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Know your enemy: Atlanta Braves

The Braves could be better than they look at first glance.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Braves lost 93 games in 2016 and were expected to be worse in 2017.

Instead, they made an incremental improvement, losing “only” 90 games and debuting some players (Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson in particular) who were expected to be a big part of the next contending team in Atlanta.

They’re still in a rebuild phase, but this year they might add outfield prospect Ronald Acuna to their roster, and even at 20 years old he’s got a chance to be an impact player in the major leagues this year. Acuna blew through three levels of the Atlanta farm system in 2017, hitting .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles, eight triples, 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases. The 144 strikeouts are a concern and it might be that Acuna needs a bit more time in Triple-A.

The Braves will score some runs; Freddie Freeman missed some time last year due to injury but should be back 100 percent. Nick Markakis can still hit, Ender Inciarte is an excellent leadoff man and Johan Camargo was just starting to hit last year when he suffered a knee injury — running out on the field to begin the game:

Bizarre, I know.

The Atlanta rotation is a bit of a mess. Julio Teheran has ace-type stuff, but had a mediocre year in 2017. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. The Braves had to take Brandon McCarthy’s contract from the Dodgers in order to get rid of Matt Kemp (there’s a victory right there, I think); if McCarthy is healthy (never a sure bet) he could provide some inning-eating. After that it’s a bunch of guys from the Braves system, none of whom are really any good, although Sean Newcomb did show some promise late last year.

Former Cub Arodys Vizcaino is still around as closer. Most of the rest of the Atlanta relievers, you’ve probably never heard of.

We won’t have to wait too long to see how this team is doing. The Cubs host the Braves April 13-15 at Wrigley Field, the second home series of the season. The teams will play again in Atlanta May 15-17 and then say farewell until 2019. Playing in Atlanta in May instead of the midsummer visit the Cubs had last year will be at a cooler time of year, and perhaps less rainy, too. Two of the three games the Cubs played in Atlanta last year were delayed several hours by thunderstorms that simply would not quit. It appears they built SunTrust Park in an area where the topography seems to be favorable for those types of storms:

If you’re interested in this sort of thing — I am, as I’m kind of a weather aficionado — you can read more about it in this article, which says that out of the first 46 games played at the Braves’ new park, 11 had some kind of rain delay.