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30 in 30

The Turf’s 30 in 30: The Atlanta Braves

Youth led the way for the Braves winning the NL East in 2018. Can they keep the Phils and Nats away from the top of the division in 2019?

The Turf’s 30 in 30: The Atlanta Braves

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

2018 Record: 90 – 72

2018 Finish: 1st in the NL East, 5th in the National League

Surprises in 2018

The Youth Movement

And the movement is going nowhere but up right now. The rise of Ronald Acuña Jr. isn’t really a big surprise to me quite frankly, because I had a feeling he would become a great player one day.

I just didn’t know he would be this good this soon.

Acuña Jr. quickly burst on to the scene becoming the Braves’ young stud outfielder, and eventually the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year. He batted .293 with 26 home runs, 64 RBIs and 16 stolen bases in just 111 games for Atlanta. He was 12th in MVP voting, and had the 8th highest slugging percentage in the NL. The best part is he’s not only just 21 years old, but he’s not even a free agent until 2024.

Acuña Jr. wasn’t the only young stud on the Braves. Ozzie Albies was sensational in 2018, and had a surprising sophomore year in the league. The 22-year old batted .261 with 24 home runs, 72 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. Albies was tied for 6th in the MLB in runs scored as well (105). Not a lot of people were expecting this sort of breakout by Albies.

Nick Markakis

Did anyone think Nick Markakis was going to make his first All-Star appearance in 2018 after being in the majors for 12 seasons? I certainly didn’t think so. Markakis batted .297 with 14 home runs and 93 RBIs. And here’s the crazy part: Markakis played in every single game this past season. That’s right…all 162 of them. The only other players in the majors who played in all 162 games: Freddy Galvis, Matt Olson, Trea Turner, and Markasis’ teammate…Freddie Freeman.

Braves Hit Their Way to an NL East Championship

The offense overall for the Braves this season was quite surprising and I don’t think too many people thought they would win the NL East. I personally picked the Nationals before the season started. Whether the Braves make a free agency splash or not, they are still certainly in a position to win the division again in 2019; although it won’t be easy. The Phillies and Nationals are still capable of making this a three-horse race in the NL East. Even the Mets got a little better this offseason after signing Wilson Ramos, and acquiring Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz via trade with the Mariners.

Disappointments in 2018

The Bullpen

Atlanta’s bullpen was not great in 2018, and that’s why they have been kicking the tires on free agent bullpen arms this offseason; including Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel. They had a 4.15 ERA (17th in the majors), but the major issue was walks and putting runners on base. The bullpen allowed 273 walks – which was 4th worst in the majors.

The funny thing is, the Braves bullpen didn’t even give up many hits in comparison to the many other teams in the league, and they actually allowed the 2nd fewest home runs. The problem was that they just allowed teams too many opportunities with runners in scoring position because of allowing way too many walks. The Braves bullpen had the 5th worst K/BB ratio in the MLB and batters had a .333 on-base percentage. So the bullpen needs to cut down on the walks.

Playoff Hitting

It’s a shame because Atlanta’s offense was their strength throughout the regular season. But when they reached the playoffs to face the Dodgers, they were blanked in the first two games of the series, and only notched 19 total hits in four games. That’s less than 5 hits per game – so yeah…not good. Perhaps it was the lack of playoff experience that contributed to the cold hitting. For the Braves, the things that were very much their strengths were sapped in the playoffs. Expect that to get better going forward. The Braves are a young team and they have a bright future ahead.

Looking Ahead to 2019

The NL East will be one of the more competitive divisions this year. I think every team probably got better except for the Marlins; but also at the same time, that may change a bit if Bryce Harper decides to not return to Washington. The Braves, Phillies, Mets, and Nationals have all made some big offseason moves this year, and what’s crazy is that they still may not be done. Especially the Phillies, who have said they are willing to spend “stupid money” and are confident they can sign free agents Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, or both. They also might be in the hunt for a bullpen arm too.

I think the Braves are poised for another good season, and if Josh Donaldson can somehow return to his 2015 MVP form, the Braves may have one of the better hitting lineups in the NL. I do believe, however, that the Braves should be looking to add more bullpen help before opening day; which will be here before we know it!

Matt lives in Newnan, Georgia but was born and raised in Upstate New York. He is a fan of the New York Yankees, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Boston Celtics. At the collegiate level, he is a Notre Dame and Syracuse fan (yeah he can root for both, and what?!) He must, however, find a soccer team to root for. So him out there. All suggestions are welcome. You can catch Matt on the Turf mostly covering NFL, NBA, MLB, College Football and Basketball, and Horse Racing (that is not a typo, he practically grew up on a racetrack). It's nothing's strictly sports.

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