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Know your enemy: Atlanta Braves

The Braves are going to be a powerhouse team for quite some time.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

KEY ADDITIONS: Charlie Morton, Josh Tomlin, Drew Smyly, Carl Edwards Jr., Jason Kipnis, Phil Ervin

KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Cole Hamels, Shane Greene, Adeiny Hechevarria, Nick Markakis, Mark Melancon, Darren O’Day

The Braves are a great example of how tanking can work quickly.

They won 96 games and the NL East title in 2013. In 2014, they were in first place July 20 with a 54-44 record, but then went 25-39 the rest of the year. They lost 95 games in 2015, 93 in 2016 and 90 in 2017 and didn’t appear as if they were going anywhere.

But the 2018 Braves added Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies and won 90 games and again the NL East title, and have been division champions in the two seasons since then, too. They’ve locked Acuna and Albies up to team-friendly long-term deals, have a genuine superstar (who doesn’t get as much acclaim as he deserves) in Freddie Freeman, and good players all around the lineup.

This offseason, they have attempted to address a perceived weakness in starting pitching by signing Charlie Morton and almost-Cub Drew Smyly. Morton has significant postseason experience and seems like a solid rotation anchor despite his age (37). They’ve got good young starters too in Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Ian Anderson, and you’ll pardon me if I think of the 1970s rock band Jethro Tull every time I hear the latter’s name.

They’ve brought back Marcell Ozuna, who was very good for them in 2020 — though in the DH role. Ozuna DH’d in 58 games, more than anyone in MLB. He won’t be able to do that this year with the universal DH not approved. Ozuna is penciled in as Atlanta’s regular left fielder, but as you might recall from watching him in his years in St. Louis, he is not a good outfielder. That could hurt the Braves defensively.

It will be interesting to see former Cub Carl Edwards Jr. in a Braves uniform. He pitched well in a very small sample size (five games) for the Mariners in 2020, as well as 2020 Cub Jason Kipnis. The Braves also picked up another almost-Cub, Phil Ervin, off waivers earlier this week. Kind of wish the Cubs had held on to him.

But overall, this appears to be an outstanding team that should win the division title, even with a challenge from the newly-aggressive Mets.

There’s a bit of controversy surrounding the Braves this year. After the Cleveland Indians announced they would be changing their name in 2022, the Braves made a point of stating they wouldn’t be doing that. But after the passing of Hank Aaron in January, a movement began to try to push the Braves into re-branding as the “Hammers,” after Aaron’s nickname. I hope they do that.

The Cubs are scheduled to face the Braves seven times in 2021, all within a two-week period:

April 16-17-18 at Wrigley Field (why do the schedule-makers keep doing this?) and April 26-27-28-29 at Truist Park.