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  • Writer's pictureEvan Woods

Atlanta Braves: The Team of Destiny that Wasn’t

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed. I’m disappointed that I had to watch one of my home-town teams lose when it matters most, again. That part stings. But, all things considered, I’m not upset with the Braves like many other fans are. Sure, they blew a 3-1 lead in the NLCS. But don’t you dare try compare that to any blunders spat out by the Falcons over the past 5 years. It was against the Dodgers, the best team in baseball this year, and no one even expected us to be there in that position in the first place. With a revolving door of pitching and untimely injuries plaguing the Braves all year, making the post season alone was impressive. The pride of making it that far and taking the toughest team in baseball to seven games with a trip the World Series on the line is a consolation prize I'm forced to live with, but I'm not content with. But, with everything that went on with the Braves this year - what they were able to do is still impressive. And more importantly, we should be looking forward for what’s yet to come for them. Let me explain.


I have to start out by talking about how incredible Max Fried was all season in the absence of Mike Soroka. ¹ Out of 11 games started this year, Fried won 7 games and did not have a loss on his record. He struck out 50 batters over 56 innings with an ERA of 2.25, and an argument could be made that he deserves to win the NL Cy Young award. Without his consistent play throughout the entire season, the Braves' record would have looked incredibly different. He stepped up in the biggest way possible when the Braves' ace went down with a blown Achilles, in addition to all the other starting pitching issues Rick Kranitz had to navigate through. It didn't help that we had to ditch Mike Foltynewicz because he pitched slower than a little-leaguer and we had to give up on Sean Newcomb because he forgot how to hit the strike-zone. It also didn't help that the Braves signed both Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez to essentially not even play for them. But despite those problems, the starting pitching staff did have one major thing to be excited about: The emergence of a star in Ian Anderson. In just 6 regular season starts in his debut season, ² Anderson struck out 41 batters over 32.1 innings, and had an ERA of 1.95. When it came to the playoffs, Anderson kept it going, not allowing a run until his second start of the NLCS. He provided stability to the starting rotation that the Braves desperately needed, and he'll be a staple in the starting rotation for years to come. Next year with Soroka, Fried, and Anderson headlining the pitching staff, you'll see shades of what the Braves pitching was able to do in the mid to late 90s. Good things are ahead for our starters, but the work our bullpen did all year cannot go unappreciated.


Because the starting pitching was all over the place for the majority of the season, the Braves heavily leaned on their bullpen to win games for them. Led by Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, A.J Minter, and many more, ³ the Braves' bullpen had a combined ERA of 3.36, which ranked 3rd in the league this year. Without the bullpen constantly bailing out the starting pitching, we wouldn't even be in the position to be disappointed with the end of the Braves' season. It is crucial that we maintain this new-found strength in the bullpen since it's been our Achilles Heel for the past forever it seems. They'll need to resign set-up pitcher Shane Greene and closer Mark Melancon to solidify another successful year for the relievers, and I can't imagine they wouldn't want to return. Even though we saw a lot of ups and downs from Braves pitching as a whole this year, one this is for sure: the bats were consistent.


Led by Freddie Freeman and Marcel Ozuna, ⁴ the Braves' combined for a team batting average of .268, 2nd highest in all of baseball this year. They also finished in the top 2 in Hits, Runs Scored, RBI, and OPS. The offense was rolling all year, and there are many reasons for it. The team benefited from the addition of Ozuna, who nearly won the national league Triple Crown, ⁵ leading the NL with 18 home runs and 56 RBI, while also having the 3rd highest batting average of .338. A pleasant surprise in the middle of our line-up was free-agent signee Travis d'Arnaud, ⁶ who batted .321 during the regular season, which was a career high by a long shot. ⁷ We also saw Dansby Swanson continue to become a better hitter after watching him bat .274, the highest of his career to this point. He's one of the best fielding shortstops in the league, and his bat is improving every year, so it'll be exciting to see what's next for him. And of course, I would be remiss to not mention the Golden Boy, Freddie Freeman, who pretty much has the NL MVP locked up (see my other article for more on that). He has been the heart and soul of this team and will continue to be until he retires. Injuries really affected the play of Ronald Acuña Jr and Ozzie Albies this year, and that had even more of an impact due to an abbreviated season, so I wouldn't expect that to be the case again next year. It was incredibly difficult for them both to hit their stride again after missing 2 weeks and 4 weeks, respectively. Although they fell short of making it to the World Series, I believe the Braves are in a good spot to put themselves right back in the mix next year - but there are some serious offseason moves that GM Alex Anthopoulos will need to pull off.


