The Atlanta Braves continued to show in 2020 that they are one of the best young teams in all of baseball, coming one win away from making the World Series. Can they continue to take steps forward in 2021?
#10 - 2nd in NL East, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Game
MIH - Marcell Ozuna
MIP - Cole Hamels
PTW - Kyle Wright
#6 - 35-25, 1st in NL East, lost in NLCS
I thought 2020 was due to be a step back for the young Braves roster. Instead, they leapt forward. I thought Cole Hamels was going to be a factor, and he pitched one game. Marcell Ozuna had a big year, but not as big as league MVP Freddie Freeman. Their young pitching stepped up, and that was after Opening Day starter Mike Soroka went down with an injury in his third start. This all just proved how talented this team truly is and how high their ceiling is going forward.
Additions / Subtractions
Despite the big 2020 season, the Braves still understand the need for some veteran pitching to mentor the young aces they are developing. So they went out and picked up Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton to pitch alongside the kids. The other big move was re-signing Marcell Ozuna. The only real subtractions from the lineup were Adam Duvall leaving for the Marlins and the retirement of Nick Markakis, moves that made room in the lineup considering there is no DH this year. They did lose some key bullpen arms in Mark Melancon and Darren O'Day.
Most Important Hitter
The Braves' lineup is pretty loaded with stars. From Freddie Freeman to Marcell Ozuna to possibly the best of them all in Ronald Acuna Jr., this lineup can produce runs. The breakout star among stars last season was Dansby Swanson. He put together his best season to date at the plate and trailed only Freeman and pitching phenom Max Fried on the team in WAR (his highest WAR mark of his career despite it only being a 60 game season). The question is whether or not the former number one overall pick can replicate that level of production for a full 162. If he can, he becomes yet another weapon opposing pitchers have to deal with in this lineup.
Most Important Pitcher
The Braves always have a plethora of starting pitching, but the real question mark this season is the bullpen. Closer Mark Melancon and specialist Darren O'Day left this team in the offseason and weren't really replaced. So who is the closer? How will they end the brilliant games their starters will pitch? The most likely option, and the option the Braves need to emerge, is Will Smith. A former All Star closer with the Giants, Smith has shown he can be an impact arm at the end of a game, something no one else in the bullpen has really proven. If he can establish himself as the guy, all the other arms in the pen can start to find their role. If he can't, it might be bullpen by committee which rarely ever works.
Prospect to Watch
After a taste of the big leagues in 2020 as a 21 year old, Cristian Pache will be the Opening day starting centerfielder. Ranked the 12th best prospect in baseball, Pache is an elite defender (which earned him a spot on the postseason roster last season) that is still learning how to be an impact bat in a lineup. He has shown some great progress and could be the next great young star in the Braves lineup.
1st in NL East, lose in NLDS
Emerging from the mayhem of the NL East in 1st place is going to be no easy task, but the Braves seem to have the depth and the youth to do it. With that said, I think come October some of that youth could hurt them from making a deep run this season, especially considering how strong some of the other contenders are. It might be a quick exit, but the Braves are a powerhouse that are here to stay for awhile.
Ronald Acuna Jr. wins the NL MVP.
Somehow, Ronald Acuna Jr. is just entering his age 23 season, and he has already established himself as a perennial MVP candidate. He won Rookie of the Year in 2018, finished 5th in MVP in 2019, and finished 12th in MVP in 2020 despite missing some time with injury and his teammate taking first place. This could be the year he emerges with the crown. What will help him is the development of Cristian Pache so he doesn't have to play centerfield anymore. Being in rightfield might be a little less taxing and might be able to preserve some health. Either way, it should be a big year for Acuna.