The Braves came into both spring training and summer camp rightfully viewed as a team on the rise, despite the loss of Josh Donaldson in free agency. However, a couple of subsequent developments raise at least moderate concern. Freddie Freeman tested positive for COVID-19 on July 3 but could be back for Opening Day. Then, as part of the fallout from Freeman’s positive test, valued veteran Nick Markakis announced he was sitting out the campaign.
Assuming Freeman is eventually back to full health, Atlanta’s prospects remain bright ahead of the 60-game season. The acquisition of Marcell Ozuna had already relegated Markakis to a reserve role for the coming campaign, and it now helps cushion the latter’s absence. Any lineup that counts Ronald Acuna, Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freeman and Ozuna is going to be a force to contend with, irrespective of the length of the season. The additions of capable veterans Yonder Alonso and Travis d’Arnaud helps round out the team’s overall depth.
The pitching staff lost Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran, but the pair went just 18-19 combined last year. Atlanta tried to help offset their departures by inking veteran Cole Hamels, who has no shortage of NL East experience that theoretically could come in particularly handy in a season when 40 of each team’s 60 games will come versus division opponents. However, a nagging triceps injury now projects to sideline Hamels for the first few weeks of the short campaign. The rotation is helmed by last year’s rookie sensation Mike Soroka (13-4, 2.68 ERA) and southpaw Max Fried, who broke out with a 17-win tally in 2019.
Mark Melancon and Will Smith give manager Brian Snitker the luxury of two legitimate closers that could often make the ninth inning a foregone conclusion for Atlanta this season. Projected setup man Shane Greene is a former late-game asset in his own right, having recorded 55 saves (66 chances) over the last two seasons with the Tigers and Braves.
Despite their ample talent base, the Braves are only slight favorites to repeat as division champions with the defending-champion Nationals, the Phillies and the Mets all fielding impressive rosters as well. Atlanta is a clear second to the Dodgers in some sportsbooks in terms of the NL Pennant, however, and is slotted fourth behind the trio of the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros in terms of World Series winner odds.
An example of how a wager on the Braves winning the NL East would pay out at the current odds listed above is as follows:
Wager amount: $10.00
Division winner odds: (DraftKings Sportsbook): +215
Payout: $31.50: ($21.50 + original $10.00 bet amount)
2019 Record: 97-65 (Division champions)
Braves odds: Futures
Braves betting breakdown
Key losses: LHP Jerry Blevins, 3B Josh Donaldson, OF Billy Hamilton, OF Matt Joyce, LHP Dallas Keuchel, C John Ryan Murphy, RHP Anthony Swarzk, RHP Julio Teheran, RHP Dan Winkler
Sitting out season: RHP Felix Hernandez, OF Nick Markakis
Key additions: 1B Yonder Alonso, C Travis d’Arnaud, LHP Cole Hamels, RHP Felix Hernandez (sitting out due to COVID-19 precaution), OF Marcell Ozuna, LHP Will Smith, 3B Yangervis Solarte
1. RF Ronald Acuna (R)
2. 2B Ozzie Albies (S)
3. 1B Freddie Freeman (L)
4. DH Marcell Ozuna (R)
5. LF Adam Duvall (R)
6. 3B Johan Camargo (S)/Austin Riley (R)
7. C Travis d’Arnaud (R)
8. SS Dansby Swanson (R)
9. CF Ender Inciarte (L)
Projected Rotation: RHP Mike Soroka, LHP Cole Hamels, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, LHP Max Fried, LHP Sean Newcomb
Projected Closer: RHP Mark Melancon
Bullpen Strengths: Youngster RHP Jacob Webb went 4-0 with a 1.39 ERA in 36 Games (32.1 IP) with 28 Strikeouts and 4 HRs allowed last season before being shut down with elbow soreness. LHP Will Smith put together an All-Star campaign in 2019, going 6-0 with a 2.76 ERA in 63 Games (65.1 IP) and 96 SO. Closer Mark Melancon showed decent stuff after arriving via trade from the Giants. In 23 games with the Braves, Melancon posted a 3.86 ERA with 24 SO and 11 Saves (18 games finished).
Bullpen Weaknesses: Will Smith is the only southpaw locked into the bullpen, so the Braves may have to often bring on one or two less viable arms for as left-handed options. A.J. Minter, who posted a 7.06 ERA in 36 games (29.1 IP) in 2019, may be one candidate. Chris Rusin is another, although he posted a 6.09 ERA across 49 appearances in 2018 and yielded four earned runs on five hits over one inning in his only two outings last season.
Key Stats from 2019
- The Braves’ last game was a 13-1 loss to the Cardinals, who were up 7-0 before the second out of the first inning.
- The Braves won back-to-back NL East titles for the first time since the 2004-05 seasons. The Braves were in first place from June 12 to the end of the season.
- Braves scored the third-most runs in MLB in 2019.
- Atlanta surrendered the fifth-lowest ERA in 2019.
- Ronald Acuna Jr, Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson (now on Twins) finished the Top 11 in 2019 MVP voting. Mike Soroka was second in Rookie of the Year voting.
- Braves spent min of $84.75M this offseason.
- On Sep. 11 2019, Chris Martin pitched an immaculate inning against the Phillies.