By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer
The Atlanta Braves shocked the baseball world in 2018 by winning the National League East and making the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Philadelphia, who challenged its rival all the way up through the first week of August, made it a point to not come in second place again.
With the additions of former NL MVPs Bryce Harper & Andrew McCutchen, catcher J.T. Realmuto and infielder Jean Segura – the Phillies bulked up the offense around Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco this offseason.
So far, so good. The team hailing from the City of Brotherly Love (lol) sit atop the divisional standings by 2.5 games through the season’s first 47 contests.
Atlanta, however, is not far behind.
After going through varying streaks to begin the campaign – where its first six games were sweeps in opposite directions – Atlanta is red hot at current standing by winning eight of its last 10 games. The bullpen is not great and starting pitching has lacked at times, but the Braves once again showcase one of the top offenses in all of baseball.
Atlanta leads the NL in team average (.260), is second in hits (424) and triples (12) and is fifth and sixth, respectively, in runs batted in (227) and home runs (66).
Freddie Freeman is once again pacing as a top-10 hitter in the league with a .319 clip at the dish and just concluded a string of home runs in four-straight ballgames. Sunday’s blast was career long ball No. 200 for the first baseman.
Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr. is heating up. The 21-year-old belted a home run Sunday, two more Monday and is tied for 9th in the NL with 31 RBI. Dansby Swanson, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, is turning things around – currently second on the club with 29 RBI. Josh Donaldson, a former American League MVP, is finding his form after a dreadful start to 2019.
— Braves Radio Network (@BravesRadioNet) May 21, 2019
22-year-old Austin Riley is the latest addition to the lineup. The club’s No. 4 overall prospect and baseball’s 34th youngster on the list is off to a fast start in the Majors, clobbering three home runs while going 9-for-22 in his first six games. Prior to his debut, Riley led the International League in home runs and RBI while playing in Gwinnett.
Austin Riley is the fourth #Braves player to homer three times in his first six MLB games, joining Andruw Jones (1996), Jason Heyward (2010) and the legendary El Oso Blanco (The White Bear), Evan Gattis (2013).
— David O’Brien (@DOBrienATL) May 21, 2019
Five Braves have at least seven home runs while six players have driven in at least 21 runs through the first quarter of the season.
But where the team has most benefited is from the youthful arms of 21-year-old Mike Soroka and 25-year-old Max Fried. Soroka was perfect through five innings against the Giants Monday night and leads all pitchers (min. 40 innings) with a 1.01 ERA. Fried is tied for the NL-lead with six wins on the year to go along with 2.86 ERA in 50 1/3 IP.
Mike Soroka wants that Rookie of the Year award. pic.twitter.com/M6dinAYDBM
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) May 21, 2019
A bullpen that has been hammered by injuries and inconsistent play has witnessed an upgrade with swingman Touki Toussaint (22 years old), setup man Jacob Webb (25) and starter-turned-reliever Sean Newcomb (25).
Like last year when Atlanta relied on the youthful services of Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Johan Camargo – the team will once again need youth to chase down the Phillies as the season prolongs.
Pitchers Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright, who started games two and three of the season, will be utilized in the bullpen. Toussaint will be called on to make spot-starts throughout the season. And the Braves still have pitching prospects Ian Anderson, Kolby Allard and Joey Wentz – along with outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters down on the farm.
See the Braves Top-30 Prospect List.
The season is a long one. Players will go through ups and downs. They will get injured, traded and even designated. But if the Braves want to be in a playoff contenting position – if they want to make another run at winning the division – youth will play a dominating role.
Nothing new for the Atlanta Braves organization.
Check out the latest episode on my personal podcast “Baby Braves – 2019 Edition” below. You can subscribe to Producing The Facts Podcast on ApplePodcast, SoundCloud & TuneIn.