I’m not going to lie – writing this piece will be difficult. I am a Mets fan to the core. My best friend and I spend an unhealthy number of hours discussing the Mets (as well as the other teams we both cheer for across myriad other sports). It will pain me to speak in-depth about a division rival – especially one as potent as the Atlanta Braves. I grew up watching them raise banner after banner as they celebrated 14 consecutive division titles – and it’s certainly a possibility they could be in the early stages of another such run.
2019 – The Year In Review
At the start of last season, most oddsmakers and sportswriters agreed that the NL East would be one of the toughest divisions in baseball. The Nats and Phillies got most of the love from the prognosticators when it came to picking a probable division champion, but the Braves (and to a much lesser extent, the Mets) were still in the conversation. Of course, Atlanta had won the pennant in 2018, based in large part on a meteoric rise of young talent (as referenced by our own Matt Branigan last year). If those “kids” could replicate what they’d done in 2018, it certainly was looking good for a repeat title run.
The New Guys in The Clubhouse
During the offseason, you couldn’t really talk baseball without mentioning the free agents that were floating around. There were numerous studs who found themselves on the open market – names like Harper and Machado dominated the headlines. As each day of the offseason passed, the guessing game of where these guys would all land grew bigger and bigger. Harper and Machado didn’t end up signing new deals until March 2nd and February 21st respectively. However, there was one big name that was scooped up pretty early in the 2018-2019 offseason – Josh Donaldson.
The Braves inked him to a 1 year, $23 million dollar contract. Check out this piece by talkchop.com contributor Anthony Traurig – and you’ll know just how the signing panned out, both for Donaldson and Atlanta.
Of course, it wasn’t just during the offseason that Atlanta made a splashy signing. There were a couple of big-name arms who didn’t even find a new team until after the season started.
In a division as competitive as the NL East, they were looking for something that could give them that extra boost to push them to the top of the pile. As the season wore on it became clear that Atlanta could use some help on the mound.
Their rotation was pretty solid, but they were also young, inexperienced and inconsistent. Their presumptive ace, Mike Foltynewicz, had been dealing with elbow problems during spring training. It lingered long enough that he missed his Opening Day start. His season debut on April 27th but was optioned to AAA Gwinnett after getting off to a 2-5 record and a 6.37 ERA in 11 starts. Enter Dallas Keuchel. He signed on June 7th for 1 year and roughly $13 million dollars.
Again – we all know how things turned out. The Braves went on to win the pennant for the second year in a row. They went on to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, but were eliminated in a deciding 5th game. It was a close series until that deciding game, when the Braves got blown away 13-1. OUCH.
Three In A Row?
One thing you may notice about the signings I mentioned above – they were both 1-year deals. Coming into 2020 most Braves followers were imploring the team to lock up Donaldson after his bounce-back season. There was a camp that wanted Keuchel as well, but Donaldson was definitely the priority for much of Atlanta’s faithful. Sadly, things didn’t quite go the way many had hoped.
Dallas Keuchel also left after what was considered a successful 2/3 of a season in Atlanta. He now calls the South Side of Chicago home:
Those departures leave the Braves in a similar position as they were last year – looking for those seasoned, experienced pieces to help them compete in a division they share with the current World Series Champion Washington Nationals. The youth movement is still alive and well on both sides of the ball. Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Ozzie Albies headline the offensive side while Max Fried and Mike Soroka show big upside on the mound.
The organization has already made a few moves to try and fill the gaps created by the departures of Keuchel and Donaldson (not to mention the retirement of Brian McCann). They signed Cole Hamels to a 1-year, $18 million dollar deal and brought in Marcell Ozuna to try and make up for some of the offense Donaldson took with him to Minnesota. Travis d’Arnaud also finds himself back in the NL East after signing a 2-year deal.
The NL East is shaping up to yet again be one of the most competitive in MLB. It will be interesting to see how the post-Donaldson team comes together over the course of the season. This is a club that is loaded with talent so anything’s possible. As a Mets fan, it’ll be stressful, exciting and entertaining to watch this division shake out.
I really do think it’s a coin toss that could land 4 of the 5 teams in the division on top this season. I just don’t think it will be Atlanta unless they get some consistent, solid play. That also means they’ll need to make a few moves during the season to address any needs that may arise. I’ll put them at 90-72 for the year, but your guess is as good as mine as far as what place that will have them in this division.
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