last year, hitting .292 with 26 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 111 games, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award. Ender Inciarte has won a gold glove in all three seasons in Atlanta, and stole a career high 28 bases, while once again hitting double-digit home runs. At age 34, Nick Markakis arguably had his best season since 2007, with a .297 average and a .806 OPS. The team brought him back on a one year deal.

                   Bench
Johan Camargo hit 19 home runs as the starting third baseman in 2018, but with the Donaldson signing, and the team bringing back Markakis, the team views Camargo as a super-utility player, as he can play the infield and outfield. Tyler Flowers fell off in 2018, but he is still the backup catcher and will play against southpaws. Charlie Culberson also can play super-utility. Two time 30 home run hitter Adam Duvall returns after posting ugly numbers after a July trade from Cincy.

                   Lineup
LF Ronald Acuna Jr.
2B Ozzie Albies
1B Freddie Freeman
3B Josh Donaldson
RF Nick Markakis
C Brian McCann
CF Ender Inciarte
SS Dansby Swanson
Pitcher
                   Rotation
Mike Foltynewicz (R)
Julio Teheran (R)
Sean Newcomb (L)
Kevin Gausman (R)
Touki Toussaint (R)

                    Bullpen
Arodys Vicaino (R)
AJ Minter (L)
Jesse Biddle (L)
Shane Carle (R)
Dan Winkler (R)
Darren O'Day (R)
Jonny Venters (L)
Luke Jackson (R)/Sam Freeman (L)

                   Bench
UT Johan Camargo
UT Charlie Culberson
C Tyler Flowers
LF Adam Duvall

                      Additional Information
Ballpark: SunTrust Park
Manager: Brian Snitker
GM: Alex Anthopoulos
World Series Championships: 3*
2018 record: 90-72

                      Steal of the Decade
Coming off a season in where he had a 3.02 ERA and made his first all-star team, the Braves were looking to trade Shelby Miller at his highest value. The dealt him and Gabe Speier to Arizona for SS Dansby Swanson, the recent 1st overall pick, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair. Swanson has settled into a role as their starting shortstop, and at 25 he can still get better. Inciarte's power has improved, and he's an elite defender and runner. Blair was a big prospect, but didn't turn out. Meanwhile, Miller pitched in just 139 innings for Arizona, and had a 6.35 ERA in 3 seasons before being non-tendered.

                       Prediction
A young team led by a potent offense and a not experienced rotation, I predict the Braves will finish second in the NL East and make the playoffs in the wild card.


*The Braves have won one championship in Atlanta, but won one in both Boston and Milwaukee

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