First and foremost, the Braves MUST resign Marcel Ozuna, but not for the reasons you may be thinking. Sure, the guy can hit for power and average and would be a welcome addition to any team's roster - but it was his impact on his teammates in the dugout and locker room that’s what made him so special to the Braves. You may have seen glimpses of it on TV, but there is undeniable chemistry between Ozuna and the younger players like Ronald Acuña Jr, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, and Christian Pache. They were always huddled together on the bench cracking jokes and talking strategy, and stuff like that goes a long way. Whether it be as a mentor figure or a big brother, the younger Braves looked to Ozuna to lead them to victory - and have fun while doing it. You could just tell that they all loved playing with each other, and I am a firm believer that that's the kind of stuff that translates to success. I don't care what it takes to re-sign him. Trade away Ender Inciarte for a Snack Pack and a bag of Doritos. Someone’s gotta take that terrible contract away. The aging Nick Markakis has probably played his last game in a Braves' jersey, which is a shame, but the money he was taking up can also be used to put towards a new contract for Ozuna. Also, with the looming talent of William Contreras waiting in the farm system, I see no reason to re-sign Tyler Flowers as d'Arnaud's backup; even more money to be put towards a contract for Ozuna. Anthopoulos will need to trim the fat of the roster in any way he can, because he'll also need to re-sign Greene and Melancon like I mentioned earlier. I would rather see the money they'll end up paying Luke Jackson in arbitration go to the other relievers, but unfortunately that can't be helped. Also, adding another starter to the rotation is key. After the back and forth joking and teasing between Trevor Bauer and Ronald Acuña Jr on twitter, there were no hard feelings and he'd make a great addition to the team, as long as his price isn't too high. I'd also love to see Mike Minor back in a Braves uniform. But, obviously, I'm not he General Manager so I don't get to call the shots. But maybe that's a good thing, who knows.


Look, obviously the Braves choked away a chance to go to the World Series this year. But we have the ability to make some moves to put us in an even better position next year. You have to remember, we have 4 starting players under the age of 25 in addition to 3 rookie starting pitchers. The silver lining here is that they gained invaluable experience that will help them throughout the rest of their careers. And keep in mind that these kids were going up against he Dodgers, a veteran team that's been to the World Series 3 out of the last 4 years. The Braves have the youth, talent, coaching, and organization to be a very good team for a very long time - so don't be surprised when you see them back in the late stages of the postseason in the years to come. Of course, I'm disappointed in the final result of this postseason, but playing 12 games in 18 days is tough - and it surely wore the Braves down. So, with a regular 162 game season with much less pressure on the horizon, I optimistically look forward to what this team can accomplish in the future. So keep on choppin', and #Mixitup.



Oh yeah, and GO RAYS.


 

Sources:


¹ Max Fried Stats, Fantasy & News. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.mlb.com/player/max-fried-608331


² Ian Anderson Stats. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/anderia01.shtml


³ Manry, C. (2020, September 25). Braves: Just how great has the bullpen been in 2020? Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.sportstalkatl.com/braves-just-how-great-has-the-bullpen-been-in-2020/


⁴ 2020 MLB Team Batting Stats. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.espn.com/mlb/stats/team/_/season/2020/seasontype/2/table/batting/sort/runs/dir/desc


⁵ 2020 National League Stat Leaders. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.espn.com/mlb/stats/_/season/2020/seasontype/2/teams/8


⁶ Travis d'Arnaud Stats. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/d/darnatr01.shtml


⁷ Dansby Swanson Stats. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/swansda01.shtml








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