What happened in 2019?
On the opening Sunday of the season, Bryce Harper homered to secure the sweep against Atlanta and send his Phillies’ gang into ecstasy. In the words of Professor Brian Cox’s D:Ream, the Braves knew that things can only get better. They took the top spot in the NL East in mid-June and never relinquished it.
In Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr., the Braves had a couple of the most mesmerising players of the year. To be honest, as a neutral, it was sometimes tough to watch and not resent the franchise for criminally underpaying two of the best players in the game.
Atlanta finished the regular season with four more wins than eventual World Series champions, the Washington Nationals, although according to Pythagorean winning percentage, they should have had four fewer wins than the Nats.
The Braves’ season finished abruptly on 9 October 2019. With the National League Division Series against the St Louis Cardinals tied two games apiece, millions tuned in to watch the decider. It was the Braves’ first must-win game of the season, but instead of the exciting climax we were anticipating, Atlanta conceded ten runs in the first inning, and the game was over as a spectacle. Interestingly, there was no humidity, astroturf, backstop issue, or jetlag to blame for the double-digit run-fest.
Moves & shakes
OUT: Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Julio Teheran, Francisco Cervelli, Anthony Swarzak, Josh Tomlin, Billy Hamilton, Brian McCann,
IN: Travis d’Arnaud, Will Smith, Marcell Ozuna, Adeiny Hechavarria, Cole Hamels
The left-hander started 2019 in the bullpen, but by the end of the regular season, he had made 30 starts and established himself as a key member of the rotation.
The 26-year-old possesses a Clayton Kershaw-like curveball and a nasty slider, giving the groundball-inducing pitcher two devastating off-speed offerings. His 3.72 FIP was second only to Mike Soroka on the team, but he looks like he as far more to offer.
Five reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) Arguably, the Braves have the most exciting player on the planet. Ronald Acuña Jr. hit 41 homers, scored 127 runs with 101 RBI and swiped 37 bags … and he is only 22 years old.
(2) Ozhaino Jurdy Jiandro Albies, that’s Ozzie to you and me, and Bolly to his teammates, is set to continue his quest to be the best second baseman of the 2020s.
(3) The abundance of talent (Cristian Pache, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Drew Waters, William Contreras) within the farm system, gives the front office plenty of opportunities to reinforce the roster, either by trade or promotion. Another postseason beckons; more so than ever because their World Series odds are in the top four.
(4) Mike Soroka arrived and he was everything we had hoped. The 21-year-old right-hander was a 5.6 WAR pitcher with 2.68 ERA in his first full season. Only Pete Alonso and his 53 homers stopped Soroka claiming the NL Rookie of the Year award. His starts this season will be must-watch TV.
(5) Despite the youthful exuberance of Soroka, Albies, and Acuña Jr., it’s the performance of one of the more veteran players that could be the key to success in 2020. Although hampered by injury at the end of last season, Freddie Freeman still had a career-year of 38 home runs and 121 RBI. Recently ranked as the best first baseman by MLB, the 30-year-old has just enjoyed his first pain-free offseason in nine years. Don’t bet against him setting more career-highs in 2020.
Photo courtesy of Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps
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