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Know your enemy: Atlanta Braves

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The Braves should be formidable again this year.

CoolToday Park, spring home of the Atlanta Braves
Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves have been among the best teams in baseball the last two years and hardly anyone has noticed, in large part because they were dispatched in the Division Series round of the playoffs.

But man, this team is stacked. It’s easy to forget because the Nationals won the World Series, but the Braves won the division over the Nats handily by four games and it was only that close because the Braves lost five of their last six regular-season games. For most of September they led the N.L. East by nine or 10 games.

The young stars of this team — Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies — should only get better, and they are backed up by Freddie Freeman, one of the most underrated superstars in baseball. Freeman’s the same age as Anthony Rizzo, for comparison, and is still one of the top players in the league. Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Johan Camargo are also solid regulars.

To that offense they’ve added Marcell Ozuna. That offensive help has to be tempered by the knowledge that Ozuna is a bad fielder.

The Atlanta rotation has three solid young starters in Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried. They’ve added former Cub Cole Hamels to that group and will pick a fifth starter from among good young pitchers Kyle Wright, Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson and King Felix, who will look weird not in a Mariners uniform. Mark Melancon appeared rejuvenated after he joined the Braves late last year from the Giants (just two walks in 21 innings!) and they’ve got a solid setup corps. Plus, how could you not like a staff that could have Touki Toussaint on it? Might be the best name in baseball. Sounds like an exotic bird crossed with a French impressionist painter.

The Braves should win the N.L. East again this year, handily. The Cubs got swept by them in April 2019 in Atlanta during their “wait, the season’s started already?” road trip. This year they won’t see them until just before the All-Star break.

KEY ADDITIONS: Marcell Ozuna, Cole Hamels, Will Smith, Travis d’Arnaud, Felix Hernandez, Yangervis Solarte

KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Francisco Cervelli, Josh Donaldson, Matt Joyce, Dallas Keuchel, Josh Tomlin, Julio Teheran

The Cubs will face the Braves July 10-11-12 in Atlanta and August 3-4-5-6 at Wrigley Field.