After finishing the 2019 season with 97 wins en route to their second-straight NL East title, the Atlanta Braves fan base is buzzing with excitement as the 2020 season approaches.
Last season might have ended prematurely for the Braves liking after being eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. Still, they believe this was only the beginning of a long run of success. As a result, Atlanta hopes to build off of last season and finally get over the postseason hump by winning their first World Series title since 1995.
Atlanta Braves 2020 Season Preview
Although the Braves lost third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Minnesota Twins, they filled his vacant spot in the lineup with the signing of outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna played with the Cardinals in 2019 and finished the season with a .243 average, 29 home runs, and 89 RBI. The .243 average was the worst of his career, but considering Ozuna’s .272 lifetime average, the Braves expect him to return to that production.
The Braves lost Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel this offseason, but the signing of Cole Hamels adds a stable, veteran starter to complement the young arms of Mike Soroka and Max Fried. The team also signed starting pitcher Felix Hernandez to a low-risk, high-reward contract.
Atlanta shored up their bullpen by agreeing to terms with relievers Chris Martin, Will Smith, and Darren O’Day. In addition, they signed catcher Travis d’Arnaud and retained veteran outfielder Nick Markakis, utility man Charlie Culberson, infielder Adeiny Hechavarría, and catcher Tyler Flowers.
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos made it clear with his offseason spending that Atlanta is going all-in in 2020. As a result, the Braves’ current payroll of $150,564,375 exceeds the former franchise-record Opening Day payroll of $122.6 million. They also lead all clubs with 11 signed players.
Donaldson might not be featured in the lineup anymore, but the Braves are relying on their young core to generate offensive production — especially the dynamic duo of Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies. And don’t forget about MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and newly signed Marcell Ozuna. Considering that Ozuna will bat cleanup behind Acuna, Albies, and Freeman, he should have an abundance of chances to hit with runners on base.
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Atlanta also has much-needed depth with Rafael Ortega, Culberson, Hechavarría, and Adam Duvall all available to provide a jolt off the bench or in spot-starts. As well as having a couple of prospects in their farm system that could make an impact on the lineup in 2020. Those two prospects would indeed be Drew Waters and Cristian Pache. While Atlanta wants them to keep developing before they are called up, both Pache and Waters could contribute if they are needed.
The lineup should look similar to this:
- Ronald Acuña Jr.
- Ozzie Albies
- Freddie Freeman
- Marcell Ozuna
- Nick Markakis
- Johan Camargo/Austin Riley
- Travis d’Arnaud/Tyler Flowers
- Dansby Swanson
- Pitchers Spot
Who Will Play Third?
After the departure of Donaldson to Minnesota, trade rumors connecting the Braves to superstar third basemen Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant began to swirl. But as the rumors have started to die down, it looks like Atlanta will settle for an in-house option at the hot corner. They did sign third baseman Yangervis Solarte, but it appears that Johan Camargo and Austin Riley will battle it out in Spring Training for the right to be the starting third baseman.
Camargo played well as the starting third baseman in 2018 with 3.7 WAR. However, he struggled last season in a bench role with minus-0.7 WAR. Riley splashed onto the scene in 2019 by hitting .324 with nine home runs in his first 18 games as a rookie. But once opposing pitchers figured out his aggressive approach and struggle with offspeed pitches, it was a different story. Consequently, he hit .192 with nine home runs over his final 203 at-bats. There’s also a chance for a platoon here with the right-handed Riley and switch-hitting Camargo.
Atlanta’s starting rotation has the potential to be the team’s greatest strength. After all, putting Hamels alongside Soroka, Fried, and Mike Foltynewicz makes the Atlanta staff one of the most reliable rotations on paper. However, Hamels has already suffered a setback in Spring Training and will not be ready for Opening Day, and the fifth rotation spot is still up for grabs. Atlanta has an abundance of young talent to fill these innings, but there’s a concern about the reliability of those innings.
The rotation, when everyone is healthy, could look like this:
- Mike Soroka
- Cole Hamels
- Mike Foltynewicz
- Max Fried
- Sean Newcomb
When Hamels is healthy, the first four spots in the rotation are locked. With the fifth spot up for grabs, the favorite coming into Spring Training is Sean Newcomb. Newcomb has flirted with success in the Braves rotation in the past but hasn’t put it all together just yet. However, if Newcomb doesn’t impress this Spring, prospects like Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint, and 15-year veteran Felix Hernandez will all be considered.
Entering into the 2020 season the Braves boast one of the best bullpens in MLB, and a drastic upgrade over their bullpen at the start of 2019. While Atlanta tried to piece together their bullpen last season with relievers like Wes Parsons, Chad Sobotka, Shane Carle, and Jesse Biddle, it didn’t work out. Consequently, neither Parsons, Carle, or Biddle finished the year with Atlanta.
This season, the Braves’ bullpen consists of reliable, experienced relievers such as Will Smith, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Luke Jackson, Darren O’day, and Mark Melancon. Having pitchers with closing experience such as Smith, Greene, and Melancon should help trim down the blown saves total of 23 that Atlanta accumulated in 2019.
On paper, it looks like the Braves are the second-best team in the NL, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. They bring back most of their contributors from last season—with the exceptions of Donaldson, Keuchel, and Teheran—and improved some areas of weakness.
But even though Atlanta improved this offseason, so did the rest of the NL East—even the last-place Miami Marlins. As a result, four teams in the NL East have an O/U of 86.5. With everyone in the division gunning for the Braves, it will take a season of consistency if they hope to win the NL East for the third straight season.
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