After a couple of down years, the Braves roared right back into the postseason picture with a N.L. East title, provided mainly by guys from their own system: Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb.
They added to that a fine season by Nick Markakis, who they retained at a far-below-market rate on a one-year deal for 2019.
The Braves have also made some shrewd trades over the last few years, acquiring a couple of No. 1 draft picks from other teams. Starting shortstop Dansby Swanson came over in a deal that sent Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks, and another deal with Arizona brought Touki Toussaint, who is expected to be in the Atlanta rotation. If you’re keeping score, that’s two straight No. 1 D-backs picks (Toussaint, 16th overall in 2014, Swanson, 1st overall in 2015) who are now key members of the Braves. Arizona has no one left from either of those deals.
So give a lot of credit to the Braves in putting together a winning ballclub just a couple of years after they were among the worst teams in the National League. Acuna was the N.L. Rookie of the Year after hitting .293/.366/.522 with 26 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 111 games — at age 20, one of the best seasons ever (4.1 bWAR) for someone that age. Albies, who just turned 22, hit .261/.305/.452 with 24 home runs and 14 stolen bases and played an outstanding second base.
In one eight-game stretch in August, Acuna hit .471/.514/1.235 (1.749 OPS, 16-for-34) with eight home runs, so many homers that Marlins pitcher Jose Urena threw at him, apparently intentionally, in the first inning of this game, inciting a bench-clearing incident [VIDEO].
The “old man” of this team (apart from Markakis) is Freddie Freeman, a perennial All-Star who finished fourth in N.L. MVP voting last year and who’s all of 29. Freeman’s been around so long that one of his teammates in his September call-up year (2010) was Kyle Farnsworth. (No, I am not making that up.)
The N.L. East is a tough division, but I see the Braves winning it again.
The Cubs will get a look at the Braves early, as they will visit Atlanta for their second series of the year, April 1-3-4 (the first date is the Braves home opener). The Braves will visit Wrigley Field June 24-25-26.